Many of us who endure long commutes and work in businesses where frequent air travel is a must know a thing or two about sleep deprivation. But very few of us understand the full effects of sleep deprivation on our bodies & minds. The ESPN article on players in the American NBA therefore becomes required reading for us.
“Fatigue has long been a reality of life in the NBA, a league with teams that play 82 games in under six months and fly up to 50,000 miles per season — roughly 20,000 more miles each season than NFL teams and far enough to circle the globe twice. Over the 2018-19 season, the average NBA team played every 2.07 days, had 13.3 back-to-back sets and flew the equivalent of 250 miles a day for 25 straight weeks.”
This sort of playing schedule imposes severe loads on players’ bodies. Take for example a player called Tobias Harris. “This is how Tobias Harris rolls: On off-days, he’ll make sure he’s done with everything by 6 p.m. so he can be in bed by 8:30 to achieve his nightly goal of nine hours of sleep. On game nights, he kick-starts his recovery as soon as the buzzer sounds. At his locker, he’ll strap a breathing belt around his waist and slip a heart-rate monitor on his index finger. He knows the game has caused his body to release cortisol, a hormone that wakes him up, while suppressing melatonin, the hormone the body naturally produces to regulate sleep. He’s out of balance. So for a few minutes, still wearing his jersey, adrenaline still flowing through his veins, he’ll take several deep breaths, trying to slow his heart rate and breathing until they’re aligned, monitoring his progress on an iPad.
He calls this his quiet time. The goal? Re-balance just enough so that once he settles into bed, he can quickly enter a deep, restorative sleep.
There’s more. Harris travels with an electroencephalogram machine, examining his brain waves almost daily, engaging in daily 45-minute training sessions. He clips sensors onto each ear, another onto his temple, the three wires leading back into the EEG, then cues up a film or TV show; as the show plays, the EEG reads his brain waves. If they venture outside an optimal range for focus and concentration, the show doesn’t play.
What Harris is doing is called neurofeedback. And although its efficacy has been debated by medical experts, Harris swears by it — believes it arms him with knowledge in his ongoing battle against fatigue.
This has been Harris’ routine for the past five seasons. But he’s far from the only NBA player to feel the need to manage the impact of travel and sleep loss.”
So what are the negative impacts of lack of sleep? As per the legend that is LeBron James, “There’s nothing more important than optimal REM sleep.”
Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum says: “Lack of sleep messes up your recovery, messes up how you play, your cognitive function, your mindset, how you’re moving on the court,” McCollum says. “Sleep is everything.”
Timothy Royer, a performance athlete specialist, believes “Sleep deprivation…is more than just a hindrance to NBA players on the court. It likely is injuring them — and shortening their lives.” In fact, Royer has found tangible evidence of how this plays out: “By January, just three months into the 2012-13 NBA season, the testosterone of one player in his 20s had dropped to that of a 50-year-old man. (Those reductions in testosterone, it’s worth noting, are not permanent, but they do require multiple days of recovery to offset.) And as testosterone levels fell for more players, the injuries seemed to correspondingly accumulate.”
“Chronic sleep loss has been associated with higher risk for cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, heart attacks, Alzheimer’s, dementia, depression, stroke, psychosis and suicide. As Phyllis Zee, chief of sleep medicine in the department of neurology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, says, “Sleep deprivation … doesn’t only affect the brain — it affects all your other organs. … Think about it as punching your other organs.”

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