Game-day naps for the win

Last night, The New York Times ran an article about the prevalence of napping among NBA players. Written by Jonathan Abrams, the article broke down why so many professional basketball players catch some of their Z’s during the afternoon hours.

With late nights, crazy travel and lots of time zones, a game-day routine is the one thing a player can control, regardless of which city or part of a road trip he is in. Waking up, getting breakfast, shooting around and then coming back to their hotel or apartment to get some shuteye becomes as much about the routine as it is about the actual rest.

Here’s an excerpt from the NYT piece, explaining why napping is so popular –and important– among professional athletes:

Some N.B.A. teams have received an education in the art of napping from Dr. Charles Czeisler, the director of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of the sleep medicine division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Czeisler, known in the N.B.A. as the sleep doctor, has consulted with the Boston Celtics, the Portland Trail Blazers and the Minnesota Timberwolves about the virtues of receiving enough sleep. Napping was a significant piece of the tutorial.

Czeisler said he thought that N.B.A. players needed more sleep than the average person, about nine hours a day. Typical N.B.A. games end about 10 p.m., and with showering, eating, interviews and unwinding factored in, many players do not get to sleep until much later. If they are traveling to the next city after a game, they may arrive at their hotels after 3 a.m. There may then be a morning shootaround that requires getting up by 9 a.m. or earlier. Who wouldn’t want a nap?

Several N.B.A. teams have experimented with curtailing morning shootarounds to establish a more reliable sleep pattern for players. But for the most part, shootarounds remain an N.B.A. staple. And every player seems to nap.

At practice today, I asked a few players, coach Jay Triano and former player, current assistant Alvin Williams about the pregame nap. Results were unanimous: Napping is in. Get with it if you can.

  • Here’s Jay Triano on how important those extra minutes/hours of sleep can be for an athlete and on the tricks he used to help himself fall asleep:

“With the demands of the schedule, they need more sleep than the sleep that they get in the evenings, for sure. I studied it a lot with the national team and stuff and there are different things, more than a certain amount of time is not good, because you can’t get into the REM [stage], you don’t want to do that. You just want to have the body be rested. As an athlete when I played, I used visualization. I would fall asleep seeing plays and seeing myself do things, semi-asleep. I thought that was the best. I always played well after that.”

“I know a lot of these guys after our shootaround, they eat, go home and then rest again.”

  • Veteran Leandro Barbosa also swears by the nap, saying it’s extremely important that he gets his time in the afternoon. Barbosa said he slept for almost 11 hours last night, his body still jet-lagged and tired from a day of travel and a whirlwind trip in London. While those 11 hours were more than he usually gets, a nap is always a part of his game-day routine, regardless of how he slept the night before:

“Yes. I have to nap. If I don’t nap it’s not a good day for me. An hour and a half, maybe two. It depends when we finish practice and then I go home. I like to be here [at the arena] 4:30 p.m. No more after 4:30. Gotta be 4:30 or earlier.”

  • Julian Wright said he naps, but it wasn’t an absolute necessity for him. Getting between 7-8 hours of sleep at night, he also stressed the importance of not getting too much sleep in the afternoon, something the rest of his teammates didn’t mention:

“It’s short, after shootaround. Little bit over an hour. Not much. You don’t want to sleep too long, it’s like, your body will get sluggish.”

  • DeMar DeRozan might have young legs and the ability to stay up late (he says, “I’m up late most nights, Probably 2-3 a.m.), but he also gets a lot of nap time in on game days. While most players pegged their naps as lasting an hour to an hour and a half, DeRozan gets significantly more than that:

“I go to sleep before every game. Shootaround, then I go home and sleep until I’ve got to go back to the gym. About three hours. I have to, like I have to. If I don’t, I feel like I’m going to play bad or something. I get mad, I wanna cuss somebody out if they call me and wake me up.”

  • Looking stronger as the season wears on, despite logging a lot of minutes for this Raptors squad, DeRozan’s napping appears to be working for him. One thing that’s clear: He’s a much stronger player than he was at this point of the season last year:

“Oh man, I was done. I ain’t even gonna lie. I wasn’t even playing half the minutes like I am now, it’s definitely different. This past summer definitely helped me because I was tired last year. That rookie wall, all that.”

  • Alvin Williams might not currently be playing professional basketball (although, you’d think otherwise if you walked in on a Raptors practice and saw him taking a much younger player to school in a game of one-on-one), but he knows how important the game-day nap was to his success. So important that everything else was structured around it:

“If I didn’t get a nap, I was out of sync. I had to take a nap. About an hour and a half, two hours. Shootaround, grab something to eat and then take a nap. I had to. Ever since I was in college. My roommate, me and my roommate right after shootaround, after a meal, we would go take a nap. Then we started napping in the locker room so we didn’t have to go across campus. I always took a nap before the game. I get up and then I’m ready to go. If I didn’t take a nap, I was hurting. Mentally, I was hurting.

Like former Raptor, Jason Kapono says in the article, “Why wouldn’t you, if you could?” In a future life I think I’d like to be a baller.