Various modalities exist that are used to enhance recovery and restoration from the physical stressors brought on by training and competition. Some common passive recovery techniques include cryotherapy, cold water immersion, contrast baths or showers, sauna, massage, compression garments, electromyostimulation, and so forth. Active recovery modalities can involve foam rolling, moderate to low intensity aerobic work in the form of jogging or cycling. Low intensity circuit training is also effective at enhancing blood flow and promoting recovery. Nutritional strategies are also often used for recovery purposes, such as manipulating macronutrient and energy intake (carb, protein and fat ratio’s) to reduce muscle damage from exercise and promote the build-up and repair of tissue structures post-training. Though there is evidence to support most of these interventions, none are nearly as effective as the immense restorative effects of sleep! A sufficient amount of quality sleep can do more for recovery than any of the latest and greatest recovery modalities. This is not a mystery to most coaches and athletes, however, are we as coaches aware of our athletes sleep habits?
In a recent publication from the European Journal of Sport Science, Lastella and colleagues (2014) set out to determine the sleep habits of elite athletes. A total of 124 athletes (104 male, 20 female) participated in this investigation. The athletes were split into two groups: a team sport athlete group and in individual athlete group. The sleep/wake behavior for each of the athletes was assessed for a minimum of 7 nights with a self-report sleep diary and wrist activity monitors during a typical training phase. Results for the entire group showed that the average bed time was approximately 11:00pm (± 1.3) and average wake time was 7:15am (± 1.2) for a total average of 6.8 (± 1.1) hours of sleep per night. When analyzed in separate groups, the individual sport athletes tended to go to sleep earlier than team sport athletes and also wake up earlier. However, individual sport athletes slept less than team sport athletes, 6.5 hours vs. 7 hours, respectively.
The results of this study demonstrate that athletes at even the highest levels aren’t even acquiring the minimum recommendation of 8 hours of sleep per night. Perhaps our efforts should be put towards instilling better sleep habits with our athletes rather than expensive and state of the art recovery interventions. Part of being the best at a give sport requires both coaches and athletes to be extremely skilled in the basics. This is not limited to technical and tactical physical qualities, but also the basics in caring for themselves through things like nutrition and sleep. On a weekly basis, these athletes are missing out on an average of 8 hours of sleep per week, the equivalent to one full night’s sleep. This greatly adds up over weeks and months and will certainly have an impact on adaptation and performance potential.
Lastella, M., Roach, G. D., Halson, S. L., & Sargent, C. (2014). Sleep/wake behaviours of elite athletes from individual and team sports. European Journal of Sport Science, (ahead-of-print), 1-7.