Chronic Sleep Loss Is the NBA’s “Dirty Little Secret”

A lack of rest is taking its toll on the bodies and minds of players in the league

Chronic Sleep Loss Is the NBA's "Dirty Little Secret"
Nene Hilario looks on from the bench against the Kings in 2016. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty) Images)
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The biggest problem facing players in today’s NBA isn’t defending the pick-and-roll, making clutch free throws or an increase in sprained ankles — it’s getting enough sleep.

At least that’s the takeaway from a new ESPN report about how lack of sleep has become a major issue for players in the NBA.

With an 82-game regular season, the NBA’s schedule is grueling. Over the course of the 2018-19 season, the average NBA team played every 2.07 days, had 13.3 back-to-back sets and flew the equivalent of 250 miles a day for 25 straight weeks.

That amount of activity generally leads to most players sleeping an average of six hours over a 24-hour period, though some of that sleep comes in pregame naps which is not ideal. “Based on the weight of probably now about 10,000 empirical scientific studies, the number of people who can survive on six hours of sleep or less without showing any impairment, rounded to a whole number and expressed as a percent of the population, is zero,” University of California at Berkeley neuroscience professor Matthew Walker told ESPN.

Some players report getting as few as three hours of sleep per night, a far cry from the seven to nine hours that adults ages 26 to 64 are recommended to get by the National Sleep Foundation.

Players use everything from sleep masks to melatonin pills to help combat the issue, but chronic sleep deprivation is “our biggest issue without a solution,” according to a high-ranking league source involved with player health. “It’s the dirty little secret that everybody knows about.”

It’s a secret with potentially large consequences as chronic sleep loss has been associated with higher risk for cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, heart attacks, Alzheimer’s, dementia, depression, stroke, psychosis and suicide.

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