FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Here’s an underrated aspect of Matt Ryan’s success at the age of 31: sleep.
The Atlanta Falcons quarterback tries to get nine hours, which might seem like an eternity for those accustomed to late nights and early mornings. Ryan puts in his full workdays, too, but he’s changed up his routine from back in his 20s.
“There’s no getting around that sleep is like the No. 1 most important thing,” Ryan said. “Every study that you look at, every time you try to do any research on recovery or training or whatever, any kind of performance-enhancing stuff, it all comes down to sleep.
“It’s not easy to always try and get nine hours, especially because we’re in here early. But it takes effort. You’ve got to force yourself to go to bed early. That’s just something that I’ve worked on throughout my career. I’ve gotten better and better at it. Now, I’m an early-to-bed kind of guy and early up in the morning.”
As Ryan mentioned, there have been studies that show how the proper amount of sleep results in better on-field performance. Jeff Kahn is the CEO of Chicago-based Rise Science, which specializes in sleep coaching. Kahn’s group has worked with the Chicago Bulls, Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, and West Virginia Mountaineers. He insists sleep works better than any drug — legal or illegal — to increase performance.
“Sleep is the most potent performance-enhancing activity available to humans,” Kahn said. “There is no substance or activity that has a wider impact on human performance than the sleep we get every night.”
Kahn said 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep is a good range, although it varies based on the person. The studies conducted by Kahn and his group, which include inserting a monitor on an athlete’s mattress, have demonstrated how reaction rate can increase by 8 percent as a result of better sleep habits. Rise Science also has utilized a sleep-enhancer in the form of orange glasses that block out blue light. The body produces a hormone called melatonin which controls when you sleep and awake. Light affects how much melatonin your body produces, so the glasses block out the light and essentially help an individual get to sleep.
Ryan doesn’t use any sleep aids, but such glasses might be worth consideration.
And maybe the nine hours of sleep Ryan tries to get now will help him continue his streak of longevity. He has not missed a game since the 2009 season, when he was sidelined by turf toe for two games.
As Kahn said, sleep needs, of course, vary. Seattle’s Russell Wilson said last season that he can get by on five or six hours of sleep.
“Do you think I pay attention to the sleep hours? No, I don’t pay attention,” Wilson said, according to ESPN Seahawks reporter Sheil Kapadia. “That’s definitely something I don’t pay attention to. I actually go the opposite way. My philosophy is that the less sleep you get — kids, don’t listen to this — the less sleep you get, in terms of as long as you’re using those sleepless hours for a purpose, I think it gives you a good chance.”
San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers, who brings his team to the Georgia Dome this Sunday, tries to stick by the same sleep routine as Ryan. The 34-year-old Rivers hasn’t missed a game since the 2005 season, and wants to keep his streak going by keeping his body as fresh as possible.
“I certainly think it helps,” Rivers said of sleep. “First off, I’m just so thankful that I’ve been blessed to be healthy enough to play. … I do think sleep is important. I prefer early, early morning rather than working late, late nights. There’s been plenty of nights when you’re studying or you looking back over the game film or the plan and I’ve said to myself, ‘I’ve got to go to bed. Sleep right now is more important than looking at another play tonight.’
“Also, I have eight children. Over the last 13 years, there’s certainly has been some nights, some weeks where (sleep) is not as good. Thankfully my wife is awesome and handles it during the season, during the middle of the night. But I couldn’t put a gauge on how important sleep is.”