All humans need sleep—it’s a biological necessity. Without appropriate and healthy sleep, we place ourselves at risk for developing potentially life-threatening health ailments, and worsening current conditions. Why? Because the body recovers during sleep. Without it, we miss out on vital processes that our bodies depend on.

Generally, it’s recommended that the average person receive 7-9 hours of sleep a night; but what if you’re not average? What if you consistently push your body to limits that the “average” person doesn’t? That’s what sports legend Lebron James does, and it’s why he sleeps an average of 12 hours each night.

In fact, many athletes are known to sleep many more hours a night than the average person—for example, Usain Bolt, Venus Williams, and Maria Sharapova sleep an average of ten. All are athletes who have accomplished incredible feats, and who therefore also need incredible sleep.

Being an incredible athlete, or an athlete in general, doesn’t exclude a person from experiencing sleep ailments, though; and in fact, sports researchers have found evidence linking high rates of sleep disordered-breathing in collegiate football players. For this reason, among the many others, it’s vital that athletes understand the impact that sleep—and sleep disorders—has on their bodies.

Athletes and the Importance of Sleep Education

For some time now, coaches have recognized that quality sleep is essential to player performance. Eight years ago, Dr. Charles Czeisler found himself being featured in The Atlantic. Why? Because he was known across the National Basketball Association (NBA) as “the Sleep Doctor.” The renowned Harvard department director doesn’t just have a reputation across the NBA, though—he’s consulted with nearly every major sports institution. 

Dr. Czeisler doesn’t relish in his notoriety though, as he sees his advice as being quite simplistic in nature: We need sleep. Without it, not only do our bodies suffer but our minds—and athletes rely on sharpened levels of cognitive functioning. This is why Dr. Czeisler particularly stresses the importance of sleep the night you learn something new. If a football player learns a new play during training but then doesn’t sleep, they won’t retain the tactic, giving a team that does prioritize sleep the advantage.

But for some, getting quality sleep is easier said than done. 

Football Players and Sleep Disordered Breathing

For the Pro Player Health Alliance (PPHA), tackling sleep apnea in pro athletes is a critical mission. Founded in 2012, the alliance is made up of David Gergen, CDT, President of the PPHC, and a practicing dental lab expert for nearly 30 years, as well as former NFL players, including Roy Green, Derek Kennard, and Mike Haynes. Each player in the alliance has been diagnosed with sleep apnea and has been successfully treated using oral appliance therapy. 

The prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in football players cannot be overlooked. In 2017, a review of studies conducted on sleep-disordered breathing in professional American football players concluded that there is sufficient evidence to connect high rates of OSA to the NFL (National Football League) population. As noted above, collegiate-level players are also in a high-risk category for developing the condition. 

Sleep-disordered breathing declines any individual’s quality of life—and that includes professional athletes. On top of increasing their chances of developing, and dying from, cardiovascular conditions, athletes who suffer from OSA also experience impaired athletic performance. Receiving treatment will not only improve the health of these players—and anyone who suffers from OSA—but it will allow them to stay in the game. 

What This Means For the Rest of Us

The recent shift in awareness about sleep deprivation and how it affects athletes’ performances is a positive one for sleep education across the board. Whether you’re training for the playoffs or sitting at a desk, poor sleep wreaks havoc on the body. It impedes your brain’s reaction time, drains focus, inhibits memory retention, and affects decision-making skills. Not to mention, quality sleep is absolutely critical for overall health and wellness. If you have any questions about how to improve your night’s rest, Dr. Kent Smith and Dr. Marie Dibra at Sleep Dallas are committed to ensuring you get the rest you deserve. If you believe you have a sleep disorder, like sleep apnea, or have other concerns about your sleep health, call us at (844) 409-4657 or request an appointment online for a free assessment.

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