Mid-Season Form: How to Keep Your Body Running all Season
Sleep plays a critical role when it comes to surviving the long NFL season. Compared to other major sports, football involves fairly limited travel, relatively speaking. In the NBA, teams fly out right after a game, which means players suffer late arrival times but get more than enough time to sleep before the next game. In the MLB, teams spend countless nights on the road, but play in series that last three or four days in the same city, so players’ sleep schedules can be anticipated and maintained. In the NFL, however, we typically practice at home all week and fly out for away games a day or two in advance, returning home right after and preparing to possibly do it all over again the following week. The wear and tear on a player’s body on game day is astronomical, and the stress associated with training, learning plays, weekly travel and other life stresses only adds fuel to that fire.
Without proper sleep, illness and injury are presented at an increased risk, further complicating players’ ability to make it through the season. As mentioned in one of my previous posts, sleep debt – small losses of sleep over time – delays reaction time, which not only impacts on-field performance, but puts players at an increased risk for injury on the field.
Adequate sleep ensures proper regulation of hormone function and muscle tissue repair, as well as normal immune function at higher workloads. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, reduces the body's ability to store glycogen, the energy needed for endurance. Without endurance, nothing is really possible at the highest level of competition. Furthermore, sleep deprivation negatively impacts split-second decision-making, which can be the difference between a win and a loss, or lead to a career-ending injury. A poor night’s sleep impacts a player’s ability to focus, making it difficult to be fully present during games, remember plays and endure the physical strains of a long and physical NFL season.
As mentioned in a recent Atlantic article, Bill Barnwell, of Grantland.com, examined 15 years of data for the NFL, paying close attention to the winning percentages of teams based on the distance they had to travel throughout the course of the season. Unsurprisingly, Barnwell found that teams who traveled more than 2,000 miles had a winning percentage of 40 percent, while those traveling less than 1,000 miles won 43 percent of the time. Although there’s nothing that can be done about the NFL travel schedule, teams can prepare for the toll these road trips will take on athletes by taking sleep seriously.
So, how do players ultimately survive the lengthy NFL season? Sleep is a key part of the training regimen. Sleep is a natural performance enhancer and taking the time to ensure a quality sleep regimen is a wise investment in the season and, ultimately, an investment in one’s own career. With that approach, the NFL season is totally manageable and a successful, injury-free season is certainly within reach.