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Vanderbilt study indicates fatigue and loss of sleep take predictable toll on baseball players over season

Jun. 4, 2013, 8:23 AM

Strike zone judgment grows worse over the course of a Major League Baseball season in a predictable way, possibly due to the effect of grueling travel schedules, disrupted sleep patterns and fatigue, a Vanderbilt University Medical Center sleep researcher reports at a national meeting this week.

Scott Kutscher, M.D., assistant professor of Neurology, and colleagues used a database of every pitch in every Major League game in 2012 to follow up on earlier studies of fatigue on players’ performance.

“Once again in 2012, performance in strike-zone judgment was significantly worse at the end of the season, suggesting worsening vigilance and possible fatigue effect,” the researchers wrote.

The findings were published in the online supplement of the journal Sleep and were presented this week at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Baltimore.

Kutscher, who grew up in New York rooting for Derek Jeter and the Yankees, said the lessons of the research on performance could be used to give some teams an advantage over a long baseball season.

“Athletes take great care in what they eat and how they exercise to help with performance, and it makes sense for sleep to be included with those activities,” he said. “It seems only natural that teams start to use sleep experts to maximize on-field performance.”

He also says that the lessons learned by studying baseball players can apply to everybody. Most people need about eight hours of sleep a night to feel at their best.

“I believe the lessons from this research can be easily adapted to all people, whether they are trying to improve their golf swing, their work productivity, or simply hoping to feel more rested,” he said.

“You don’t need to be standing in the batter’s box against a 95 mile-per-hour fastball to understand the limitations feeling sleepy has on your ability to perform, and the measures you can take to help improve your sleep.”

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