The Need for Sleep: Fewer Injuries, Better Learning, Better Mood, BETTER PERFORMANCE

Theres a simple truth: The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life.

Walker, 2019

Top clubs and organisations are starting to become wise towards the advantages of sleep, going against the grain of past thinking where the philosophy was very much ‘sleep is for wimps’

Nike and Google have both adopted a more relaxed approach to work schedules, so much so that they even allow workers to sleep on the job. Throughout their corporate headquarters are dedicated relaxation rooms with nap pods (Walker, 2017). Clubs such as Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid are also recruiting “sleep coaches” and have added sleeping areas to nap in-between training sessions (Edgley, 2017).

Sleep Effects on Injuries

There is strong evidence to suggest that the less sleep a player gets, the more likely they are to be injured.

From Milewski et al, 2014

Athletes who slept on average less than 8 hours per night were 1.7 times more likely to have had an injury compared with athletes who slept for more than 8 hours  (Milewski et al, 2014). Even just a 2 hour increase/decrease in sleep made a significant difference. 

This is one of the many vital benefits of sleep within sport and wellness. 

Players also tend to lose many weeks of the year through illness (Ranchordas, 2016). Regular good quality sleep boosts the immune system meaning fewer illnesses (Walker, 2017;Pink, 2018) and more time in training and matches.

Sleep Effects on Learning

People who get 7/8 hours of sleep have a more active hippocampus, meaning they are able to learn and retain information more effectively (Walker, 2019).

Concentration and memory retention are increased after sleep, meaning that you will take in more information, and any skills you learn will be remembered more effectively (Ellenbogen et al, 2006). 

When possible for players, take a nap after training if training is in the morning, this way it’ll not only help your physical recovery (Duckworth, 2016), it’ll also help you retain any information you received in training.

Sleep Effects on Mood

Sleep has been shown to make people happier, more positive and have better relationship interactions; whilst a lack of sleep leads to less productivity, less motivation, less creativity, lower mood, laziness, and it also leads to more unethical behaviour (Walker, 2017). 

Therefore good quality sleep is beneficial for players in order to form friendships and understandings with teammates. 

Coaches and leaders should also look to ensure that they’re not skipping on vital sleeping hours too. Studies have recently discovered that under-slept managers and CEOs are less charismatic and have a harder time inspiring and motivating their team (Walker, 2017).

Furthermore, Christopher Barnes (2012), a researcher in the Foster School of Business at Washington University found that under-slept employees in the workplace are more likely to blame other people in the workplace for their own mistakes, and even try to take credit for other people’s successful work. This is applicable to football and the training field, hardly a recipe for team building and a harmonious environment. 

In addition, a good sleeping routine has been shown to have mental health benefits and decreases symptoms of depression (Walker, 2017; Pink, 2018, Mental Health Foundation, 2011)

Sleep Effects on Performance & Energy

Research by Matthew Walker (2017) showed that “When sleep was poor the night prior, exercise intensity and duration were far worse the following day. When sleep was sound, levels of physical exertion were powerfully maximal the next day. In other words, sleep may have more of an influence on exercise than exercise has on sleep”. 

Whats more, sleep has also been shown to increase ‘flow’, that feeling of being in the zone (see more in ‘benefits of napping’). 

It has also been shown that less sleep increases the desire to eat junk food (Walker, 2017), equating to lower performances and lower health.

On top of that, men who average 5 hours of sleep, have significantly smaller testicles and LESS TESTOSTERONE than a man that averages 7/8 hours of sleep (Walker, 2019). Testosterone is important for performance as it helps ready a player for the challenge prior to facing the opposition; it is the body’s way of hormonally preparing for events to come (Bates, 2017)

If as a player you want to perform at your maximal intensity pay attention to the quality of your sleep.

Benefits of Napping

Napping has in recent history been looked down at as being lazy, however research shows just a 10-20 minute nap has an incredible plethora of benefits (Pink, 2018; Walker, 2017). 

Firstly, researchers found that people who regularly took a siesta had a 37 percent lower coronary death rate than those who never napped (Naska et al, 2007) 

Secondly, napping has been shown to increase ‘flow’ (Kaida et al, 2012), that psychological state in which a person performs optimally without effort or self-consciousness but with a sense of control, transformation of time and feeling of intrinsic reward (Jackson & Csikszentmihalyi,1998)

Thirdly, nappers were found to be twice as likely to solve a complex problem than people who hadn’t napped or who had spent the time in other activities (Mandar et al, 2011) and it also expands the brain’s capacity to learn (Beijamini et al, 2014).

Finally, naps have been shown to boost mental and physical health (Pink, 2018). 

*Bonus tip – Have a NAPPACINO
The best naps that I’ve ever had has been from Daniel Pink’s (2018) concept of a ‘nappacino’. 

This is how it works – Since caffeine takes about twenty-five minutes to enter the bloodstream, try having a coffee just before a nap. Caffeine, usually in the form of coffee, followed by a nap of ten to twenty minutes, is the ideal technique for staving off sleepiness and increasing performance

Sleep Tips from Matthew Walker (You can see the full list here)

  • Regularity: Go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time. No matter if its a weekday or the weekend. It will improve the quality and quantity of the sleep. (Matthew Walker emphasizes this is the #1 priority from the list)
  • Keep it cool: Aim for a bedroom temperature of 65F/18C
  • Don’t exercise too late in the day: Exercise is great, but try to time it no later than 2-3 hours before bed. This is because body temperature can remain high for an hour or two after physical exertion
  • Avoid caffeine: Colas, coffee, teas (that aren’t herbal) and chocolate contain caffeine, which is a stimulant. Even consuming these in the afternoon can have an affect on your sleep 
  • Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed: The presence of alcohol in the body can reduce your REM sleep, keeping you in the lighter stages of sleep.
  • Avoid large meals and beverages late at night: A lights snack before bed is okay, but a heavy meal can cause digestive issues, which interfers with sleep. Drinking too many fluids can cause freuqent awakenings to urinate.
  • Make sure to leave time to relax before bed: It’s important to have time before bed to unwind. Try to schedule your days so that there is time to relax before bed.
  • Take a hot bath or shower before bed: The drop in body temperature after a bath or shower may help you to feel sleepy, and it can help you to slow down and relax before bed.
  • Have a dark, gadget free bedroom: Gadgets such as mobile phones and computers can be a distraction. Additionally the light they emit, especially the blue light, suppresses the secretion of melatonin. Melatonin being a hormone that regulates sleep/wake cycles – with it increasing in the evening to induce sleep. (You can pre-schedule most modern day devices so that they lower the blue light that is transmitting after a certain time).
  • Don’t stay in bed if you (really) can’t sleep: If you find yourself still in bed for more than 20 minutes, or you’re starting to get anxious in bed, get up and do something else until you feel sleepy. Anxiety whilst trying to sleep can make it harder to fall asleep.
  • Don’t nap after 3pm: Naps are great, but taking them too late in the day can make it hard to fall asleep at night.
  • DONT HIT THE SNOOZE BUTTON: Most of us are unaware of an even greater danger that lurks within the alarm clock: the snooze button. If alarming your heart, quite literally, were not bad enough, using the snooze feature means that you will repeatedly inflict that cardiovascular assault again and again within a short span of time. Step and repeat this at least five days a week, and you begin to understand the multiplicative abuse your heart and nervous system will suffer across a life span.

Reference List

Author: coachphilp

Masters Degree in Fútbol with Real Madrid Universidad Europea (Voted #1 Football Masters Degree in the World) 16 years coaching over 3 nations. “Employ your time in improving yourself by other men's writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have laboured hard for.” - Socrates

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