Sleep and Recovery in Team Sport

Written by Ben Bunting: BA(Hons), PGCert. Sport & Exercise Nutrition. British Army Physical Training Instructor.  


In this article, I discuss some of the key issues surrounding sleep and recovery in team sports.

Inter-individual variability of sleep among elite athletes

A number of studies have explored sleep variability among athletes. They have identified several factors that influence the duration of sleep.

These include: the type of sport, the athlete's age, and the training season. However, the nature of this variation is still unclear. The purpose of this study was to assess the variability in sleep of elite athletes.

Using both objective and qualitative approaches, the study aimed to identify factors influencing the timing of sleep.

Inter-individual variability in sleep is defined as a lack of agreement between two individuals or groups on the same sleep stage or parameters.

Studies have explored this phenomenon in both team sports and individual sports.

For example, rugby league athletes have been found to have a large range in TST.

This variation is also seen in triathlon and road cycling.

Sleep architecture is also variable in athletes. The pre-season and tapering periods were associated with longer N3 sleep.

On the other hand, TST was less during the heavy training periods. In the multi-day ultra-endurance competitions, TST was found to vary from 7.0 +- 0.9 h to 7.7 +- 2.0 h.

The study used an actigraphy device to monitor the sleep of athletes during competitive seasons.

Data were collected for 45 rugby league athletes over seven days. Results showed that the athletes had an average of 7.2 hours of sleep per night.

The results suggest that a combination of training time and competition schedules are important factors in determining sleep timing.

For instance, the wake after sleep onset (WASO) was similar for young and older athletes. However, young athletes were found to have a long WASO.

Furthermore, the data indicated that athletes' sleep was fragmented, meaning that they had more REM sleep stages than non-athletes.

Female athletes had an earlier habitual sleep onset time than male athletes. Male athletes had an average of 7.2 h of sleep and a 9.7 +- 11.2 min SOL. Moreover, their N1 and N2 sleep stages were longer.

This study is one of the first to combine objective and qualitative data on sleep-wake behavior of athletes.

It provides a better understanding of how athletes' sleep-wake behaviors differ, and may help to identify athletes at risk.

Impact of training schedules on sleep and fatigue

Athletes are required to get a minimum of eight hours of sleep a night to maintain optimal performance.

However, 70% of elite athletes fail to obtain the amount of sleep that they need. The consequences of inadequate habitual sleep are well known for both general health and exercise performance.

It is therefore important to identify possible methods of improving the amount of sleep that athletes receive.

This study investigated the effects of training schedules on the quantity, quality, and timing of sleep in athletes.

Eighty-one studies were reviewed that included a total of 18,958 nights of sleep data.

Sleep parameters were calculated for all athletes, athletes in different sports, and athletes in different levels of athletic expertise.

The amount of sleep obtained by athletes varied significantly amongst the different types of sports.

Swimmers, for example, obtained less sleep than average. Cycling and track cycling athletes got more sleep.

But alpine skiing and swimming athletes had the least sleep.

These changes in sleep and fatigue were observed in the pre-season and during the competition phases of training.

Sleep duration and TST (the time taken to fall asleep) were lower during these periods. The total sleep time was reduced by a factor of 38% during the heavy training phase.

Sleep quality was also lower in young athletes. Interestingly, REM stage length did not differ between athletes of different age groups.

However, the amount of N1 and N3 stages was higher in elite athletes.

Female athletes had a smaller total sleep time. In addition, their onset time was significantly earlier than male athletes. Male athletes had a longer REM stage length.

These findings suggest that athletes who experience good sleep may not be as resilient to disruptions of their sleeping pattern during a major competition.

Hence, coaches and other team members should consider factors that can influence their sleeping pattern to ensure that they are able to train effectively.

Sleep hygiene is a term used to describe conditions and recommendations that are intended to promote quality sleep.

Sleep is essential for maintaining optimal performance and recuperating the nervous system.

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Impact of circadian rhythms on sleep and fatigue

Athletes have been shown to be more susceptible to physical performance disruptions caused by sleep deprivation.

However, many factors influence human stress tolerance, including fitness, experience, and motivation. Moreover, the optimal times of training and recovery are influenced by the circadian rhythm.

The suprachiasmatic nucleus, a small brain region located within the hypothalamus, regulates our circadian rhythms. These are believed to be crucial to athletic performance.

It is unclear how these circadian rhythms influence athletes' sleep patterns. Many athletes follow strict training schedules that may limit their total sleep time.

In addition, they are exposed to numerous stressors and psychological demands. They face travel-related fatigue, which can affect their performance. This article reviews the literature on sleep and elite sport.

Using this information, coaches can help their athletes develop healthy sleep habits.

Ideally, future experimental studies on sleep and elite sport should be conducted during early fall or early winter.

These periods correspond to specific environmental conditions. Also, it is advisable to use a mixed-method approach.

Such an approach combines objective and qualitative evaluations.

Research should consider the ecological context of sport. Sleep research should also take into account the inter-individual and intra-individual variability of athletes. To this end, a combination of laboratory and field-based studies should be utilized.

It is important to understand how the timing of the day and of the night affects the circadian clock.

In particular, the light-dark cycle can be a major variable. Younger athletes generally have a more delayed onset of sleep.

Similarly, they have a tendency to train in the afternoon. On the other hand, older athletes have a more consistent pattern of sleep-wake behavior.

Studies have found that the best time to train is determined by the circadian rhythms of the athlete.

In addition, athletes have reported that their sleep quality was affected by the intensity of competitions. Therefore, it is crucial to adjust the sleep schedule of players prior to and after matches.

In addition to the effects of travel-related fatigue, the timing of the day and the night may also impact athletes' sleep patterns.

Travel-related jet lag, for example, can cause disruptions in an athlete's sleep-wake rhythm.

Disadvantages of PSG

Polysomnography (PSG) is one of the most common laboratory tests for sleep disorders.

It is often considered the gold standard for diagnosing obstructive sleep apnea. However, it has its limitations.

PSG has been used in clinical settings, but future research is needed to determine its best application.

PSG is usually performed overnight. It records electrocardiography, electrooculography, and airflow.

The data can be processed for sleep staging. This method is particularly helpful for the assessment of sleep-ordered breathing and sleep-related epilepsy.

In addition to diagnosing sleep-related breathing disorders, PSG is also important in the evaluation of central hypersomnia and other sleep disorders.

Overnight PSG is particularly useful in assessing periodic limb movements during sleep. These limb movements, which occur around 20 to 40 seconds during sleep, are a warning sign of other sleep disorders.

In some cases, an in-laboratory PSG may result in less accurate sleep patterns than an overnight PSG.

Moreover, there are limitations in interpretation of the data. As such, there is a risk that it will not correlate with a patient's clinical findings.

The latest technology allows for more precise, cost-efficient, and convenient testing. Some of these include consumer wearable devices.

Wearable sleep trackers are becoming popular in the last five years. They can be used to detect sleep disorder symptoms and recommend a consultation with a physician.

Although there is a challenge in ensuring the validity and reliability of the data, these devices have become an increasingly common practice in the sleep medicine community.

Another trend in the field of sleep medicine is the development of advanced out-of-lab testing modalities.

Aside from PSG, bed sensor ballistocardiography is one example. Unlike the traditional PSG, this method uses fewer channels, which can improve the accuracy of sleep staging.

Advances in science have led to the development of several machine learning algorithms that can automatically score sleep.

Several of these algorithms have reached near human level scoring.

One of the biggest disadvantages of PSG is the high cost and time involved. Attended PSG is a significant expense, especially when the patient's sleep environment is foreign.

Sleep and Recovery in Team Sport Conclusion

Team sport athletes need to learn more about the significance of sleep and recovery.

Recent studies have shown that increased sleep can improve performance in various areas.

Several factors may influence athletes' sleep patterns, including travel, illness, and competition schedules. Sleep deprivation can also affect performance.

A study by the NCAA women's swimming team at Stanford University explored the effects of sleep on athletic performance.

They found that short naps during the day were beneficial, especially for endurance athletes.

Getting a good night's rest is important for athletes, and there are plenty of ways to increase the quantity of sleep you get. However, it isn't always the easiest thing to do.

Many athletes struggle with sleep, and it is not uncommon to experience disturbed sleep before a game or event.

It is recommended that athletes plan to sleep a bit extra before an event or heavy training. Some athletes also suffer from jet lag, which can cause their sleep to fall behind.

Besides being a necessary component of health, sleep is also beneficial for athletes because it allows the body to recover from a demanding training schedule.

Specifically, it allows the heart and vascular system to rest and repair itself. This is especially important during an athlete's recovery from an injury.

The right amount of sleep can also boost a person's cognitive functioning. When an athlete doesn't get enough rest, it can lead to a loss in cognition and reduce overall performance.


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