This picture doesn't do the type of sleeper bus an ECHL team owns justice.

This picture doesn’t do the type of sleeper bus an ECHL team owns justice.

The above picture is of a random sleeper bus I found online, but as the caption says, it doesn’t quite do justice to the type of bus an ECHL team, or even AHL team would own. Those are older and mustier, and usually carry the pungent odour of feet and broken dreams, which the picture you see doesn’t quite capture.

Sleeper buses still exist for teams (on the east coast), because the eight or nine hour drive to play some of the teams in your division would require hotel rooms after the game without them, and who wants to pay for those? Instead, you can just “sleep” in one of the three coffins stacked on top of each other with a classy little curtain for privacy, or do as I preferred to do, sit up front at the lone table and not sleep because those things make me claustrophobic. Seriously, doing a single sit-up in one of those is a literal non-option (not that I’d have ever tried).

Conditions are obviously better the higher you move up, but still: falling asleep after a hockey game is difficult under the best of circumstances, whether it be in a hotel bed or your own.

Last night I played rec hockey, and was up until 3:30 in the morning (if this is coherent it’ll be a small miracle). The game was an hour in length, ended shortly after 10, and wasn’t that intense. Still, I was screwed.

The reality for professional hockey players is, falling asleep after a hockey game is no easier – in fact, it’s usually harder, as you’d expect for people actually putting themselves mentally and physically on the line. It’s a tough phenomenon to explain. Adrenaline is the easy thing to blame, but consciousness persists long after a guy physically calms down. Slowing that mind down…that’s the tough part.

Y’know what would help? A few beers. Or a muscle relaxer. Or a painkiller. Or an Ambien. Or some combination of the four. 

Ingesting those things may not be the right thing to do, and you may pass them up the majority of the time, but some days you just want to shut yourself off, like holding the power button on your own computer until the screen finally goes black.

And indeed, some guys do make themselves go black.

Fortunately for me, I wasn’t that desperate to fall asleep last night, or any night. Worse-case scenario for me is that I’m not that sharp on the podcast, I miss a couple glaring errors in posts, and we all move on to Thursday. I’m not as likely to be demoted or healthy scratched or cut or sliced out of the profession entirely.

But for a hockey player, you can’t overstate what being well-rested does for your game in terms of jump, mental clarity and general attitude, and how immediately your career can be affect positively or negatively…so yeah, this is kind of an important subject.

For your average home back-to-back, even guys with real sleep issues are probably going to be okay. The puck drops on the first game at seven, the game is over shortly before ten, and you won’t naturally fall asleep before two-thirty/three. Home teams get the later morning skate time though, which means you can still grab 6-7 hours, skate, nap during the day, then be okay for that night’s game. For a non-napper like myself – not by choice, I’m just not a good sleeper – I needed to fall asleep sooner to feel decent the next night.

So, a couple beers may push unconsciousness up an hour or so, and beer is delicious, so sure, why not? Hell, why not one more.

But if you’re the road team, in a hotel with a roommate, and getting up at 8 for team breakfast before the bus leaves at 9 for your 10 o’clock skate, three in the morning is not an appealing time for your body to shut down. Falling asleep “slightly sooner” may not be what you’re looking for.

“Hey, do you still have any of those _____?”

It’s really easy for hockey players to fall into this.

There’s no easy solution for this problem, but I do believe teams mess up in one regard: they undervalue the uninterrupted night’s sleep knowing that there’s potential naps on the horizon (kudos to the Vancouver Canucks, by the way, who I believe have employed a sleep guru). Even if morning skate is optional, everybody has to come in to get their treatments and evaluation (ice, stim, massage, whatever the trainers deem necessary), get their gear right, and be there for the team meeting, which may or may not include video. On the road, after a late game, whatever: get up and get to the rink. Wake up.

I think they’d have more success with a sleep-in until whenever-guys-want, an afternoon walk to shake things out, a meeting, then naps. But the available sleep-in opens things up for guys to go out late the night before, so you see the dilemma for coaches here. (While some guys just want to feel better, there are always some undisciplined partiers – guys aren’t entirely just victims of circumstances, of course.)

The point is, you’re constantly fighting your body if you can’t mix in a nap, and even those who can nap tend to oversleep in the afternoon and end up with heavy legs that night. It’s a battle.

I’m not making excuses for guys, just explaining how easy it is for some players to head down the wrong path. And as for me, well, I’m pretty sure I need to decline any hockey games that start after nine on weekdays. I forget what I started writing about.

Comments (28)

  1. I absolutely agree. I play rec hockey Sunday nights, and have trouble falling asleep before 2 in the morning. There’s something about the mental processes where when you close your eyes, you’re still seeing puck, replaying certain parts of the game…and that’s a pay-to-play beer league. When it’s your profession, I imagine its far worse.

  2. I wonder how many Blues players got any sleep last week, during that plane fiasco in Vancouver.. Also I love how the media guys in St Louis (Federko/Pang/Chase) said oh the players will be fine, you should see how these guys travel!! (Why did their 3rd rescheduled charter plane leave at 2am? Who charters planes that late/early in the morning, I’d be pissed if I had to pay for that flight. Plus the players still had to get bussed another hour back to their vehicles, then another 20 minute drives back to their houses)

    Traveling is still taxing, and flying in at 6:30am on a game day isn’t helping the sleep issue or helping with the reset button.. I’m glad someone understands what some of these players go through to put on a show most nights..

  3. i always had the same problem, but all of the beer league teams i played on took the ‘beer’ part seriously. that helped a bit, meaning i got to sleep around 1 or 2 instead of 2 or 3…

  4. Just in general I find wine helps sleep come better then beer.

  5. Your game ended shortly after 10? Half of my games don’t even start until 10:30 or 10:45 Tuesdays and Sundays.

  6. I’m wondering if this has ever been scientifically studied, even in other sports. I think that substances (like alchohol) are not a good solution. I absolutely love the occasional 6:15pm puck-drops…

  7. Oof. I got off the ice at 11:00 last night…home at 11:30 and bed at 1:00 (thanks, booze!).
    Had to be at work this morning at 7:30 and I have another game tonight at 9:00.

    I guess at least one aspect of my hockey career is similar to the pros.

  8. Ice time is tough in San Jose. Our late rec league game on tuesday nights starts at 11:15. I don’t even try to sleep before 1:30 or so on those nights.

  9. the shitter your divison; the worse your ice times get. ive played games on friday at 11pm and then the next day at 7am..because im a plug

  10. Playing hockey until 11pm on Sunday, I look forward to Monday morning…

  11. There’s been a lot of study done on polyphasic sleep (multiple sleep cycles/day), and more than a handful of scientists argue that the most natural sleep/wakefulness pattern for healthy humans is some sort of multi-phase schedule. A biphasic sleep schedule ideally manifests in a 5-6 hour period of sleep at night with a 20-90 minute nap during the day; it puts the total amount of sleep at well under 8 hours, but it’s been documented by some experts to match the energy production and health benefits of an 8-hour monophasic schedule.

    The big thing with polyphase seems to be that the schedule needs to be regular in order to be effective – as in, the nap has to occur at the same time every day. I wonder if there are hockey teams who have experimented with enforced naps every gameday; it would take a bit to condition players but I imagine it could at least help guys feel better on less night sleep. Jo Innes probably has a mountain more expertise in this area than I do and could very well call bullshit, but in my head it makes sense.

  12. Yes! The guys on my beer-shinny night call me a wuss for not playing later than a 9:00 start. Any later than that and it takes me 2 nights to recover. Is everyone else in the room just not fessing up?

  13. I agree having a nap definitely helps with lack of sleep. It is easy to get hooked on sleeping aids which can lead to other issues. I’m often wound up after a game and might not sleep till later . Lucky for me I can nap at my job if I have to work the next day. But those professional players need to master a good sleep recover program to keep their edge for sure.

  14. If your staying awake 5 hours after you play Rec hockey you need to drink more beer!

  15. in BC rec hockey some guys drink beer, others take a bong hit. It’s all in an effort to wind down.

    Great article, Bourne. Thumbs up for making this a topic.

  16. I play low-level college hockey here in the UK. We’re lucky if we’re off the ice by 1.30am for each of our two weekly practices, and then we all have classes in the morning – I find that there are two keys to getting to sleep afterwards: firstly, don’t push it: some of the guys try and get to sleep as soon as they get home, and often recount the tedious hours spent counting sheep etc – to get to sleep with in a few minutes of getting to bed, you need to let your body cool down for even just half an hour. Secondly, you need a routine – I shower, have a snack and watch a bit of tv, and always fall asleep within 5 minutes or of hitting the hay. I’m probably lucky, but just my two pence/ cents.

    • This. Gotta give it some time, don’t stress about getting to sleep, that only keeps you awak. Do something to take your mind off of the game.

      I’ve also found cooling my core helps. If I go home, shower and hop straight into bed, my core is still warm and I can’t get comfortable. Cover up with the blanket and I start sweating… uncover and my limbs and skin get cold… cover up, too hot, sweating… uncover, limbs are cold…

      So, I actively try to cool myself down before hoping in bed. For the drive home I make the car as cold as I can stand using either the air conditioning (summer) or roll down the window (winter). I also stop and get a chocolate shake and suck that down to add something cold to the middle of me.

      Also, alcohol, I’ve found I don’t get tired until I stop drinking. Doesn’t matter how much I’ve had, if I keep drinking, I stay away. If I have 1 beer, then stop, after a bit, eyelids are heavy. Not that I’m recommending drinking as a solution to wakefulness.

  17. I play rec league on Sunday nights, finishing at 22:20. I’m back home at 23:10, and go to bed at 23:30. I’m usually sleeping in 10 minutes.

    I guess the trick is that I train often at 9PM during weekdays so my body get used to hard work in the evening. I agree that a routine is key, but with the traveling of professionnal players, plus jet lag, practice, meetings… it is impossible to keep any routine.

  18. In high school we had practice till 10pm 3 times a week. Never fell asleep before 1. Missed first period 65 times in one year no lie. Still pulled an A. Never thought of that for NHL players. And yes beer, ambien and oxy is a mix that is extremely dangerous. Learned my lesson and was probably lucky to wake up some mornings. Worst that ever happened was some phone sex and random pick up AIM chats that were not at all remembered the next day that failed miserably and were the next days linch table amusement. Could have been infinitely worse and wont touch ambien ever again. Though listening to Ambien stories about what people can do without remembering can be hilarious as well as scary. Friend ordered a trampoline and didn’t remember a thing until it was delivered

    Would love to see NHL expand to Europe. This is one problem I never thought. Maybe they could move towards a schedule more like baseball in which they only play back to backs in the same city and have “series” based scheduling.

  19. If I do more than 2-3 post game pops, I end up having to get up and pee throughout the night. I’d rather get 3-4 hrs continuous sleep than 3-4 hrs interrupted sleep. I’ve been playing beer league for over 20 years and have yet to find anything that sticks consistently other than nyquil. but I try to limit that to once or twice a month.

  20. It’s a shame most teams (and players who would think its not manly enough) would probably never consider anything like yoga/meditation/relaxation techniques to help teach their players how to unwind after games. Even though I’m not a big believer in them, too many people and athletes (see Phelps, Michael) have said it works for them – so it would be great if some teams actually gave it a shot.

    • I meditate for an hour after playing in my rec league and it really helps. I usually fall asleep in 10 minutes. But it’s not for everyone.

  21. I found that food helps me, too. On the way back from the rink, grab a sandwhich and chocolate milk at the deli, normally by the time I’m home and done eating, I’m falling asleep.

  22. Great article. I’m like everyone else here, rec hockey player, Sunday night games start at 9:15 pm and go for an hour and a half. Monday mornings are rough and the only way I can get to sleep before 2 am is with a few beers. That doesn’t help monday mornings either as I find I wake up more dehydrated from the beer than if I had drank a couple extra glasses of water like I should of.

    I know alot of guys on the team have the same issue as me. I couldn’t imagine having to get to sleep on a bus like that though, that seems like it would add a couple extra hours of sleep there.

  23. I have found the best cure for post-game insomnia is a glass of warm milk and a vigorous session of self-abuse. Thank you, Athleta catalog!

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