Masked Athletes

February 15, 2019

What if there was a simple way for athletes to reduce stress, enhance recovery, and improve performance? Luckily there is—it’s called sleep. That’s why the Peach Belt Conference (PBC) has started an initiative to educate student-athletes, coaches, and administrators on the importance of adequate, high-quality shut-eye. 

The PBC is providing a tool to help, too. Earlier this year, student-athletes in sports sponsored by the NCAA Division II conference received a free sleep mask.

“It’s a way to help them get better sleep or make their environment a little more conducive to sleep wherever they happen to be,” says Diana Kling, Associate Commissioner of the PBC.

“When student-athletes are traveling, some are watching movies and some are doing homework, while others want to sleep,” she continues. “Now, they can put on the sleep mask and drown out the light from the people around them or the cars on the freeway. They can also use it in their dorm room if their roommate gets up earlier than they do or stays up later.”

The sleep mask idea developed out of Kling’s participation on the NCAA Interassociation Task Force on Sleep and Wellness. One of her takeaways was that sleep tends to be overlooked, despite being an essential part of athletic and academic performance. 

“Student-athletes often get up early for workouts, go to class all day, then go to practice, and finally go home and do homework—along with traveling for their sport,” says Kling. “They might stay up until two or three o’clock in the morning and then do it all over again the next day. And even if they’re going to bed earlier, they’re probably not getting eight or nine hours of sleep, which is the optimal amount.”

All of this takes a toll on student-athletes’ well-being.

“There are studies that show injury rates going down when athletes get better, longer sleep,” Kling says. “In addition, reflexes and reaction times are faster when they get more sleep, so therefore their athletic performance improves. And more sleep also translates into better academic performance.”

So far, the PBC has received positive feedback from student-athletes on its sleep efforts.

“Some have worn the masks on trips, and they worked well,” Kling says. “They said that they really appreciated having the masks.” 

Along with supplying athletes with the sleep masks, the PBC has been educating member schools on sleep wellness through several other ventures. Last spring, Roxanne Prichard, Scientific Director of the Center for College Sleep and Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of St. Thomas, spoke at the annual league meeting about sleep hygiene. This encompasses all the things that can affect getting a good night’s sleep, such as where you sleep, light coming through the window, and distractions from a cell phone. 

“It was a first step to bring awareness to our member institutions,” says Kling. “Dr. Prichard talked about how another hour or two of sleep can make a big difference in how someone feels, which can then positively affect their mental health.”

The topic is also being included in this year’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) league meetings, and all athletes at member schools are receiving educational materials.

“There is a year-long point of emphasis on sleep and its importance,” Kling says. “The sleep masks are just one piece of that overall priority for the year, and we’ll continue the messaging at our SAAC meetings moving forward.

“Everybody wants a quick fix, like an energy drink,” she continues. “We are working to get the message out that quick fixes can have unintended consequences, while just a little more sleep can do a lot of wonderful things.”

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