The Canucks Have a Sleep Doctor

June 9, 2011

NHL Teams map

We hear over and over again, especially in the paleo-sphere, about how important sleep is. Robb Wolf advocates getting as much sleep as you can without getting fired or divorced (and he’s said if those are shaky anyway, perhaps you should prioritize sleep). On my bookshelf, in my reading queue, is “Lights Out”. Sleep, or lack thereof, is greatly detrimental to our health. It’s especially crucial to a speedy recovery after workouts, as well as workout performance. Which is why the Canucks have a “sleep doctor”, Pat Byrne.

What’s a sleep doctor?

A sleep doctor / sleep specialist / somnologist is someone who’s professionally trained in the clinical study and treatment of sleep disorders and irregularities. Sleep medicine is a relatively new specialty, but it’s rapidly growing quickly, since there are as many as 40 million people in the US alone that suffer from sleep disorders. Most of us can identify with having occasional sleepless nights or waking up at odd hours, so it’s not surprising that some doctors make this their specialty.

The Canucks are one of only a few teams on the West Coast, so they end up travelling longer distances than the other teams. They turned to a sleep doctor to try to mitigate the negative effects of travelling and resulting lack of sleep.

Scheduling around sleep

Dr. Pat Byrne, VP and co-founder of Fatigue Science, has also worked with the United States Department of Defense. He had the Canucks wear ReadiBands, which are wristbands that monitor wrist movements, based on which you can figure out the players’ sleep quantity and quality. Dr. Byrne was able to see how quickly players fell asleep after games, if they slept on buses and planes, and how often they woke up during the night. He then compared this data with the players’ on-ice performance.

The Canucks were then able to use the data as a tool in scheduling workouts, practices, travel, and sleep to maximize rest. Based on interviews with the Canucks, they seem pleased with the results, and their track record has definitely improved.

Be your own sleep doctor…

I think it’s pretty cool that sleep was recognized as being so important by an entire NHL team, and that they proactively did something to improve it. Sleep science would be of benefit to so many professions  – surgeons, police officers, air traffic controllers… heck, who wouldn’t benefit from getting better quality sleep and more of it?

And for the most part, for those of us that don’t have to work shifts, and don’t have a serious sleep disorder, we certainly don’t need a sleep doctor to improve our sleep – as a first step, dragging our butts into bed a little earlier can do wonders.

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