It sounds like something out of George Orwell’s 1984 novel. An omnipresent device monitors your sleep cycle and reports back to a figurehead who determines just how well you’re resting and recovering.
Yet this isn’t a scene from some dystopian novel set years in the future. The sleep monitoring system is just another way for Tennessee’s football program to utilize its extensive sports science team to enhance its on-field product.
The Vols oversee a select group of players and their sleep cycles as head coach Butch Jones and his staff help serve as a vanguard in college football's growing sports science interest that's starting to blossom across the country.
"Each young man has a sleep coach and we have about 25 players right now that have a sleep coach and they actually have a system set up underneath their mattress and we can gauge how many hours of sleep they have,” Jones said. “They have it on their cell phones and they actually have goals, so they're in competition. They're set up in groups and they compete.”
The players have sensors strapped to their beds that monitor heart rate, restoration and movement throughout the night. The device connects to a phone app that starts the program and also reminds players to strap on sleep goggles they are provided to dim out the blue light from computer screens and cell phones, allowing them to fall asleep faster.
Sophomore defensive back Emmanuel Moseley is one of the players participating in the program and has seen his amount of sleep per night extend nearly three hours since he started being monitored.
“I used to average probably around six or seven (hours of sleep each night), which is okay, but now I’m getting more like nine or ten,” Moseley said. “It’s not nothing to laugh about or take funny. You can definitely feel a change in energy level when you’re out there on the field.”
Jones is no stranger to innovative off the field approaches to enhance his team's performance. He uses a virtual reality system to help players view film in real time. Drones with cameras hover over Haslam Field to film practice. It’s all a part of his extensive interest in advanced sports science to give Tennessee an edge with work that doesn’t just take place on the field or in the film room.
"We just have a sports and science department that consists of strength and conditioning, athletic training, sports nutrition, academics”, strength and conditioning coach Dave Lawson said. “It's all the different areas that touch the athletes on a day-to-day basis, and we meet every week and go over every player in the program."
The program can tailor specific regimens for individual needs, including the sleep-monitoring system that has taken off with Tennessee’s players. With the new program in place, Tennessee hopes it will be yet another innovation that will help its athletes produce at maximum levels when it’s time to run out of the tunnel for game day.
“It's changed our kids' mindsets,” Jones said. “We're trying to really educate them and provide them the means to really be able to rest and recover."