The NFL’s latest workout does not take place on a field, in a gym, or at any training facility. Rather, it occurs in the players’ homes, in their very own beds. Sleep, researchers have found, is one of the most important factors affecting an athlete’s performance.
While past sleep data was collected by imprecise measurement techniques, the rise in wearable technology has made analyzing sleep patterns for performance easier than ever for both professionals and laymen alike.
Because this field of study is relatively new, there are no official NFL sleep sponsors just yet. Nonetheless, teams have begun to incorporate sleep science into their programs. Both the Philadelphia Eagles and the Seattle Seahawks have been identified to provide optional sleep monitors for players.
“You don’t know until you’re taught the effect lack of sleep has upon your brain and its functionality,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins told bleacherreport.com. “It changes completely when you’re sleep-deprived.”
Teams use this technology so that players not only see what they slept that night, but understand how they slept and how it affects their alertness throughout the following day.
To help athletes learn this information, SI.com reported that Charles Czeisler, the director of the divisions of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, has visited countless professional teams teaching them the importance of sleep.
“The average athlete probably needs eight to nine hours of sleep, given their physical demands,” Czeisler in the same article. “I wish I could say there’s a shortcut, but if you are going to be a professional athlete, you need to pay careful attention to sleep.”
On of Czeisler’s most popular preaching points is a 2011 study by Stanford’s Sleep Clinic that evaluated the players of the university’s men’s basketball team after increased sleep habits. Though the sample size was a small (only 11 people), the results of the examination support sleep theory; the players ran faster, shot more precisely, and reacted more quickly after increasing hours of sleep per night.
Alertness, however, is not the key benefit of more rest. Sleep, as many of us understand, is a process of physical and mental repair. By cutting a night’s sleep short, one cuts the body’s repair time short, too, and for athletes, any recovery time is crucial.
Though sleep science is in its infancy and no team has publicly or directly advocated for the use of fully invasive sleep monitoring devices on its players, athletes everywhere should consider getting an extra hour of sleep tonight if taking the time and energy to wake up for that early-morning workout tomorrow.