A great paper was recently published looking at the sleep patterns of elite athletes in response to training and competition, Haines Roberts et al 2018. The systematic review identified that many athletes do not meet the recommendations for sleep time (>7 hours) and their sleep efficiency (time asleep whilst in bed, >85%) when they are exposed to high training loads(>25% increase), have night competitions, are jet lagged or traveling, are in high altitude environments and have early morning competition or training sessions (before 7am).
Why is sleep so important?
Sleep is a significant recovery tool for athletes. Increased sleep time and quality has been associated with improved immune function, increased memory and skill consolidation, improved adaptation to training and competition, and even reduced injury rates in adolescent populations. It is these very reasons that sleep should be protected as much as possible for the elite or aspiring athletes. Working with athletes daily, it is often the first question that I will ask the individual, ‘how did or have you been sleeping?’ It is a strong indication of their readiness for training or competition nod their answer is typically closely linked with the performance that is likely to be displayed within that competition or training session. Disturbances in sleep are often associated with changes in hormonal patterning that are linked with over-training, Budgett 1998, Samuels 2008. These changes are typically obvious to the athlete, they will describe restless sleep, waking often, not feeling refreshed from sleep and general malaise.
So what can we do?
Based off the original paper highlighted sleep patterns and planning can be developed and implemented to assist athletes with performance and recovery. Understanding that sleep is likely to be affected the night before competition, and after night competition as well as with early morning training, increased importance must be placed on achieving sleep volume through planning sleeping and waking times as well as improving sleep hygiene. This includes creating a sleep procedure, reducing noise, light and electronic use in the hour before bed.
And when there is a significant sleep stress planned, such as travel, allowances must be made to increase sleep time. Training volumes will benefit from being monitored throughout times of sleep stress and implementation of the strategies discussed will assist in getting the greatest recovery from training and competition.