Everybody needs adequate sleep, even athletes. Adequate sleep is crucial, or an issue known as sleep debt occurs. Sleep debt is the effect of not getting enough sleep. Over time it causes mental, emotional, and physical fatigue. Sleep debt impedes one’s ability to perform high-level cognitive function. An athlete who suffers from sleep debt would more than likely display a decrease in performance.1 Recently, sleep researcher Dr. W. Christopher Winter found a correlation between a professional athlete’s longevity and the degree of sleepiness in the daytime.2
Winter presented two studies at the SLEEP 2012 meeting in Boston that link the length of careers of baseball and football players. These studies were performed at Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center and CNSM Consulting in Charlottesville, VA using the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS). The ESS is a scale used to measure daytime sleepiness and is measured by using a short questionnaire. The administrator of the questionnaire does not discuss the results of the ESS with the subject until it is completed, since it may affect the answers to the questions. ESS is often used in diagnosing sleep disorders.3
The football study consisted of 55 randomly selected college players who made it to the NFL, and the baseball study analyzed 40 randomly selected baseball players who made it to the major leagues. All athletes voluntarily answered the questionnaire of the ESS.4
The results showed that football players who experience less sleepiness tend to remain with the NFL team that drafted them after college. Sleepier athletes only had a 38% chance of staying with the team that originally drafted them. Baseball players who noted being the sleepiest experienced more wear and tear at a faster rate than the average MLB player as well. The attrition rates of the players who noted daytime sleepiness were at 57-86%, which is significantly higher than the 30-35% average.5
“A team’s ability to accurately judge a prospect or a potential trade in terms of the value they will get for that player is what makes or breaks many professional sport teams,” said Winter, principal investigator of the studies and the sleep advisor for Men’s Health magazine. “These studies demonstrate that a simple evaluation of sleepiness may be a powerful tool to add to the list of tests athletes already undergo, such as the Wonderlic Cognitive Abilities Test and the 40-yard dash. Addressing sleepiness in players and correcting the underlying issues causing sleepiness may help to prolong a player’s career.”6
We all know that sleep is crucial to everyday functions. When performing at a high level such as that of athletes, sleep becomes even more important, not just for short term, but for the long haul as well.