HEALTHY LIVING
10/10/2013 08:20 am ET

These 6 Sports Teams Have A Secret Weapon -- And It's Not What You Think

What if the key to a winning sports franchise isn't more and better practice but more and better sleep?

A growing body of evidence shows athletic performance of all shapes and sizes improves with even just a little bit of extra shut-eye, and yet the "sleep is for the weak" attitude persists.

In some cases, that is. Slowly but surely, more and more collegiate and professional athletes and their coaches are realizing that a little extra sleep isn't a sign of weakness after all, but more like a predictor of strength.

And it's not just that getting enough sleep improves performance; getting too little sleep hurts, too. One study of 25 years of Monday night football games found that West Coast teams won 63 percent of the time over East Coast -- read, sleepier -- teams.

So far, baseball and football teams seem to be the biggest believers, but hockey isn't far behind. Earlier this year, the NHL began investigating the use of Ambien among players and also made a number of changes to league policies that allow the players more rest during the season, writes sleep specialist and HuffPost blogger Michael J. Breus.

Hopefully, more and more professional -- and amateur! -- athletes will soon reap the benefits of some additional sleep. But in the meantime, here are some of the well-rested athletes paving the way.

  • Boston Red Sox
    Getty Images
    Larry Lucchino, Red Sox president and CEO, recently told a Boston radio station that the team has installed a sleep room at Fenway Park -- and the players are making good use of it. Catcher David Ross, speaking on another radio show, said, "We do have some times every once in a while where it's nice to go in there and get a little hour or so rest -- a little nap."
  • Northwestern Wildcats
    AP
    Coach Pat Fitzgerald has prioritized sleep among his players since taking the helm in 2006, The New York Times reported. But this year is the first that focus has shifted beyond altering practice schedules and mandating nap time.

    This season, the Wildcats are wearing on-body devices that track and analyze the quality and quantity of their sleep, according to the Chicago Tribune.

    "We made it a performance aspect they can use as a tool to prepare," Fitzgerald told the paper. "Anything we can do to maximize performance on the field and in the classroom is a positive thing."
  • New York Jets
    Getty Images
    In 2012, coach Rex Ryan enlisted a sleep specialist to help his New York Jets, hoping to capitalize on shut-eye's performance-enhancing capabilities. "If we can gain a little advantage, then we're going to look for it," Ryan told ESPN.

    Practices and meetings were rescheduled to better accommodate the players' sleep -- and they noticed the difference. "They're trying to help us in any way they can so we can perform at a high level," right tackle Austin Howard told ESPN. "It's absolutely a smart move."
  • Baltimore Ravens
    Getty Images
    The Ravens, too, looked to sleep for an extra edge. "We're turning over every stone, looking at everything in our program, to find any way to get better," head coach John Harbaugh said in a statement last year.

    The team's medical staff examined sleep patterns and suggested changes like moving weekday practices from 8:15 a.m. to 9 a.m. and learning how to most effectively handle jet lag when traveling to play West Coast teams.
  • Oakland Athletics & Detroit Tigers
    Getty Images
    Although these two teams are currently pitted against each other in the ALDS, they're on the same page about one thing: Both elected to take a day off after flying from Oakland to Detroit for Game 3 to help the players get some extra rest, MLB.com reported.

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