Andy O’Brien is the Director of Sports Science & Performance for the Pittsburgh Penguins and has been working with Essentia for quite some time, as Andy is one of the biggest advocates of the importance of sleep and its effect on recovery.
This conversation with Andy couldn’t have come at a better time as the Penguins are currently in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a time that is extremely grueling for every player. In the quest for the cup, these players leave it all on the ice, a lot of the time at the expense of their own bodies. We thought it would be the best time to get some insight from Andy on how the players handle this time and the emergence of sleep as a big part of the training and recovery plan for professional sports.
Enjoy our chat with Andy O’Brien, Director of Sports Science & Performance for the Pittsburgh Penguins:
Essentia: Sleep and professional sports is something we’re seeing talked about a lot today, especially with more professional teams investing in sleep rooms. What do you think triggered this awareness?
Andy: I think to an extent sleep has always been an issue in professional team sports with 80+ games schedules, especially where most of those games occur at night. Having said that, as the speed and competition level of these sports increase, so do the physiologic demands on the players. Add to that the increasing stress that comes with the business side of the industry (i.e. contracts, media), and you end up having athletes that struggle with sleep, while at the same time, their recovery needs are higher than ever. It’s basically a perfect storm.
Essentia: You work with professional hockey players daily, this is one of those sports where it seems injury can be more prevalent due to the physicality of the game. How important is sleep for your athletes? And how do they manage a healthy sleep schedule when traveling?
Andy: We know for certain that sleep affects mood, cognition, reaction time, and motor learning. It most likely also affects power and endurance on a chronic level. Without a doubt, managing sleep is one of the most important aspects of our overall strategy. We’ve applied a couple of separate measurement tools to evaluate sleep throughout the season. We use that data to guide us in making adjustments to our team schedule, and to players’ individual routines.
Essentia: We spoke a lot about sleep and athletes, but for the normal person whether they spent all day in an office, at home or on the road, knowing how important sleep is, what would be your tips to prioritize sleep and change the mindset of “Team No Sleep”?
Andy: It can certainly be easy to get into the habit of sleeping poorly, and then accepting that as “normal”. Sleep has such a major influence on your health and overall well-being, but that doesn’t seem to be well known publicly. I think the key is education and awareness.