XPS Book Review | Inconvenient Sleep: Why Teams Win and Lose

8/28/2022 4 min. reading

In this XPS Monday Series, we are reviewing another book worth reading for coaches: 

Pat Byrne and Suzanne Byrne, Inconvenient Sleep: Why Teams Win and Lose (August 2020). 

Patrick and his daughter Suzanne are sleep and fatigue coaches and consultants to sports teams. Both are experts at helping athletes improve sleep patterns as a way of increasing training and on-game performance. 

Coaches, consultants and athletic support staff are constantly looking for gains. Attempting to find numerous ways they can optimize athletic performance. Sleep is one of those areas. We spend 30% of our entire lives sleeping, and “it is physiologically vital that we spend about a third of our lives unconscious”, says numerous scientific studies

Sleeping is like breathing. If you don’t sleep — or don’t get enough sleep — you can’t function properly. 

You know how it feels after one or more broken nights sleep. You feel terrible. Your mind and body doesn’t function as well as normal. And no amount of energy drinks or caffeine can make up for what your body needs so badly: sleep. 

Well, imagine trying to be a high-performance athlete on only a few hours sleep? 

A lack of sleep is one of the key problems that affects athletic performance. Until recently, this hasn’t been factored into many coaches’ training and performance improvement strategies. 


Why is sleep so important for athletes? 

Over the last few years, there’s been a growing body of work encouraging coaches to take sleep seriously. 

It’s no longer enough to maintain focus on what happens in training, gyms, and in competitive games. Instead, coaches are investing more time and resources focusing on 24/7 performance improvements, creating marginal gains across recovery, nutrition, lifestyle, and sleep. 

At times, this approach has been criticized. However, it’s becoming more accepted that sleep is an area that coaches need to optimize to increase performance across the board. Here are some of the main barriers that prevent athletes getting enough sleep: 

  • Travel to competitive games and timezone changes 
  • Early morning training sessions 
  • Eating late at night (to maintain weight) 
  • Plus, student athletes suffer from time spent studying, especially close to assignment deadlines/exams 


In many ways, sleep is considered an inconvenience for athletes. And yet, when they don’t get enough sleep, performance suffers. In this book, the authors take coaches through a science of sleep journey. Research is used — mainly from the U.S. military, because not enough research has been done across professional sports (yet) — demonstrating how to improve performance through the incremental gains they can make from working with athletes to optimize sleep, especially when games are away from home. 


Why is Inconvenient Sleep worth reading for coaches?

One of the advantages of this book is it debunks the pseudo-science around sleep supplements and sleep gadgets. Sleep is so important that an industry has grown around helping people get to sleep faster, or stay asleep for longer, and yet most of it isn’t as effective as many of the products claim. 

This journey through sleep science pays off for coaches in Chapter 8. In this chapter, coaches are shown HOW to encourage more effective sleep behaviors from athletes. It includes an important quote from sleep researcher Amy Bender, who says, “knowledge alone doesn’t change behavior.” 

For coaches, this is crucial. As the book outlines and shows coaches, the only way to change sleep behaviors is to frame optimized sleep — and changes players can make, such as bringing their own pillows to away games (and numerous other techniques) — as a performance improvement exercise. 

One of the reviews says: “Unparalleled expertise on sleep and performance.” — Leonard Zaichkowsky, Ph.D., author of The Playmaker’s Advantage: How to Raise Your Mental Game to the Next Level.

Another review says: “Inconvenient Sleep is a fascinating look at the effect sleep, or lack of, has on amateur and professional athletes. Even more, it goes into the origins of sleep medicine from Hippocrates to . . .  the discovery of the REM sleep stage and sleep disorders are delved into in a very comprehensive yet understandable way.” 

The review goes on to say: “The next part of this book goes into specific examples of NCAA, NHL, NBA, MLB and NFL teams. Specific examples of team schedules provide us the stark reality of how little sleep many athletes receive. It examines the role bargaining agreements in each sport play in determining how many days off players get, how many home and away games they play, if they fly charter or commercial flights and how many back to back games they must play.” 

It’s also worth highlighting this review: “Chapter 7 is a game changer. So often while coaching people it invariably turns into optimizing strategies for increasing their energy. The concept of the body being a “collection of clocks” is incredibly helpful and makes for great real life application.” 


Summary & Key Takeaways 

It’s a known fact — and perhaps one of the worst kept least acknowledged secrets in every sport — that most athletes don’t get enough sleep. Naturally, a lack of sleep impacts performance. 

And yet, coaches can and should do something about this. It’s another area that can be improved. Sleep is something that can be monitored and worked on, without making it an obtrusive and overly obsessed about aspect of off-pitch training.

This book, Inconvenient Sleep: Why Teams Win and Lose, can help you as a coach understand how to increase and improve the quality of sleep your athletes get. Once you improve sleep, performance in training and in competitive games will naturally increase. Every incremental gain is worth making, especially when it comes to players getting enough sleep. 


Previous XPS Book Reviews:

The Language of Coaching

Monitoring Training and Performance in Athletes


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