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The Science of Naps

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

First thing’s first: naps are damn awesome.

Feeling drowsy after a long day at the office? There’s nothing better than falling into the couch and waking up at 9 p.m., feeling like it’s tomorrow, and not knowing where you are.

We’ve all been there.

The National Sleep Foundation (a real thing) says 85 percent of mammals are polyphasic sleepers – they sleep periodically throughout the day.

Humans are classified under the other 15 percent. The typical human day is composed of two phases, one we like to call “being awake” and the other we refer to as “sleeping.” There are, more than likely, scientific terms applied to each, but that’s for a different conversation.

Hockey players, who make up a very small percentage of the 15 percent of monophasic sleep-cycle mammals, consider the nap to be an important part of their day. So much, in fact, that their routines are built around game day naps and they have specific regiments for making sure those naps are executed to near perfection.

Because we can never turn down a good investigation, we dove head-first into this one.

After all, again referencing the National Sleep Foundation, for educational purposes, some of history’s most famous nappers have names such as Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and Ronald Reagan on the list.

Ever wanted to insert yourself into the same conversation as those brilliant minds? Here’s your chance. Take a nap.

And as most players will tell you, a good, quality pre-game nap is important – and less of a ritual and more of an art form. 

The game day itself (we’ll use a road game for this example) is pretty much iron-clad: wake up between 8-9 a.m., head down to the hotel lobby or a conference room where there’s some form of light breakfast waiting. Hop on the bus, get to the arena, have a meeting, skate for a half an hour, do the media stuff, maybe a quick workout, then back on the bus and back to the hotel.

Wedged in there is a span of three or four hours where literally nothing happens; what better way to spend it than with a nap?

“I consider myself an expert napper,” Cam Atkinson said.

What makes one an expert napper? Legitimate question.

“You just have to know what you’re doing,” Atkinson said. “Three keys to a good nap would be: a full belly, a dark room, and a fan. An air conditioner counts, but it needs to be something that keeps the outside noise out. I’m the lightest sleeper on the planet.”

For a sharpened focus and refreshed feeling in the short-term, the recommended nap time is 20-30 minutes if it occurs in the middle of the day. Hockey players find themselves in the 1-2 hour range (for the most part), and some have it down even more precise than that.

Anton Forsberg has used the same game day nap format for years, whether he’s in a hotel, on a bus, in a car, or on a plane.

“I always sleep for one hour, almost on the mark, and then I hit snooze three times,” he explained. “I promise you: I always wake up on the third snooze.”

He credits his secret weapon: a sleeping mask.

“(Forsberg) uses a sleeping mask?” Atkinson said. “Doesn’t surprise me. Goalies.”

Forsberg started wearing the mask in Cleveland because his apartment’s curtains are less-than-reliable when it comes to blocking sunlight. Take THAT, “gloomy Ohio” stereotypes.

He’s not worried if any of his teammates find it weird, either.

“I don’t think anyone would find it weird,” Forsberg said.

Hey, Ryan Murray, is that weird?

“It’s a little weird, yeah,” he chimed, from two stalls over.

Weird sleeping habits are nothing new to Jody Shelley (no offense, Jody), who played 11 seasons in the NHL before retiring and becoming the Blue Jackets’ ambassador and color analyst for FOX Sports Ohio.

Shelley had his fail-proof routine down pat…until he had kids. He’d get back from the rink to the hotel or home, shovel a bunch of pasta into his face, then pass out for a couple hours.

“Naps are a science, man,” Shelley said. “You don’t mess with naps. They’re crucial.”

Murray’s on board with the Shelley assessment: eat some pasta, doze off for an hour or two, then get on the bus and head to the rink.

He does have one suggestion, though, if there’s a suggestion box for such things.

“What about an oxygen mask? That would be incredible,” Murray said.

Like…an actual oxygen mask?

“I think it’d be a great idea. Why not? Those machines are unreal.”

But if you ask 15-year NHL veteran Scott Hartnell, he of nearly 1,100 NHL games and approximately the same number of naps, the best idea is a simple one – just do you.

“You have to find what works for you,” Hartnell said. “It’s not rocket science. It’s about getting ready for the game, and rest is a big part of it.”

“There are no judgments,” Atkinson said. “Everyone’s nap routine is unique. Especially Dubi. He seems like a guy that has some weird routines.”

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