Why sleep is so important for football players (and everyone else, too)

By Chris Cortez | Posted 10/27/2017

Split-second decisions and the ability to make the correct decisions under stress are what we face on a daily basis, whether it’s at work or on the field of play. You can prime your minds and bodies to make these decisions with something as simple as getting a good night’s sleep.

Sleep plays an important role in memory, learning, body metabolism and immune function. The right amount of sleep can hamper or optimize different processes.

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The ability to create new memories and store learned information occurs during the sleep cycle. Sleep-deprived individuals have difficulty with memory consolidation, which will affect their ability to maintain new learned information. Attention deficits from lack of sleep can also inhibit learning. With decreased attention, motor learning and visual learning can suffer.

When you hinder the ability to receive information and recall learned information, that impairs the ability to make accurate and decisive decisions and evaluate situations properly. This can equate to decreased performance. Not only can an athlete slow down mentally, but a poor sleep schedule can also affect their physical well-being.

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Fatigue can affect the body’s immune system. By decreasing your natural defenses, you can become more susceptible to illnesses. Sleep gives the body time to heal. Cellular regeneration and tissue repair from a hard day’s workout or work schedule occurs during slow wave sleep or deep sleep. Poor sleep or inconsistent sleep patterns can increase the risk of injury during physical activity. Regulating stress is another benefit of sufficient rest. So, what can you do to optimize your sleep?

Keeping your room temperature at a range of 60 to 67 degrees while you sleep will allow you to fall asleep faster. Avoiding high-fat diets and consuming healthy food will also positively affect your sleep. Essential minerals such as magnesium and potassium, both of which can be found in bananas, can help promote a successful rest.

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Other foods include berries, melons and avocados. Getting at least seven to nine hours of sleep a night can be a great start. Even naps in increments of 20 to 30 minutes can help improve performance and mental awareness. The most important thing is to keep your sleeping patterns consistent and maintain a good routine. 

Chris Cortez is an assistant athletic trainer with the Oakland Raiders. In addition to his athletic trainer duties, Cortez once saved a woman's life by pulling her from a sinking car.