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Would You Eat an Ant to Fight Fatigue and Stress?

Ask the internet, and adaptogens are sprinklings of “pretentious hippie” woo-woo that caused L.A. juice entrepreneur Amanda Chantal Bacon to be excoriated while promoting her Moon Juice Sex Dust. But the National Institutes of Health has found in trials that the supplements made of medicinal plants, herbs and mushrooms “exert an anti-fatigue effect that increases mental work capacity” when stressed. Eleven adaptogens and supplements currently popular in Hollywood:

CHAGA Pretty Little Liars‘ Shay Mitchell orders the off-menu Blue smoothie (which tastes like cereal milk; $12) loaded with this immune-boosting mushroom at Lifehouse Tonics. “With supershroom adaptogens, we see improvements in energy, focus, creativity and sleep,” says co-founder Fraser Thompson.

DRIED WHITE MULBERRIES Gisele Bundchen snacks on these purportedly longevity-boosting berries ($18;

REISHI Emma Stone’s and Amy Schumer’s facialist Georgia Louise says some of her clients are obsessed with Sun Potion’s individual adaptogen powders, which can be mixed into water, juice, tea or smoothies. Katie Holmes, Laird Hamilton and Ben Harper are devotees of the offerings, including the reishi mushroom, called the “queen healer” for its reported liver-regenerating properties ($50).

MORINGA AND MUCUNA PURIENS Sun Potions’ “miracle leaf” moringa fights aging free radicals ($20), while mucuna puriens has mood-enhancing qualities ($37).

PINE POLLEN AND POLYRHACHIS ANT Brownstone Productions’ Renate Radford claims that with a bit of Sun Potion’s Pine Pollen ($55), “you don’t feel a buzz; you’re just alert and awake.” The wild-harvested polyrhachis ant is used by Chinese healers to boost musculoskeletal and digestive systems ($55).

SCHISANDRA, RHODIOLA AND SIBERIAN GINSENG Torii Labs’ anti-anxiety Awake tonic contains stress-reducing Siberian ginseng, energizing schisandra berry and anti-anxiety rhodiola ($45 for a pack of six;

ASHWAGANDHA This anti-aging adaptogen that, like schisandra, is said to inhibit enzymes that break down collagen, is part of Raw Complexion’s Skin Balance No. 2. Yolanda Hadid Foster and Ireland Baldwin mix it into drinks for a beauty boost ($35;



Be smart …Take a nap

Dozing off at your desk is probably the most efficient way to get yourself sacked, but experts are beginning to believe it’s ironically the key to being more productive. New research from Pennsylvania University found that taking a nap after lunch improves older people’s ability to memorize information, think critically and perform more complex mental tasks. Such is the profound effect of taking an afternoon siesta that the researchers believe it could help your brain function as though it were five years younger.
 The only problem? Most workplaces simply aren’t equipped to handle recreational napping, unless you’ve built yourself an under-desk bed a la George Costanza, or are lucky enough to work for a savvy tech company like Google who provides employees with custom-built nap pods to use in between meetings.

There’s also the time required, with the researchers establishing that the amount of time you spend sleeping is critical to the amount of mind-hacking productivity you’ll reap.As it turns out, it’s a balancing act: sleep too little and you’ll likely only feel worse than you did before – sleep too much and you’ll emerge from your nap with crusty eyes in a dreaded zombie-like state.

The most productive length for a nap seemed to be between 30 and 90 minutes, with an hour-long snooze being the sweet spot for refreshing your brain.To discover this, the researchers examined the nap habits of almost 3000 elderly Chinese people, and then immediately gave them a series of mental tasks to assess how fresh – or how drowsy – the nap left them feeling.

One of the tasks asked the participants to memorize a series of words before the nap, and then recall them straight after, and another was to copy drawings of simple geometric figures.(Which more or less sounds like the worst thing in the world – imagine awaking from a nap to find people in lab coats are pressuring you to draw a rhombus or a heptagram.)The results revealed a win for the nappers: those who took a moderate hour-long nap actually performed better on all mental tasks than those who slept longer, and those who didn’t nap at all.

“Older adults who did not nap or napped longer than 90 minutes (extended nappers) were significantly more likely than those who napped for 30 to 90 minutes after lunch (moderate nappers) to have lower overall cognition scores,” wrote the researchers.”This study suggests that absence of napping and too much napping are associated with poorer cognition, but naps of a moderate duration are associated with better cognition and may be an important part of optimizing cognition.”

At this point, the researchers are unsure why napping is so good for boosting your productivity, but most experts agree it’s a way for your brain to get a mini-recharge in, not unlike a massage for your body.”When we go to sleep as adults, we go into light sleep for about 20 to 25 minutes then we go into deep sleep,” sleep expert Dr Carmel Harrington told Coach in November.

“You want to make sure you stay in light sleep because if you go into deep sleep you wake up disoriented and end up with sleep inertia, and it can take hours to go away.”Plus it can affect your night-time sleep.”


Additional Sleep Has A High Monetary Value

We all know sleep matters for job performance. After a week of vacation, you may find your work better than ever. But rack up a week of sleepless nights — say, following a polarizing presidential election — and you may find yourself struggling.

It wouldn’t surprise anyone that sleep affects attention, memory and cognition — important factors in the workplace. But striking new research suggests the effect of additional sleep has a high monetary value. A paper — from Matthew Gibson of Williams College and Jeffrey Shrader of the University of California at San Diego, based on data from Jawbone, the fitness- and sleep-tracker company — says that additional time sleeping can translate into thousands of dollars in wages.

In fact, they calculate that a one-hour increase in weekly sleep raises wages by about half as much as an additional year of education. Now, the story is not so simple. Don’t think you can start to sleep more and you will instantly make more money. It’s more about the subtle interplay between how people schedule their lives, how much time they have available to sleep and how that affects worker performance and, ultimately, earnings.

To investigate how sleep affects worker wages, the researchers took advantage of a kind of natural experiment — sunset times across American time zones. Past research shows that people naturally end up sleeping longer when the sun sets earlier, for example in the winter, even if the person goes to bed well after dark. When the sun sets an hour later, it reduces nighttime sleep by roughly 20 minutes per week.

Within a single time zone, the time of sunset varies substantially, as the map below shows. For example, the sun sets about an hour and a half earlier in Mars Hill, Maine, than in Ontonagon, Mich., even though both are in the Eastern time zone. Because there shouldn’t be any significant differences in workers on the eastern or western edge of a time zone beyond the amount of time they sleep, researchers use this variation to calculate how much sleep influences wages.

They find that a one-hour increase in average weekly sleep in a location increases wages by 1.3 percent in the short run, which include changes of less than a year, and 5 percent in the long run. By moving to a location where a sunset is one hour earlier, a worker will make an additional $1,570 a year.

Those differences in wages end up being incorporated into the local economy. The researchers find that higher wages actually translate into higher home values as well. A county that experiences a sunset one hour earlier has on average a 6 percent higher median home value, about $7,900 to $8,800 dollars, they say. Not all of these wage differences are due directly to sleep, the researchers caution. Some could be due to the cumulative influence of other people. If the workers around you are made slightly more productive by sleeping better, that could make your work more productive, too.

The findings suggest that sleep is a crucial determinant of productivity and wages, “rivaling ability and human capital in importance,” the researchers write.Given the huge benefit that more sleep can bring, we should certainly pay more attention to ensuring that workers sleep more, they say.



Figuring Out Fatigue

Physical skill transcends sport and can be recognized in its absolute form—speed, power, coordination—across a variety of athletic endeavors. But less visible, and perhaps less considered, is the power of the elite athlete’s mind. In fact, what often differentiates the greatest athletes has more to do with mental strength than physical. It’s because sport not only demands a lot of the body, but the brain as well. “With the exception of military combat, it has been suggested that team sports such Physical skill transcends sport and can be recognized in its absolute form—speed, power, coordination—across a variety of athletic endeavors. But less visible, and perhaps less considered, is the power of the elite athlete’s mind. In fact, what often differentiates the greatest athletes has more to do with mental strength than physical. It’s because sport not only demands a lot of the body, but the brain as well.

“With the exception of military combat, it has been suggested that team sports such as football [soccer] place more stress on the brain than any other activity,” writes Dr. Andrew Coutts in recent Journal of Sports Sciences article. “Indeed, football players are required to remain vigilant for long periods before and during matches, adhering to tactical strategies, constantly adjusting to changes in the opposition and their teammates.”

Those demanding game situations—in combination with factors like training, sleep and stress—challenge an athlete physically and mentally and lead to the development of fatigue. But while physical fatigue has long been considered a factor in performance, diminishing an athlete’s capacity to react, run faster and jump higher, researchers are beginning to understand that a tired brain can negatively affect performance as much as a tired muscle.

Researchers have suggested that the sensation of fatigue, once considered solely a physical phenomenon, might also arise from the brain. Meaning that the brain is responsible for collecting the physical sensations of the body—the burning legs and heaving lungs—and deciding how much is too much. This research has demonstrated that mental fatigue—produced by sustained periods of demanding cognitive activity, and described by feelings of “tiredness” and “lack of energy”—can reduce the time it takes to reach exhaustion during exercise.

Dr. Samuele Marcora has studied the effects of mental fatigue on soccer performance and discovered that mentally tired athletes don’t perform as well. After inducing mental fatigue with a demanding cognitive test, Marcora and his team of researchers found that the mentally fatigued soccer players couldn’t run as far or kick a ball as skillfully as their mentally-fresh counterparts.It is important to note that even though the mentally fatigued athletes were performing at an equal level of physical exertion as a control group, those mentally fatigued players perceived the effort as more difficult than those not asked to take a mentally demanding test. Meaning their effort wasn’t physically harder, it just felt harder. “Physiologically you may be fine but mentally fatigued athletes find the same task much more effortful,” says Marcora.

Similarly, a recent study by Coutts and Dr. Mitchell Smith from the University of Technology Sydney found that mental fatigue impaired the accuracy and speed of soccer-specific decision-making.But for soccer players, and all team sport athletes, prevention of mental fatigue is more than just avoiding a math exam before activity. While research requires that mental fatigue be artificially produced with a test, mental fatigue can be developed through a variety of natural activities. “Though studies have found that mental fatigue can develop from sleep deprivation, video games, and having to perform an activity deemed unfamiliar or difficult, such as an interview, any sport that is mentally demanding can induce mental fatigue,” Marcora says.In that context, it’s easy to see how mental fatigue may develop before a game or practice and subsequently decrease performance.

“I’d always been told by coaches that when the legs are too tired, the mind will take over,” says Brad Evans, a defender for MLS’ Seattle Sounders of MLS. “But later on I realized that it doesn’t work that way.” Evans, also a veteran of the U.S. men’s National Soccer Team, is well aware of the role of mental fatigue, “Mistakes happen when you are mentally and physically fatigued—like missing a tackle I would usually make.”Some of soccer’s most successful teams have invested in research on tracking fatigue and recovery, realizing the importance of the subject. Andrea Azzalin, sports scientist for Premier League champion Leicester City and a former student of Marcora, continually monitors the team for signs of mental fatigue after every training session and game. For Azzalin, it comes down to knowing his athletes.

“Monitoring how the players feel—their perceived effort—is often enough for me to understand that they are more fatigued than usual,” he says. Leicester City’s sports science staff uses markers of mental fatigue, along with GPS and heart rate information from each player, as tools to detect situations of overload. That information is relayed to the club’s manager, Claudio Ranieri, who decides if the training schedule or other player demands need to be adjusted.

Golden State Warriors’ head of physical performance and sports medicine Lachlan Penfold, who comes from a background in rugby and soccer, is also aware of the research and absolutely believes that mental fatigue can impair performance in any sport.   “A tremendous amount of fatigue—mental and physical—develops over the course of a long NBA season,” Penfold says. “Players can be more or less resistant to its effects.”While Penfold believes that an awareness of how to avoid mental fatigue has the potential to help many professional athletes, he says that getting players to buy into avoiding using social media or video games—potentially mentally fatiguing activities—before games may be a tough sell.

“Since the effects of mental fatigue sometimes aren’t obvious—manifesting as an opening not capitalized upon or a move not made—it can be difficult to quantify or present its effects,” maintains Penfold.With its long 162-game season, it should be no surprise that mental fatigue is also evident among Major League Baseball players. A study by researcher Dr. Scott Kuscher found that plate discipline—as measured by a hitter’s tendency to swing at pitches outside of the strike zone—got progressively worse over the course of a MLB season, contradicting the belief that plate discipline should improve over time due to frequent practice. Kutscher believes that sleep, or a lack of it, is behind the decline in performance.

“We theorize that this decline is tied to fatigue that develops over the course of the season due to a combination of frequency of travel and paucity of days off,” concludes Kutscher.Avoiding mental fatigue before competition is one thing, but because an athlete can tire over the course of game or training week, building resilience to mental fatigue is also important. Andrea Bosio, a sports scientist working with Serie A soccer teams Sassuolo and Juventus, believes that much like taxing the heart, lungs and muscles with physical conditioning, a combination of small sided soccer games (somewhat like a half-court basketball game) and mental training can be used to make the brain more resistant to mental fatigue. Call it brain training—or more specifically, Brain Endurance Training, the term Bosio and other researchers at Mapei Sport in Milan, Italy, have coined during their developing and testing of this mental conditioning for the brain.

The BET program, developed by Marcora, aims to improve mental performance. Athletes are given repeated mental to perform during the rest periods of intense small-sided games. Similar to “normal” physical training, these brain-training sessions can be systematically carried out over a period of weeks and months.The adaptations occurring in the brain after repeated sessions of BET (the scientists are still trying to understand the biology of what occurs) seem to positively influence the perception of effort during endurance activity. Early results suggest that at the same intensity of training, players perceive less effort, and at the same perceived effort, players are able to sustain a higher intensity.

Seattle Sounders sports science and performance manager David Tenney uses yoga in his attempts to reduce mental fatigue in his players. “I’ve found that the mental aspects of yoga, with its focus on breathing and relaxation, have been helpful in reducing the mental fatigue of practice and competition,” he says.No matter the sport or proposed solution, mental fatigue and findings have proven one thing for certain: for an athlete, a tired mind is just as meaningful as a tired muscle.


The Next Frontier of NFL Performance: Sleep

Imagine a conference championship game five or 10 years from now. The road team, having traveled to London and Las Vegas for its previous playoff games, arrives in Foxborough and engineers a shocking upset with the help of a surprising strategy: Even though the team’s quarterback is an All-Pro known for picking apart defenses, it employs a scaled-back, run-heavy game plan.

The head coach explains his daring tactical shift at the postgame press conference. “Well, Deshaun’s sleep hygiene has been terrible because of all our travel,” he says. “Our monitors recorded a 37 percent reduction in high-order decision-making because of poor sleep. Meanwhile, Ezekiel’s sleep hygiene has been great, speeding his recovery from that high ankle sprain. So we decided to pound the ball between the tackles.”

Coaching decisions based on sleep habits? Precision monitoring of players’ sleep and how it affects their health and performance? “Sleep hygiene?”

Does sleep even make that much of a difference, assuming a player got at least a little of it in the 48 hours before kickoff?

It turns out that sleep is the next frontier of NFL performance. Sports scientists around the world are studying it. Companies are designing new products to monitor it. Sleep is becoming the elite athlete’s secret weapon, and the NFL is just starting to discover how to harness its potential.


Learning the Language of Sleep

Gary McCoy, a sports science consultant for many NFL teams over the last few years, watched a pair of receivers sweat their way through a training camp session in 2015. One receiver was a celebrated veteran, the other a speedy young up-and-comer. Both wore high-tech sensors that monitored their heart rates, body temperatures and physical stresses during the intense practice. The sensors confirmed that the stress data for each receiver was roughly equal: Practice was just as hard for both of them.

But after practice, the veteran was ready for a full weight-room session. The younger player was gassed. If there was no difference in practice difficulty, shouldn’t it have been the other way around? McCoy realized that the sensors were missing an important aspect of athletic performance.

“We’re measuring stress,” he said. “But what’s more important is stress response.”

There is still a lot of mystery surrounding sleep. Sleep science is a new science. Until a few years ago, there were only two ways to monitor sleep: polysomnography, the expensive, cumbersome lab equipment that placed participants in uncomfortable and unfamiliar locations (thus immediately affecting their sleep patterns); or unreliable surveys of the I slept about eight hours last night, doc variety that had little chance of yielding precise results.

The rise of wearable wrist tech has revolutionized sleep study. Your everyday Fitbit provides a wealth of information, so much that your in-law can post their bad night’s sleep data on Facebook as a warning to everyone that she’s going to have a crabby day.

NFL teams are notoriously more secretive about their training programs and sports science initiatives. But they do exist.

WHOOP, the company for whom McCoy works, has developed wearable tech that includes a sophisticated sleep monitoring system that measures the length and quality of a night’s sleep and converts it into an easy-to-interpret quality score.

Another company selling sleep monitors to the NFL, Fatigue Science has developed the ReadiBand sleep tracker and SAFTE bio-mathematical fatigue model software in conjunction with the U.S. Army Research Lab and Johns Hopkins University. The system “translates all the complexity and nuance around a person’s sleep into a performance prediction,” according to sales director Jacob Fiedler.

The NFL and American team sports in general have been slow to join the sleep science revolution. Chip Kelly was well-known for his sleep science initiatives in Philadelphia, though he scrapped the monitoring program in favor of a voluntary reporting program last year. And while Fatigue Science officially consults with the Seattle Seahawks, most relationships between NFL teams and sleep-monitor vendors are off the record. B/R found, however, that at least a dozen teams have recently explored some kind of sleep monitoring program.


The quiet embrace of studying slumber is not new in sports, particularly on the international scene. Nick Littlehales was a mattress company executive consulting with Premier League superpower Manchester United several years ago to help players with chronic back pain (and, he hoped, secure a few endorsements). When he became a familiar face around team headquarters, the British soccer press (which can make the NFL media look like a litter of kittens) took notice.

“The paparazzi wrote: Those pampered Manchester United players have got a sleep coach who’s tucking them in and reading them bedtime stories,” Littlehales joked. “So I became the Sleep Coach by default.”

The laughs died down as other football clubs began investigating the link between sleep and performance. Sleep Coach Littlehales has performance monitors and bedding products for sale, but he also designs seminars for players, coaches and teams.

“Working with elite athletes, you have to define a language,” he said. “If you tell them you’re a sleep coach, they’ll run a mile. It’s not something they’re very interested in.”

One of the first terms athletes and teams learn in that new language is sleep hygiene, the habits that lead to healthy sleep, from limiting caffeine and alcohol intake to monitoring the temperature and humidity of the bedroom to scaling back on nighttime smartphone use. There is other not-too-familiar terminology to master, including circadian rhythms (the biological 24-hour cycles that dictate everything from brain wave activity to digestion) and polyphasic sleep (multiple naps instead of an eight-hour sleep session: important for soldiers, astronauts and athletes on crazy travel schedules).

Some NFL players are starting to speak the language. Fatigue Science’s products are the ones Richard Sherman cited in a guest Sports Illustrated column after the Seahawks won the Super Bowl in 2014. “We have specialized doctors who monitor us for concussion symptoms and wrist wear that helps the team track our sleep patterns,” Sherman wrote.

He added in a parenthetical aside: “In case you’re wondering, the sleep science has paid off for several guys.”

Sherman is not alone among players in embracing sleep science. “You’ve always heard you need eight hours of sleep, but you don’t know the science behind it all,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins told B/R in an offseason interview. “You don’t know until you’re taught the effect lack of sleep has upon your brain and its functionality. It changes completely when you’re sleep-deprived.” Jenkins includes a discussion of the importance of sleep to health and recovery as part of his youth football camps.

Star fitness trainer Brett Bartholomew, who has worked with Von Miller, Rob Gronkowski and others during the offseason, is on board with the sleep revolution. “Rest is a weapon,” he told Brad Stulberg of Outside Magazine. “What was once seen as a weakness is now a strength.” Bartholomew recommends massage and relaxing music, but “all of that stuff pales in comparison to sleep,” he says. “Just like you eat to support your training you need to sleep to support your training.”

In a 2015 feature for, Jenny Vrentas revealed that many NFL veterans are strict about their sleep routines, including Tom Brady, who has a 9 p.m. bedtime.

J.J. Watt is so dedicated to recovery science that he told Men’s Healthmagazine he naps in a flotation tank. “I love it. Sleep is something people overlook,” Watt says.

It sounds like a lot of technology, jargon and effort to emphasize something your grandma could have told you. But there is a lot more to sleep than just going to bed on time and waking up refreshed, especially for athletes who must travel coast-to-coast, sleep in unfamiliar hotels and make sure they are mentally and physically ready for kickoff.


Nature’s Performance Enhancer

When Dr. Shona Halson, senior recovery physiologist of the Australian Sports Commission, writes that “REM sleep is considered an activated brain inside a paralyzed body,” it sounds more like the stuff of horror movies than a natural, everyday (or every night) part of life.

More than the scary description, there are excellent reasons to rush toward a better understanding of sleep.

First, sleep disorders like apnea can be potentially life-threatening, they plague huge men (like football players), and they often go undetected by individuals who just think they “don’t sleep well.” Wrist monitors are not quite foolproof enough to diagnose a disorder, but they can point an athlete and his family, coaches or doctors toward a potential problem.

“A percentage of the whole adult population is dealing with something that has probably not been diagnosed or treated,” Fiedler said. “It can obviously have a huge impact on your life and health.”

Second, athletes who are too amped to sleep before and after the big game too often turn to pills. “A lot of times I go into an organization because the doctor was giving out 100 sleeping tablets every season, but now it’s up to a thousand'” Littlehales said. “And he wants to stop it.” A more scientific approach to sleep can lead athletes to better solutions.

Finally, and most excitingly, there’s sleep’s potential as what Halson calls a “natural performance enhancer.” Studies show that the body produces HGH while we sleep. Proper sleep doesn’t just make you more alert. It helps your body heal and grow. It can decrease recovery time for injuries and, like those receivers McCoy studied in training camp last year, it can increase offseason workout capacities.

There are also common-sense benefits to sleep that are still being quantified. Researchers have discovered that basketball players who take steps to improve their sleep habits become better free-throw shooters. Athletes who haven’t had enough sleep report increased fatigue and slower reactions. The WHOOP device calculates a cognitive marker to determine which players have had too little sleep to be of much use in the film room. “It can tell that this quarterback is ready for this level of cognitive information, but this one isn’t,” McCoy explained.

Still, the research is still in its infancy. The technology is still new, and no NFL players or international soccer stars are about to purposely go sleep-deprived before a big game or match in the name of science.

There is another impediment to the advancement of sleep science. The wearable tech may be too good, providing too much information to too many people too easily.

All the experts agree that there’s little good that can come from the rookie quarterback who checks his monitor the morning of the big game, realizes his night’s sleep was horrible and ends up with one more thing to worry about. For now, that isn’t an issue. The various devices being marketed to NFL teams will only send information to the team the night before kickoff, not the player himself.

But that raises another potential problem: how much information about the player’s sleeping habits should a team have access to? The issue translates easily into our own lives. How much information about your bedroom habits—bedtime, heart rate changes, respiration changes, body temperature changes, think about it—do you want your boss to have access to?

Wait … forget the boss. “The last thing we want is a player’s wife to get access to this information and ask: ‘Why weren’t you recovered for those two days you were on the road?'” McCoy acknowledged.


Little Interventions

Concerns over the scope of the information led the NFL Players Association to file a grievance regarding sleep monitors last October, stating that “because the use of such technology occurs outside of games and practice, we believe such use violates the Collective Bargaining Agreement.” Basically, the NFLPA contends that while teams have the right to monitor all sorts of body functions during practice, that right does not extend into the player’s bedroom.

The grievance was quietly settled over the summer. Teams can institute roster-wide monitoring as long as they receive NFLPA consent for the program. The Seahawks are currently the only team openly using sleep monitors on a roster-wide basis, as the New York Times‘ Ken Belson reported Saturday.

The policy change reflects both technological advancementss and the increased acceptance of wearable tech in the marketplace in recent years.

The makers of wearable tech understood the potential privacy concerns and created safeguards to resolve them. WHOOP doesn’t make the “granular” data available to the team, just a Recovery Score that places the night’s sleep into green-yellow-red categories. “They really don’t want to monitor your in-bed activities,” McCoy said.

Fiedler points out that the collective bargaining agreement was written back in 2011, when no one would have imagined everyday consumers wearing a Fitbit on their morning jogs. “Largely, they were uninformed about what data is actually being collected and how it’s being used, and what safeguards are in place to protect the players’ privacy,” he said of the resistance to team-wide monitoring.

The fear that the minute-by-minute bedroom events in the life of (let’s say) Rob Gronkowski might wind up in the hands of Roger Goodell or will keep the NFLPA on guard. There are also plenty of old-school coaches who scoff at the notion of newfangled “sports science” offering anything the fellas couldn’t get from good ol’ free weights and medicine balls.

But the gizmos are really only a small part of the full sleep science picture. “It’s about education,” Littlehales said. “It’s about raising awareness. It’s about techniques. It’s about little interventions.”

Littlehales’ seminars focus on teaching athletes to think of sleep in terms of cycles, not hours. Typically, a person goes through five cycles of different kinds of sleep (light, deep, REM) in eight hours. Instead of striving for eight hours per night, athletes and their coaching staffs can aim for 35 cycles per week, counting naps.

So, say a team like the Seahawks faces a playoff schedule that takes them from Seattle to Minneapolis to Seattle to Charlotte. Between long flights, jet lag, unfamiliar hotels and pre- and postgame adrenaline, eight-hour nights of sleep might be rare. But coaches can alter practice schedules and require nap periods, while players can learn how to better control their sleep patterns by monitoring caffeine intake, doing a little midnight yoga and so forth.

“They need to look at sleep in a polyphasic way,” Littlehales said. “They have to put their sleep in at different times to meet their schedules.”

Athletes who buy into sleep science quickly develop better habits. McCoy’s research of international athletes who used sleep monitors and learned some sleep hygiene basics revealed that they slept an extra 41 minutes per night on average, reduced their alcohol intake 70 percent and reduced their caffeine intake 60 percent. “It was mind-blowing,” McCoy said.

It’s a sign of the times that the one behavior that budged the least is the use of electronic devices, which have become the 21st century’s sneakiest sleep thieves. Coffee and booze proved easier to quit than late-night Twitter or Call of Duty. Still, sleep monitoring decreased electronic usage by 20 percent, according to the research.

Elite athletes can begin to strive for an excellent sleep score the same way they seek improvements on the track or in the weight room. “For the athletes that want it and embrace it, it’s something tangible,” Fiedler said of sleep science. “They get so many things thrown at them during the days and weeks of the preseason and the regular season. There’s something to the logic of providing them the right information in the right way.”

Teach a football player how and why to sleep better, and he will sleep better, whether his nighttime heart rates stream directly to Jerry Jones’ laptop or not. And once he’s sleeping better, he will start thinking better, recovering better and performing better.

Littlehales can foresee a scenario in which coaches use sleep analysis to make strategic decisions. “The captain’s got to be out there leading the team. But at the moment, he’s at 70 percent recovery. He’s also a night person, and this game is kicking off at night. What we need is a set of things in place so we don’t expose it,” Littlehales theorized.

In the meantime, NFL players and coaches are learning the language of sleep. Once they do, it’s on the field where the effect of sleep science will be most obvious and dramatic.

“The superhumans are still in our sports, McCoy said. “We’re just going to find out how superhuman they are.”


Why you should NEVER eat after 7pm

      Eating late at night is putting millions of people in danger of heart attacks and strokes, experts warn. A late-night meal keeps the body on ‘high alert’ when it should be winding down, researchers found. Heart experts last night advised that adults should never eat within two hours of bedtime – and ideally nothing after 7pm. In a healthy person, blood pressure drops by at least 10 per cent when they go to sleep .But the results of a study of more than 700 people with high blood pressure found that eating within two hours of bedtime meant their levels stayed high. Experts think this is because eating releases a rush of stress hormones when the body should be starting to relax. People who do not see their blood pressure fall at night are known as ‘non-dippers’ – and have a much higher rate of heart-related death. Late eaters were nearly three times more likely to be non-dippers, the Turkish researchers found. Researcher Dr Ebru Özpelit, presenting her results at the speaking at the European Society of Cardiology congress in Rome, said: ‘If we eat late at night, the body essentially remains on high alert as during the day, rather than relaxing for sleep.

     Stress hormones are secreted, causing blood pressure not to decrease during sleep, which should normally happen. ‘Dr Özpelit, from Dokuz Eylül University in Turkey, tracked 721 on people diagnosed with high blood pressure, with an average age of 53. She found that those who ate within two hours of going to bed were 2.8 times more likely to retain high blood pressure overnight. Some 9.4 million people in the UK are diagnosed with high blood pressure, which is also known as hypertension.They are already at a higher risk of heart disease, but if their blood pressure does not fall at night, that risk increases to a far higher level. Experts estimate that 40 per cent of patients with hypertension are non-dippers – potentially 3.76million people in Britain – putting them at serious risk of major heart problems. Dr Özpelit said: ‘It is more dangerous. If blood pressure doesn’t drop by more than 10 per cent this increases cardiovascular risk and these patients have more heart attacks, strokes and chronic disease.’

       But even healthy people with normal blood pressure should take note of the findings, Dr Özpelit said. ‘How we eat may be as important as what we eat,’ she said. She advised that people do not skip breakfast, eat lunch, and keep dinner to a small meal. ‘Eating breakfast and lunch is important but dinner must not be later than seven o’clock in the evening,’ she said. The findings add to a growing body of evidence which suggests keeping all meals to within a fixed period of time – and fasting at night – can have a wide range of health benefits. Previous research has found that an early dinner reduces the risk of breast cancer, lowers blood sugar levels, and helps burn off calories. Experts think part of the reason is that the body evolved to expect meals much earlier in the day – because people went to sleep when it got dark. Dr Özpelit said the invention of electricity changed that – introducing ‘erratic’ eating patterns.  With the advent of affordable artificial lighting and industrialization, modern humans began to experience prolonged hours of illumination every day and resultant extended consumption of food,’ she said.

        Late night eating and skipping breakfast is such an erratic eating pattern which is becoming more prevalent day by day. Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘This research suggests that eating a meal late at night may contribute to the failure of their blood pressure to reduce. ‘It is normal for blood pressure to reduce overnight, even in people with high blood pressure. ‘However, in some their blood pressure remains elevated throughout the night putting them at potentially higher risk of future complications.