Now that the 2017 baseball season is in full swing, it’s time to pay attention to performance strategies for getting through a long, grueling season.
More than half a year and hundreds of contests will determine who will unseat the newly crowned Cubs at the World Series next fall.
The smartest among them are likely to aim to sleep soundly as a key part of their winning game plan.
Connecting the dots: baseball and sleep health
Teams are leaning toward efforts to ensure all players sleep soundly.
The Sleep Hygiene Connection
Several professional baseball teams have joined a trend toward smarter performance by adopting better protocols surrounding sleep health.
The Tampa Bay Rays have pushed their morning spring training sessions to an hour later to encourage players to get more sleep. The New York Yankees adopted this practice a year ago. (In fact, they delayed their practice schedules by two hours).
The website, Fatigue Science, discusses the importance of adequate sleep as critical to overall human performance. They point out five ways in which adequate sleep can maintain, even improve athlete ability on the field:
- Improved reaction times
- Reduced injury rates and improved overall health
- Longer athletic careers
- Better accuracy, faster sprint times
- Fewer mental errors
Many studies on sleep’s influence over athletic prowess support these observations. This includes many findings from Lauren Cowley’s recent and extensive research on these subjects found at Elite Track Sport & Conditioning:
- collegiate men’s basketball teams improved sprinting and shooting skills following quality sleep over an extended period of time
- Division I men’s and women’s swim teams shaved half a second off race times following adequate sleep over an extended period of time
- MLB players (per a 2013 study) worsened their strike zone judgment while at bat as the season lengthened, likely due to sleep loss and the fatigue of travel
What is the first response to any problems with sleep loss and deprivation? Sleep hygiene. Basics include going to bed and rising at an appropriate and consistent hour as well as making mindful decisions about sleep environment, meal timing, exercise regimen, and personal habits to prioritize sleep every night of the week.
The Sleep Breathing Connection
It may seem hard to believe that professional athletes could suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The reality is that sleep apnea is not just a sleep disorder for older, overweight people. All kinds of professional athletes suffer from it.
Cleveland Indian infielder Mike Napoli is certain that the maxillomandibular advancement (MMA) surgery (also known as “bimax” surgery) he underwent in 2015 basically saved his life and his professional baseball career after he was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea.
He was first diagnosed in 2007 after years of escalating symptoms. These included chronic habitual snoring, gasping for air while sleeping, witnessed apneas, daytime sleepiness, attention problems at team meetings, general fatigue, even episodes of drowsy driving.
Post-diagnosis, Napoli jumped through the usual hoops by trying positive airway pressure therapy, followed by an oral appliance. He struggled through both efforts and found himself at the end of the 2014 season facing a major league decision: should he retire altogether or undergo a significant operation?
Napoli decided to opt for the MMA procedure. This extreme surgical reconstruction requires the breaking and resetting of both the upper and lower jaws. Recover was substantial and lengthy and included an extensive trip to intensive care plus the wiring shut of his jaw for weeks. Regardless, Napoli’s become quite an evangelist for improved sleep health. Because he can sleep soundly again, he’s not only made tremendous gains in focus and energy, but he’s dreaming again for the first time in 10 years.
SMART SLEEP FACT: For many people with severe sleep apnea, REM sleep cycles—the time when they dream—can be lost entirely. However, the brain requires rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep to help consolidate memory, deep clean the central nervous system of waste products, and organize learned information. This healthy and necessary function of brain “defragmentation” can’t take place without REM sleep.
The Circadian Connection
Northwestern University published a study last January in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which showed significant evidence that jet lag has historically influenced player performance.
The researchers analyzed data from over 40,000 Major League Baseball games played across the span of two decades. It found that jet lag was likely the reason behind slower base running as well as pitchers yielding more home runs.
Study leader Ravi Allada, a circadian rhythms expert, explains:
“The negative effects of jet lag we found are subtle, but they are detectable and significant. And they happen on both offense and defense and for both home and away teams, often in surprising ways.”
His team also found that jet lag was more likely to worsen the performance of those teams traveling east versus those flying westward.
Coaches are taking this information seriously. Some have even considered sending pitchers as much as two days ahead of the rest of the team. This helps them sleep soundly and adjust their rhythms before their next series of out-of-town games.
Former Boston Red Sox head trainer and physical therapist Mike Reinold reported in the blog, Elite Baseball Performance, that “we often times sent our next starting pitcher to the next city early to assure they could get a good night sleep and be prepared for the game the next day.”
The Brainwave Connection
The rise of personal technology devices to assist with sleep improvement is not lost on professional athletes. TENS (transcutaneous electronic nerve stimulation) units have been around for decades. It’s used to help relax muscles and relieve pain in joints without the use of drugs.
A new kind of therapy, however, exists to stimulate brainwaves in ways that can allow for either enhanced relaxation or amped-up focus.
The Thync is a wearable, triangle-shaped transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS) device you wear at the base of your neck.
Attached to it is a circuit strap that sticks to your forehead on one end, with the other fixed to your neck or under your ear.
This circuit strap delivers gentle electrical pulse (or “Vibes”) that elicit a calming or energizing response.
Thync co-founder Isy Goldwasser reports in Wareable that “some major league baseball players are currently trying Thync’s latest product to alleviate performance and travel anxiety.”
For professional athletes and their managers, the competition is tough these days. Everyone’s looking for an advantage. With research to back them, it’s not difficult to see why they might be choosing the play-smarter-not-harder approach for winning games. This includes a team-wide effort to sleep soundly as well as applying smart technology to ensure each player’s bedtime starts off smooth and finishes refreshed.
Read the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study here: How jet lag impairs Major League Baseball performance.