Athletes constantly try to find any edge — using technology, nutrition, training and sometimes chemistry to get a step ahead of their competition. The newest performance-enhancer might be the oldest: sleep.

Researchers in the United Kingdom studied elite athletes and their sleep patterns, determining that as many as half of them suffered from insomnia or insufficient sleep, Reuters reported. Athletic performance can be affected, and anxiety over lost sleep further inhibits the athletes, the researchers found.

We already know the general health benefits of sleep. We've reported on America's sleep deficiency, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) terms a "public health problem." We also explored some of the solutions to the problem.

It's difficult enough to get through a work day with poor sleep. Consider professional athletes or high-performing amateurs who aim to excel but are hindered by sleep issues. It's not as though they can "go through the motions" when their competitors are at peak.

For some of those amateurs, their future might depend on those results. That's why colleges are starting to pay particular attention to how their athletes sleep. At West Virginia University, a device called WHOOP is helping the athletic department monitor athletes, from heart rate to sleep.

Mountaineers offensive lineman Kyle Bosch told the Exponent-Telegram newspaper that the football team, even though it had reservations early, has embraced the scrutiny.

"We're all committed to trying to win the Big 12, to trying make it to the College Football Playoff, so were all taking this offseason very seriously," he said, "monitoring everything we do, everything we eat and every time we fall asleep."

West Virginia isn't alone among colleges with an interest in athletes' sleep. At the University of Arizona College of Medicine, researchers worked on a solution to poor sleep. Through the schools' Project REST (Recovery Enhancement and Sleep Training), athletes were given Fitbits over 10 weeks, tracking sleep habits in diaries, Futurity reported. As a result, more than 80 percent of the participants noted improved sleep, and almost 90 percent attributed improved athletic performance to the study, Futurity stated.

Fitness monitors measure a wide range of activities, recording steps, calories burned and other data. But WHOOP is taking that in a new direction, calculating recovery time and exertion in real time, SportTechie reported.

Company CEO Will Ahmed envisions a future where fans can follow recovery the same as yards-per-catch or free-throw percentage.

"What if you could actually quantify heart? How run-down someone is relative to how they perform?" he speculated to the website.

It's just a matter of time before other educational institutions adopt a similar program. The benefits can reach beyond athletics; a recent study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that sleep disturbance among college athletes is linked to alcohol, tobacco and drug use.

USA Hockey has developed tips to help its athletes sleep better, including promoting protein and milk consumption before bedtime as well as certain fruits and nuts.

Swimmers are notorious for their early-morning practices, with bleary-eyed athletes showing up at the pool sometimes in the dark. Stanford's men's and women's swimming teams participated in a study that extended sleep hours and rated performance. With more sleep, swimmers had improved sprint times, reaction time and turn time, Flo Swimming reported.

The pros are paying attention, too. The Seattle Reign FC linked with Microsoft to measure subjective data such as how well-rested the soccer players feel, as reported in SportTechie. Sensors attached to players before, during and after workouts and games gather data that coaches can interpret to maximize performance, the website stated.

With performance at stake, mattresses might be as important as barbells to athletes and coaches.