Sleep Might Be The Missing Puzzle Piece for High Performance
Sleep enhances performance

Is Sleep the Secret Puzzle Piece for Geeks and Athletes?

Here’s the thing:

There really are NO quick fixes in life.

However, THIS might be the easiest ever way to improve your performances behind the school desk and on the pitch.


--> SLEEP.


Yes, sleep might be the secret sauce.

And in this article I’ll PROVE it to you.

I’ll show you how…

  • Sleep separates A & B students from the rest
  • Sleep improves your free throw shooting by 10%
  • Why it’s completely useless to cram all night and sacrifice sleep

Sounds interesting?

Let’s jump straight in.

You Learn While You Sleep

You learn while you sleep.

Here’s a cool fact:

Your brain basically cleans itself when you sleep.

You know, all the dust and clutter.

Haha. No, seriously, during the day you accumulate waste products such as soluble proteins and metabolites. [1] [2]

But I really just see it as dust that needs to be cleaned out every night. And if I get less sleep than required, not all dust can be cleaned out and that would accumulate if I couldn’t get more sleep the next nights.

I don’t want a dusty brain --> so I prioritize sleep.

(Read my article on prioritizing sleep here.)

That cleaning process in the brain is done by the glymphatic system. It’s active when you sleep and largely inactive during wakefulness. [3]

(By the way, this might be some brag-about-knowledge: The glymphatic system is the counterpart to the lymphatic system, the cleaning system of the entire body except the brain.)

In easy:

For a clean & dusted brain you need to sleep.

Okay. And what has that to do with learning?

Here’s my metaphor.

The Dust & Clutter Metaphor

The Dust and Clutter Metaphor

Think of your brain as your desk.

The place where you learn.

Let’s say you want to learn French (you know bonjour, baguette, et (and) voulez vous coucher avec moi?).

Now, you start off with a clean, dusted, and clutter-free desk (that’s how I imagine my brain after several full nights of sleep). This desk is perfect. It’s like the dream desk where you can learn like a superstar.

When you learn you use several books, dictionaries, exercise papers, and you take notes. So, as you learn a lot your desk gets an overload of stuff and papers etc. The same happens to your brain during the day…

… I imagine that after a day of work, kids, thousands of impressions, reading a book, watching TV, learning French, and checking Facebook once or twice, our brain looks like the overloaded desk with paper piles, folders, books, dirt, dust, spider webs, and paper balls all over the place. Our brain is completely PACKED with stuff after a long day.

And that’s when the night enters the game.

When you’ve finished your private French lesson and you’ve learned some more words (je t’aime, putain, et au revoir), it’s time to clean your desk. So you put away the books and dictionaries, notes, and exercise files etc. You clean your desk so you can work again at your dream desk the next day.

That happens to your brain when you sleep (enough). It gets cleaned. And what you’ve learned gets stored, what you don’t need anymore gets shredded. So you can start off the next day with the perfect brain to live & learn.

But what happens if you don’t clean your desk?

Well, you start off with a massive chaos the next day. And…

  • You don’t find your stuff
  • You don’t remember what you’ve learned
  • You get exhausted & stressed out from all the clutter

In short: You’re less productive, more tired, remember less, and life sucks…

So clean your freakin’ desk.

Err… I mean: GET ENOUGH SLEEP. (And a clean desk would do no harm either…)

That’s my metaphor. I get a lot of sleep because I don’t want a dusty, cluttered, full-of-spider-webs-and-paper-piles-brain. Simple as that.

Now, what’s the science behind that dust & clutter metaphor?

What Says Ms. Science?

Science backs it up that sleep enhances performance

First of all, what’s the point exactly?

The point is, that if you don’t get enough sleep, you’re less likely to remember what you’ve learned during the day --> sleep is vital for learning.

And Ms. Sciences backs me up.

Study after study confirms that when you get sleep after your learning session you’ll remember more. (Get a research overview here and here.) [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]

Such study reports are NOT sexy…

So let’s just look at the main points from the sleep & learning research:

  • Sleep before you learn prepares your brain
  • Sleep after learning is essential to store what you’ve learned
  • If you haven’t slept your ability to learn new things collapses by 40%
  • Certain memories improve while you sleep (e.g. playing piano)
  • A full night of sleep helps you solve problems
  • With less than 6 hours of sleep you improve 12% less than with a full night of sleep
  • Older adults (60+) have more trouble remembering things due to shorter deep sleep stages
  • If you don’t get enough sleep your desk is still stuffed and you can’t learn effectively***
Sleep prepares the brain like a dry sponge, ready to soak up new information.Sleep researcher Dr. Matthew Walker

Again, Ms. Science is clear on that: While you sleep your brain stores away information you’ve acquired during the day so you have space for more the next day.

Just think about the desk again. You file everything where it belongs so you can find it again when you need it. If you just leave it somewhere on your desk you can’t find it or you might even lose it.

Cool, right?

When a person lies down to sleep at night, the brain undergoes a process that is crucial to learning, memory, and creativity in ways that scientists are only now beginning to understand.
– David K. Randall

This is even more important when you learn new skills, when you prepare for an exam, or when you have an important game the next day…

So, for all the school boys, students, and geeks…

Ditch All-Nighters for Good

All-nighters are a TERRIBLE idea.

Haha… It’s fun writing this as I used to be the total all-nighter guy.

All nighters are a terrible idea

Anyway, better late than never. (Hold on, I just have to tell my older brother, he’s doing his MBA and he’s still into all-nighters…)

Hear this:

Sleep is essential for storing away information that you have encountered during the day. The take-home message is clear: do not skimp on sleep. When you are preparing for an important exam, or interview, you might be tempted to stay up late the night before trying to cram information into your head. Avoid the temptation. It’s a terrible idea and you will be much better off getting an early night. Not only will you be more refreshed when you wake up, you will also be better able to remember what you learnt the day before. Richard Wiseman

Good to know.

And here are some more interesting facts about sleep & school.

(NOTE: Do you want to fall asleep within a few minutes every night? Use this checklist which outlines the 4 steps I personally use. You can get it for free here.)

Why Sixth-Graders Perform like Fourth-Graders

A few years ago, Avi Sadeh from Tel Aviv University did a study with fourth- and sixth-graders. Some should get 30 minutes more, and others 30 minutes less sleep. [10]

Now get this:

The results revealed that the small amount of sleep loss was equivalent to the loss of two years of development, with sleepy sixth-graders performing like fourth-graders. – Richard Wiseman from Night School

Just think about the BADASS fourth-graders who would go to bed super early in order to outperform sixth-graders… *Thug life kids*

Get more sleep for better performance

Another cool study: They looked at more than 3000 high-school students in Massachusetts and found out that A- and B-grade students were going to bed about 40 minutes earlier, and sleeping around 25 minutes longer than those getting lower grades. [11]

I know, correlation is not causation…

But wait, there’s more.

There have been different studies about pushing back starting times of schools. [12]

The results are straightforward:

  • Better average grades
  • Less students falling asleep in class
  • Less likely depressed students
  • Students sleep longer
  • Less teenage car accidents
  • Less bullying
  • Less absenteeism

Cool stuff.

This is clear: Sleep is important for your academic performance.

What about all the sports people?

From Friendly-Fire to Personal Best

Thanks to a lot of sleep you beat personal best

In short:

Sleep is as important for physical performance as it is for academic performance. [13]

I bet you didn’t know that:

In the Gulf War, one of every four American combat deaths was a result from fire from U.S. forces…. After all digging, one truth stared at them, a conclusion that was as obvious as it was radical: soldiers simply weren’t getting enough sleep. The skills and training built up over hundreds of hours of preparation were lost on the battlefield amid the sleep deprivation of combat. – David K. Randall from Dreamland

Sleep deprivation kills in the battlefields…

…and makes you dumb behind the school desk.

Soldiers that consistently averaged the highest amounts of sleep obtained consistently high exam scores, whereas those that averaged low levels of sleep obtained inconsistent performances on the exams. Thomas Balkin, a scientist who’s been working for the military

Inconsistent performances in the battlefield could cost lives.

Soldiers need enough sleep to perform exceptional. The same holds true for athletes…

There was a series of studies with high-level athletes. [14] [15] [16]

When the athletes slept 10 hours they improved themselves immensely.

  • Swimmers swam faster with a higher frequency of kicks
  • Tennis players served more accurate
  • And basketball players improved their free throw shooting by almost 10%

Many of the athletes set new personal bests while taking part in the 10h sleep studies.

So next time you have an important game/race/exam coming up, get some extra sleep and outperform the others.

YES! Prioritize sleep for maximum academic and physical performances.

Okay. That’s it for now.

Let’s recap.


Sleep enhances performance

Your brain cleans itself while you sleep (glymphatic system).

Understand the Dust & Clutter Metaphor:

Your brain is like your desk. And sleep is like cleaning that desk.

After a long day your brain looks like an overloaded desk with paper piles, folders, books, dirt, dust, spider webs, and paper balls all over the place.

If you don’t get enough sleep your brain-desk will look the same or even worse in the morning. Just as if you didn’t clean and declutter your desk.

What does this mean?

You don’t remember things, you’re less likely to learn new stuff, your performance sucks, and life is lame…

There are tons of studies that support that idea. You need to sleep in order to learn more, perform better, and live a great fcking life. It’s that simple.

You don’t want to underperform, right?

So, ditch all-nighters.

And get more sleep for better performances at university and on the pitch…

Clean and dust that desk. EVERY DAMN NIGHT.

This is crucial.

Cool, I think I go and get some sleep now…

Still not convinced that sleep is darn important?

Check out the DEVIL sleep deprivation in my article here.

***Those are not Ms. Science’s exact words.

(NOTE: Do you want to fall asleep within a few minutes every night? Use this checklist which outlines the 4 steps I personally use. You can get it for free here.)

fall asleep faster checklist
Jonas Salzgeber

What's up? My name's Jonas. I'm Swiss (not Swedish). I'm a life enthusiast and I'm curious about everything that gives me an advantage, boost, level upgrade... "That drink will make me unbeatable? I'll down it!" Haha. My motto? Go to bed a little wiser every day & be the best version of yourself.