A Good Night’s Sleep Means a Good Day on the Field in the NFL
It’s the eve of the NFL draft – an incredibly exciting and nerve racking time for collegiate athletes. These college students will soon make the transition to a national stage, and that transition will require some big changes to their lifestyle. A big change for me was – you guessed it – prioritizing sleep.
Though I didn’t realize it during my college football days, the value of a good night’s sleep is a crucial part of performing at your best. Throughout my career, I’ve learned a lot with regard to sleep, nutrition and taking care of your body. During this off-season, I’ve had the privilege of interning at Mattress Firm, and I’m thankful for the opportunity they’ve given me to share this knowledge with you here before I head back to the Houston Texans for spring training.
I was first introduced to the benefits of proper sleep upon joining the NFL. Prior to that, I never viewed sleep as a something that would boost my performance on the field. In college, balancing a full course load on top of playing football, sleep was the last thing on my mind. As long as I was ready to play on game days, I was fine in the eyes of my coaches. Sleep was nothing more than an afterthought.
The first time I was introduced to the importance of sleep was during my time with the Philadelphia Eagles, who took Sports Science to new heights. They monitored our sleep patterns through sleep wearables. The devices helped to identify which players were dealing with sleep deprivation. My initial reaction to wearing the monitors was that this is another tool I could use to better help my body recover. But, my results from the sleep monitors actually showed me that a good night sleep is directly tied to key success factors as an NFL player, whether it’s your reaction time, mental alertness, muscular recovery or even simply retaining information.
During my short stint as a rookie for the Eagles, Coach Chip Kelly implemented a forward thinking program about rest and recovery to the team. He firmly believed these two factors were crucial to keeping players healthy. So, what did his program look like for players?
Each morning when I arrived at the facility, I would answer a list of questions that the team physicians monitored to track how well we were recovering at night. After reviewing my answers, I would wear a Polar Heart Rate monitor for them to check my heart. Lastly, they would check my weight and hydration levels.
We also had an Omega Wave System on-site. During some practices, our practice jerseys would be fitted with node technology to capture data on fatigue, stress and aerobic capacity while we exercised. After all of our data was captured, the coaches would analyze it and be able to determine which/when players could handle more training.
When it came to bed time, the team wanted to make sure we were getting an adequate amount of sleep. Each player was given their own sleep monitor to track their sleep patterns and behaviors. These results were also given to the coaching staff to monitor and regulate sleep problems for each player.
Another sleep tool given to us by the team was software. A program called, “F.lux” helped lessen the blue light from our computer screens at night, making it easier to fall asleep and helping us maintain a healthy circadian rhythm. This software program, in conjunction with an app known as the ‘Blue Light Filter’ helped me fall asleep right away after a night of studying the playbook on my phone.
A lot of people overlook the important role that nutrition plays in sleep health. The NFL knows this all too well and invests a lot of time and money into making sure we get the proper nutrition we need. My current team, the Houston Texans, has one of the best cafeterias and nutrition programs in the league. The cafeteria offers personalized performance smoothies for each player, segmented carbohydrates, vegetables and protein, all freshly prepared right in front of you! Our team Nutritionist Steve Smith, who has also contributed to The Daily Doze, takes care of us!
Today, I eat well because I want to be healthy and feel strong while on and off the field. While healthy food may not be an everyday option for everyone, I choose to eat healthy foods over junk food. Why? Because I’ve realized just how much they affect my performance. Unhealthy foods make me slow and groggy during my training in the weight room and when I’m practicing on the field.
I have taken what I have learned about sleep and recovery and channeled it into my efforts to be a successful athlete in the NFL. Good sleep is the one of the most important ingredients when it comes to building a great athlete, ensuring proper regulation of muscle repair, higher thresholds for a high workload and a better chance of long-term success. Without proper sleep, players are subject to an increased risk for major injuries, which makes it difficult to survive a whole season – let alone a long career. One good night of sleep won’t make you ready for the NFL season, but healthy sleep habits and taking care of your body give you the best mental and physical foundation to help you perform at your maximum level.
With the importance of physical performance in professional sports, rest and recovery are essential components to success. If you are well rested, you will also approach social, professional and physical challenges with the most optimum-functioning mind and body. The technology tools, nutritional guidance and emphasis on sleep health, have helped me professionally and personally. I am now more aware than ever of the food I put in my body and getting the proper amount of sleep each night.