BOSTON—Collegiate performance, face-to-face interviews, the professional scouting combine, and personality assessments such as the Wonderlic test are among the ways in which National Football League (NFL) teams evaluate their potential draft picks. And now, according to researchers, NFL teams may also want to assess the quality of sleep that their future multi-millionaire players are getting.
In findings reported at the 26th Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, investigators found that less sleepy professional football players tend to remain with their drafting team longer than professional football players who are not getting adequate sleep.
Among the 55 players who were drafted by the NFL and evaluated, players who had an Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS) score of 8 or higher had a 38.5% chance of staying with the team that had originally drafted them. In contrast, players with an ESS score of 7 or lower had a 56.3% chance of remaining with their original team.
“With so much at stake when a professional football team makes a selection in the NFL draft, taking into consideration degree of sleepiness may help to maximize draft value,” reported W. Christopher Winter, MD, President/Owner of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine in Virginia, and colleagues.
A Potential Link Between Sleep and NFL Draft Productivity
All NFL players who were evaluated had played college football in the Atlantic Coast Conference and had completed their college careers by 2011. The participants were part of an initial study of 560 players that had begun in 2006 and evaluated the players’ sleep and health. A positive value pick was defined as a player who was still with his original team as of December 15, 2011. A negative value pick was defined as a player who had been traded, demoted to a practice squad or semiprofessional league, or had retired or had been released.
Among the 24 players who remained with the team that drafted them, nine had an ESS score of 7 or lower and 15 had an ESS score of 8 or higher. Of the 31 players who were no longer with their original team, seven had an ESS score of 7 or lower, with 24 players having an ESS score of 8 or higher.
“If an organization was trying to decide between two prospects—one with an ESS score of less than 8 and one greater than or equal to 8, the player with the ESS score that is less than 8 may be more likely to be on the drafting team in the future than the sleepier prospect,” commented the study authors.
“While we did not have enough players in the study to determine statistical significance, the results at least suggest a tendency for sleepiness to result in a lower chance of league success,” the researchers continued. “However, that sleepiness does not seem to predict whether a player is actually drafted, as 71% (39) of the players drafted had an ESS score of 8 or greater. Of note, 53% (29 players) scored 10 or above.”
The researchers noted that it may be interesting to compare their results from this group of players with those of the 505 players who were initially evaluated but who did not play in the NFL. “This aspect of the study was dropped, as we did not feel like it was relevant in terms of helping to differentiate talent that an organization might actually be considering,” noted the authors.
Overall, the investigators believe that their findings may support the use of sleepiness measures to evaluate NFL talent.
“One potential drawback of this study was to consider a traded player a negative,” Dr. Winter’s group pointed out. “A player who is traded is often a valuable commodity. Finding a better way to measure success in the league would be advisable in the future. Perhaps minutes played may have been a better marker for draft value.”
An Even Stronger Correlation Between Sleep and Baseball?
Dr. Winter and colleagues also noted the differences between their findings in this particular group of NFL players and those of a previous study involving Major League Baseball players.
“In that study, even with fewer subjects, we saw a more significant relationship between ESS score and player success than we did in this study looking at collegiate NFL prospects,” the authors commented. “This study looked exclusively at college football players with their measures of sleepiness being acquired prior to entering professional athletics. Sleepiness may be artificially higher in this group secondary to the academic load these players must deal with in addition to their football commitments. For the more veteran players we studied in the baseball study, their sleepiness may be more indicative of true sleep dysfunction that can come with age.”