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NCAA convenes sleep and wellness summit

Sport Science Institute gathers task force to recommend methods for improving sleep

To compete at a high level, college athletes devote hours to practice and training. They fuel their bodies with the right nutrients. They also make time for class and studying.

Now the NCAA Sport Science Institute is working to ensure student-athletes also are paying attention to a facet of their lives they may overlook for the sake of busy schedules: sleep.

The new Interassociation Task Force on Sleep and Wellness — made up of representatives from all three divisions, including coaches and student-athletes, plus experts in sleep research, sports medicine, sports psychology, academic advising and mental health, among other fields — convened for the first time last week at the NCAA national office in Indianapolis.  

The task force plans to work together to develop consensus documents its members can take to the associations they represent for endorsement. It also hopes to create sleep-specific recommendations that can be published and distributed to athletics departments, providing direction for athletic trainers, coaches and other practitioners who work directly with student-athletes. The recommendations will provide hands-on guidance for improving sleep among college athletes.

“We’re going to need your continued engagement,” Dr. Brian Hainline, NCAA senior vice president and chief medical officer, told the task force at the conclusion of a two-day summit to examine the existing research surrounding sleep. “This is just going to be the first step in working with sleep. Our biggest marker is, are we making a difference? Are we changing the culture?”

The NCAA Board of Governors, which sets direction for the Association as its top-ranking body, has identified sleep, nutrition and performance among the NCAA’s top priorities in health and safety.

The task force spent two days considering the many facets of sleep, including its impact on athletic performance, recovery, mental health and well-being. Among the presenters was Roxanne Prichard, associate professor of psychology at St. Thomas (Minnesota) and the scientific director of the university’s Center for College Sleep.

The sleep center has worked closely with college coaches on campus to improve student-athletes’ sleep. It has found that the quality and quantity of sleep improve everything from student-athletes’ reaction times to their resistance to injury. Anecdotally, coaches at St. Thomas whose teams worked with the sleep center in the 2016-17 academic year reported benefits including higher GPAs and fewer injuries.

The center has developed a College Sleep Questionnaire that evaluates students for sleep impairments and a College Sleep Environmental Scan, which helps colleges and universities review how sleep-friendly their campuses are.