Elite Sports: Why Sleep Tech Matters
New wearable devices and data analytics services are improving the way athletes measure their performance. There are a number of solutions in the marketplace to capture various athlete data points: speed (i.e. Catapult), muscle load (i.e. Athos), heart rate (i.e. Omegawave), or vertical jump (i.e. VERT).
At the Sports Innovation Lab, we believe the winners in this market will continue to drive improvements in form factor and tune algorithms to find more precise and accurate information. Advancements in these areas continue to charge ahead, but the biggest drawback remains: these on-field solutions only track fitness during a select few hours of the day.
What happens to the remaining 60% to 80% of our day?
Many experts in the field of athlete performance believe the answer to this question will give us the full picture of the athlete. More importantly, it will help elite sports teams and athletes put game performance data in context. Eat, sleep, and rest can have as much, if not more, of an impact on game day success as the training leading up to it.
Measuring sleep – commonly referred to as a "performance enhancing drug" – is a useful place to start. Adults are expected to sleep 8 hours a day on average, representing at least 33% of their day, and elite athletes require even more sleep to achieve optimal performance:
“For elite athletes, we recommend eight to 10 hours plus every night… For the everyday person, you’ve got to hit at least seven hours of rest every night.” - Cheri Mah, UCSF
But how does sleep translate to game performance?
At Stanford University, sleep expert Cheri Mah conducted the breakthrough study in 2011 when she analyzed the effects of sleep on sports performance. She found that college basketball players who increased their daily sleep schedule from 7-8 hours a night to at least 10 hours for 6-7 weeks recorded faster sprint times, reduced signs of fatigue and injury, and higher free-throw (+9%) and 3-point (+9.3%) shooting accuracy.
Going deeper, the impact of sleep extension on cognitive and physical performance among elite athletes can be further explained by the linkage between human growth hormone (HGH) and getting a good night’s rest. During sleep, the body releases hormones that contribute to muscle repair and growth. HGH is naturally secreted in the body and peaks during slow wave sleep (deep sleep), according to Dr. Judith Davidson.
“[Mah] and her colleagues have jolted the world of sports analytics by essentially showing that you can get safe, legal HGH just by shutting off the lights” – Peter Keating, ESPN
The effects of HGH on humans are far reaching, according to Sparta Science, including “decreased body fat, increased muscle mass, increased bone density, increased energy levels and immune system function and even improved skin tone and texture.” Further, researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich found that sleep deprivation significantly decreases HGH secretion, especially in young adults (less than 24 years old).
Mah’s ongoing research continues to propel a greater interest across the athletic community in understanding sleep’s impact on athlete performance. It is no surprise then that her insights are in strong demand by teams and athletes across the NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLB in addition to other international sports organizations. Nike, Google, ESPN, and Gatorade also seek out her services as they employ their own form of corporate athletes.
When it comes to recovery, sleep is top of mind.
Mark Verstegen, EXOS Founder and Sports Innovation Lab advisor, is an expert in elite athlete training and recovery. He defines sleep as “the magic pill” for his athletes, noting “there is deep research around how great sleep upgrades an athlete’s cognitive and physiologic abilities.”
Dr. Mark Rosekind, sleep expert and former Director of NASA’s Fatigue Countermeasures Program, pushes U.S. Olympians to get 9 to 10 hours of sleep a night, not the 5 to 7 most young adults manage. He contends "people need to be as smart about sleep as they are about diet and exercise.”
“Sleep is the most important thing when it comes to recovery…There's no better recovery than sleep.” - LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
“Sleep monitoring to me is the most under talked about, under utilized tool that an athlete has, young or old.” – Matt Hasselbeck, former NFL player and Sports Innovation Lab advisor
“Recovery is big. It starts with sleep, then nutrition, and hydration.” – Paul Rabil, professional lacrosse player and Sports Innovation Lab advisor
“I was always looking for ways to quantify performance and training and use that as a benchmark so that it was never subjective. And so that's why I'm interested in things like heart rate variability and measuring sleep.” – Craig Adams, former NHL player
Where do we go from here?
The next step in sports technology will focus on the other 60% to 80% of the athlete's day not spent in the weight room or on the field of play. Athletes will move beyond collecting biometrics that reflect their strain during exercise and now begin to identify data monitoring their sleep and recovery.
These new sleep monitoring solutions will not only track an athlete's sleep, but they will give each player prescriptive information on how to schedule their sleep for optimal performance. Early entrants into this field include Fatigue Science, RISE, ReST, Beddit, Sleep Shepherd, WHOOP (the officially licensed recovery wearable of the NFLPA), and many others.
Meghan Duggan, U.S. Women’s Hockey captain and two-time Olympian, also spoke at The Rise of The Quantified Athlete and had this to say:
The leading elite athlete management platforms will be right to incorporate sleep and recovery data when evaluating an athlete's 40-yard dash or shooting percentage after 4 games in 5 nights. Combining in-game or training room data with sleep data will bring elite sports teams and athletes much closer to understanding recovery and achieving the full picture of the athlete.
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