KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — About an hour before a Tennessee football player's scheduled bedtime, he gets a reminder via an app on his phone or a text message. That's when he puts on orange glasses that block out the glow of smartphones or computer screens, making it easier to fall asleep.
All the players have been given sleeping masks as well. Some have sensors above their mattresses and under their sheets to monitor heart rate, movement and respiration rate to detect their quality and quantity of sleep.
The idea is that if they sleep better each night, they'll work better the following day.
"Look at any college student — the two things they struggle with are time management and sleep," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. "To be able to perform at a high level, you need your sleep, you need nine hours every day, you need to sleep in 68-degree room temperatures, all those things that we're constantly stressing with our players."
Jones' staff is working in conjunction with Rise Science, a Chicago-based company hoping more teams follow the 25th-ranked Volunteers' lead. The result is a carefully orchestrated sleep monitoring program for the team.
Three former Northwestern students came up with the idea three years ago. They studied how increased sleep produced better athletic performance and started assisting various Northwestern teams. Tennessee is the first major college program to begin working with Rise Science since the company's official formation last year.
Rise Science officials cite studies showing that players sleeping over eight hours per night were 50 percent more likely to play error-free throughout an entire practice and high school athletes sleeping at least eight hours per night were 70 percent less likely to get injured. They say an extra 30-90 minutes of sleep per night can increase reaction time by 10 percent. Other studies show increased sleep leads to higher field-goal accuracy, better weight training and faster sprint times.
The trick is getting college students to buy into these statistics when balancing an academic and athletic workload causes such a time crunch.
"There's this machismo where you go to many programs and they think, 'OK, I sleep only three hours and I can still power through practice,' " said Leon Sasson, the chief technology officer for Rise Science. "That's the mindset we're trying to get rid of."
Rise Science officials said they're still finalizing rates and indicated the cost for the program would fluctuate depending on the size of a team's roster, but CEO Jeff Kahn said their price "should be similar to maybe what a team would pay for a nutritionist or strength coach, only it's for sleep."
Allison Maurer, a Tennessee sports dietitian monitoring the Vols' sleep habits, said the school paid "upwards of $30,000" for Rise Science's services. Rise Science officials said Tennessee got a special introductory rate by virtue of being the first Football Bowl Subdivision program on board.
Rise Science officials say they have worked with nearly a dozen teams before in various sports. Frank Yallop, the coach of Major League Soccer's Chicago Fire, said five of his players have been working with Rise Science for about four months. Yallop would like to expand his team's participation next season.
"I think the guys who did it really benefited," Yallop said. "We saw a difference in their play. Just their overall game was helped, just in their attention, being alert and being ready to train and play."
One of the Fire players to participate in the study was defender Eric Gehrig.
"My ability to nap's gotten a little better," Gehrig said. "I was always having trouble napping and just shutting down during the day (because) I'm a big thinker, I think about the game, I think about soccer, I think about life. They gave me, for lack of a better word, confidence to get my rest during the day, and I've gotten better in that area."
Tennessee kicker Aaron Medley said it's only taken him about 10 minutes to fall asleep each night since starting the program. He wasn't getting to sleep nearly that fast beforehand.
The glasses he and his teammates wear block out blue light from devices that stops people from releasing melatonin, a hormone that helps you fall asleep, according to Jacob Kelter, the chief scientific officer for Rise Science.
"You're lying in bed, thinking about things (that happened) through the day, and a lot of that can be a real stress," Medley said. "To get you to sleep faster was what they were wanting, and I think they're accomplishing that."
Senior linebacker Chris Weatherd says he's getting two to three hours more sleep per night than he was before participating in the study. He says the extra sleep has improved his reaction time.
Players have been divided into teams that compete over which groups are getting the best rest.
"The culture has shifted," Maurer said. "It's gone from (thinking) you're tough enough and can grind through without getting much sleep to, 'We all need our sleep because we want to win games and whatever edge we can have, we want to have it.'"