The Importance of Sleep to Achieving Excellence

There is a famous study that was published in 1993 by the American Psychological Association that traced the number of hours that violinists from the Music Academy of West Berlin had practiced over the course of their careers. The groups were broken down into categories. The first was students whose futures were considered to be so bright that it was anticipated that they would embark on a solo career. The second group is classified simply as being good students and the third group had plans to become music teachers. The research is one of the first to introduce the concept of “deliberate practice,” and focuses on the principal that it is the students who have practiced to the point of accumulating 10,000 or more hours of deliberate practice by the age of twenty are the ones that will be the most likely to be successful. The study, by K. Anders Ericsson and colleagues, was hailed internationally for drawing a line between those who put in the physical work and those who did not and the outcome that was their reward. But there was another aspect to the same study that did not get the same attention, but still bears examination. The study examined the sleep patterns that the three groups experienced, and found that the students who were in the top group also went to sleep earlier on average each night, stayed asleep longer, and even took naps in the afternoon. The study’s authors said, “The high relevance of sleep for improving violin performance must be indirect and related to the need to recover from effortful activities such as practice.” The study’s authors found that sleep was one of the most relevant factors that contributed to improving performance, and specifically that it was extremely important for the top performing violin players to have the opportunity to rest and recover after their strenuous, concentrated practices. The reason why this information is so vitally important is that it can be applied to nearly every aspect of human activity in which the goal is improved performance. The need for sustained practice in order to improve and achieve higher levels of performance is reliant upon a corresponding need for rest. Whether we are memorizing information, training physically for an athletic performance or working hard to achieve a goal in our workplace, it is essential that we take the time to recover, and that recovery is best served by allowing the body to get high quality and high quantities of sleep. It is also important to note that the effort that is put into the extensive practice is in and of itself exhausting, physically and mentally. If you want to ensure that you are performing at your optimal level, it is essential that you get adequate — or more than adequate — sleep.

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