by Brendan Duffy, Sr.
Certified Sleep Educator –RPSGT
When the Tampa Bay Rays began Spring Training this season, they arrived to the ball field later in the day. Based on their collaboration with sleep specialists, the move to a later start time was meant to help the players increase their sleep time and improve their practices. Instead of 9:30 AM, the players reported at 10:30 AM. This is not something new as the New York Yankees and other professional teams also have done this in the past few seasons and the Yankees start even later –at 11:30 AM!
So why the changes? The MLB teams and other teams in the NBA and NHL have finally realized that sleep quality and quantity is an important part of their training. It is the foundation of their training on top of which they add the additional nutrition, exercise and mental training that helps develop champions. Many of the World Champion Chicago Cubs were tracking their sleep last season while working with sleep coaches and it certainly seems to have helped them reach their goals and perform at their best.
On the high school level, it is imperative that players do not sabotage their on-the-field efforts because they are not paying enough attention to their “sleep game”. Sleep will have an impact on your athletic career in several areas. These include performance, injuries and recovery. Any high school baseball player looking to get recruited, or just wishing to maximize their performance during their high school career, needs to pay attention to the sleep science being incorporated in the college and professional training schedules. Here on Long Island, some high school’s athletic programs are becoming “cutting edge” and looking to use sleep strategies to get a gain on their opponent. I have had the pleasure to speak with high school athletes/teams about how they can use proper sleep habits as a “secret weapon”, and allow them to avoid fatigue related injuries. These sleep coaching tips also enable better practices and reduces risk of over training.
There have been several interesting studies that have made the professionals pay attention to the “sleep coaches” Several prominent athletes including New England Patriots QB Tom Brady and USA Olympic Swimmer Michael Phelps claim a proper and planned sleep program has helped them immensely in their successful careers. At Stanford University, during a sleep research project, college athletes increased their sleep to over eight hours per night. After increasing their sleep, Stanford swimmers broke their personal records and had better attitudes during practice. The Stanford University basketball team also improved their shooting by about 10 percent in free throws and three pointers! And EVERY single member of the basketball team had better sprint times after sleep training! Wouldn’t that matter to a baseball team where making that run to 1st base could determine whether your team wins or loses a game? Or a pitchers reaction time off the mound that is now sharper after learning to enhance their game via sleep?
So how much sleep is needed for a high school baseball player?
While the amount varies slightly for each individual athlete, it is generally considered to be between eight to 10 hours nightly. Unfortunately, almost half of high school students do not get eight hours of sleep on a regular basis. This is due to many factors including early start times for schools, practices planned early prior to school day , part time jobs, use of electronics and social media and homework. This sleep deprivation is pushed even further by the natural shift in a teenagers natural sleep pattern known as their circadian rhythm. If the player doesn’t realize the way they are sabotaging their own training, then sleep gets neglected and the results are apparent in poor play, injuries, poor on field decisions under pressure and a degrading in their judgement.
In one study done in California among high school students, students that slept less than eight hours per night were much more likely to get injured at a rate of about 68 percent more than those that sleep at least eight hours! That is a major difference! And getting injured because you did not allow your body to recover via quality sleep is not the way to wreck all your hard work when the colleges come to recruit you.
When a player is sleep deprived, they risk further injuries due to slower reactions times. They also experience more instances of irritability, anxiety, depression, and weight gain. Lack of sleep causes a breakdown of muscle gain. You compete with less testosterone level,- the equivalent levels of someone ten years older! You also suppress growth hormone, the natural steroid! Why spend all that time in the gym breaking down your body if you don’t allow the building up and reshaping that occurs during your sleep time?
And if you are paying for expensive private pitching or hitting lessons with a coach, be sure to make a commitment to sleep well that night after you return home from your lesson. It is during that night’s sleep that all the mechanics that you learned are sorted out and stored into muscle memory. Have a bad sleep that night, or stay up using social media electronics, and it is as if you never learned the skills as they will not be cemented into a smooth flowing motion in that night’s REM sleep.
So what are a few ways to improve your game and reduce your injuries?
- Sleep at least 8 hours a night and preferably keep the same schedule each night.
- Remove electronic devices and phones from your bedroom at least an hour before bedtime as these devices emit blue light that tricks your brain into thinking it is still day time and therefore the hormone melatonin is not released which helps signal it is time for bed
- Keep your room temperature on the cool side (about 65 degrees)
- Eliminate caffeine and energy drinks after lunch time as they could cause insomnia and increased anxiety.
- Make sure you are hydrated for better quality sleep.
- Don’t go to bed on a full stomach or on an empty stomach. Have a glass of milk or a light snack of peanut butter crackers or such.
- If you are using OTC sleep aids on a regular basis, it is necessary to get to the cause of needing these aids so you can eliminate these. Try something natural like tart cherry juice to help you fall asleep. It is loaded with melatonin and as a side benefit- it also aids in reducing inflammation so you can recover faster.
If you snore, or have breathing pauses, -visit a sleep center to make sure you do not suffer from sleep apnea. Even athletes can have it and it can be missed by many physicians. Even Prince Fielder did not get diagnosed with sleep apnea until his career was about finished. He stopped breathing over 35 times per hour prior to his diagnosis! Imagine what he could have done in his career if this sleep impairment had been diagnosed earlier? Perhaps his stats would have increased and his injuries would have decreased.
And lastly- if you are the type to toss and turn, and stay awake worrying about “the big game” that is the next day… do not fret… I am sure you have all heard of athletes that had a bad night sleep prior to a great effort on the field. Studies show that it is the sleep leading UP TO the night before that is crucial it is what allows you to motor through on adrenaline. So make sure that the week leading up to the big game you get plenty of rest to cover the restlessness of “the night before”
As the MLB has discovered, sleep is not a luxury – it is a crucial part of the game plan for their players. If you hope to play like a pro in the future – you need to sleep like a pro today!
Have a great season!
Sleep Well- Compete Best!
Brendan Duffy is a Certified Sleep Educator, a Registered Sleep Technologist, and the Coordinator of the Sleep Center at St Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson. He has authored several articles about Sleep and Sports and he speaks frequently to health professionals and athletes/teams about making sleep a part of their game plan… If you would like him to speak to your team or conference, or have a question about sleep and sports, you can reach him via email at email@example.com