Blogs and Commentary

posted 02.04.2013 at 9.38 a.m. by Lyndsey Munoz

The Impact of Sleep on Performance

Lyndsey Munoz

Hello everyone! I'm very excited to begin blogging again for, and I am especially looking forward to this season.

Our team at Stanford has been working extremely hard over the course of preseason to make sure we have the best season possible. The work ethic put in over winter break was definitely noticeable. Everyone on the team passed our Manchester United run test (there's a detailed description in a previous blog), and many people made huge strides of improvement on the beep test. Also, everyone has remained competitive in the weight room and the practice field. This past Friday we transitioned from our turf practice field to the grass field. The team was excited because it never quite feels like the season until we're on the grass! In addition, the 70-degree weather definitely makes it feel like spring.

This past weekend our team had the great experience of hearing a talk from Cheri Mah. She talked to us about something that is easily overlooked in affecting performance: sleep. Cheri is studying under Dr. William Dement here at Stanford. Dr. Dement is the leading voice on sleep, the founder of the world's first sleep laboratory here on campus, and a teaching legend. Dr. Dement and Cheri performed a study with the athletes at Stanford and provided support for how much sleep can affect performance.

When many people think about factors of performance, sleep is usually the last thing that comes to mind. Physical training, nutrition, sports psychology, and coaching are the main areas of focus when we need to improve performance. However, sleep is something that should be brought to everyone's attention. The majority of student-athletes at Stanford reported being often or always tired. When Cheri told us that, I was amazed at the consensus reported. Obviously when you feel tired you are not going to perform at your best.

"The majority of student-athletes at Stanford reported being often or always tired... I was amazed at the consensus reported."

Cheri and other researchers at Stanford performed a study following basketball players. For five to seven weeks they tried to sleep for 10 hours, and while not always successful, they increased sleep time more than 90 minutes. After the study, collectively they took almost a full second off of their times in a sprint (three lengths of a basketball court). Also, they improved both the accuracy of their free throw and three-point shooting by 9 percent. What Cheri told us, and what many student-athletes feel, is that they're doing fine with their sleep. However, in reality, many student-athletes aren't reaching their full potential. Later on in the talk she showed us a video of a Stanford swimmer who had participated in the study, who said every single time he swam he improved his time and even beat 20 year-old records set by swimmers who went on to become Olympians.

After reading this, I'm sure many of you are wondering how to improve your sleep habits. Cheri gave us some tips to use to help improve your sleep that I will share with you. First, it's not only about the quantity of sleep, but also the quality. There are some things you can do to ensure you wake up less in the middle of the night. Make sure your room is dark and the temperature in your room is lower. Many of us use memory foam mattress toppers, which she said actually makes you hotter when you're sleeping. If you're waking up sweating, you should switch to foam or some other kind of topper.

Next, you should stop using all forms of screens an hour before you go to bed. These include laptops, televisions, cell phones, iPads, or other electronics. The screens emit blue light, which suppresses your levels of melatonin, causing you to feel more awake. If you must use your computer late at night, Cheri told us about an app called f.lux, which is software that limits the blue light and is supported on most operating systems. [Ed. note — I'm trying it out]

Cheri also suggested that you develop a routine before going to sleep to make it easier to fall asleep and ensure a better quality of sleep. She said many athletes get too few hours of sleep on the weekdays and then try to catch up on the weekend. However, it's much better to keep a consistent schedule of sleep, because, as many of people can attest, getting too much sleep can make you feel even more tired. There is so much more information and tips out there on sleep, but clearly it can make a huge difference in performance if you're willing to commit to improving it. Even an extra 10-30 minutes extra can make a difference! After hearing Cheri talk to us, I know I am going to make a better effort to improve my sleep quality and quantity. This couldn't be a better time to start, with our home opener against Notre Dame less than two weeks away!

Stanford junior goalie Lyndsey Munoz, an All-MPSF pick in 2012, will blog for throughout the 2013 season. The Cardinal opens its season Feb. 16 at home against Notre Dame. Stanford was picked to finish first in the MPSF (Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) in the conference coaches' preseason poll.