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March Madness: Why Adequate Rest is Critical to NCAA Athletes and Fans

Kicking Off March Madness

March Madness kicked off yesterday in cities across the nation and the fun doesn't stop until Monday, April 4 with the 2016 championship game in Houston. The annual NCAA Tournament is a basketball marathon spanning three weeks and multiple locations, drawing millions of spectators – from the casual viewer to the super fan. It's estimated that more than 70 million tournament brackets will be completed this year predicting the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight and Final Four. The road to the Final Four will be paved by play in locales from Anaheim to Brooklyn. Cities including Chicago, Denver, Des Moines and Oklahoma City will host 64 teams over the next few weeks. Athletes and fans alike will be feeling restless awaiting the outcomes.

Why Sleep Is Critical for NCAA Athletes

Athletes push themselves to the limit in pursuit of lifelong dreams (all while being full-time students). The single-elimination format means one loss and your team is out, so it can be difficult for athletes to pace themselves for play.

Steve Smith, a former Division I collegiate soccer player and team nutritionist for the Houston Texans recently shared the need for sleep when it comes to athletic performance. He tells us it's important for athletes – both in school and in the professional ranks – to aim for 9-10 hours each night. This can be a challenge for college athletes, who have to balance practice and game schedules with social lives and academic agendas.

A Great Athletic Performance Requires Great Sleep

Adequate sleep is a must for high-level sports on a national stage. Much of what dictates success can be attributed to the individual's sleep health and their commitment to getting a good night's rest. Due to the amount of physical stress athletes put on their bodies, recovery between games and practices is crucial.

When we sleep, our bodies release natural growth hormones that stimulate bone building, muscle growth and repair, and fat burning. Sleep also helps athletes recover from the wear and tear endured in training and on game day. Smith says that without proper sleep, athletes are at a greater risk for illness and injury. Sleep debt – small losses of sleep over time – can delay reaction time, impacting performance and increasing players' risk for injury.

5 Tips for March Madness Fans to Avoid Burnout

Fans will be resting up then revving up for game day in a different way – completing game brackets to predict the champions, tuning into games or making their way to the stadium. March Madness has become an American tradition, but it comes at a cost to productivity.

With gatherings across multiple time zones, fans will watch and cheer for their favorite teams at all hours of day and night, even during work, while enjoying a variety of food and drinks on the party menu. So how can fans avoid tournament burnout and fatigue?

To deal with the stress and intensity of the Madness, fans can take special precautions to pace themselves – just like the athletes – and recover rested for the next day. Here are a few tips to partake in the festivities while preventing “Final Four Fatigue:”

  1. Avoid caffeine after 4 p.m. This means certain sodas and, unfortunately, even chocolate, which can disrupt sleep cycles.
  2. Maintain a regular exercise routine and a healthy diet. One idea for a compromise – watch the first half of the game while on the treadmill and skip the spicy chicken wings when you get to the party.
  3. Unwind. After the game, go home, dim the lights and settle down. Activities that heighten the senses late at night can make it difficult to get to sleep, so transition from the excitement of the event to the calmer atmosphere of your bedroom before hitting the sack.
  4. Maintain your normal body clock. Everybody loves a good nap, but to keep your body clock set to the right time, don't snooze more than an hour.
  5. Don't overcompensate. “Sleeping in” on the weekends can help you “catch up” with slumber, but waking up later than two hours past the normal time can disrupt your internal body clock and make it harder to rise once Monday morning arrives.

Last but not least, whether you're an athlete or a fan, enjoy the games! March Madness only comes once a year, so have fun, but stay rested.

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