With the development of practical sleep-monitoring devices, empirical evidence has steadily emerged from research that supports what coaches have known all along; sleep quality affects performance. Valuing sleep pays off in how athletes feel, how they train and how they perform. Therefore, coaches need to take a proactive role in addressing sleep quality with athletes and educating them on how to get more restful sleep. It would also be useful for coaches to understand how various factors might affect sleep quality. For example, proximity to competition may result in heightened levels of anxiety which may make it difficult for athletes to fall asleep. Additionally, training loads must also be considered given that moderate levels of exercise tend to enhance sleep quality while excessively high training loads can reduce sleep quality. Ultimately, more research in this area is needed to guide coaches and their athletes.
A new study published ahead of print in the European Journal of Sport Science evaluate sleep quality and quantity in gymnasts and their relationships with training load and performance. A sample of 26 elite female gymnasts ranging in age from ~12-18 years participated in the study. Total sleep time, sleep efficiency (the ratio of time spent asleep versus time spent in bed) and training load derived from session rating of perceived exertion (sRPE) were retrospectively analyzed. Performance level was inferred from coaches rankings of athletes in addition to World Championship qualification ranking. Data were retrospectively analyzed to establish associations between markers of sleep quality, performance and training load.
The results showed that when evaluated as a group (n = 26), total sleep time was lower during the week compared to weekends (Effect Size, ES = -1.12). The youngest athletes (<13 years) tended to have the highest total sleep time and sleep efficiency. A higher training load was associated with lower total sleep time on the subsequent night. For the World Championship competitors, total sleep time was lower on the night before qualifications relative to average total sleep time throughout the World Championship competitions (ES = -0.95). Interestingly, total sleep time was significantly related with coach ranking (r = -0.86) where athletes with greater total sleep tended to have better rankings. In contrast, athletes experiencing higher training loads tended to have a worse World Championship (r = 0.83) and coach (r = 0.89) ranking. Therefore, it appears that excessive training loads may be hindering sleep quality and performance in athletes.
Dumortier, J., Mariman, A., Boone, J., Delesie, L., Tobback, E., Vogelaers, D., & Bourgois, J. G. (2017). Sleep, training load and performance in elite female gymnasts. European Journal of Sport Science, 1-11.