The Impact of Short-Term Sleep Extension on Cognitive and Motor Performance in College Tactical Athletes
Ritland, Bradley Michael
Hatfield, Bradley D
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U.S. service members are commonly referred to as “tactical athletes” because of the physical training they undergo to maintain and improve occupational performance. Because performance in the military can literally determine the outcome in ‘life and death’ situations, it is critical that tactical athletes are prepared to perform optimally, both physically and mentally. Accordingly, it is important for tactical athletes to focus on health behaviors, like sleep, known to impact both aspects of performance. Little is known about the sleep health of college tactical athletes enrolled in The Reserve Officer's Training Corps (ROTC) and there have been no well-controlled studies on the immediate and residual effects of sleep extension on executive and cognitive motor performance. To address this knowledge gap, a randomized control trial (Sleep extension versus Control) was conducted to determine the immediate and residual effects of a four-night sleep extension intervention (10 hours time in bed) in this population. Consented participants wore a wrist actigraph for fifteen nights in order to measure sleep duration and a cognitive motor battery was conducted after seven nights of habitual sleep (Day 8 – pre-test), after the four nights of sleep extension intervention (Day 12 – post-test), and after the resumption of habitual sleep for four nights (Day 16 – follow-up). Between group comparisons of mean pre- to post-test score changes and mean pre-test to follow-up score changes were performed using independent sample t-tests. Results revealed that the sleep extension group significantly increased their mean sleep duration over the intervention period and that the four nights of sleep extension resulted in immediate benefits in alertness, psychomotor vigilance/attention, executive function performance, standing broad jump performance, and motivation levels. Benefits of sleep extension on broad jump performance and motivation level were still evident four days after resumption of habitual sleep schedules. These results suggest that sleep extension enhances both cognitive and motor performance in college tactical athletes, with some performance benefits lasting days after returning to habitual sleep patterns. Considering the performance improvements noted following sleep extension, a four-night intervention should be considered for training programs aiming to enhance overall performance.