How a Michigan sleep doctor is advising the U.S. women’s national soccer team

Detroit Free Press

You were probably sleeping early Tuesday morning when the U.S. women’s national soccer team’s match against Australia ended in a 0-0 draw, as the Americans earned a spot in the quarterfinals.

If you got up to watch it on TV, go take a nap.

Because the game started at 4 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, one of the more common challenges of the Tokyo Summer Olympics. Elite athletes have to travel around the world, deal with jet lag, adjust to a new routine, get on a new sleep schedule and then try to compete.

It is even more complicated this year because of COVID-19 protocols. Athletes are expected to arrive in the Olympic Village no earlier than five days prior to their competition, which has the potential to disrupt sleep patterns even more than normal.

However, the Americans have a secret weapon from metro Detroit.

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Dr. Meeta Singh, from Performance Sleep Consulting, is advising the women’s national team from afar, giving them advise on their sleep habits.

Just like how she helped the Washington Nationals on their way to the 2019 World Series title. The Nationals were so thankful for her contribution, they gave her a World Series ring.

“I’m doing the same exact same thing with them that I did with the Nationals,” said Singh, who has created a performance-sleep practice tailored to C-suite executives, individual athletes and sports teams.

The secret to success? Sleep.

The U.S. women have been shaky so far in these Olympics, losing to Sweden and winning only once in pool play, advancing to the quarterfinals because of goal differential

“After they lost, of course, it was heartbreaking,” Singh said. “I just said, ‘tough game, here are the instructions for the next, go team! Because you have to recover. You have to be ready for the next day. Learn from your mistakes, and then gather yourself up and show up to the next game. That is a mark of a true athlete.’”

Singh said that sleep affects every aspect of competition, including reaction time, recovery, the ability to prevent injuries and mental focus.

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“That’s what differentiates elite athletes from other elite athletes because when you’re at that level, the talent level is comparable,” Singh said. “When the talent level is comparable, everybody practices really well. The ability to not choke when you’re actually playing. That I think is what differentiates one athlete from the other. Your sleep then becomes a competitive advantage.”

Singh started working with this team a week before it went to Connecticut for a mini camp. She made a video for the team, explaining how sleep is tied to performance.

“Because they were so busy, I made a video Zoom recording of how I wanted them to sleep, why I thought it was important,” she said. “I gave them instructions about how to manage the jet lag, as well as how to manage their sleep while they’re there.”

[ Tokyo Olympics medal count: What country has the most medals at Summer Games? Here’s the full list. ]

Singh warned the team what would happen if the players didn’t get enough sleep.

“We spend a third of our life sleeping,” Singh told the team in the video. “We know what happens when you don’t get enough sleep. And that has really profound implications for the athlete.”

Singh sent the Americans a daily sleep schedule, offering advice in a grid format, mapping out when they should go to bed and when they should take naps.

“Think of sleep as a nightly reset button, in which every night your emotional brain gets the rest so that it’s recovered enough to cope with the stresses of the next day,” she told the team.

She believes in the Lions, and America

Singh has worked with the Lions, Red Wings, Tigers and Pistons. She has given talks at MLB winter meetings, the NFL combine and the NHL annual meetings.

She has worked extensively with the New Orleans Saints and was given a game ball after the Saints beat the Miami Dolphins, 20-0, in London, England, on Oct.1, 2017.

Yes, that means she has worked with Lions coach Dan Campbell for years when he was with the Saints.

“I really have great faith in Dan Campbell,” she said. “And the reason I have great faith in Dan Campbell, is because of Sean Payton.”

Because Campbell comes from such a “phenomenally well run organization.”

And she has great faith in the U.S. women’s soccer team.

“Because it’s the best team in the world,” she said, proudly.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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