Sleep is essential to success in sports (Thinkstock)
Sleep is essential to success in sports
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Jarome Iginla draws the blackout curtains and keeps his room at a cool temperature. He silences his cellphone and sometimes reads a relaxing book to drift off.

Although he's an 18-year veteran, the Colorado Avalanche ice hockey forward only recently happened upon this simple eye opener: Quality sleep really does matter, especially to athletes.

The closer Iginla comes to nine hours of slumber on any given night, the better his production seems to be on the ice. That is why Iginla is not a big fan of early morning practices before games, even though those skates are as much a part of hockey tradition as playoff beards and the handshake line.

There is evidence that sleep restriction curtails adequate rest and recovery for athletes, which can impact performance. Some NBA teams have even dabbled with eliminating the traditional shootaround, a brief practice held earlier on the day of a game.

Cheri Mah, a researcher at the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory, tracked the sleep habits of the men's basketball team at Stanford University for a study released in 2011. By extending their sleep, the Cardinal players increased their 3-point and free throw shooting by 9 percent.

Iginla sees how the evidence can come into play on the ice, too.

"When you're tired, it doesn't seem like the game comes as quick," said Iginla, who began working with sleep coaches while with the Calgary Flames a few years ago. "You want to keep things fresh, kind of like a kid, where you can't wait to get on the ice, can't wait to go out there and expend that energy. The more you capture that the better."

Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette actually scrubbed the morning skatearound when he was with Carolina in 2008-09, but he was fired that December and didn't get to see the experiment through. The Hurricanes went to the Eastern Conference final after he was let go and Laviolette is convinced the lack of a skatearound early in the season played a role.

"I think it's because they had a lot of energy left," Laviolette said, smiling. "I think right now (skatearounds) are more habit than anything else (and) I don't necessarily think it's good for you."

Still, players are creatures of habit. Maybe decades ago, skating or shooting around before games was a necessary ploy a way for players to loosen up after a late night. Nowadays, players are more conditioned.

"I'm all for that, getting rid of those," Anaheim forward Ryan Getzlaf said. "It's just kind of been instilled in some guys that they need to go on the ice."

Dr. Charles Czeisler is known around NBA circles as the "sleep doctor" and as the chief of the sleep and circadian disorders division at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, he has worked with several professional teams and believes more emphasis should be placed on monitoring the body's internal clock.

A few seasons ago, Czeisler consulted with the Portland Trail Blazers to curb their trend of struggling on East Coast trips. His biggest advice was to keep everyone's schedule on Oregon time and not, say, New York time. That three-hour difference is huge to the body.

"So the coach told them, 'OK, your curfew is 2 a.m.,'" said Czeisler, who's worked with the Boston Celtics and Boston Red Sox baseball team. "The players were all very excited about that. Trying to adjust is just going to degrade your performance."

Czeisler would like to see sleep taken just as seriously as strength programs or nutrition.

"Would you starve yourself before a game and say, 'Ok, I'm not going to eat for 24 hours?' That would be crazy," Czeisler said. "There's no reason to sleep-starve yourself before a game."

In Mah's opinion, elite athletes need between 8-10 hours of sleep.

"So often sleep is the first thing to go when there's a busy schedule and a lot on the plate," said Mah, who recently offered sleep guidance to the NBA's Western Conference-leading Golden State Warriors. "Making it a priority is essential for players and coaches."

NBA teams such as the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets have experimented with cutting down on the traditional shootaround approach. Instead of having their players show up at the gym early in the morning, go home around lunch and then return that night for the game, they're having them arrive closer to game time.

Recently though, by a 6-5 player vote, the struggling Nuggets decided to go back to the early morning shootaround.

Not everyone is a big fan of getting up early.

"I notice when we had no shootaround, everyone is more upbeat when they got to the gym," Denver guard Ty Lawson said. "It sticks better and it's fresher (later in the day)."

Lawson prefers to break his sleep into chunks, five hours at night and then a three-hour nap during the day.

"When I get back from shootaround now, that's all I do is nap," Lawson said. "If I don't get that nap, I'm done."

Iginla certainly wouldn't mind being done with morning skates, but it might take a Stanley Cup hockey champion to usher in that sort of change.

"That's what it will probably take to get it to catch on big time," Iginla acknowledged, "I'd rather get a little more sleep."

Critical thinking challenge: Why is it likely that the Red Sox and Celtics worked with Dr. Charles Czeisler rather than another doctor?

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COMMENTS (31)
  • Queen phillips
    4/06/2015 - 09:10 a.m.

    Sleep is really essential to success even i sport. According Jeroma Iginla the ice hockey player, taking a nap is very essential. he hardly went for morning practice because he gave himself at least 9 hours to sleep and later went for his practice during the day. after each play Jeroma made his success through that.......

  • Taryne
    4/06/2015 - 11:28 a.m.

    I think this is a great article because sleep is one of the main keys to play good in sports. If you get all your rest, you can run faster, and have better mind set. If you don't get enough sleep then you might not get to the ball fast, or have a good attitude. You should always have a good sportsman ship, and have a good attitude.

  • TreyvaunT
    4/06/2015 - 01:26 p.m.

    I wish my coaches knew that. They work you half to death. But it is okay because you are getting better. Just tiered in the morning.

  • MadisonSch
    4/06/2015 - 01:42 p.m.

    As a fellow athlete, I need enough sleep to practice or to play a game.If I do not get sleep, I move slower than a turtle.

  • Ashleypatt
    4/06/2015 - 01:42 p.m.

    Sleep is very important when you are playing sports. The reason why is because when you have a game you want to be able to function right and play the right moves. Also so you can stay focused and play together as a team right. When you dont get sleep before your game you could be really drained and not want to function right also you could be dragging yourself across the field during practice or even your game.

  • Laith123456789
    4/06/2015 - 02:04 p.m.

    yes it is because you need some rest to play good for the next game you are going to play and allows you to focus

  • tylerr-Che
    4/07/2015 - 01:49 p.m.

    its good to have rest before a game to keep energy so you can be ready to go to win and so can go without a rest.

  • TehyaWhite-Ste
    4/08/2015 - 07:28 p.m.

    Sleep is essential to anything in life. No matter what the activity is, if one wants to do well, they will always have to get a good nights sleep.

  • waylon12
    4/08/2015 - 08:23 p.m.

    I totaly agree. this is a very great artical. this explains a lot with sleep and practis. this is an awsome artical. I love this, this is awsome and sweet.

    • martellnc
      4/13/2015 - 09:03 a.m.

      yea i think its a great artical too because it tells the truth about having good sleep to learn and having to wake up and do stuff in order to really do something you have to have good rest

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