You Can’t Catch Up on Sleep

At the risk of sounding like your mother, “Turn out the light. Turn off the iPod and the computer. Stop text messaging or I’m going to take that cell phone away from you. And, go to bed! And, no! You can’t catch-up on your sleep over the weekend.”

In summary, that appears to be summary recommendation from the journal Science Translational Medicine and researcher Dr. Daniel Cohen of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

And, hey, if it’s good enough for the National Basketball Association, it sure ought to be good enough for you. On the road, NBA players frequently don’t hit the sack until two or three in the a.m. and must be in the gym for weight training and practice by nine – forcing players to function on far less than the seven to nine hours of sleep recommended by the National Institutes of Health.

In recent weeks, Boston Celtic’s head coach Doc Rivers has eliminated the almost 40 year old tradition of early morning “shoot-arounds.” His players report that they feel fresher and more alert – especially when traveling. And, it doesn’t hurt that his team is leading the league. The San Antonio Spurs and the Portland Trail Blazers have followed suit and other teams are experimenting with the idea.

And there is science behind Rivers’ bold move. Players – and anyone else – who go three, four or five days in a row with less than six hours of sleep have reaction times comparable to someone who is has consumed alcohol beyond the legal limit to drive. In a sport that depends on tenths of a second, that can make the difference between winning and losing.

In part, sleep serves to restore neurons – brain cells – in a process that is critical for learning, mastering and processing information. A good night’s sleep after practice or a couple of hours in the library allows players and student the opportunity to more effectively process the practiced/studied material; too little sleep and that opportunity can be lost.

In a new (January 2010) report, Cohen and his associates report that staying awake 24 hours in a row impairs performance and an “all-nighter” on top of chronic sleep deprivation can result in a “tenfold” deterioration of performance.

Regular sleep deprivation can result in an increased risk of health problems, including memory impairment and a weakened immune system. As noted, too little sleep affects reaction time and may contribute to car crashes and other accidents.

Significantly, Cohen also found that when his sleep deprived volunteers’ reaction times were tested every few hours their performance continued to deteriorate through the course of the day when compared to those of volunteers getting a normal amount of sleep. In addition, it appears that the effects of chronic sleep deprivation were not eliminated by attempting to bank up or catch-up on sleep over the weekend.

Parents of high schoolers should also understand that the National Sleep Foundation recommends that school-age children and adolescents need at least nine hours of sleep a night – even though a 2006 survey revealed that only 20 percent of American students get that many. Nearly half of the students survey reported sleeping less than eight hours on school nights and 28 percent reported falling asleep in school at least once a week. It is probably that – given the rise in texting and social networks – the problem has worsened in the past four years.

So parents – of students and student-athletes – who want to see their children’s classroom and on-the-field performance improve should begin to sound like parents: Turn out the light. Turn off the iPod and the computer. Stop text messaging or I’m going to take that cell phone away from you. And, go to bed! And, no! You can’t catch-up on your sleep over the weekend.”

Since opening in January 2008, the staff of the Miami-based Brain Training Centers of Florida has served more than 200 clients, more than 60 percent of whom presented with some degree of sleep deprivation or the inability to enjoy a good night’s sleep on a regular basis. “By assisting clients to achieve a health balance of their brainwave activity, we have been able to restore optimal sleep health to virtually every client, most often within five days,” noted BTCF executive director Francis J. Flynn, Psy. D., CAP. “Sleep problems are often the result of a wide range of factors, including day-to-day stress and early life trauma with the restoration of healthy sleep, individuals are able to address those problems with renewed vigor and well-based hope.”

Posted in: Brain Training, Sleep Issues

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