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Sleep & Athletic Performance with NHL’s Devan McConnell

Tara Youngblood


Sleep and Athletic Performance

How much sleep do athletes need? That's the question we asked here at ChiliSleep, because we know that sleep and athletic performance go hand in hand.

We’re always sharing our research surrounding the latest technological advances to improve your sleep experience. While we’re eager to share innovations in our products, we find that it’s even more impactful when we can share the first-person stories of actual ChiliSleepers and how they’re using these products to achieve restful sleep.

Today we're sharing the sleep journey of NHL High-Performance Director, and ChiliSleeper Devan McConnell.

Building the Foundations of Performance

After Devan received his degree in Exercise Science in 2008, he began working at Mike Boyle’s Strength and Conditioning in Boston. At this premier sports performance training facility, Devan's affinity for working with athletes and passion for accelerating athletic performance grew even more. He knew he enjoyed the side of physical therapy and performance that catered more to preventing injuries than treating them, so he was prepared for the right opportunity to continue working with athletes at the next level. That opportunity presented itself shortly after when he was offered a job at Stanford University as Sports Performance Coordinator for the Women's basketball and volleyball teams.

Devan recalled his time at Stanford as instrumental in proving the value of sleep for his athletes.

"That’s where I got an introduction to the importance of sleep. Stanford had one of the first sleep research centers where we worked hand-in-hand with the staff researching sleep and athletes."

The research included collecting and interpreting data on sprint speed and reaction time based on the amount and quality of an athlete's sleep. For Devan, this was a pivotal moment in his career, as he started to understand and implement the 'why' behind better sleep and athlete performance.

"Everybody knows sleep’s important, but when I learned it impacts everything from cognitive to physical ability to recovery to general health, I started to think personally more deeply on tracking and monitoring that for myself, to help my athletes."

During his time at Stanford (2008-11), the Women's basketball team made three consecutive Final Four appearances, and the Women's volleyball team made two Final Four appearances. Additionally, the Men's volleyball team won the 2010 NCAA Championship. Due to the tremendous lessons and techniques Devan used to accelerate player performance, he was highly sought after for programs looking to take their team to the next level.

A New Perspective Drives Functional Results

After his time at Stanford, Devan was offered a role at UMass Lowell as their first-ever Director of Sports Performance in 2011. Here Devan was able to combine his unique blend of science-based performance drivers and success as a former college hockey player to build a comprehensive new model for the program. The new structure focused on movement quality, athletic development, and injury prevention and mitigation strategies.

After 8 seasons honing his talents with UMass Lowell, Devan was offered the Director of Performance Science and Reconditioning with the New Jersey Devils NHL team. While the arena might be louder and the stakes higher, Devan continues to address the common discrepancies between recovery, performance, and sleep.

"I oversee anything and everything that goes into the performance of the athletes off of the ice. That includes strength and conditioning, nutrition, recovery, regeneration, and sleep."

How much sleep do athletes need? While it's easy to encourage a motivated athlete to train harder, how does Devan help them understand the need for restful sleep?

"It’s an education process to share not just the short-term effects of sleep loss, but also the greater impact of sleep debt. A loss of sleep over time can accumulate and have a major impact on performance."

Sleep Debt: Sleep Tips for the Sleep-Deprived Athlete

So what is sleep debt and is it real? Yes, the data is clear that sleep debt is very real and difficult to overcome. And according to Harvard Health Publishing, sleep debt is often an overlooked factor when considering chronic disease risk, including hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and even death.

While the idea of "catching up" on sleep is nothing new, it's an area where performance coaches like Devan can work with players to help them understand the myths.

"It’s a long-term project. In the NHL, because sleep comes at a premium. So any opportunity to minimize the build-up of sleep debt is really important. You can’t take an 8-hour nap and get back what you lost, but you can improve the quality with micro-dosing—small amounts of longer sleep overtime. That’s how you make up the difference."

Sleep and athletic performance is such an important topic, so we asked Devan to share his checklist for ensuring his NHL level athletes get quality Zzz's, and here's what he shared.

1. What’s your bedtime routine?

ChiliSleep Tip: If you don't have a set routine before bed, you're not setting your body up for a successful wind-down to your day. We suggest any combination of the following: reading a book (preferably paper or audio to avoid screen time), taking a hot shower or bath, drinking a decaffeinated tea or warm beverage, dimming the lights, or meditating.

2. Are you on your phone?

ChiliSleep Tip: There's a reason why our OOLER Sleep System uses a blue-light blocking lens—to keep you from straining your eyes! Blue light disrupts melatonin production and keeps our minds awake unnecessarily. To promote sleep, put down the phone and turn off the TV. This will help you fall into a more natural sleep routine as your mind and body feel safe and calm enough to drift off to sleep.

3. What does your sleep environment look like?

ChiliSleep Tip: Is your bedroom full of distractions? The place where you sleep should be a calm respite from daily life. If your room is uncomfortable, cluttered, or simply packed with tempting distractions, it may not be ideal for quality sleep.

4. What is the temperature of your room?

Similar to your sleep environment, your sleep temperature is vital to overall sleep quality.

"A lot of athletes aren’t aware that they need to lower their temperature to facilitate sleep, and that’s where ChiliSleep is hugely beneficial."

ChiliSleep Tip: There are so many ways to improve sweaty sleep, but one of the biggest is to look at what you're sleeping on. If your mattress is full of heat-trapping memory foam, or you simply can't stay cool while you sleep, consider an OOLER or Cube to help regulate your core body temperature. This is more than a want, it's a need for your body to notice a temperature drop of roughly 2-3° F to trigger deep sleep.

"It’s all about creating habits and changing behavior to prioritize sleep."

Sleep and Athletic Performance: Why Devan McConnell Chooses OOLER

Devan's extensive background in athletic performance and involvement in ground-breaking sleep science has made his story even more important for you athletes to hear. While he's always appreciated the power of quality sleep, in recent years he's grown even more serious about sharing the good sleep news.

"Because of the OOLER, I feel like I sleep consistently deeper. I get into more restful and restorative sleep. I’ve noticed an improvement in the time it takes to fall asleep; especially when things are busy and I’m stressed out. I use blue-light blockers, blackout blinds, etc. but nothing has had as significant an impact, consistently, as far as restorative sleep, as ChiliSleep."

When he gets a good night of sleep, Devan feels noticeably better. He feels "more engaged and alert, and in a better mood in the morning." Overall he feels "more prepared for the day." And when you're an athlete, especially in the NHL, feeling unprepared isn't an option. A single off day can impact an entire season for the elite athletes Devan works with. So what does he want you to take from his years of experience and personal use of sleep-promoting tools?

Devan's top tip: "Use the OOLER."

"There’s a lot of things you can’t control as an athlete, so it’s really important that you control what you can—things like sleep and nutrition. If you have the ability to control your sleep hygiene, you’re going to improve your ability to perform. And quality is arguably more important than quantity. Yes, you want both but if you can get quality restful sleep, you’re giving yourself something to focus on that you can control that can make a big impact."

With so many variables in each sport, every athlete is always on the hunt for their scientifically-based, secret sauce. For Devan McConnell and top-level athletes, it's prioritizing the greatest recovery tool we all have access to—deep sleep. Because he values performance sleep, he uses ChiliSleep's OOLER to promote deep sleep and recovery!

How to Improve Your Performance Sleep

To start uncovering your own ideal sleep recipe, compare the different options that athletes just like you are using to maintain their competitive edge, night after night. And be sure to follow along with Devan's exciting work as he continues to change the face of NHL performance and recovery in his newest position as High Performance Director of the Arizona Coyotes.

"It’s a great opportunity and I’m really excited about the direction they’re moving in and the creation of this position."

We can't wait to see where Devan will take the future of sports performance and recovery, but we know wherever he goes, he'll take his OOLER along for the ride.

About Tara Youngblood

Tara Youngblood is ChiliSleep’s co-founder and CEO. An accomplished scientist, author, and speaker, Tara’s unique ideas are revolutionizing the future of sleep health by making sleep easy, approachable, and drug-free.
Learn more about Tara.