Professional sports teams turn to sleep science

What makes a champion? Practices, teamwork, diligence, are all key ingredients leading professional sports teams to league championships. But recently, media attention has been paid to the fatigue management strategies of professional sports teams. The Vancouver Canucks—the only NHL team situated on Canada’s west coast, have to travel longer distances than any other team throughout the regular season.  With ongoing jet lag and time spent travelling, the team members are at a high risk of fatigue—and a weaker physical and mental performance while on the ice.

Rather than dwelling on this inherent woe, the Canucks’ General Manager Mike Gillis turned to sleep science experts who helped to turn the problem into a competitive advantage. Beginning in the 2008-09 season, Canucks players wore ReadiBand bracelets (developed by Hawaii-based Fatigue Science) for one-to-two-week periods early in the season. ReadiBands monitor wrist motion and track sleep patterns including duration of sleep, number of night awakenings, how long it takes to fall asleep, and whether the team members can sleep on planes, buses etc.

The experts then used the sleep data to develop sleep profiles for every player. Based on when the players’ concentration levels were high or low, the sleep experts could identify which games would be problematic, whether the team should fly out immediately or stay behind in a road city and get a good night’s sleep, and what times would be best for scheduling practices. As coach Alain Vigneault states, “Because we travel the most in the NHL, that’s one of the reasons why we try and get a scientific approach to where our guys would have the utmost energy. I do know that, obviously, our record is better.”

When it comes to sleep, athletes generally need 7-9 hours per night—similar to the average adult. However, many athletes face barriers to restful sleep such as performance pressure (and the anxiety associated with it), and jet lag from travelling far distances to tournaments and competitions.

With the success of professional teams and athletes using fatigue management strategies, perhaps more organizations in 24/7 industries will turn to sleep specialists to boost the science behind their game!