Inside UVic sports: Sleep science in university athletics

Sports | Lifestyle

University athletes looking to take their game to the next level might want to consider how much sleep they are getting. When it comes to that final shot, save or return, an extra wink of sleep can make all the difference.

Pat Byrne is the vice president of Fatigue Science, an international sleep management company with clients like British Petroleum and America’s National Transportation Saftey Board. He says, “If you want to perform at the absolute maximum in respect to athletic performance, you need about 10 hours of sleep.”

Fatigue Science typically works with shift workers such as truckers, miners and nurses in order to avoid fatigue-related accidents. The company has recently branched out to working with athletes in order to maximize athletic performance.

Byrne has worked with, most notably, the Vancouver Canucks from the NHL, the NFL’s New England Patriots and the NBA’s Houston Rockets with regards to fatigue management. He worked closely with the Canucks during their Stanley Cup run in 2011.

Even as sleep science is taking off in the professional sport scene, most universities still haven’t fully explored the science of fatigue management. For most university athletes, the week is for training, and they will face games or tournaments on the weekends. Byrne says they should use the whole week to prepare, and that includes sufficient sleep.

“It isn’t about the sleep you had the night before; it is about the sleep you’ve been getting the previous week,” Byrne says. “If you have been sleep deprived for three or four days, it could take you that long to catch up.”

With midterms and papers keeping university athletes up at night and coaches getting them up in the morning, when do they get the beauty rest they need to perform?

The best way to make sure athletes are at their full potential is to plan ahead. Byrne says time management is hugely important when you are playing school sports and expected to perform well academically.

“Take out a 24-hour calendar and write down all your commitments. Then figure out where you are going to get your sleep,” he says.

Vikes women’s soccer goaltender Tanya Jones agrees that time management is important for university athletes.

“I try to stick to a specific schedule, which includes going to bed and waking up around the same time every day,” says Jones.

Jones, fresh off a third-place finish at the CIS soccer championships, says that it takes time to figure out what schedule works for each person. When the Vikes are on the road, they have times when they should be in bed and times when they should wake up.

Every person is different, but they try to get at least eight to nine hours of sleep the night before a game.

Byrne says, “The number one thing you can do is plan ahead, not only as an individual, but also as a team.”

It seems obvious that a good night’s sleep can make a difference, but sometimes universities don’t know how much to emphasize this to their athletes. As universities all across the world continue to develop stronger training programs, watch for them to start introducing specific sleep schedules for their athletes.

“It is a completely new area that people are starting to look at,” Byrne says.