Teams in the NFL will look for any possible way to gain an advantage over opponents. Coaches and players are constantly looking for an edge, no matter how slight.
That’s why the Ravens are examining sleep patterns this offseason, looking to see if they can adjust their schedule during the regular season to maximize the rest players get.
“We’re turning over every stone, looking at everything in our program, to find any way to get better,” Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said.
To ensure players are getting the proper rest they need, the Ravens are looking into adjusting their weekly schedule, including morning start times, off days and overall timetables for West Coast trips.
No decisions have been made yet, but the Ravens’ medical staff has been examining sleep studies put together by the U.S. military to determine if it would make sense to change the team’s schedule.
For example, rather than starting the in-season weekdays around 8:15 a.m., they could potentially push back the start time to around 9:00 a.m. The decision will ultimately depend on the time that best corresponds with the body’s natural clock, which is triggered by the sun rising, according to the team’s medical staff. Some players are naturally “morning people” who wake up around 6:30-7 a.m.; for those who aren’t, the medical staff works with them on ways to adjust to an earlier wake-up call.
The studies show that getting between four to five hours of uninterrupted sleep a night will provide about 80 percent restoration, allowing a person to do “well enough” the next day. But the Ravens aren’t looking for their players to simply perform “well enough.” They want peak performance, which requires sleeping about 8 to 10 hours a night for most players.
That’s why the team’s physicians have been working with the players to ensure they are paying attention to their sleep schedule.
Also, the medical staff is looking to determine the best sleep schedule for West Coast trips.
Currently, the Ravens leave on Friday afternoons when playing a Sunday game on the West Coast. Flying out two days in advance gives the players an opportunity to adjust to the new time zone. For games in the Eastern time zone, the team leaves just one day early.
In addition to flying out West a day early, the team is also considering getting the players gradually acclimated to the time change. For example, they could start Wednesday morning meetings at 8:15, Thursday at 9:15 and then Friday at 10:15, slowly changing the players’ schedules so that they’re on West Coast time when they leave on Friday.
The other possibility is changing the team’s off day from Tuesday to Monday. Most teams in the NFL have Tuesdays off and start the practice week on Wednesdays, but Harbaugh said that he’s talking with veteran players and meeting with the medical staff to see if it would make sense to take Monday off and begin the practice week on Tuesday.
The rationale for switching off days is to give players a chance to get more sleep the night after a game, which is the most important night of sleep during the week.
The night after a game is typically one of the most difficult nights of the week to get sleep because factors like travel and excitement often interfere with the body trying to relax. Even if players sleep for a few hours on the flight home, they still won’t get 8 to 10 hours of continuous sleep, which means they will begin the week on a short night’s rest. Giving them Monday off could allow the players to sleep in and then ideally come to work on Tuesday completely refreshed.
The focus for the medical staff right now is to examine the science of the sleep patterns, rather than the tradition of the NFL schedule.
“It’s just about getting better, any little way we can,” Harbaugh.