Sleep is a real opportunity and a real need. Players finish an NBA game at 10 p.m., but they’re wired and pumped and really can’t get to sleep until 2 or 3 a.m. Which means the coach has to really question whether to schedule a real practice the next day; they want the players to get their 8 hours of sleep. Teams end up not really practicing much during the season. They don’t have the time.
Los Angeles Clippers owner
Sleep improves split-second decision-making ability by 4.3%. After four days of restricted sleep, athletes maximum bench press drops by 20 lb. The challenge is, athletes’ sleep is radically disrupted by night-before jitters and night-after muscle pain. In addition, athletes cross time zones weekly; and with varying game times, they have no set schedule for sleeping.
Current hack: Pro athletes and team trainers are increasingly experimenting with a variety of supplements, habits and changes in environment to maximize the benefits of restorative sleep. Last season, the San Jose Sharks were coached to swallow chamomile, lavender and tart cherry juice, a melatonin producer that also combats inflammation, as well as a variety of nutrients like zinc and magnesium thought to induce restorative sleep. Sharks players also learned how to create effective sleep environments by minimizing ultraviolet light and keeping their rooms quiet, dark and cool.
Future hack: Wearable devices today monitor whether an athlete is asleep, but they don’t alter the environment of a sleeper to enhance or extend sleep. New wearables will track both brainwave activity and body temperature, and then alter conditions to prolong sleep phases—especially the all important slow-wave sleep, when the body regenerates tissues by building bone and muscle.
Overall, there is growing interest in sleep from teams across all the leagues. It can have a significant impact on peak performance and overall health. In my opinion, it is one of the most untapped areas of sports performance.
Research fellow, UCSF Human Performance Center; sleep consultant, Golden State Warriors