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For Christian McCaffrey, sleep is serious business

Christian McCaffrey

SPARTANBURG — Christian McCaffrey did not become one of the best running backs in the NFL accidentally.

Everything he does to prepare for a season is carefully planned — from the weights he lifts, to his running workouts, to the food he puts in his body, to the way he studies. His daily routine is enough to exhaust anyone.

But because it's Christian McCaffrey, the work doesn't stop when he's exhausted; it's just getting started.

As tempting as it might be simply to flop at the end of a long day, McCaffrey sleeps meticulously, aware of his need to recharge and how important it is to stay at the level he wants to be.

"I'm extremely conscious of it," he said. "Once I started really making sleep a part of my routine as far as before bed, and when I wake up and staying consistent with it, I noticed just a different level of energy in the mornings."

Christian McCaffrey

Just as he monitors his workouts and the yards he gains on Sundays, McCaffrey has stats to back it up. He wears an Oura ring, which quantifies his sleep cycles and gives him biometric information, including heart rate, respiratory rate, body temperature, and movement. That allows him to know not just how much sleep he's getting, but how much of the good kinds, and he uses that to adjust his habits.

"It gives me a good gauge of what I need to do better, and it keeps me accountable," he said. "I notice when my scores are high, I definitely have better days. I can still have good days with little sleep, but staying consistent with it and making it a habit and keeping myself accountable is definitely something that helped."

When he talks about it that way, it sounds like a football plan. But turning it into something he can repeat and refine is as important when it's time to turn in for the night in during camp as anything he does before and after bed.

"I don't think people understand, you might think you got eight hours of sleep, but there are different stages of sleep — so you might get eight hours, but your sleep might not be as good if you went to bed a little earlier, or a lot of times if you eat right before you go to bed or you're watching TV super late," he said. "If you get eight hours of sleep and you go to bed at midnight, that's different than if you go to sleep at 9. Those are very different sleeps.

"I think as soon as I realized that when I go to bed is important, that helped me a lot."

Christian McCaffrey

In a perfect world, he'd get 10 hours of sleep as often as he could (and he's still young enough to do that). Eight hours is a solid target. But as he's learned in football, things are seldom perfect, and the outside world intrudes on his plans from time to time.

But while at Wofford College, he tries to get himself in his bed in his dorm room at 9 p.m., and begin the process of falling asleep for the night.

"Sometimes I get great sleep and sometimes I don't, but I try to be in bed by 9, so I'm rested and get as much sleep as possible," he said. "I try to get as much sleep as I can. A lot of times in our job you have to operate under adverse circumstances. It's not always perfect, you can't always get 10 hours of sleep, you have to lock in if you get five or six or don't sleep well.

"I'm sure there are a lot of us who'd like to sleep 10 hours a night, but that can't always happen. So you get as much as you can and stay consistent."

There are no magic wands, no nightcaps, no glasses of warm milk. For McCaffrey, the first step in getting the rest he needs is to be mindful of it, and to prepare.

"Taking a deep breath before you go to bed," he said of his nightly routine. "Create a relaxing environment around you. And just focus on your breath, and really tuning everything out, and taking away all your stress and doing the best you can to go to bed."

As with everything he does, there's a plan. And the results he's shown make it hard to argue with.