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Bedtime story was court order

Celtics have scheduled more sleep into routine

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / October 24, 2009

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WALTHAM - Kevin Garnett is more concerned with synchronizing the Celtics’ defensive switches than having their Circadian rhythms analyzed. Garnett is accustomed to rising early and arriving at practice midmorning, even if a game the night before resulted in only a few hours of sleep.

But the Celtics have changed that schedule. No more morning shootarounds on game days, practices starting at noon.

Sleeping in is in.

Coach Doc Rivers made the switch after weighing the advice of sleep medicine specialist Dr. Charles A. Czeisler of Harvard Medical School and Brigham & Women’s Hospital.

“Later practice is all right, whatever Doc wants, man,’’ Garnett said after practice yesterday afternoon. “Ain’t my cup of tea. I don’t sleep anyway. It’s good, you’ve got to find good in everything, if that means sleep till 8:30 or 9, so be it.’’

The NBA is a layup case study for sleep deprivation. Players burn the candle at both ends. They perform high-stress, physically demanding tasks late at night, then awaken in a different time zone to repeat the routine. They are penalized for a shot clock violation, but when a body clock alarm sounds, it is ignored.

“What we are trying to do is leverage the power of sleep,’’ said Czeisler, who pioneered sleep study in the 1970s. “As pro athletes, they spend so much time trying to practice and master the skills of the game - and sleep turns out to be a very critical part of the process. There is evidence that you can significantly improve free throw percentage and reaction speed if you optimize levels of sleep.’’

Czeisler started working with the Portland Trail Blazers and, briefly, with the Celtics last year. Both teams might have been skeptical at first.

“When I talked to the Celtics, it was the same thing that happened with the Trail Blazers,’’ Czeisler recalled. “The coach told me I had 10 minutes, and I ended up having 2 1/2 hours worth of questions. These guys know how important sleep is, because they know what happens when they don’t get adequate amounts of sleep. If your reaction time is 250 milliseconds, it goes up to 700 to 800 milliseconds if you stay awake all night - you are impaired as if you were drunk.

“If you’re traveling to Europe and going through customs, it’s not going to make much difference to you. But that can be critical if you are a professional player and you depend on timing.’’

Portland coach Nate McMillan was desperate to find an answer to his team’s difficulties on the road. Long trips to the Midwest and East Coast were particularly tough. The change in sleep schedule produced immediate results.

“It’s the low-hanging fruit,’’ Czeisler said. “Teams that take advantage of this can really enhance their play. It’s been shown in baseball. The Blazers took a few simple steps and they were performing on the road as well as they were at home.’’

Czeisler got the players’ attention when he told them 250,000 drivers in the United States fall asleep at the wheel every day.

“We are such a sleep-deprived society,’’ Czeisler said. “But the message is beginning to get through, that sleep is important for performance. If you are learning a move in basketball, perfecting a throw in football, practicing piano - if you get the proper sleep that night, you will be 20-30 percent better, even if you don’t practice it again. But it has to be the night immediately following the practice.

“It’s all about making sleep a priority. If you look at the Celtics’ schedule, they finish the game at 10 or 11. You can’t eat dinner, but you worked hard and you have to eat. You can’t possibly go to sleep right away. You have to wind down, have some dinner, and then, by the time you are home in bed, it’s the wee hours of the morning.

“There is no sense in having practice early that morning. If you didn’t get to bed until 3 a.m. and you wake up early, you can become chronically sleep-deprived. But, once you set sleep as a priority, it’s not that complicated how to do it right.’’

Czeisler’s suggestion was to make the morning hours “Celtic Time.’’ Instead of rushing into the HealthPoint gym, clashing with each other in workouts, the Celtics are rolling over and allowing adenosine to dissipate, cognitive functions to rejuvenate, protein synthesis to generate.

“I love it,’’ guard Eddie House said. “A lot of guys, we don’t go to sleep until late anyway, that’s how our bodies are conditioned. Later practices are perfect, we get more sleep, have more energy. We get our rest, no matter what time we go to sleep.

“They did studies, showed the numbers. They say you need eight hours, so if you get six and a two-hour nap - as long as you get eight hours in, it’s good, however you get it.

“We were getting four or five hours sleep. Now, I think everyone is energized, everyone comes to practice ready to go. You don’t have guys dragging because they are a little tired, no matter what they did the night before.’’

Said Rivers: “I think they’re fresh. I think we’ve had better practices, [but] it may be because we’re a better team than we were last year. I do like it, I think our guys love it. They weren’t 100 percent sold on it because they like getting it done early.’’

Asked if players initially resisted the change, Rivers replied: “Kevin, and Ray [Allen] is an early guy. But they both actually expressed that they liked it.’’

Allen is usually among the first players to arrive at practice.

“I can still get here early and still get more sleep,’’ Allen said. “You get home a little bit later, it delays that, but, for the most part, it’s not cramping your morning as much, where you really have to wake up at 7 and get breakfast. So, at least when we get here, everybody’s body is pretty awake, you’re not feeling groggy, and you don’t see that sleep in anybody’s eyes. I think it’s a good formula.

“I don’t think my wife likes it, because she has to take the boys to school in the morning. I know I don’t have to get up as early, so when I go to bed at night, I know I can sleep in a little bit. So, it doesn’t get to that point, where you get that feeling where you wish you had more sleep. And I’m home more with my son more than I would be otherwise. I do like being around the family more. It does take half the day off, but I think it’s working out.’’

Former NBA guard Tyronn Lue was hired as the Celtics’ director of basketball development . . . Brian Scalabrine (sprained ankle) did not practice and is questionable for Tuesday night’s season opener at Cleveland.

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