Can sleep give sports teams an advantage?


Though we are learning about problems created by concussion in sports, we know virtually nothing about the sleep disorders those concussions can cause.

What do we know about sleep and sports? Everyone “knows” athletes tend to do better after a good night’s sleep.  But what’s the data?

A 1991 study showed sleep loss hurt a cyclist’s performance, and it did it by making the cyclist work harder, and get less for the energy expended, by causing more anaerobic metabolism, and increasing lactate production.

A 2011 study of Stanford men’s basketball found that with sleep extension, the time to sprint 282 feet decreased by a full second. Also, free throws and three-pointers increased more than 10 percent and self-rated performance in practices and games increased by more than 10 and 20 percent respectively. And these numbers were highly statistically significant.

In 25 years of Monday night football win/loss data clearly favor the West coast teams in a Current Biology article. This can be explained to some extent by sleep and the clock we all have in our bodies. When the game is played in the West, the percentage of wins is about equal between East and West. But when the game is played in the East, the West coast clearly dominates. This is because reaction time, strength, duration of high intensity exercise, lower pain perception, less joint stiffness and inflammation and lower perceived effort, all clearly favor the West coast teams. Because they’re all better in the early evening. And when West coast teams play Monday night, they always play, during what for them, is the early evening.

And when the Royals had to play World Series games in San Francisco in 2014, they realized a good night’s sleep was more important than an extra practice, and they behaved accordingly. What would have happened if that last game of the World Series had been played in the afternoon instead of the evening? That may be the same kind of question as Alex Gordon held up at third base in the ninth inning of Game 7. We’ll never know!

Article by Dr. Vernon Rowe. Dr. Rowe was trained at Duke, Johns Hopkins, and the National Institutes of Health, and is board certified in five areas of Neurology.  He is a pilot, poet, horseman, and bluegrass musician. Contact Rowe Neurology Clinic (RNI) at 913-894-1500 or visit their website,

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