Sleep deprivation can take its toll on the normal human being and have an ill-effect on both the mental and physical aspect within the normalcy of any day.
For professional athletes, it’s a viable commodity toward a recovery process that prepares them to perform at a peak level every time they step on the playing surface.
During a truncated season, NHL teams are being forced to play every other night even after returning from a long road trek. And for players with full families, and exuberant little ones who can’t wait to see their fathers upon returning from a 10-day trip like the Golden Knights just experienced, sleep can be hard to find.
“It’s not easy with the family dynamic,” Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said. “God bless our players’ wives because I think they do a phenomenal job of trying to help in that area.”
Of their first 26 games, the Golden Knights played every other night over their first seven games – from Jan. 14 through Jan 26 – before being shutdown when their coaching staff and Alex Pietrangelo were placed on the NHL’s COVID protocol list. Upon returning on Feb. 5, the Golden Knights have played every other night 13 times and played back-to-back three times, covering 19 games in a span of 39 days. After playing Feb. 16 in Las Vegas, they were off for three days before the trip to Lake Tahoe to play Colorado, which was a promotional event that tugged at them leading up to the game on Feb. 20, and it was back to every other night – if not back-to-back – since then.
“It’s a little bit harder than usual,” Vegas forward Tomas Nosek said. “Everyone has the same kind of schedule, so we can’t complain about it. We have to deal with that and try to get as much sleep as I can especially on the road, with two kids now at home. It is what it is. I have no problem. I can sleep when they sleep, my kids. I know it’s harder but it is what it is and we have to deal with it.”
Certified athletic trainer Joe Rainone, who has worked with dozens of professional athletes who visit Tim Soder Physical Therapy in Las Vegas and recently completed a continuing education unit on sleep and recovery, said while most people try to sleep 8-10 hours to recover all the time as part of their normal routine, professional athletes have to improvise at times to meet a grueling schedule like NHL teams are enduring this season.
Rainone added that many times people think they can make up for lack of sleep on the backend of a long weekend or two-day binge that finds them averaging 3 or 4 hours of sleep, and then one night with 8, 9, or 10 hours.
“You really never recover until you get yourself into a cycle,” Rainone said. “It’s just like working out. If you workout once a week you’re not gonna get in shape. You need to do it consistently and sleep is kind of the same way. That’s a big part of the recovery is sleep.
“What they need to do is when they’re not playing, or practicing, or whatever they’re doing, just to make sure that they’re getting plenty of rest and not doing anything outside of that, which makes it really difficult for players that have families.”
Robin Lehner revealed Wednesday he suffered a concussion earlier this season, Alex Pietrangelo is gone for the foreseeable future, Chandler Stephenson and Alex Tuch were not on the ice for morning skate, and coach Peter DeBoer said they’ll be gametime decisions.
Not that any of those four examples have anything to do with sleep, but Rainone did say when you play a sport like hockey and you don’t have the proper time to fully recover and have to perform nightly or every other night, you will see an increase in injuries.
“It’s hard to get some good workouts in, so when there’s a day you can actually get a good workout in you have to take advantage of that, but also you have to mix in rest,” Vegas forward said Jonathan Marchessault said. “You come back from a road trip, it’s late, you don’t fall asleep. Obviously, it’s hard at home when you have all the kids and everything. (Sunday) I wanted to wake up with the kids and see them, it’s been 10 days. It’s a battle of organizing your schedule a little bit, but we’re professionals, we find a way. We gotta make sure to be consistent on the ice.
“The biggest thing right now is to get the most sleep possible.”
Rainone said it wouldn’t shock him to see coach Peter DeBoer give his players more maintenance days as the playoffs approach, and if a sizable lead in the West Division is well in hand, that healthy scratches for some of the top-tier players would make sense.
“It’s not a bad idea so they can recover,” Rainone said. “They need to rest, without a doubt. Just get as much recovery as they can in between and not be doing anything else out of just recover. Make sure they’re eating really well every few hours, make sure they’re hydrating really well, and making sure they’re getting plenty of sleep.”