Sleep Deprivation In Softball.

The consequences of a chronic sleep debt on performance, mood, energy levels, cognitive abilities and overall psychological and physical well-being are major. Learn why in this 4-part series!
Note: This is part one, click here for part two!

Introduction

Eight hours of sleep a day seems like a colossal waste of time, doesn't it? After all, in the hectic world we live in, those precious hours could be put to use for many other more useful things. So why is sleep important and why do we need so much of it?

Most sleep researchers state that Americans are chronically sleep deprived, college students and athletes even more. Your players are likely to be chronically sleep deprived, even though they might believe otherwise. The consequences of a chronic sleep debt on performance, mood, energy levels, cognitive abilities and overall psychological and physical well-being are major.

Importance Of Sleep

Few people understand the importance of sleep. What we know is that sleep is an anabolic, or building, process. And we think it restores the body's energy supplies that have been depleted through the day's activities. Sleep is also the time when the body does most of its repair work; muscle tissue is rebuilt and restored. We know, for example, that growth hormone is secreted during sleep. This hormone is important for growth in children, but is also important throughout adulthood in rebuilding tissues.

A Daily Tune-up

Think of the body as a car. No car can keep going and going and going without a tune-up or oil change. If it's not tuned, the car may keep running, but not as smoothly as it did when it was maintained properly. You can think of sleep as your body's daily tune-up.

Human beings can function without a full tune-up, but they will be in a state of relative sleep deprivation and won't be able to work or to think as well as they do when they are fully rested. It's like an engine that gets only 4-out-of-8 spark plugs replaced and then runs sluggish.

Sleep is also a time for restoring mental energy. We spend all day thinking and creating, and that uses up our energy stores. It is interesting that in dream sleep the brain is actually very active. This is where things get really theoretical. We're not really sure exactly what dreams accomplish. Some experts believe that dreaming is actually some kind of clearing-out process. More sleep researchers think that dreams serve the function of helping to reorganize and store psychological information taken in during the day.

Not Enough Sleep

One of the ways we have of understanding why we need to sleep so much is to look at what happens if we don't get enough sleep. It affects our personality and our sense of humour. We may become irritable and less tolerant.

Lack of sleep clearly affects our thinking, or cognitive, processes. A sleep-deprived brain is truly running on four rather than eight cylinders. If we're trying to be creative, the motor doesn't work as well. We can perform calculations, but not as quickly. We're much more likely to make errors. It's because the brain's engine hasn't been replenished.

Sleep deprivation also affects us physically. Our coordination suffers. We lose our ability to do things with agility. Sleep improves muscle tone and skin appearance. With adequate sleep, athletes run better, swim better and lift more weight. We also see differences in immune responses depending on how much someone sleeps.

How Large Is Your Sleep Debt?

The following questionnaire, authored by noted researcher Stanley Coren, is designed to determine whether a person has a sleep deficit. Each question must be answered by yes or no.

    Do you usually need a loud alarm clock to wake you up in the morning?
    Yes No

    Do you usually hit the snooze control to get a few minutes more of sleep when the alarm goes off in the morning (or simply turn off the alarm and try to catch a bit more sleep)?
    Yes No

    Do you find that getting out of bed in the morning is usually a struggle?
    Yes No

    Do you sometimes sleep through the alarm?
    Yes No

    Do you usually find that a single beer, glass of wine or other alcoholic drink seems to have a noticeable effect on you?
    Yes No

    Do you sleep longer on weekends than you normally do during the week?
    Yes No

    On vacations and holidays, do you sleep longer than you normally do on regular workweeks?
    Yes No

    Do you often feel that your "get-up-and-go" has gotten up and gone?
    Yes No

    Do you find that it is more difficult to attend to details or routine chores than it used to be?
    Yes No

    Do you sometimes fall asleep when you had not intended to?
    Yes No

    Do you sometimes find yourself getting very sleepy while you are sitting and reading?
    Yes No

    Do you sometimes find yourself getting very sleeping or dozing off when you are watching TV?
    Yes No

    When you are a passenger in a airplane, car bus or train and the trip lasts more than an hour without break, do you commonly find yourself getting very sleepy or dozing off?
    Yes No

    Do you usually feel extremely sleepy or doze off when you are sitting quietly after a large lunch without alcohol?
    Yes No

    Do you tend to get sleepy when you sit quietly at a public meeting, lecture or in a theatre?
    Yes No

    Have you sometimes found yourself getting extremely sleepy with the urge to doze when you drive and are stopped for a few minutes in traffic?
    Yes No

    Do you drink more than four cups of coffee or tea (containing caffeine) during the day? (Remember to count refills, also count extra large take-out cups as two cups).
    Yes No

After clicking on the yes or no on ALL OF THE QUESTIONS, click SUBMIT!

A simple way to interpret these scores on this questionnaire is this: With scores above 7 you will begin to notice the effects of your sleep debt in terms of reduced efficiency and feelings of well-being. With scores above 12 your reduced effectiveness and changes in your disposition and mood will also be quite apparent to other people, including fellow workers and family members.

Conclusion

In the next 2 articles, I will discuss about sleep in depth and provide you with tips to improve the quality of sleep in your players so you can maximize training effectiveness, their performance on the field, energy levels, moods and overall physical and psychological well-being.

About The Author

Marc Dagenais, B.Sc., MHK, CSCS, is a Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Personal Trainer in addition to working as an assistant softball coach for Simon Fraser University. He also runs a website on performance enhancement, training and conditioning for softball - http://www.softballperformance.com. He can be reached at marc@softballperformance.com.

Note: This is part one, click here for part two!