With Superbowl LIV right around the corner, there is no better time to talk about the integration of fatigue science in the world of sport, especially the NFL.
NFL teams obsessively track everything they can about a player: weight, muscle mass, hand-eye coordination and more. Yet in recent years, in the never-ending search for an edge, teams have opened their eyes to sleep as a priority, backed up by science that increasingly points to its importance for physical and mental health.
The Seattle Seahawks have been on the forefront of using innovative technology to optimise their players’ sleep habits, including using wristbands that tracks their sleep and scores their alertness. This focus is partly borne out of necessity, as the Seahawks spend the most time travelling for their games in the League, which can interrupt players circadian rhythms. The information they collect can also give insights into reaction times; data that can be used to help optimise a player’s performance.
Being an elite athlete in a sport as physically demanding as NFL, combined with a gruelling schedule and lots of travel, requires players and teams to take a holistic and forward-thinking approach to health. Sam Ramsden, the Seahawks’ director of player health and performance, told the New York Times in 2016, “I’ve always had a belief that sleep is one of the main ways your body recovers… some of the best players on the team are the best sleepers.”