Innovation

NFL's new secret weapon for training world-class athletes: Smart beds

The National Football League is teaming up with Sleep Number to help its players use big data and machine learning to improve their sleep and boost performance.

NFL athletes like Tom Brady have proven the effectiveness of advanced diet and exercise techniques to play professional sports longer at a highly competitive level. On Wednesday, the NFL announced a new program that's aimed at the third pillar of health and wellness: sleep.

In the midst of Super Bowl week, the NFL and Sleep Number unveiled a five-year partnership where Sleep Number will provide all 1,800 NFL players—along with the 300 new rookies each season—with a Sleep Number 360 Smart Bed as well as coaching on how to use its SleepIQ analytics to maximize their rest in order to improve performance.

As TechRepublic reported at CES 2018, Sleep Number has transformed its 360 Smart Bed into a health management system. While Sleep Number is known for letting you and your partner choose different firmness settings for your side of the bed, the analytics system can interface with activity trackers like Fitbit and smart home thermostats such as Nest to help fine-tune your routine to get the most out of your sleep.

SEE: Sleep Number: Future smart beds will call EMS during episodes and help prevent spread of viruses

"We're offering Sleep Number's revolutionary technology to maximize the body's most basic need for renewal—sleep—to improve the well-being of our players and coaches," said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. "We are constantly assessing world-class technologies and partners and know this unprecedented partnership will provide players the ability to improve their performance through individualized, smarter sleep."

Through the program, each NFL player will get a voucher from Sleep Number that they can take into their local Sleep Number retail location and order a 360 Smart Bed. So, it's an opt-in program. The players will learn how to read the SleepIQ data on the Sleep Number app on their iPhone or Android phone, and then they'll have the option of sharing the data with their trainer and the team to help optimize their training regimen. The goal of the program is to get nearly every NFL player in a Sleep Number bed before the 2018 season begins this fall.

Sleep Number prototyped this with three players from the Minnesota Vikings and three players from the Dallas Cowboys during the 2017 season, starting in training camp. In each case, they selected a player who was new to the league, a player in the prime of their career, and a long-time veteran trying to extend their career.

The six players who participated were:

  • Harrison Smith (Safety, Minnesota Vikings)
  • Terence Newman (Cornerback, Minnesota Vikings)
  • Pat Elflein (Center, Minnesota Vikings)
  • Tyron Smith (Offensive Tackle, Dallas Cowboys)
  • Ryan Switzer (Wide Receiver, Dallas Cowboys)
  • Dan Bailey (Placekicker, Dallas Cowboys)

"Good sleep, I think, really compounds throughout the season," said the Vikings' Smith. "It is such a long season, a very physical game, so any chance we can get to recover, we have to take advantage of it. If you can stack days, stack weeks of getting good rest, it really pays off toward the end of the season, as well."

The Vikings' Newman said, "I think sleep is probably one of the most important parts of performance. I think they go hand in hand, for sure. The more you sleep, the better your body's recovered; your mind is rested. A lot of people talk about just the recovery for the body, but the mind is just as important."

The Sleep Number experiment turned out so well that the NFL wanted to extend it not just to the rest of the Cowboys and Vikings but to the rest of the league.

SEE: How the NFL and its stadiums became leaders in Wi-Fi, monetizing apps, and customer experience (free PDF download)

"Our partnership builds on the deep relationship we've established with the Minnesota Vikings and the Dallas Cowboys," said Sleep Number CEO Shelly Ibach. "We're excited to make a difference for these world-class athletes as they benefit from our SleepIQ technology and the effortless adjustability of our beds."

TechRepublic also spoke with Sleep Number's vice president of research Pete Bils, who helped spearhead the program and has worked with professional and competitive athletes in a lot of different sports on using sleep to maximize performance.

Bils was especially bullish on the effects that sleep analytics can have for NFL players. "It's probably more impactful than diet and exercise because when you're sleep deprived, everything measurable in the human body changes," he said. "When you miss a meal or you miss a workout, that doesn't happen—you don't see immediate, measurable differences. But with sleep you do pretty quickly."

SEE: Turning Big Data into Business Insights (a ZDNet/TechRepublic special report)

The takeaway for professionals is that they should consider how they can better optimize sleep to improve their daily performance. The takeaway for companies is that no matter what market you're in, you need to think about how to integrate big data and machine learning into your products to create a better consumer experience and a competitive advantage.

smith-vikings.jpg

All-Pro safety Harrison Smith of the Minnesota Vikings was one of the six NFL players who tested Sleep Number's 360 Smart Bed during the 2017 season.

Image: Minnesota Vikings

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About Jason Hiner

Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

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