Fitness Issue

Birdiezzz and Bogeyzzz

Will more sack time lower your handicap?

May 2014

You would think that it's enough to know that sleeping roughly eight hours each night will greatly reduce your chance of having a heart attack or stroke, getting into a car crash, being obese, developing high blood pressure or diabetes, suffering a work-related injury, and, oh, yeah, dying. But you have to wonder who's taking those facts seriously.

There are about 70 million Americans who are suffering from sleep problems, according to the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research. That's more than one out of every five people who live in this country. Even more alarming, 60 million of those people have a chronic disorder. According to a Gallup poll in late 2013, the average hours an American sleeps each night is 6.8, which is down more than an hour from what Americans got in 1942—and that was during World War II. Tell an American to get more sleep these days and you're likely to get smacked with a pillow.

But what if we told you that by not getting enough sleep each night, you're not only inviting health problems, you're hurting your golf game. Now we've got your attention. That's what a study by Dr. Marc L. Benton and Neil Friedman, sleep-medicine specialists in Morristown, N.J., concluded. They monitored the golf games of players who were being treated for obstructive sleep-apnea syndrome (a repetitive blockage of the upper airway that makes breathing and uninterrupted sleep difficult). The study compared them to a control group of golfers who didn't have sleep apnea.


'The best times of day to tee
off are between 9 a.m. and
11 a.m., or after 4 p.m. That's
when you're most alert.'
Darrel Drobnich, National
Sleep Foundation

After posting 20 rounds during a six-month period, the golfers in the control group saw no significant change to their Handicap Indexes. But the Indexes of golfers who were treated for sleep apnea dropped by an average of 11.3 percent. Among that group, the golfers who started the program with an Index lower than 12 saw their numbers drop by an average of 31.5 percent. According to Dean Knuth, who was the USGA's Senior Director of Handicapping for 16 years, only 3 percent of all golfers with registered Indexes improve by three shots or more over a year's time.

"It was a novel study, and an important one if it gets more people to get treated for disorders such as sleep apnea," says Dr. Nathaniel Watson, co-director of the University of Washington's Sleep Center (and an avid golfer). "The biggest impact is mental," he says. "Course management, reading greens, controlling emotion—sleep impairment hurts cognitive function."

The PGA Tour's Jonas Blixt can attest. After winning the 2012 Open, he says he barely slept in the ensuing days. When he played in the McGladrey Classic the next week, Blixt says he "nearly passed out on the 17th green during the first round. My rhythm was off. I couldn't concentrate. I was spent."

People often think of being fit as exercising and eating right, but sleep is the third part of the formula, says Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler, president-elect of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "You can't be fit if you're sleep-deprived," he says. "And if you're getting up before dawn to go play golf on only a few hours' rest, you're going to be sleep-deprived. It's going to haunt you the rest of the day."

Here's more info on what goes on when the lights go off.


The body needs it for restoration, production of growth hormone and to keep the immune system strong. The brain needs it to improve memory and learning skills.

Beverage Cart Girls

The body continuously cycles through various stages of sleep. The first three are non-REM (rapid eye movement) and put you in a progressively deeper type of rest. During stage one, you're easily awakened, but by stage three, you're tough to arouse. The final stage is REM sleep. That's the stage where you have dreams—and nightmares. Scientists think your brain uses this time to exercise. Interestingly, your limbs are temporarily paralyzed during REM sleep, which might explain why you can never run away from that pack of beverage-cart girls in bikinis. Too personal?

Seven to nine hours is ideal for adults. Teenagers and younger children need more. This does not include watching that Medicus infomercial in bed.

Yes. It helps to cycle through all the sleep stages, which is critical to staying healthy. If you don't get enough sleep in each stage, you'll build a "sleep debt." This might cause you to sleep longer than normal or doze off while waiting for that group on 15 to putt out.

Yes, but keep them to 45 minutes or less or you could be sluggish for the rest of the day and struggle to sleep at night.

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