Sleep patterns could determine victory in sports

Victory or defeat in major sporting events, such as the Superbowl on February 2, may come down to sleep. And not just getting enough sleep as past studies have shown. But when that sleep takes place. New research published in Current Biology suggests that early birds and night owls reach their peak physical performances at different times of day. Moreover, there is a 26 percent variation in performance quality.

“If a one percent difference can be the margin between a gold medal and fourth place in the Olympic 100 meters final, just imagine what a 26 percent boost to performance could give you,” said study coauthor Dr. Roland Brandstaetter of the University of Birmingham.

The scientists identified three types of sleep patterns or ‘circadian phenotypes’ as they are called. The first type is known as the ‘larks’. These are your typical early birds- they wake up, without the assistance of any alarm clock, between six and seven in the morning. Larks reach their peak performance at around noon. The second category is made up of intermediates. They wake up between eight and nine in the morning and peak around three in the afternoon. Finally, there are the owls. This last category wakes up at 11am and will not reach their peak performance until over 10 hours later at eight or nine o’clock at night.

This research could have a huge impact on sports. For example, the study examines the records of European soccer teams. The English Premiere League performs spectacularly well during their games at three o’clock in the afternoon. However, when the British go to compete in the Champions League with the rest of Europe, they often struggle. Meanwhile, the Spanish teams perform brilliantly. Dr. Brandstaetter contributes this to Spanish society’s tendency to start the day later.

The same is true for American football. Indeed, an previous study of the National Football League that examined all the games from 1970 to 2013 found that West Coast teams have a major advantage over East Coast teams when playing night games.

This year’s Superbowl will take place at the University of Phoenix in Arizona between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks. The timing of the game could put the Patriots at a disadvantage. Then again, it may all depend on how many larks and how many owls are on the team.

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