It was great to see this news of the New York Jets’ recent decision to make sleep specialists part of their in-season training program. According to the news reports, sleep experts have worked directly with players, teaching them strategies for getting more and better sleep amid a physically and mentally demanding schedule of practice and games. In addition, the coaching staff has adjusted players’ schedules to be more sleep friendly, including starting their work day 90 minutes later, and shortening the duration of some meetings and practices. Players who spoke to reporters seemed enthusiastic about the team’s newfound attention to sleep. “It was awesome,” one player told Fox Sports. “You still get the same amount of work in, but you get to sleep in a bit more and get off your feet a bit more.”
It probably won’t surprise you to hear that I think this is a pretty smart and forward-thinking strategy for a team to take. Sleep can play a big role in the competitive world of pro sports. Among these elite athletes, big rewards often come from gains measured in small increments: shaving a couple of seconds off running speed, improving agility and reaction time by fractions of a second, drawing on an ever-so-slightly deeper reserve of energy and power for a block or tackle. Here are some examples of research that has shown how sleep can improve athletic performance:
And what about the rest of us? We may not be taking to the football field or basketball court every day, but the underlying relationship between better sleep and higher functioning applies in different ways to all of us. We’re learning more all the time about how sleep can improve not only physical but cognitive performance, and also about the negative consequences of disrupted sleep on performance:
It won’t surprise me to see more sports teams adopting a sleep-better-to-perform-better strategy similar to the one the Jets have put into play this season. But using sleep to improve performance isn’t just the purview of athletes—we can all benefit from making sleep a fundamental part of everyone’s game plan.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™