NFC Championship? Sound (asleep) advice to the NY Giants

The New York Giants might very well be the “hot” team moving into the playoffs, but the San Francisco 49ers are poised to make some noise of their own.  So if I’m Jerry Reese and Tom Coughlin, what edge can I give my team to convince them that the 2,565.642 mile trip won’t affect them come kickoff time for the NFC Championship game?  Certainly the G-Men have the confidence of knowing they’re the only team to come away with a playoff victory on the road in 2012.  But that was only one time zone and 992 miles of separation.

Just a few extra winks

Too many clubs try to ignore the ramifications of extended travel, feeling that bringing attention to it will only compound the effects on their players.  Coaches are such creatures of habit that shifting their schedule 30 minutes ahead or an hour behind can put them into a 48 hour uncontrollable tailspin.  They’d rather keep that 7:00 am morning meeting than “gosh forbid” give the players an extra hour to sleep in.

The Sleep Doctor

So I asked my good friend and athletic sleep expert, Dr. Chris Winter – Director of the Martha Jefferson Sleep Medicine Center, what advice he’d give me if I were the Giant’s GM? Before I get started, you might be asking yourself “Why bother?  It’s the NFC Championship game and the season has already endured some seventeen weeks of regular season regimen and an additional two weeks through the playoffs.  What changes could possibly give the Giants an edge way out on the West Coast?”

Let me preface before giving Dr. Winter’s advice that he has worked closely with teams in the MLB, NBA and NHL.  Little wonder his first season consulting the San Francisco Giants they won the 2010 World Series and this past season his work with the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder helped lead them to the Western Conference Finals.

How things break down

Dr. Winter starts by explaining there’s a real overall effect on the team as they travel from east to west for the NFC Championship game.  The biggest decision facing Reese and Coughlin will be when the club decides to fly to San Fran.  If they left now and practiced the week on the West Coast, the 6:30 pm EST kickoff would feel like 3:30 pm, having acclimated to PST.  Should they theoretically arrive 15 minutes prior to kickoff, their bodies would be still adjusted to EST and working on 6:30 pm.  Athletes typically peak between the hour of 6-7 pm, so there’s a potential drop off as the game proceeds.  So…

Count sheep backwards?

Advice #1:  Seek to schedule the team’s travel, meetings, workouts, curfews etc. to make the game feel like it was starting around 5 and ending around 8.  The easiest way to accomplish that would be for the team to keep a slightly ‘later’ schedule while out in SF…get up a little later, go to sleep a little later, eat a little later, etc.

Advice #2:  Starting right now  stress the importance of sleep.  The players need to be sleep camels…getting ample sleep when they can prior to the game.  In male athletes, growth hormone is ONLY secreted during deep sleep.  GH is essential for recovery, tissue repair, etc.

Talk to each player and make sure they are totally comfortable with the sleep they’re getting, their sleep environments, etc.  If not ideal, they need to fix it now.  In that same line of thinking, their bedrooms need to be comfortable, dark and quiet.  We help athletes create perfect sleep environments all the time.  

New baby in the house? Have fun at grandma’s Junior!  I would be on the horn right now to the hotel that the team is going to stay in and make sure the team’s rooms face away from the sunrise, the rooms can be made very dark, no players are near places where there is noise or traffic.  I speak to hotels all the time about these issues and they want to help…they just need to know what to do.

 Advice #3:  The post season is a time to celebrate, but until the ride is over, the celebration needs to be with Gatorade and Muscle Milk, no alcohol.  Alcohol is very bad for sleep and fortunately it doesn’t really go bad easily, so you can enjoy it when the season’s over.

Sound (asleep) advice from an expert that knows a thing or two about high level performance.  Every little edge could put the Giants over the top in the NFC Championship.  What’s a few “winks” worth Coach Coughlin?

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