Sleep: The Secret Weapon of the NFL
It may surprise you to hear that football and sleep go hand-in-hand (and I’m not talking about the weekly nap you take in front of the TV on Sunday). As the sports nutritionist for the Houston Texans, I can tell you that sleep is an absolute necessity when it comes to athletic performance, and this is even more apparent at the highest level of sport on a national stage. Throughout my career, I have seen many players, both in school and in the professional ranks, accumulate what is known as sleep debt – a consistent lack of sleep which impedes recovery and results in poor performance and increased risk of injury. One way to gauge sleep debt is to look at your sleep behavior; if you fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow and require an alarm to wake you up daily, it is likely you have accumulated some sleep debt.
The degree of physical and mental strain that our football players endure on a daily basis makes their need for high quality sleep vital to their success on the field. When you sleep, your body releases natural growth hormone which stimulates bone building, muscle growth and repair and fat burning, and helps athletes recover from the wear and tear their bodies endure in training and on game day. Sleep also supports memory retention, which is crucial to learning new skills that are incorporated throughout the year before and after each game.
Due to the amount of physical stress they put on their bodies, we encourage our athletes to aim for 9-10 hours per night. Much of what dictates success at the highest level can be attributed to the individual sleep habits of the athletes and their commitment to getting a good night’s rest and letting their bodies recover between practices. Many players take advantage of the team recovery facilities including recliners among other equipment. In fact, JJ Watt has recently become a public advocate for “work naps.”
So, how can you sleep and recover like a professional athlete? Here are a few tips I recommend to the athletes I work with:
- No TV, tablets or smart phones, 1-2 hours prior to bedtime.
- Take a warm bath or shower to relax muscles and help you wind down before bed.
- Snack between meals to enhance recovery throughout the day.
- Maintain proper hydration throughout the day and before bedtime. Be careful not to drink water too close to bedtime to avoid interrupting sleep to use the bathroom at night.
As the Official Mattress Retailer of the Houston Texans, Mattress Firm asked me to bring you an inside scoop on how sleep affects your game. Be sure to come back to The Daily Doze in the coming weeks for part two and part three my series on why sleep is a secret weapon for any professional athlete.