Professional athletes are some of the most competitive people on this planet, and they’re constantly looking for ways to maximize their performance.
More and more players are realizing that everything they do off the court affects their game. In addition to intense on-court training, some players are turning to things like acupuncture and cryotherapy while others are hiring their own personal chefs and mental-skills coaches.
Well, researchers at Stony Brook University may have just found a way for NBA players to improve their in-game production by literally doing nothing at all.
A new study suggests that NBA players who posted on social media late at night performed worse in games the following day. Players were more productive when they just put down their device and went right to sleep. This study was published in the National Sleep Foundation’s journal Sleep Health by Dr. Jason J. Jones, Dr. Gregory W. Kirschen, Dr. Lauren Hale and Sindhuja Kancharla.
The researchers were looking for a way to show that people are less productive when they are sleep deprived or off their normal sleep schedule. They decided to evaluate NBA players since it’s a profession where each individual’s productivity is easy to measure thanks to in-game statistics. Tracking the players’ verified tweets allowed the researchers to determine who was up late. Put simply, the study sought to prove “that players perform worse in games following late-night tweeting compared to their own performance in games following no late-night tweeting.”
The researchers analyzed 37,073 tweets sent from 112 NBA players (including superstars LeBron James and Kevin Durant) between 2009 and 2016. Each player’s games were sorted into two categories: late-night-tweet performances and no-late-night-tweet performances. Initially, any tweet posted between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. was deemed a “late-night tweet.” But when the researchers learned more about NBA players’ daily schedule, they narrowed in on posts between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. and determined that the “results were virtually identical.” To prevent travel and jet lag from affecting the study, the researchers only tracked games featuring two East Coast teams or two West Coast teams facing off.
The results backed up the importance of sleep, as players performed significantly better when they didn’t send a late-night tweet prior to a game-day. A player’s field goal percentage dropped by 1.7 percentage points following a night in which he tweeted during typical sleeping hours. When players sent a late-night tweet, they also scored approximately 1.1 fewer points and grabbed 0.5 fewer rebounds. Also, after a late-night tweet, the subjects would play 2.0 fewer minutes – perhaps because they were tired and needed to come out, or because they were struggling and the coach benched them. These may not seem like significant differences, but it’s evidence that NBA players who get a full night of sleep are more effective.
Interestingly, even though the researchers only evaluated East-versus-East and West-versus-West contests, players were still affected more by late-night tweeting prior to an away game. At home, players who sent a late-night tweet scored 0.97 fewer points and their field goal percentage dropped by 0.76 percentage points. But on the road, players who sent a late-night tweet scored 1.4 fewer points and their field goal percentage dropped by 3.95 percentage points. Even if they aren’t going across the country, players may already be more tired when they’re away from home. If they are up late on top of that (as tweeting suggests), it seems they’ll be even more drained than usual.
When a player sent a tweet late at night, the researchers checked how often they had posted during sleeping hours. Then, they separated the frequent late-night tweeters from the infrequent late-night tweeters. They discovered that the frequent late-night tweeters were barely affected the day after sending a tweet during sleeping hours. They scored just 0.21 fewer points, grabbed only 0.13 fewer rebounds and – believe it or not – actually improved their field goal percentage by 0.21 percentage points. On the other hand, infrequent late-night tweets who posted during sleeping hours were greatly impacted, scoring 2.08 fewer points, grabbing .086 fewer rebounds and shooting 3.68 percentage points worse from the field.
It seems the infrequent late-night tweeters performed much worse because their body wasn’t used to being up that late. A person might justify staying up late as “a one-time thing,” but going away from their usual sleep schedule may prevent them from functioning at 100 percent the following day. The researchers hypothesized that the frequent late-night tweeters “may be on a nonstandard sleep schedule that works for them,” which is why they weren’t affected.
“Sleep deprivation is an epidemic,” said researcher Dr. Lauren Hale. “Seven-to-nine hours is the recommended amount of sleep for most people. For some people, seven hours may be enough, but eight is preferable. It really depends on the person’s sleep needs. I think it’s very important that everyone pays attention to the conditions that help them fall asleep. Anything that’s going to help you get a better night’s sleep is something you should seriously consider.”
One surprising result from this study is that turnovers and personal fouls weren’t really impacted by tweeting late at night, unlike scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage.
Between the non-late-night tweeters and late-night tweeters, there was only a 0.16 differential for turnovers and a 0.22 differential for fouls. Even when a late-night tweeter was playing an away game, the turnover differential was just 0.07 and the foul differential was only 0.19.
While NBA players were the subjects of this study, the researchers hope everyone benefits from the results.
Approximately 30 percent of the general population gets significantly less sleep than the seven hours that’s recommended by the National Sleep Foundation and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
“While this study is relevant to coaches everywhere, this is not a study about either Twitter or basketball,” said researcher Dr. Jason J. Jones. “This is a study about the importance of sleep for optimal daytime functioning.”
One element of this study that affects most people – not just athletes – is checking social-media before bed. Using any device with a screen right before bed reduces your sleep time and quality of sleep.
“There’s a huge body of studies showing that more screen time is associated with falling asleep later, lower quality sleep and shorter sleep time,” Dr. Hale said. “There are a few reasons for that. For one, you have the bright light on your phone or tablet that’s alerting your body to suppress the melatonin it needs to help it go to sleep. That’s sort of the physiological mechanism. Your natural system that gets tired and wants to fall asleep at 10 p.m. isn’t working if you have light shining in your face. Also, the content on the screen is stimulating and engaging – whether it’s a video game or a movie you’re emotionally invested in or social-media. If you post a tweet, you may want to see the response it gets, so you check back in 15 minutes. These things are disruptive to your sleep because you’re eating away at the time you should be using to go to sleep.
“If what you’re doing is taking up time or emotionally stimulating you or alerting you physiologically, it’ll interrupt your sleep. Generally speaking, you want to reduce all of the light in your room – whether it’s from light bulbs or from a screen. Right now, turning off all screens one hour before bed is the recommendation we give. Ideally, you’ll charge them in a different room too. If you keep them out of sight, out of mind and you do a relaxing activity, that will help you fall asleep.”
Most people can’t measure their productivity as easily as athletes (hence the reason NBA players were selected for this study), but we’ve all had days where we were exhausted and couldn’t complete as much work as we wanted. Adjusting your sleep schedule is a relatively easy thing to do and the benefits are immense.