Wake-Up Call

Nov. 11, 2010

Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

College-athletes will try all kinds of things to get themselves to go just a little bit further or a little bit faster or little bit higher. Usually, that means putting in more time in the pool. on the track, in the weight room or the batting cage.

There are probably plenty of times they wish they could improve their performance from their own bed,

It turns out they can.

That was part of the message of a seminar called Sleep and Athletic Performance that was held Tuesday and Thursday mornings in the Football Conference Room.

Georgia Tech’s Director of Total Person Support Services Leah Thomas organized the seminars. Thomas credits Men’s Track and Field Coach Grover Hinsdale for the idea of a seminar on the subject of sleep.

“I looked into it and found there was a good bit of research out there on it,” Thomas said. “I threw it out there to a couple of different hospitals and sleep clinics. This was the group that definitely bit. “

The 45-minute presentation was well attended, as some 175 athletes from various sports attended the seminar, finding time to fit it in between classes or as part of lunch hour.

“I thought it was a pretty good presentation,” said A-Back Roddy Jones. “It’s something that people don’t really think about a whole lot. So it’s always good to get a different perspective on how important it is for performance.”

“It makes us think about how important sleep really is for us,” agreed outfielder Jessica Sinclair. “Maybe we are pushed with our classes and our practice but we really need to focus on it because you can’t perform without getting sleep that we need.”

Dr. Lisa Johnston, MD, who is Board Certified in Neurology and Sleep Medicine at Northside Hospital’s Sleep Disorders Center led the discussion, which touched on a wide range of topics from what sleep is, to the different stages of sleep, and, most important to the athletes, the benefits of getting enough sleep and the potential detriment of “sleep debt” and being sleep-deprived.

“It was a lot of information but I hope that they become aware that sleep is a biological need. They need to get sleep,” said Dr. Johnston. “Oftentimes, college kids and teenagers treat sleep as an option. They get around to it when they get around to it. But because of that, they don’t perform like they really could perform.”

Elements of the presentation could change the way they think. Studies was a breaking down of when athletes are actually at their peak in the early evening — a finding substantiated by a 1997 Stanford University study which showed that West Coast Teams performed better on Monday Night Football (they won 63.5 percent of the games, and by a margin of 14.7 points, while East Coast Teams won by 9.0),, that maximizing sleep can improve reaction time, increase free throw percentage and sprint times..

Lack of sleep, on the other hand, can lead — and literally has led — to disaster. Such catastrophes as a the Challenger explosion, Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal, India were attributed to lack of sleep.

Sleep disorders, and the importance of treating them, also were addressed.

The example Johnston used was former NFL star Reggie White, who died of complications deriving from sleep apnea. She mentioned during that segment that she had hoped for a bigger turnout from football players, who might be most susceptible to sleep apnea. Symptoms include obesity, retrognathia (an overbite), alcohol and sedative use and a neck circumference of 17 or greater.

The segment got Jones’ attention.

“It definitely was [eye-opening], especially some of the symptoms,” he said. “I’m not that big a guy and I have a neck that’s bigger than 17 inches. My mom has told me that I snore before. So I’ll probably go and get checked out for it just to get the biggest advantage and increase the quality of my sleep as well.”

Jones, who was one of the majority of student-athletes that who raised hands when asked about getting five or six hours of sleep a night (kids in their 20s should get nine to 10), left more aware of the importance of sleep.

“That’s why it was great that Leah brought these people in because it’s something that people take for granted,” he said. “Coaches just assume that we’re sleeping at night and it can become tough, especially when you have a couple of days of early weights. So it’s really up to us to get the amount of sleep that we need.”

Sinclair kidded that she’s “become an old woman” with her habitually being in bed by 10:00, but said the seminar confirmed her priority on getting proper rest.

“With all the studies they did and all the findings that it really does improve your performance by getting more sleep, it really does drill it home that you need to get it a lot more.”

Johnston was pleased with the turnout, although she admitted she had one regret.

“Unfortunately, the people that probably needed to be here were the coaches,” she said. “The kids recognize that they don’t sleep and a lot of times they don’t feel well because they don’t sleep. The other dangerous thing we talked about was the more tired you are the less tired you feel. There’s a little bit of deception going on where they even said, ‘I thought I was performing okay. But if I’m only getting five hours of sleep a night, I’m probably not.’ At least not optimally.

“We talked about cutting tenths of seconds off of times,” she added. “In sports that’s big. When you don’t get that sleep the chances that you’re going to do that are less.”

Jones said he won’t be shy about getting word out regarding the information he picked up at the seminar.

“I’m going to try to spread it as much as I can,” Jones said. “Tell guys, especially if they’re snorers or have trouble sleeping, just the dangers that Apnea can present and different other sleep disorders. So I got a lot out of the presentation.”

For more information visit the Northside Hospital Sleep Disorders Center at http://www.northside.com/medical_services/sleep_disorders.aspx.

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