The Seattle Seahawks are one of the NFL's great success stories in recent years. Their 43-8 victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII not only won them a place in football history, it put a national spotlight on the benefits of performance-enhancing practices including yoga, mindfulness and sleep.
Ever since, I've wanted to learn more about how the Seahawks have made sleep a part of their culture. So I contacted the team's head coach Pete Carroll, who told me, "When it comes to the precision and science of sleep for optimal performance, we've been fortunate to work with experts to help guide us on both the physical and mental strategies to enhance our recovery process." And he connected me with Sam Ramsden and Michael Gervais, who lead the Seahawks' sports science team. Here are their answers to my questions.
The professional sports community has become a pioneer in showcasing the importance of sleep. You have been an advocate of this for a long time -- when did you first start incorporating sleep training into your teams' practices, and what inspired you to do so?
Fatigue and performance are intimately linked and sleep is one of the important variables to get right to help athletes sustain high effort and enthusiasm, for the long haul.
We've tried to not make a big deal about sleep, because we don't want athletes to hyper-focus on if they aren't getting enough of it.
Instead, we learn from leading scientists about the best practices to maximize the effects of sleep on our organization. We schedule our training schedules and flight patterns to optimize the science of sleep. We spend a good amount of energy to educate athletes and coaches about the impact and effects of sleep. We also allocate resources to monitor sleep patterns for those who want to optimize their recovery process.
What are specific instances when you have seen tangible improvements in performance in players after proper sleep -- and examples of mistakes and failures in a game when a player was sleep deprived?
For the most part, our team does a great job on taking care of their recovery process. They have a deep hunger to be able to play at the highest level of football, and to play freely.
We have noticed the effects of travel on circadian rhythm and performance. A few years ago we noticed trends in our performance and our sports science team was able to create a series of solutions to aid performance.
You are constantly on the road with the Seahawks -- between travel jet lag and practice times, how do you help your players adjust so that they can perform?
We use good sleep science and well-tested traditions and wisdom from our coaching staff to guide our decisions for practice load, practice time, and meeting schedules. As an organization we want to stay progressive on how to blend tradition and science to be on the cutting edge so that our players and coaches can be their very best.
What sleep advice do you give to your team before high stress events like the Super Bowl?
Perspective in life is very powerful. We spend a great deal of time throughout the year to create strategies for athletes to be able to play freely, both in practice and in competition. One way we do this is by creating perspective that every game, every practice, every meeting is not more important than another. We have a phrase that "every game is a championship opportunity." By building this perspective, that every practice (and essentially, every moment) matters, we are able to better prepare to meet the demands of anything that comes our way.
When it comes to sleep and the Super Bowl, it's no different than sleep and our first practice.