From the Seattle Seahawks to your local Pop Warner team to your cheerleading squad, the newest sports training and safety trend is also the oldest: getting enough sleep. An October 5 New York Times story recounts how NFL teams are, in their never-ending search for an edge, deploying sleep monitor wrist bands to players to ensure they get their optimal 9 hours. N.B.A. players, for instance, take naps during the day to remain fresh for night games. Basketball and hockey teams adjust their flight schedules to allow their players more time to sleep. And New England quarterback Tom Brady made waves two years ago when he said he goes to sleep at 8:30 p.m.
The Seahawks use a band called Readibands made by a company called Fatigue Science that include motion sensors to measure how deeply the players have slept. Then the data from the band is downloaded to his smart phone. According to the NY Times article, a player with a score of around 90 on the 100-point scale has about a 10 percent reduction in alertness — nothing serious. A player with a score of 70, by contrast, will have a 43 percent reduction in reaction time — a significant impairment to his performance. The same goes for other adults who have to stay awake for long periods of time, such as doctors, miners, train engineers, airplane pilots.
And while youth athletes typically do not have to stay awake that long, because their bodies are constantly growing and their daily schoolwork requires focus and endurance, youth athletes are just as susceptible to the downsides of missed sleep. To emphasize the importance of sleep, the Seahawks trainer tells his players about a passage in one of the Jason Bourne spy novels in which the protagonist Bourne called sleep “a weapon.” Youth sports parents and coaches can take a page from that book.