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. It can impact performance. Some NBA teams have even dabbled with eliminating the traditional shootaround. That is a brief practice held earlier on the day of a game.

Cheri Mah is a researcher at the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory. She 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 of the Avalanche. He 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. That was 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. Today, 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. 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." As the chief of the sleep and circadian disorders division at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Czeisler has worked with several professional teams. He 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? 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 also has worked with the NBA 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. She 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 (101)
  • CW01BUDDY
    4/02/2015 - 08:39 a.m.

    It is very important that athletes get a certain amount of sleep, because of the amount of work they have to do. Sports players want to do their best, so they'll have to get a lot of sleep. If you don't get a lot of sleep during the day you'll be tired and sluggish, you won't play your best.

  • ethano-Goo
    4/02/2015 - 09:41 a.m.

    There are many reasons why the two teams chose doctor Czeisler instead of another doctor. The text states that Dr. Czeisler is called the "sleep doctor" in the NBA world because he is the foremost expert on sleep. The text also states that Czeisler has worked with several professional teams. This evidence from the text is why the two teams chose Czeisler over any other doctor.

  • erinbundy-Goo
    4/02/2015 - 09:53 a.m.

    The Red Sox and the Celtics worked with Dr.Charles Czeisler when studying performance's relationship to sleep. The text states that Dr. Charles Czeisler is known around the NBA as the "sleep doctor." The text also states the Dr. Charles Czeisler is the chief of sleep and circadian disorders at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. The evidence from the text shows that Dr. Charles Czeisler is well-known, local, and experienced in his career, so the Red Sox and the Celtics probably saw him as an attractive candidate for the studies.

  • CesarAV-Har
    4/02/2015 - 10:53 a.m.

    if that method works maybe i should try that. but will it still work if you sleep more. why did they only talk about basketball and hockey.

  • BrendanTad-Har
    4/02/2015 - 11:01 a.m.

    I agree! As an athlete myself, I do need a lot of sleep. If I don't get a lot of sleep, i wont be able to do anything! Advice to athletes, always get plenty of rest.

  • MelodyZDL-Har
    4/02/2015 - 01:00 p.m.

    This article is good for athletes to read because they need to be healthy to play a sport.Many people say they are athletes and they don't know how to play because they dint sleep good or dint know how to play.

  • ThomasC-2
    4/02/2015 - 06:34 p.m.

    Sleep is a essential to all humans everywhere, and athletes are no different than a human. Research from Stanford is showing athletes in the U.S that sleep, and enough of it, is more important than a lot of people think. For example, the study from Stanford showed that the Cardinal team (NBA), when they got enough sleep, increased their buckets by 9%, 3 pointers and all. This jump in the numbers is a huge difference because it goes to show that a little sleep can really improve the performance of professional athletes, or really anyone that wants to do their best at sports. Sleep also looks like the key for the NHL, MLB, NFL, and NBA players to be the best they can be. I also believe that sleep is amazing, and the key to be better at sports because I can relate. Right before I play sports, or if I know that I have a sport in the morning, I get my environment ready for sleep.

  • GabiD-1
    4/02/2015 - 08:07 p.m.

    studies show that the quantity of sleep does matter especially for athletes. Elite athletes need between 8-12 hours of sleep each night, which is a reason early morning practices are not the best. Also if you travel for a competition it is better to stay on your regular sleep schedule and not adjust to the time change. I think this is really good advice and athletes should get a good night sleep before a competition.

  • HudsonC-3
    4/02/2015 - 08:19 p.m.

    Sleep is essential for sports. I you don't get more than 10 hours of sleep you won't play as well. Many players are happy when there is a late curfue but when it is early they will play better because they had enough sleep. I think you need at the least 10 hours or else you won't play well.

  • Matthew11101110
    4/02/2015 - 09:30 p.m.

    I think this article kind of states the obvious. You don't want to go into a game tired. You want to perform the best you can. You need to store up lots of energy if you want to score that goal! Another tip, it carbs before your game; they help boost your energy levels.

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