Studies: Sleepy athletes can see shorter careers

Coaches, owners and fantasy-league traders take note: Sleep researcher W. Christopher Winter has uncovered a link between a pro athlete’s longevity with a team and the degree of sleepiness experienced during the day.

At last summer’s SLEEP 2012, an annual meeting sponsored by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society, Winter presented two studies that associate the career spans of baseball and football players with their voluntary answers on a sleep questionnaire. The results show that less sleepy football players tended to remain with their drafting National Football League teams after college. Results were similar for Major League Baseball players.

“A team’s ability to accurately judge a prospect or a potential trade in terms of the value they will get for that player is what makes or breaks many professional sport teams,” says Winter, medical director of the Martha Jefferson Sleep Medicine Center in Charlottesville, Va., and sleep adviser for Men’s Health magazine. “These studies demonstrate that a simple evaluation of sleepiness may be a powerful tool to add to the list of tests athletes already undergo.”

The football study looked at 55 randomly selected college players who landed in the NFL, finding that sleepier athletes had only a 38% chance of staying with the team that originally drafted them. By comparison, 56% of the less-sleepy players were considered a “value pick” because they remained with the original team.

The baseball study analyzed the sleepiness of 40 randomly selected players and found that those who reported higher levels of daytime sleepiness had attrition rates of 57% to 86%, well above the 30% to 35% MLB average.