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Do professional athletes need 'sleep coaches'?

In sports mythology, it's always the image of the exhausted warrior - he who tirelessly trains, labors, and sweats blood - that prevails over the competition, vanquishing a lesser rival who seemingly didn't want it bad enough or work hard enough.

But if the lessons of modern sleep science teach us anything, it's that athletes who skip practice in order to catch up on their sleep may actually be more successful in the long run by performing with greater athletic precision than the "exhausted warriors" we've come to admire.

For professional athletes, numerous factors can affect sports performance. But those who make the biggest impact on their teams are those who make sleep a high priority in their "training."

In a new interview with Mens Fitness, Dr. Charles A. Czeisler - affectionately dubbed the "Sleep Doctor" by his associates in the NBA - suggests that sports teams have much to gain from retaining a sleep coach. Why? Athletes need but don't receive coaching on sleep, one of the most integral aspects of training and conditioning.

“They get fitness coaching," Dr. Czeisler explains. "They get nutritional coaching. They don’t get sleep coaching.”

Czeisler has consulted with the NHL's Boston Bruins, NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves and Portland Trail Blazers, Major League Baseball’s Milwaukee Brewers, and before the New England Patriots traveled to London in 2012, Czeisler’s expertise was sought as the team prepared to combat jetlag.

Unfortunately, most professional sports organizations haven't yet prioritized sleep for their players. It's a pervasive problem, however, that extends well beyond the world of sports.

Today, sleep deprivation is a full blown epidemic at the national level, according to the CDC. Due to the time consuming burdens born of work and family, Americans are habitually - and dangerously - exhausted. The same is true for even the most prominent and well-paid athletes with full schedules and rigorous travel demands. For them, sleep is simply treated as a luxury, not a necessity.

But with exhaustion among athletes reaching epidemic proportions today, health experts and sleep specialists like Dr. Czeisler have begun stepping up efforts to educate athletes on ways to safely and effectively improve their health, wellness, and athletic performance by first improving their sleep.

Although the vast majority of professional sports organizations have not yet retained a full time sleep coach, athletes have begun turning to technology, like wearable devices and smartwatches, to facilitate a greater awareness of their sleep patterns and related personal health data.

Since launching in April, Samsung's Galaxy Gear 2 has fast become a staple of the college and professional athlete’s apparel. Curiously, the Gear 2 just so happens to be the most advanced smartwatch released to date for users seeking to address sleep deficiencies.

From monitoring fitness activity and calorie intake, to recording sleep patterns and even blood pressure, countless leading wearable devices are designed to track. But none – until now – could also treat the underlying problems that continue to imperil the health and wellness of millions. How so? Sleep Genius, a scientifically advanced sleep program developed by top researchers in the fields of neuroscience, sleep, and music, has been integrated with the new Samsung Gear 2 (see video demo shared above).

“Integrating Sleep Genius into the new Samsung Gear 2 not only raises the bar for wearable tech, it also reflects the company’s commitment to giving consumers what they truly need – a better night’s sleep through safe and effective technology that only Sleep Genius can deliver,” says Colin House, CEO of Sleep Genius.

With a growing number of athletic trainers and coaches strongly dissuading players from turning to sleeping pills to go sleep and energy drinks to stay awake, sleep technology is fast-emerging as the go-to resource for athletes in need of serious shut-eye assistance.

If you’ve ever articulated the common athlete mantra which holds that “sleep is for the weak,” let it be known that science has officially proven you wrong.

Every consequence of sleep deprivation works in concert to weaken the mind and body to both the short and long term detriment of your health. Without enough sleep, you're more inclined to get sick, get injured, and get sidelined from sports by any number of physical and mental ailments associated with chronic sleep deprivation.

"You snooze you lose" is an adage with which we are all familiar. But scientists and medical researchers have illustrated with frightening examples again and again that it’s the people that don't snooze who are at greatest risk of losing something much worse than a sporting contest - their health.