IOWA CITY — Top performances by Iowa football players begin with a good night’s sleep.
The Hawkeyes are understanding that now more than ever, wearing wrist devices that provide a crystal clear picture of how getting a full night of sleep translates to more productive days in strength and conditioning training, on the practice field and ultimately in games.
“It’s all related and we’re all getting a chance to see that firsthand,’’ Iowa defensive back D.J. Johnson said.
Over the past year, all Iowa football players have been wearing a wrist device from Fatigue Science that monitors just how much sleep they are getting as they go about their lives, juggling academics, athletics and being a college student.
About the size of a wristwatch, the black band monitors sleep and produces both real-time and predictive fatigue analytics for athletes.
“One of the things we have learned is the biggest contributing factor for recovery is sleep,’’ Iowa strength and conditioning coordinator Chris Doyle said. “It is the top component in optimal performance.’’
Iowa players are gaining an understanding of that as well.
“It’s measurable and the differences, they are noticeable,’’ offensive lineman Mark Kallenberger said. “If you don’t have your best day, a lot of times it comes after a night where maybe you didn’t get the sleep you normally do.’’
The devices record the amount of sleep players receive on a daily basis. Results are recorded, tracked and reviewed.
“If you aren’t consistently getting the rest you need to help your body recover from the previous day’s workout, you’re going to hear about it,’’ sophomore safety Kaevon Merriweather said. “But really when you think about it, you probably already know.’’
Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley isn’t burning any midnight oil in downtown Iowa City.
The senior maintains a quiet lifestyle — he says he gets his biggest enjoyment hanging around a fire pit with friends during an evening at home — and he strives to get a consistent nine hours of sleep each night.
“I want to be at my best on the practice field in the morning and the best way to accomplish that is to get a good full night’s sleep,’’ Stanley said. “That has always been my approach.’’
The sleep monitors are the latest addition to an analytical approach that has been part of football for the Hawkeyes for several years now.
Doyle and his staff work to stay on top of the latest analytical trends, striving to find ways to keep the Hawkeyes one step ahead of the competition.
For nearly seven years now, Iowa athletes have used a GPSports device to track heart rates, heart rate variability and monitor acceleration.
The Hawkeyes also utilize force-plate technology that centers on the kinetic characteristics of movement of an athlete and provides measurements which deduct how well a skill is executed based on external forces involved in movement.
The NCAA’s sweeping rule changes involving nutrition have provided healthy food options at no cost for student-athletes, food that Doyle encourages students to use while foregoing frequent runs through the drive-thru at nearby fast food restaurants.
“Doyle always talks about not eating for your taste buds, but eating to fuel your body,’’ offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs said. “If you don’t eat the right food or don’t the right sleep, you’re going to feel it. Everything he does, it’s designed to help us.’’
Getting a good night’s sleep tops the list.
Doyle considers the sleep monitors to be something that can help athletes who are committed to top performance achieve their objectives.
“The results, they create conversations. If a player isn’t consistently getting a full night of sleep, there is usually a reason for that. It may be something related to academics, it may be something else that is going on in a young man’s life,’’ Doyle said.
“We talk about those things, looking for solutions to help them. We’re here to help them get on the right path.’’
Hawkeye players know they will be pointed in that direction if the monitors indicate they aren’t getting a full night’s sleep.
Doyle and his staff will question players about what might be causing a lack of sleep.
There are meetings for players who consistently do not get the rest they need to recover from the physical activity that is part of their daily routine.
“It’s not a punishment. It’s designed to help them figure out how to better manage their overnight hours so they can come in ready to go in the morning,’’ Doyle said. “It’s a lifestyle choice, ultimately, and we want to do what we can to help them. That’s our role in the process.’’
Johnson trusts Doyle and his staff to do what they can to help players prepare to perform, making it easy to buy into the idea of strapping on a device that is going to monitor activity levels 24-7.
“At first there was a quick, ‘So what is this for?’ but when you get what they’re trying to see, it’s no big deal,’’ Johnson said.
“The results, they can surprise you at first but then you see how accurate they are and how it relates to how you perform the next day at practice. You all of a sudden understand that sleep is the biggest thing. It really is.’’