Training camps are a stressful time of year for both coaches and players. The athletes are exposed to an abrupt increase in training loads that may put them at risk of overtraining or injury. Therefore, it is critical that coaches manage loads and monitor players to prevent this from occurring. A known symptom of overtraining is poor sleep quality. This may include difficulty falling asleep, restless sleep, periodic wake-ups, etc. This is particularly concerning for coaches due to the integral role that sleep has on restoring homeostasis (i.e., recovery) and facilitating the build-up and repair of damaged muscle tissue. But it’s important to consider that poor sleep quality may be a cause of overtraining in some cases rather than a symptom.
A new study published ahead of print in the Journal of Biological and Medical Rhythm Research investigated the sleep patterns of 55 national-level junior rowers (~17 years old) throughout a 4-week training camp. Subjective recovery status via questionnaire and objective sleep quality were obtained daily throughout the camp. Sessions began at 6:30 am and 2-4 sessions were held per day. While training volume and intensity were higher in the first 2 weeks, less overall sleep time was observed. During the second two weeks of camp, less sessions per day were held and total sleep time improved. In the event that sleep time was delayed by ~90 min, morning recovery and mood ratings worsened. Perceived recovery and mood scores were higher on the mornings of rest days where the athletes slept in until 8:00 am rather than having to wake up at 5:00 am. Significant relationships were found between perceived restful sleep and falling asleep quickly in addition to having few awakenings.
Overall, the results demonstrate the importance of sleep quality on perceived recovery in athletes during intensive training periods. Facilitating better sleep habits for the athletes may therefore improve training quality and adaptation. Providing comfortable sleep arrangements, mandating early bed times and if possible, not having super early wake-up times can be helpful for improving sleep quality and quantity. Having your athletes report to camp in great physical condition may also be an important strategy for reducing training related sleep deficits. Their work capacity will be higher and therefore they will be able to tolerate greater loads. Needless to say, sleep plays a crucial role in the recovery process that coaches need to be aware of and address to optimize training and to keep their athletes healthy.
Kölling, S., Steinacker, J. M., Endler, S., Ferrauti, A., Meyer, T., & Kellmann, M. (2016). The longer the better: Sleep–wake patterns during preparation of the World Rowing Junior Championships. Chronobiology international, 1-12.