Sports & Sleep: An Interview with Dr. Christopher Winter
Professional athletes put their bodies through a lot. High-intensity competition, grueling travel schedules, late games — all of this makes good sleep hygiene crucial. A well-rested and recovered athlete plays better than a sleep-deprived one, and professional teams are starting to understand how the sleep health of their athletes impacts wins and losses.
In the second installment of our Sports & Sleep series, we spoke with Dr. Christopher Winter, owner of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine clinic and CNSM Consulting.What is your connection to the world of sports medicine and sleep technology?
I have been helping teams and their players/staffs with their sleep issues since 2008 when I was contacted by the San Francisco Giants to help with some of their sleep and travel issues. This came about after a 2005 presentation in Denver, Colorado, in which I presented research on how travel across multiple time zones affects MLB team performance. Since that time, I have worked with teams in all of the major sports leagues as well as Olympic teams. This spring, I’ll be in Florida and Arizona working with six or seven teams.
What has surprised you the most working with sports teams regarding their sleep habits?
I continue to be surprised by how little attention some teams give their players’ sleep. They invest considerable time, money and resources into these athletes, tracking their training, hydration and diet. They follow everything they do from the time they arrive at their training complex until they go home in the evening, at which point they almost seem to be on their own when it comes to sleep and education about their sleep.
Why do you think sleep training doesn’t get the attention it deserves from many sports coaches and athletic trainers?
I think for some coaches and trainers, sleep is not something that is worth exploring. The “sleep when you’re dead” or “sleep is a sign of weakness” mentality can still be found within some organizations. I’ve seen over the last decade that more teams understand the value of sleep and rest. In November, Sports Illustrated wrote an article about the work I do with teams and described it as “The Best Secret Weapon in Sports.” Articles like this will continue to push the topic of sleep into the mainstream of sports and beyond.
Is there a piece of latest research regarding this topic you find especially enlightening?
I find the research regarding rest and the performance value of taking the time to rest to be fascinating.
What are you excited to look into more?
I want to look at the sleeping patterns and complaints of professional athletes and determine which patterns seem to predict athletic success at the professional level. We already have some theories that appear to be supported. Over time, I would like to write another book, and a book about sleep and athletic performance seems to be a logical topic, but one I’ll probably wait a bit on. Time will tell!