Chris Doyle reveals the best sleepers on the Hawkeye football team, and why it's important

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

There’s no such thing as a Mount Rushmore of Sleep. It wouldn’t make for much of a tourist attraction anyway.

But Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle told listeners of the “Hawk Central” radio program on KxNO on Wednesday why monitoring players’ sleep has become such an important part of his job. Doyle, in his 21st season on Kirk Ferentz’s staff, went on to list which Hawkeyes from last year’s team were the best sleepers.

Two of them are in the NFL and one is the current starting quarterback.

“A year ago, I would say that the Mount Rushmore of Sleep at Iowa football would have clearly been (Nate) Stanley, (T.J.) Hockenson, Anthony Nelson. They’re in that group with maybe the Paulsen brothers (Landan and Levi),” Doyle said, before adding tight end Shaun Beyer to his sleeping All-Star team.

Why is it so important?

“It’s clear to us that sleep is the No. 1 component to optimal performance,” Doyle said.

“You see the guys that really commit their lifestyles to limiting distractions and getting the rest they need and the recovery they need. Those are the guys that come in to work every day and find themselves making good progress.”

Iowa has contracted with a company to monitor players’ sleep in terms of both quality and quantity. Stanley, the senior quarterback, for example, has said he strives for nine hours a night.

It’s part of the evolution of Doyle’s job. And his players are all aware that it is happening. Those who slept poorly the night before will come in and know exactly what they’re about to hear, Doyle said. He has weekly meetings with the Hawkeyes who are struggling to get the rest they need to try to help them better manage their overnight hours.

“One of the most productive things about the analytic component that is growing in strength and conditioning is it creates conversations. It allows us to identify the guys that need interventions and need good quality conversations in order to get them on the right path,” Doyle concluded. “And that’s been really productive for us.”

Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle walks between stations during a Hawkeye football spring practice on Thursday, April 4, 2019, at the University of Iowa outdoor practice facility in Iowa City, Iowa.

Some quality time with the Patriots

Doyle was heartened to see that New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick is of like mind when it comes to sleep. He brought in a sleep specialist to speak to his Super Bowl-winning team this offseason.

Doyle, a Massachusetts native, made a trip home a couple of months ago and was among the Hawkeye coaches who observed how Belichick approaches his job. Doyle considers the Patriots to be the most successful organization in professional sports and Belichick to be the best football coach ever.

“I believe that’s because he’s smarter than everybody else and he works harder than everybody else,” Doyle said of Belichick.

“When you watch them operate from top down — and they are very, very detailed in their approach — I don’t think there’s a stone unturned with the New England Patriots. They do an incredible job certainly from a football perspective, the way they design everything from execution on offense, defense, special teams. How they deal with personnel. How they incorporate strength and conditioning. How they incorporate recovery and nutrition. They are really on it. There’s a lot to be learned from being around the best people in the game.”

Two big differences in modern players

Doyle said the athletes who arrive on campus these days are much more attuned to the need to take care of their bodies.

“Twenty years ago, high school programs weren’t as advanced and complex in their strength and conditioning programs as they are today. There’s increased awareness and knowledge of nutrition,” he said.

But there’s another change he’s witnessed, and it’s not as positive.

“We had video games in the '80s and the '90s, but it’s a whole other level now, the phone usage,” Doyle said.

“If we can convince our guys to buy into the delayed gratification and not the instant gratification of the Instagram generation, get them to put their phones down and become a little less distracted, it certainly improves their performance in the classroom and on the football field.”

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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