Given the physical nature of their work, you would think that athletes would have access to the best medical care possible. Each player represents a multi-million dollar investment, so it would only make sense for teams to hire the best doctors and trainers imaginable, right? Unfortunately, many NBA players are struggling with as seemingly mindless problem: sleep.
While you might not think much about the time you spend in bed, getting enough shuteye has become a major issue in the NBA.
The rigors of an NBA schedule
Any NBA fan can tell you that each team plays 82 games throughout the season. 41 of those contests are, of course, on the road and require varying amounts of travel. While you might hope on a plane a few times a year for vacation or work, NBA players take frequent traveling to the next level.
Since the average NBA team plays approximately three games a week, teams find themselves constantly crisscrossing the country. While NFL teams can take their time between each Sunday’s game and MLB teams get to spend a few days in each city, an NBA team has to take the court with much greater frequency in a greater variety of cities. If a standard game starts at 7 p.m., a team likely won’t land in a city any early than 3 a.m. They’ll have to be on the court a little over 12 hours later.
That problem can also be exacerbated by geography. The Atlantic Division, for example, consists of teams in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Toronto; compare that to the Northwest Division, which consists of teams in Portland, Denver, Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City, and Minneapolis. Some teams, through no fault of their own, constantly cross time zones get the short end of the stick.
Sleep Deprivation in the NBA
Based on that travel schedule and the stress of life as a professional athlete, many NBA players suffer from sleep deprivation. “You ask anybody in the room,” Tobias Harris told ESPN’s Baxter Holmes. “The thing I talk about is sleep. “I think in a couple years [sleep deprivation] will be an issue that’s talked about, like the NFL with concussions.”
The NBA has tried to do their part and make the schedule less stressful. The season has gotten longer, and each team plays fewer back-to-backs per season; teams can no longer play four games in five days and have to provide their players with more rest. The results, however, remain the same.
With that in mind, many NBA players had adopted their own bedtime routines. While they’re all individualized, the goal is the same: get a better night’s sleep.
LeBron James’ bedtime routine
During his time on the road, James ensures that his hotel room temperature doesn’t creep above 70 degrees. He also turns off any electronics at least 30 minutes before bed, except for his sleep app, which plays relaxing sounds as he goes to bed.
Other players have their own routines, ranging from the scientific—Tobias Harris monitors his heart rate after games to keep his adrenaline in check—to the conventional, like Kent Bazemore’s use of blackout curtains, but everyone’s goal remains the same. If the NBA is going to push players to their physical breaking point, they’ll do everything they can to fight back. Sleep is a vital necessity for the average person, let alone an athlete trying to play at the highest level.