Got sleep? Red Sox, A's could use more
Traveling halfway around globe has effect on ballplayers
Before you read the rest of this article, why not sit down? Pick a chair that's not too wide, not too comfortable (maybe squeeze it between a couple of your friends). Now sit there for the next 15 hours or so. Oh, I almost forgot -- we're going to reset your internal clock by 13 hours for about a week and then strap you back in and go through it all again. Sound like fun?
The truth is there was some fun and entertainment, along with some downtime, built into the Red Sox's schedule during their recent stay in Japan, but according to Dr. Thomas Scammell, an associate professor of neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, traveling halfway around the globe takes a toll.
"As a general rule, for every hour of time shift you experience, it takes one day for your body to adjust," Scammell said. "When you consider the Red Sox's travel schedule and the disruption of their body rhythms, it's likely that everybody on the trip felt a bit disoriented at some point."
Scammell points out that there were several challenges for the Red Sox on this trip -- the long flights that book-ended the visit among them.
"Travel like that is uncomfortable," he said. "Although you're not all that active, it can be fatiguing. You want to sleep, but often you can't. Also, the oxygen level in the cabin is lower than we're used to, and that's another stress to the body."
Resetting the body's clock takes time, but there are some ways to help the process.
"Light exposure is key," he said. "Morning light is an especially good cue for the body. It helps to walk around and be active when the light is strongest."
But there's a catch, Scammel said. When you cross as many time zones as the Sox did, "With a 12 or 13-hour time change, your body doesn't know whether to turn its clock ahead or back. It's confusing. Some people aren't bothered all that much, some fall to pieces."
If you'd like to get an idea of the effect it can have, Scammell suggests getting up at 2 or 3 a.m. and going out for a run.
"Your body won't respond the same as it would to a mid-afternoon jog," he said. "'Out of alignment' might be a good way to describe the feeling." (I'm going to take his word for it, but if you want to try, be my guest.)
There's plenty of scientific evidence to back him up, too. Subjects who have been sleep deprived or sleep disrupted have reaction times which are slower than their well-rested counterparts. A batter's timing may well be off, but that doesn't mean pitchers have a great advantage.
"Higher order cognitive functions are affected, too," Scammel said. "We've heard how Sox pitchers and catchers go through a lot of analysis from batter to batter and pitch to pitch. Mental alertness and concentration can be impaired by lack of sleep."
If you got up early to watch the Sox in Japan, you may still be feeling the effect. Join the crowd, said Scammell.
"As a culture, Americans are chronically sleep deprived. We generally need about eight hours of sleep. The average American gets less than seven."
There are a number of sleep disorders and snoring can be a symptom of one of the most common -- sleep apnea. Caused by soft tissue blocking the airway, apnea more often affects men than women. It can lead to hypertension and increase the risk of stroke. Narcolepsy -- intermittent, uncontrollable episodes of daytime sleep -- is another disorder which is not only disruptive, it can be dangerous. Lack of sleep has also been linked to obesity and diabetes.
"We have seen an real increase in the number of people seeking help," Scammell said. "Most of the disorders are quite treatable and patients get back to a good nights sleep."
As for those friends of yours who claim they get by just fine on four or five hours, Scammell has this to say: "People do differ in their needs, but somebody who is sleeping only a few hours a night probably doesn't appreciate how good they could feel with more rest."
Over the course of a 162-game schedule, there's a pretty good amount of disruption to a player's personal schedule. The Japan trip was unusual and extreme in that regard. Fortunately for the Red Sox, the A's are in pretty much the same boat. After both teams make a brief return to exhibition games against the Dodgers and Giants, respectively, Boston and Oakland will get back to playing games that count, and hopefully counting sheep more normally.
Gary Gillis is a contributor to MLB.com. The BID Injury Report is a regular column on redsox.com. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is the official hospital of The Boston Red Sox. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.