Getting an adequate amount of sleep is a struggle for most adults, but how much harder must it be for some of the busiest athletes in sports? The National Hockey League's 82-game regular season schedule is grueling, with players playing on back-to-back nights in different locations more often than not.
With a constant change in pace, fatigue can hit hard for players, and therefore performance levels can suffer. According to an article from CBS Sports written by John Fischer, "There's something almost unhealthy about the current state of NHL travel".
The NHL is different from other major league sports like the MLB and the NFL when it comes to travel. According to the publication The Hockey Writers,””though NHL teams play about half as many games as MLB teams, the amount of travel by two teams from the same geographic area is mostly similar. There is one exception: the number of plane flights. In this area, the hockey team takes 53% more flights.” NFL teams only play 16 games throughout their season and one game a week.
These athletes are required to perform at high levels, and with this short amount of time to travel in between games, this leaves much less time for vital rest in order to perform at the level expected from these professional athletes in a adrenaline-filled sport where you are constantly on the move.
Combating this sleep issue and getting players to care more is no easy feat, either. Many don't realize how important it is until they're not getting enough and it starts affecting their performance on the ice. The ones who do understand this will nap whenever possible but some players do not prioritize sleep and will instead socialize on days when they have no practice or game.
The surge of adrenaline you get after a game, mixed with late-night travel to the next game, and less than ideal sleeping accommodations, makes finding a good solution to players' sleep issues challenging. Some have even noted seeing medical staffers handing out sleep drugs like Ambien without a prescription to players.
There have been some strides made in the NHL like pushing back morning meetings and skate sessions (as well as canceling some altogether), or having teams play in the same city two days in a row rather than them having to travel all night to the next game. This, though, isn’t exactly enough for players.
The NHL and its players still have their work cut out for them when it comes to getting proper rest in between games, but at least the league is very aware of the issue and everyone would prefer well-rested players before tired ones.