How Insufficient Sleep Impacts Athletic Performance with Pat Byrne – EP045

 In Podcast

‘The best athletes on the teams I’ve worked with have always been the best sleepers. The bottom third of the sleepers are usually gone within a few years.’




We live in a world where functioning on less and less sleep has become ‘the new normal,’ so we may not realize just how much insufficient sleep impacts our performance. Of course, there are elements of this that are out of our control, like the travel schedule associated with competition. But if you are struggling to get close to the recommended 7½-9 hours, it is likely that your reaction time and your ability to focus are suffering. What is the best way to monitor how much sleep you’re actually getting? And how do you determine what’s causing the problem if you’re falling short?

Pat Byrne is an authority in the field of sleep science with 30-plus years of experience in health and safety, risk management, and performance optimization. Pat’s fatigue management systems utilize state-of-the-art technology to revolutionize the way professional sports teams and 24/7 workplaces manage sleep schedules to enhance performance and mitigate risk. Pat’s elite client roster includes the US Department of Defense, Harvard Medical School, major mining and transportation companies, and leading sports teams in the NHL, NFL, NBA, MLS, MLB and AFL.

Today Pat gives us the rundown on the importance of sleep, explaining the influence of age and biological variation on the amount an individual needs. He shares the short- and long-term consequences of sleep deprivation, his experience around the causes of sleep issues, and why sleep quality is more important than duration. Pat cautions us against using consumer-grade technology to monitor sleep and relying on sleeping pills to get the rest we need. Listen in as Pat speaks to the sleep challenges particular to athletes, discussing his approach to consulting with individuals and teams to improve performance.

Topics Covered

[1:04] Pat’s take on the importance of sleep

  • Critical brain function
  • 7½ to 9 hours per night
  • Quality more important than duration
[3:04] Sleep research as a very new science

  • Began in 1953
  • Study of how sleep affects human performance in last decade
[4:06] How age influences the amount of sleep necessary

  • Human brain not fully developed until 25
  • Adolescent brain requires 9-10 hours per night
  • Harder to sleep in one block as we get older
[6:04] The consequences associated with sleep deprivation

  • Measurable change in reaction time
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Obesity, diabetes
  • Inability to learn, retain information
[7:58] Pat’s insight on napping

  • Should take strategically
  • 1-2pm = best time
[9:48] Pat’s advice around sleep technology

  • Impossible to measure sleep from wrist
  • Consumer-grade wristwatches unproven
  • Medical-grade tech 90-95% accurate (only measures when awake, asleep)
[12:52] Why athletes don’t sleep well

  • Natural biology
  • Lifestyle issues
  • Work/travel schedule
[14:48] Pat’s approach to sleep monitoring with athletes

  • Medical-grade ActiGraph
  • Sync to phone, send data to computer
  • Determine cause via data, questionnaire
[16:52] Pat’s warnings about consumer-grade technology

  • Ask for validation papers
  • Sleep quality can’t be measured
[18:34] Pat’s experience around the causes of sleep issues

  • Biology bigger problem than might think
  • Lifestyle only 10%
  • Scheduling has improved in recent years
  • Best athletes are best sleepers
[20:30] Pat’s work with the Vancouver Canucks

  • Ended road trips on east coast, home at 5am
  • Three nights to catch up on sleep
  • Often lost games in that window
  • Recommended flying back next day, changes in sleep environment
  • Went from worst road record to best (two years running)
[24:51] The most common sleep disorders

  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Sleep apnea
[27:09] Pat’s take on supplements and drugs

  • Can be addictive
  • Quality of sleep not same with sleeping pills
[28:23] The ideal sleep for health, safety and performance

  • Five cycles (about 1½ hours each)
  • Includes REM sleep
  • Brain decides what stage needed
[31:40] Pat’s advice for athletes using melatonin, sleeping pills

  • Ask yourself WHY (identify cause)
  • Look for alternative solutions
  • Prioritize sleep, adjust sleep environment
[35:43] How the amount of time spent in bed relates to sleep duration

  • Cheri Mah study of Stanford basketball team
  • Overestimate amount of sleep by 70 minutes
  • 10 hours in bed, only 8 hours of sleep
[36:37] Pat’s insight around screens

  • Blue light of computers, smartphones limits melatonin production
  • Turn off at least one hour before bed

Learn More About Pat Byrne

Pat’s Website

Pat on Twitter


Daily Mail Article

Fatigue Science


Cheri Mah Research




Recommended Posts

Leave a Comment

What it means to be a professional athlete. Mountain Bike Racer Sonya Looney.