Sleep: Are you getting enough of it? Whether you’re a baseball player, coach, or parent to a younger slugger, the findings from some recent studies reviewed by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine will interest you. As it turns out, there is a strong correlation between the number of sleep players get and how well they perform. Additionally, there is a link between fatigue and a lack of longevity in the sport.

Lack of Sleep Leads to a Decline in Strike-Zone Judgement

The first of these studies focused on Major League baseball players during the 162-game MLB season. The findings were surprising, and the results were consistent.

In 24 of 30 teams assessed, players displayed worse strike-zone judgment in September than they did in April. The decline in judgement didn’t happen suddenly; instead, it followed a predictable linear pattern that had been repeated over the course of the six previous baseball seasons.

The study’s principal investigator, Scott Kutscher, MD, assistant professor of sleep and neurology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, says that “We theorize that this decline is tied to fatigue that develops over the course of the season due to a combination of frequency of travel and paucity of days off.”

Kutscher notes that the results are consistent despite contradicting the conventional wisdom that frequent practice and skill repetition should lead to improved plated discipline. “Teams on the East or West Coast, with good or bad records, they all follow the same pattern of worsening plate discipline,” he stated. “This study suggests hitters always demonstrate the best judgment when at bat in the first month of the season.”

He went on to add that teams have the potential to gain an edge over their opponents by managing fatigue better, which lots of health and baseball sites like concur with : “A team that recognizes this trend and takes steps to slow or reverse it by enacting fatigue mitigating strategies, especially in the middle and late season for example – can gain a large competitive edge over their opponent. This may have already occurred, as the San Francisco Giants – an outlier in the study in that their plate discipline improved during the 2012 season – went on to win the World Series.”

Baseball Players Who Don’t Sleep Enough Often Have Shorter Careers

Another study tracked MLB baseball players’ careers and found that there is a significant relationship between sleepiness and longevity in the sport. Players self-reported their scores, basing their findings on the Epworth Sleepiness Scale. As sleepiness increased, there was a decreased likelihood that the player would be employed by the League three seasons later.

This study’s principal investigator, W. Christopher Winter, MD, medical director of the Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center in Charlottesville, Virginia, mentioned that this is a great reminder of the connection between sleepiness and impaired performance. “From a sports perspective, this is incredibly important,” he said. “What this study shows is that we can use the science of sleep to predict sports performance.”

Winter went on to add that teams could better evaluate players by implementing sleepiness screening. “I can envision simple questions about sleep being a part of the battery of tests professional organizations use to evaluate prospects,” he said, further noting that players and teams alike could greatly benefit by having conditions that cause sleepiness appropriately diagnosed and treated. “The player may suddenly become far more valuable,” he noted.

The Takeaway: Get Plenty of Sleep for Greater Success

Where it might be impractical for minor league and school teams to take on the task of screening players for sleep deprivation, players and parents can certainly play an active role in monitoring sleep and making positive changes.

Lack of sleep has a negative impact on everyone but getting a good night’s rest is even more crucial for athletes. Creating a comfortable, sleep-focused setting in the bedroom is one step you can take right now to improve the quality and duration of restful, restorative sleep for yourself or the young athlete in your life.