Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva is the latest MMA fighter to get busted for elevated testosterone levels, which some believe enhances a fighter’s performance. The test results have tainted his otherwise thrilling fight with Mark Hunt a couple of weeks ago.
Silva, like many other fighters, had a doctor’s prescription for testosterone replacement therapy, but still his levels were too high. Whether its elevated testosterone or performance enhancement drugs, some fighters are constantly looking for that extra edge in combat.
But what if there were a simple, easy way to improve performance that didn’t cost any money at all? According to Psychology Today, one of the simplest activities an athlete can take part in is right under, or on top, of your pillow: Get more sleep.
“Athletes at all levels of play have access to a powerful tool to improve their performance, one that won’t break any laws or put anyone’s health at risk,” Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., a Clinical Psychologist and a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine, said in Psychology Today. “What’s this wonder drug? Sleep.”
Ten hours of sleep at night, Breus said, relieves stress, increases memory capacity, and boosts muscle recovery. Doctors and scientists also say that more than eight hours a sleep a night can help fight off depression, increase weight loss and boost your immune system. While it may seem intuitive that more sleep equals better performance, many athletes still don’t make the time to sleep longer.
“Getting enough sleep is crucial for athletic performance,” said David Geier, MD, director of Sports Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, at WebMD.com “Studies have found that good sleep can improve speed, accuracy, and reaction time in athletes.”
While there haven’t been specific studies on MMA athletes and the benefits of 10 hours of sleep per night, other studies show that extra sleep creates a higher level athlete.
Cheri Mah, a researcher in the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory, showed that basketball players at the elite college level were able to improve their on-the-court performance by increasing their sleep time. In a study appearing in the July issue of SLEEP, Mah said“sleep is an important factor in peak athletic performance. Athletes may be able to optimize training and competition outcomes by identifying strategies to maximize the benefits of sleep.”
Peter Keating of ESPN Magazine said “while it’s possible to push through a lack of sleep during any one day, proper sleep helps athletes in two ways. First, it boosts areas of performance that require top-notch cognitive function, like reaction time and hand-eye coordination. Second, it aids recovery from tough games and workouts.”
Not enough sleep can even be as compromising as if a fighter were drunk.
“We know that sleep loss is going to create significant detriments in performance,” Mark Rosekind, PhD, president of Alertness Solutions and a former NASA scientist, told WebMD. “There are lab studies that show that if you’re an eight-hour sleeper and you get six hours of sleep, that two-hour difference can impact your performance so that it equates to how you would perform if you had a 0.05 blood-alcohol level.”
Other doctors say that lots of sleep not only helps the brain remember, but the muscles also.
James B. Maas, PhD, and co-author “Sleep To Win!” said in the Huffington Post that the greatest benefits of sleep don’t take place until somewhere around the seventh hour of sleep, an hour many athletes and casual exercisers never get to.
“Sleep is food for the brain, sleep is fuel for exercise,” Maas said. “Sleep is simply not valued in our 24/7 society. We treat it as a luxury and it’s a necessity. If you sleep longer and better, you can be a better athlete overnight.”