It’s about time we go back to basics and take into consideration something we do for 1/3 of our lives (i.e. sleep!) as having serious potential for elevating our athletic performance and well-being.

Don’t get me wrong, the foods we eat, the quality of water we drink and air we breathe, the community we surround ourselves with, and the exercises we do are all instrumental in the development of a highly functioning athlete whose risk of injury is minimized.

However, none of these variables are able to be influenced as freely and readily as sleep. If you are unsure of its importance, simply refrain from sleeping for one night and see how you feel the next day.

I consider sleep a form of therapy because of the numerous health implications that come with it.

Let’s examine what happens to our body when we sleep, why sleep is especially important for you as a basketball player, and what players and coaches in the game today are saying about sleep.

NBA Life

Early in June 2016, CBS Sports released an article discussing the importance of sleep in the NBA, both in terms of the health/performance of the players and the business/financial perspective.1

According to LeBron, whose opinion I would value since it is coming from (arguably) the greatest basketball force on the planet today (hence why I left out his last name), “Sleep is the most important thing when it comes to recovery…. There’s no better recovery than sleep.”

Kevin Durant is on the same page as LeBron. “Of course, on the basketball side, you have to fine-tune your skills,” Durant said. “But on the other side, you have to fine-tune your body. There’s a lot of remedies you can use as a basketball player to get better, but the easiest thing you can do is go to sleep.” (Emphasis added).

The NBA is a multi-billion dollar industry. NBA owners are now, more than ever before, becoming cognizant of the role sleep plays from a financial perspective.

According to a sports performance expert who consults with the NBA, “The cost of a star player suffering a significant injury is close to $100 million when factoring in lost ticket revenue and merchandise sales. Keeping those players healthy and keeping them visible is critical to this league.”

Though it is still not a mainstream interest in the NBA, sleep is definitely beginning to be included in discussions as a strong influencer of player performance, longevity, and injury rates.

It usually takes a long time for information that is being studied by a major entity such as the NBA to reach the general public.

My wish is that this article will speed this dissemination process and bring about an increased sense of urgency for all players everywhere to become mindful of their sleeping habits and what it means to their overall effectiveness as a basketball player.

Physical & Mental Health

A frequently cited study conducted by Stanford University researchers examines the impact of extending sleep on specific performance measures. Eleven healthy student-athletes on the men’s varsity basketball team participated.

The subjects demonstrated faster sprint times, improved shooting accuracy (both free throw and 3-point field goals), reaction time and overall physical and mental well-being during practices and games, decreased daytime sleepiness/fatigue (therefore more effective training), and increased vigor.2

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has literally highlighted the need for sufficient sleep within adolescent athletes to ensure proper development, both physically and mentally.3 This recommendation, among others, has been implemented by the IOC to develop healthy, resilient, and capable youth athletes.

Without adequate sleep your body becomes much less resilient and therefore more susceptible to injuries. In another study with student-athlete participants, the athletes who slept an average of less than 8 hours per night were 1.7 times more likely to experience an injury compared to those sleeping a minimum of 8 hours per night.4

This appears to be especially true with increasing age – the older you are, the more important sleep becomes in preventing injury.

Even one night of sleep deprivation has been shown in Taekwondo athletes to have a counter-productive effect on performance in the evening of the following day.5, 6

Going to bed instead of staying up for an extra few hours to train seems to be more beneficial to the enhancement of your game. You are actually harming yourself and your ability to contribute your full potential on the court if you don’t get your sleep in check.

Strategies to Enhance and Approach Optimal Sleep

While 7-8 hours seems to be the agreed-upon sleep recommendation for the general public, athletes require more. Athletes put their bodies under more stress than the general public and thus require more sleep to ensure proper repair of the damage caused by exercise/training.

Mindfulness meditation (i.e. intentionally focusing on the emotions, thoughts, and sensations occurring in the present moment) appears to improve sleep hygiene in adults while reducing symptoms of insomnia, fatigue, and depression.7


Physical activity (i.e. aerobics/calisthenics, biking, gardening, golf, running, weight lifting, yoga, and Pilates) is associated with improved sleep. Even a simple activity such as walking promotes better sleep habits in those who regularly practice it.8

Those individuals who regularly have low access to green space and the natural environment experience insufficient sleep. “Access to the natural environment attenuated the likelihood of reporting insufficient sleep.9 Go outside and look at the color green more often!

Eat more fatty fish! This includes salmon, herring, and sardines. These are all sources of ample omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to possibly extend sleep and reduce waking episodes while sleeping.10

The position you sleep in may also be important in maximizing the quality of your sleep. The most popular sleep position is the lateral position (on one’s side). This position seems to promote a more effective removal of harmful brain wastes (namely, amyloid-beta plaques, which are what characterize Alzheimer’s disease) during sleep.11

Optimal sleep may be the very thing that takes your game to the next level, regardless of its simplicity. The role of sleep in athletics is becoming increasingly popular and it requires no investment of hundreds of dollars. It is free and available to everyone anywhere.

Improving sleep is a perfect example of how going back to the basics (i.e. fresh water, air, food, proper hygiene, movement, and sleep) can make a world of a difference in your performance as a basketball player. Start learning more about this topic today!

For questions/comments: or



  1. Berger, K. In multibillion-dollar business of NBA, sleep is the biggest debt. CBS Sports. 2016 June.
  2. Mah CD, Mah KE, Kezirian EJ, Dement WC. The Effects of Sleep Extension on the Athletic Performance of Collegiate Basketball Players. 2011; 34(7):943-950.
  3. Bergeron MF, Mountjoy M, Armstrong N, et al. International Olympic Committee consensus statement on youth athletic development. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2015 Jul; 49(13):843-51.
  4. Milewski MD, Skaggs DL, Bishop GA, et al. Chronic lack of sleep is associated increased sports injuries in adolescent athletes. Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics. 2014 Mar; 34(2):129-33.
  5. Mejri MA, Yousfi N, Mhenni T, Tayech A, et al. Does one night of partial sleep deprivation affect the evening performance during intermittent exercise in Taekwondo players? Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation. 2016 Feb; 12(1):47-53.
  6. Arbi MM, Yousfi N, Hammouda O, et al. One night of partial sleep deprivation increased biomarkers of muscle and cardiac injuries during acute intermittent exercise. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. 2016 Feb.
  7. Black DS, O’Reilly GA, Olmstead R, et al. Mindfulness meditation and improvement in sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015 Feb 16.
  8. Chheda J, et al. Physical activity and habitual sleep duration: does the specific type of activity matter? Presentation at: SLEEP 2015. 2015 Jun 8.
  9. Grigsby-Toussaint DS, Turi KN, Krupa M, et al. Sleep insufficiency and the natural environment: results from the US Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey. Prev Med. 2015 Sep; 78:78-84
  10. Montgomery P, Burton JR, Sewell RP, Spreckelsen TF, Richardson AJ. Fatty acids and sleep in UK children: subjective and pilot objective sleep results from the DOLAB study – a randomized controlled trial. J Sleep Res. 2014 Mar 8.
  11. Lee H, Xie L, Yu M, Kang H, et al. The effect of body posture on brain glymphatic transport. J Neurosci. 2015 Aug; 35(31):11034-11044.


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