OAKLAND – The keys to success for the Warriors: the Splash Brothers, an energetic coach, and the fans in Oracle, right?
What about sleep? It may not score or rebound, but the Warriors believe better sleep is key to unlocking their full potential.
“I sleep fine,” Coach Steve Kerr said smiling.
A few months back, Kerr enlisted the help of UCSF Sleep Researcher Cheri Mah.
“We know that if guys get rest and they're sleeping well, their bodies are more prepared to perform at a high level,” Kerr said. “So that's the idea, is to help them as much as possible to get the rest they need.”
“It helped basketball players with their shooting percentage,” Mah said.
Mah is a research fellow at the UCSF Human Performance Center. She previously worked at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine. She dove into sleep research in 2002, after swim team members responded well to sleep advice. They chose to make sleep a priority and slept eight to 10 hours a night. Several swimmers set personal records at meets in the weeks after.
Now, Mah consults for several NHL, NFL, and NBA teams including the Warriors.
“[The Warriors] are doing fantastic, it's obviously a very special season,” Mah said.
She says the mistake many basketball players make, is taking long naps on game day.
“Particularly in the NBA you'll hear many players taking one hour, two hour, three hour pre-game naps....you want to keep naps short. You want to keep them under 30 minutes because that keeps you in lighter stages of sleep to give you that energy and performance boost,” Mah said.
Mah says professional teams across the country are rearranging their travel schedules to make sure players rest, and aren’t arriving home after a road game in the middle of the night.
“Flying from east coast and west coast you're going to often have a disruption which has been demonstrated to impact performance outcomes."
It's advice one of her colleagues gave the San Francisco giants last year. After the game two loss to Kansas City in the World Series, the team stayed at a local hotel instead of flying home right away.
What Mah is teaching athletes can help anyone. She suggests reading for 30 minutes before bed, stretch or practice yoga at the end of the night, and try to sleep 7-9 hours. Also, stay off your phone in bed and even charge it in another room if you can.
“Specifically the blue frequencies of light (screens emit) affect a part of your brain that control your sleep and wake and that can suppress your melatonin release,” Mah said.
Some of the Warrior players continue to use her advice, like Draymond Green.
“I try not to take a nap during the day and focus more on night time. Those two things have helped me a lot because I’m not one to sleep much. I struggle with sleep,” Green said.
Other players say old habits are hard to kick.
“I think guys have their routines,” Center Andrew Bogut said.
“Especially guys who've been in the league five or six years, they stick to their routines. For guys like me, it was good to hear an expert talk about it but it's not like I've changed my life with it."
Some fans thought the Warriors were so good the first round would be a snooze fest. This team might just sleep their way into the NBA Finals.
“It's only a very very small component overall, but I’d like to say overall they're more cognizant of their sleep and how their recovery is, so it's a priority every day,” Mah said.