Sleep: The Natural Performance Enhancer

Competitive golfers in my facility often play 20+ tournaments a year and very few of them are within a 30-minute drive from their home.  In fact, many of them are 3+ hour trips.  If that player is a junior, they often leave Friday after school, arrive at a hotel late that night and then tee off early Saturday morning.  They return late Sunday, often with a lot of homework to still do, and repeat the following week.

Does this travel and/or sleep disturbance impact their performance?

Travel alone does not appear to be the sole determining factor in decreased athletic performance.  There are a number of studies in athletes that show no physiological change after travel, but they do note that athletes perceived themselves to be jet lagged for up to 2 days after long travel distances.

Before we delve deeper, we need to distinguish between jet lag and travel fatigue.  Jet lag can be characterized by GI disturbance, impaired concentration, sleep disturbance and intermittent fatigue.  Travel fatigue is characterized by persistent fatigue, repeated illness, changes in mood and behavior and loss of motivation. The biggest difference is that travel fatigue is cumulative while jet lag is episodic and circadian-based.

So what can be done to mitigate these effects and improve performance?

If golfers are flying to a tournament across time zones, jet lag is something that needs to be considered.  It usually requires 1 day per time zone traveled to resynchronize your system, so be sure to arrive early enough to allow your body to adapt.  There is also some cutting edge research being done looking at the use of melatonin and other methods to help athletes regulate their circadian rhythms, but proper scheduling is probably more appropriate for juniors in general.

In a recent study of collegiate basketball players, when increasing the players’ sleep by approximately 2 hours each night, researchers observed a 9% improvement in free throw and 3 point shooting percentage and a decrease in sprint times by almost a second!

While travel doesn’t actually have any physiological effect, one side effect of travel is poor sleep.  It is very clear in research that poor sleep = poor performance.  Increase your sleep per night to increase your performance is about as simple as it gets.

In order to assure maximal performance during the tournament season, planning your travel and play schedule to allow for appropriate quality sleep, as well as enough time for the body to adapt is critical.  Take into account other responsibilities and commitments you may have such as school work and other travel in order to avoid cumulative fatigue setting in and/or your performance decreasing in the latter parts of the season.  Sleep more to play better, swing faster and hurt less.

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