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In addition to considering all of the options in front of him, analyzing mountains of data, and searching for the ever ellusive Contra Code version of the Celtics starting line up, head coach Brad Stevens is looking outside of basketball practices to give his team an edge. One such strategy is something Jordan's Furniture commercials have been telling us about for years: the key to success is getting enough sleep.

Stevens has been working with Cheri Mah of the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory since his days with the Butler Bulldogs. Initially, Stevens was looking for a way to get his players much needed rest in the thick of tournament play. The question was how to get the team rested enough to play at an optimal level despite playing three games in three days while traveling 4200 miles from home.

The suggested course of action boiled down to a mathematical approach of practicing at certain times on certain days and taking others off all together. It wasn't an exact science, but it was effective. The Bulldogs won the game Stevens was prepping his team for and the next 12.

This isn't a new practice for basketball coaches. The Celtics have been working with Dr. Charles Czeisler, the chief of the division of sleep medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and director of sleep medicine at Harvard medical School since 2009. The goal of his work has been designing travel schedules for the team to ensure that players are getting optimal rest.

The results of his work are fascinating:

The average reaction time is 250 milliseconds, but it can increase to 800 or 900 if a person stays awake all night, making them as impaired as if they were legally drunk.

One night of lost sleep is 10 times more detrimental to those ages 18-25 than to those 60 and over, because in younger people sleep is much deeper, more restorative and the body’s “drive” to sleep is more intense.

Lack of sleep affects the parts of the brain that control emotional reaction and judgment. As such, Czeisler said, sleep-deprived players are much more likely to lose control of their temper and respond emotionally if, say, they don’t like an officiating decision.

Sleep helps the brain consolidate memory, especially procedural memory, so if a player learned a new play or a new move that day, Czeisler said, “Amazingly enough, during sleep, the brain will rehearse this move over and over.”

The schedule basketball teams keep is exhausting and often swept under the rug by fans because hey- they're millionaires who get to play a game for a living. The bottom line is that their current schedule is designed to take years off of your life. Travel for hours to play a physically, mentally, and emotionally draining game for three hours at night. Travel back to the hotel. eat some food. Go to bed around 2AM. Get up for practice at 7AM. Practice for a few hours. Repeat everyday for six months. Oh - and prepare to get demolished by the fans and the press if you're not at your best 100% of the time. If I don't sleep for 7 hours I can barely make it to the train on time, and all I have to do is sit at a computer for 10 hours a day.

At the end of the day, if taking pre-game naps or sleeping at weird hours, or practicing a little less is going to translate into wins for the team, then I am all for it. Nyquil for everyone if it gets us the eight seed in the east.

Follow Padraic O'Connor on Twitter @padraic_oconnor

Source: Baxter Holmes; Boston Globe

Padraic O'Connor 10/14/2013 05:38:00 PM Edit
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