Where The Science Of Sleep Meets The Sport Of Basketball


If you ask a little kid what they want to be when they grow up, you’ll find they’re full of big dreams. They want to be a professional basketball player! Or a movie star! Or the surprisingly common: “garbage truck!”

But as unlikely as it may seem that your three-year-old nephew will grow up to play the lead in summer blockbusters or somehow turn into a 30-thousand pound municipal vehicle, either of those options feels more realistic goal than getting paid big money to shoot hoops. Because while this is many a small child’s (and grown adult’s) dream, it is incredibly hard to make a reality. It takes practice, luck, an uncanny ability to avoid injury, a knack for coach-ability, and rest.

Yes, more rest is actually crucial to success in the pros… and also in life. The positive results of a good night of sleep have long been clear to doctors and researchers in sports, but now, teams, coaches, and athletes are getting into the pro-sleep movement. They’re making it a point to prioritize a night of Zs in their training regimens because it’s clear that sleep, unequivocally, makes athletes better. It’s been proven in pretty much every sport, but none so dramatically as in basketball.

Unlike sports like baseball, which group games together to keep players from having to travel as often, basketball involves players traveling from city to city daily, often without even a full 24-hour break between games. The travel alone is insane — basketball players log significantly more miles than football, baseball, or hockey players — and it takes a toll on players mentally and physically.

All that time on the road leaves players exhausted. Quality sleep falls by the wayside as teammates are expected to snooze on planes, buses, and in new hotel rooms. Time changes are frequent and games are often back to back. And like any profession that takes place into the night (but especially in a sporting event where the adrenaline is extreme), players have a hard time decompressing and going to sleep at a reasonable bedtime afterward. Games end late in the evening, ballers are expected to talk to the press after, and often they still need to eat and relax. When you aren’t even done playing until after 10 pm, these extra time constraints can push bedtimes back until well after midnight, if not later.

This is a problem for a sport that takes a physical toll on its players and requires a great deal of focus and precision. Especially because research shows that there is a strong correlation between sleep and success in basketball.

“Sleep is probably the single biggest legal performance enhancer for an athlete,” The director and lead researcher for athletic development facility, Athletic Lab, Mike Young tells us. “Research has shown that sleep improves recovery from training and games, reaction time, decision making, and power while reducing the likelihood of injury.”