Research shows ‘banking’ sleep can help athletes go the extra mile

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Research shows banking sleep could help athletes go the extra mile
What if you could bank sleep and use it when you needed it. Researchers at the University of Calgary say you can. Bindu Suri explains why the new findings could help Olympic athletes go that extra mile – Feb 4, 2018

In the competitive world of sports, finding enough hours in the day can be a challenge. For Calgary Flames defenceman Brett Kulak, sleep is a necessity, but it can’t always be a priority.

“Some nights we show up back in Calgary … at 2:30 in the morning,” Kulak said. “We might be [playing] back-to-back. There are times [you just] get sleep when you can.”

Guillaume Millet, a professor of exercise physiology at the University of Calgary, studies fatigue. He says people underestimate the role of sleep in most facets of life.

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As an ultra-marathon runner, Millet was curious about unconventional ways to fight sleep deprivation.

Millet and PhD student Pierrick Arnal conducted a study at the French Armed Forces Biomedical Research Institute, measuring the strength and endurance of a dozen healthy but sleep-deprived men.

The group was then tested again, but this time the men slept.

“We asked the subject to sleep more for six days before one full night of sleep deprivation,” Millet said.

They slept 75 minutes more each night before entering a state of sleep deprivation, essentially “banking” those hours of sleep.

Millet found an improvement in both physical and cognitive performance.

“We demonstrated it is working — we can store and bank sleep,” he said.

It’s the same advice sleep expert Amy Bender already offers her patients at the Centre for Sleep and Human Performance in Calgary.

Bender developed an award-winning checklist to help Olympic athletes manage their sleep schedule.

“We’re putting the tool online so an athlete can fill it out and based on their responses get automated recommendations on ways to improve their sleep,” Bender said.

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130 Winter Olympics athletes, many of whom are heading to Pyeongchang, have been sleep-screened online using the questionnaire.

The tool helps them determine “when they should be getting light, when they should be eating, those type of things that will lessen the jet lag,” Bender explained.

Chances are if you’re already sleep-deprived, your schedule may not allow for extra shut-eye.

Millet says a combination of caffeine plus a nap at the same time could help give you the boost you need.

“Take a coffee, do your nap 15 to 20 minutes,” he suggests. “This is the time the caffeine kicks in.”

It’s helpful advice for everyone from shift workers to those going for gold.

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