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Blog Feature

By: Brendan Duffy, RPSGT, RST, CCSH, and Monica Roselli, assistant editor of A2Zzz on December 10th, 2020

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Sports and Sleep: A Q&A with Authors Pat Byrne and Suzanne Byrne

sleep | sports

In August, authors Pat Byrne and Suzanne Byrne published their new book, “Inconvenient Sleep: Why Teams Win and Lose,” in which the father-daughter duo discuss the latest research and findings related to sleep and fatigue solutions for athletes, teams, sports leagues and officials. While their book provides insight for athletes and teams, the knowledge and new ideas discussed are applicable to anyone that sleeps. Brendan Duffy, RPSGT, RST, CCSH, and Monica Roselli, assistant editor of A2Zzz, recently spoke with Pat and Suzanne about their book, the current state of sleep and sports, and what they hope people take away from reading their recent findings.

A2Zzz: What was the goal of putting this book out there? Tell us a little about the process from conception to publication.

Pat Byrne: The book was kind of an evolutionary process for us. I started working with the Vancouver Canucks years ago and really saw how sleep was affecting their performance. Suzanne was part of this as well — she was in high school when I started, but she used to come with me. And what we learned was that most athletes and teams knew little about sleep or how sleep affected performance and what to do about it. In talking to them, we learned they were learning from Google and there was a lot of misinformation out there and athletes were just on the wrong path. So we wanted to write the book to educate teens, athletes and the general public about sleep science. The process took several years — we read close to 10,000 pages of reference material — and we interviewed athletes, officials, coaches and researchers. It’s not just about sleep science. There are many other things in our society, everything from a lie detector test to stem cell research, where people fall into the trap of looking at bad science and so we wanted to say sleep can also be part of that bigger process of public misinformation.

Suzanne Byrne: To add to that, I've been in the sports world as an athlete and a coach and I was always flabbergasted at how everyone was like ‘oh, the Fitbit, can do this and that,’ not even understanding what a simple validation study is. So we really wanted to hammer that home as well. We're also trying to explain the science through stories about the researchers. Hopefully the readers will be able to understand the concepts and be able use the information directly in their work.

A2Zzz: It is often stated that LeBron James sleeps up to 12 hours a day, including naps. Can you elaborate on the effects of famous athletes sharing this information?

PB: All of the famous athletes that come out and say they're sleeping 12 hours is all self-reported sleep. I've never seen studies or objective sleep data from these athletes. We’ve worked with a lot of high profile athletes and I can tell you they sleep less than 12 hours. I think it’s a combination of wishful thinking that they're getting 12 hours and poor sleep reporting. I personally don't believe they're getting 12 hours. That said, if they're trying to maximize their sleep, that's great too, but the problem with high profile athletes like LeBron coming out saying you need to sleep 12 hours causes anxiety for younger athletes who then think [they] need to get 12 hours of sleep when they don’t need to. In the book we talk about how each individual athlete needs to decide how much sleep they really need and not pay attention to the hype.

SB: I will add that if what people are getting from LeBron’s statement is that sleep is important and he's trying to promote sleep amongst younger people, then I'll take that any day over a CEO saying sleep when you're dead. In our book we also talk about issues that can occur when you are sleeping too much or other issues that may be causing you to sleep too much as well.

A2Zzz: Are you seeing athletes be more open about addressing sleep disorders compared to when you first started or are sleep disorders still something they don’t want to discuss?

PB: Part of the problem in professional sports is I think that athletes don't want to seem vulnerable and they want to send the message to their teammates, other players and coaches that they are ready to go all the time. They don't want to show any weakness. When I gave my very first talk to the Canucks players, there were no questions. About half a dozen of them came to me privately later to talk about things they didn't want to talk about in the dressing room because they didn’t want to seem vulnerable. It's hard to get players to admit that they have any kind of issue, whether it's a mental health issue or a sleep disorder, publicly. But that is changing and we talk about it in our book.

SB: That's a large reason why we don't disclose who our clients are, because sleep is still seen as an issue that needs to be fixed. I don't think most teams are anywhere near fixing sleep disorders with their athletes. Just because a lot of teams are doing in-house sleep monitoring, doesn’t mean they have the knowledge to read a report and understand if it's good or bad.

PB: Most teams don't do what we call the diagnosis. So if the players are not sleeping well, they immediately think it's a lifestyle issue or they need to go to bed earlier, get off their smartphone. Teams don't get into that next level, which is to get a proper sleep screening done and test for sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome and look at mental health issues. They don't look at everything ― diet to medications ― they don't look at the full spectrum of issues that can affect sleep and they tend to hone in only on lifestyle issues, which is a mistake we think.

To read the full interview, view the A2Zzz Q3 2020 issue.

Read the A2Zzz Q3 Issue