My Q and A With Cheri Mah, Who’s Helping Top Athletes Elevate Their Game by Getting More Sleep

Top athletes are all about results. And as Cheri Mah has found, the world of sports is ahead of the curve when it comes to embracing one of the performance-enhancing tools that many of us overlook: sleep.

Mah is a researcher at the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory, and her findings have made her a highly sought expert in the sports world. In answer to my questions, she shared her insights on how athletes at every level can boost their performance by getting more sleep, what’s behind the recent surge in interest in athletes’ sleep habits and how non-athletes can incorporate these lessons into their lives.

Describe your research on sleep and athletic performance.

My fascination with sleep in athletes began back in 2002 when several collegiate swimmers walked into the lab with wide grins, having set multiple personal records while on a sleep schedule to eliminate accumulated sleep debt. The aim of that study was to examine cognitive performance, not to boost athletic performance, but their success begged the question: Does getting extra sleep also enhance athletic performance?

Over the subsequent 10 years, my research has focused on the relationship between sleep and performance in high-performing athletes. At the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory with William Dement, M.D., Ph.D., the father of modern sleep medicine, my research has examined the impact of sleep duration and sleep quality on cognitive and physical performance in athletes across a wide range of sports.

The detrimental consequences of chronic sleep loss resulting in an accumulated sleep debt are well known; however, I’ve been intrigued with the opposite: investigating the potential benefits of getting extra sleep (sleep extension) and whether improving sleep patterns can positively impact functioning and enhance performance.

My research has been predominantly with collegiate athletes and has demonstrated that multiple weeks of —> Read More