Don't Sleep On It
Bill Sharman may be sad, but Charles Czeisler is happy.
It was Sharman, the Hall of Famer, who is generally credited with creating the morning shootaround -- the hour-long, day-of-game practice at the arena that has been an NBA staple for most teams since the early 70s, when Sharman coached the Lakers. (Wilt Chamberlain, not a devotee of the practice, was said to have to responded, "you tell Coach I'm coming to that arena once today.") The idea was, and is, that it's good for players to get their blood flowing early on a game day, and get thinking early about what their opponents would be trying to do that night.
But the shootaround may be going the way of the set shot as more teams are trying to figure out how to get their players more rest.
The Knicks have eliminated morning shootarounds at home, determining it was too much of a hassle for their players to get to their suburban New York facility, go home for an hour or two, then haul it back downtown to Madison Square Garden for an evening game. The Knicks now have their players come to the Garden an hour or so earlier than their usual 6 p.m. arrival time (for a 7:30 game) for shootaround. The Celtics have eliminated almost all shootarounds and pushed their non-game day practices back to noon, joining the Trail Blazers, who changed their patterns last season, and the Spurs -- who got rid of all shootarounds, home and away, two years ago, and pushed all practices back to 3 p.m. local time.
It's all music to Czeisler's ears. The Baldino Professor of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, he's spent the last quarter century studying the effects of sleep deprivation on an increasingly sleep-deprived world (www.understandingsleep.org
). In the NBA, he's known as "The Sleep Doctor," working with the Celtics, Blazers and a handful of other teams in the past couple of years.
Most people under 30 need between 8.2 and 8.4 hours of sleep every night, but more and more of us are getting fewer and fewer hours. And that's doing a number on our health, Czeisler believes, citing these stats:
• Sleep-deprived people are five times more likely to catch a cold when exposed to a rhinovirus;
• If you shave two to three hours of sleep from your normal amount per week, at the end of the week, you have the same level of impairment than if you stayed up all night and didn't sleep the night before. And that is the equivalent of a blood alcohol level of .01.
• Motor skills that are learned as a result of practice or repetition -- like, say, learning how to play a piano piece -- are ingrained into the brain during sleep. When you don't get enough sleep, you literally forget how to do what you've just learned. But when you do get enough sleep, according to Czeisler, you can improve your performance at a given task, even if you don't practice it any more, by 20 to 30 percent. This would come in handy if you were, say, trying to improve your crossover.
But almost every innovation of the last two decades, from the Internet to i-Pods to Blackberrys and big screen TVs, have conspired to keep us up later, and sleep fewer hours. We Tweet all night, never turn off our computers or televisions and wonder why we're so tired when the kids wake up the next morning.
"We are a 24/7 society," Czeisler said by telephone Thursday. "Nobody wants to miss anything."
That includes NBA players, whose workday resembles that of your basic third-shift worker at a plant. They have to be at their most alert late at night. And when they're done working, it's hard to just shut down the brain and go to sleep. Players don't eat meals before a game, so after two hours of running, they're obviously hungry. If they're at home, they'll go out to eat, and after eating a full meal, it's hard to go right to sleep.
But Czeisler is, slowly, getting NBA teams to change long-established habits. Last year, he convinced Blazers coach Nate McMillian to try to stick to a Pacific time schedule when they came East for a road trip. Instead of leaving Portland early in the morning for their cross-country flight after just a couple of hours of sleep, landing in the late afternoon and immediately going to an off-day practice around 6 p.m. Eastern time, the Blazers slept in, didn't leave Portland until noon local time, got to Orlando (their first stop on a five-game road trip) around 9 p.m. and went straight to practice, around 10 p.m.
The practice lasted a couple of hours, as McMillian put in all the things he normally would have done at shootaround the next morning. But when it was over, around midnight Eastern, it was only 9 p.m. Pacific time. The players were encouraged to stay up until the time they would normally go to bed at home. If they went to sleep at 1 a.m. Pacific, they should do the same in Orlando (4 a.m. Eastern). There was no worry about missing shootaround the next morning, because there was no shootaround the next morning. The Blazers wound up winning seven of their nine games in the East last season, their best showing in years.
"If you're going to Europe," Czeisler says, "and if you're up all night, and your reaction time goes from 250 mlliseconds to 750 milliseconds when you're looking at the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, it's not that big a deal. But if your reaction time triples when you're an NBA player, that can be the difference between a win and a loss."
Czeisler got involved with the Celtics this summer, after Boston's athletic trainer, Ed Lacerte, met him at a conference in New York. On the train back to Boston, they compared notes. Lacerte set up a meeting with Doc Rivers.
"I was like, get the [bleep] out of here," Rivers recalled. "I'm not going to see a sleep doctor. Are you kidding me? Really. I was skeptical as everyone else. And then he told me to call Nate and Monty Williams [the Blazers' assistant coach], who played for me. When I called them, the way they talked about him, they had a lot of passion about it. So I thought, I may need to sit down with this guy."
When Rivers heard the information, he was sold. But he had to sell it to his players.
"They didn't want to do it at the beginning," Rivers said. "Kevin [Garnett] and Ray [Allen], they're set in their ways. Now, they love it."
Said Allen: "We get a lot of rest. You don't wake up in the morning feeling groggy. When you practice in the afternoon, when you got up and you're able to be around the kids early in the morning, take them to school, pick 'em up, whatever it may be, as veteran players, we have an opportunity to watch your body. You've got to take care of your own body, get your running in and get your weights in. We have a pretty mature group of guys. Even the young guys know how to get their workouts in [now]. That's what I really appreciate."
When Czeisler asked teams why they plan their schedules the way they do, he's gotten a lot of blank stares and muttering about how this is the way we've always done it. He's hoping that these small moves are starting a trend in the other direction.
"If people are going to be open to modifying their schedule of events in order to get more sleep," he said, "it's a whole new ball game."
And, before you ask, he gets between 7 1/2 and 8 hours of Zzzs a night.