Poor Sleep = Pain ?

Andrew O'Neill - Chartered Physiotherapist 

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Recent studies on poor sleep quality and/ or lack of sleep has shown to increase injuries in athletic populations. Why is this the case? Well, there are a number of reasons. Firstly, fatigue affects reaction time. A tired athlete is slower to react to a potential hit on the field. Secondly, fatigue affects the body’s immune system, making players more susceptible to illness. Thirdly, shorter sleep periods don’t provide the body with enough with sufficient time to regenerate muscle cells and repair from training and playing. Over time, injuries sustained in games, health issues and the inability to fully recover can wear on an athlete and contribute to more time spent on the sidelines or with the physio!

In a world where we constantly seek out new recovery tools and treatments to enhance performance, we often neglect the most obvious one, sleep. We simply cannot live without it! “If you told an athlete you had a treatment that would reduce the chemicals associated with stress, that would naturally increase human growth hormone, that enhances recovery rate, that improves performance, they would all do it. Sleep does all of those things.” - Casey Smith, Head Athletic Trainer, Dallas Mavericks.

Cheri Mah, a researcher at Stanford University, conducted a sleep extension study with the university’s men’s basketball team. After he got the player to maintain their normal sleep schedule for 4 weeks to establish a baseline, players from the team went through a 7-week sleep extension period. Over this time, the players obtained as much night-time sleep as possible, aiming for 10 hours. The results were staggering:

“Measures of athletic performance specific to basketball were recorded after every practice including a timed sprint and shooting accuracy. Subjects demonstrated a faster-timed sprint following sleep extension. Shooting accuracy improved, with free throw percentage increasing by 9% and 3-point field goal percentage increasing by 9.2%. Improvements in specific measures of basketball performance after sleep extension indicate that optimal sleep is likely beneficial in reaching peak athletic performance. ”

Closer to home, Michelle biggins (a physiotherapist that I had the pleasure of working for in Galway) conducted a study where she got 69 elite male GAA athletes to answer a set of validated questionnaires related to sleep, general health, stress, and mood. "Questions were asked around time taken to fall asleep, sleep quality and duration, sleep disturbances and daytime dysfunction. We then compared the general health and wellbeing of the poor sleepers and the good sleepers."

"We found that 47.8pc of these elite GAA athletes were poor sleepers. Athletes who were poor sleepers had significantly lower general health, increased stress and lower mood."

Michelle pointed out that athletes need about 8-10 hours of sleep per night, to facilitate recovery from tough training sessions.

So, we can see sleep should be one of the most important tools in our armor not just to reduce injury risk but to actually increase performance. If you would like to read any of the research papers on sleep and it’s importance on athletic performance please do not hesitate to contact TC physiotherapy and we will gladly provide you with them. Also all this week on out Instagram and facebook page we will be discussing the topic and show you some tips and tricks on how to improve your sleep.

Tommy ConwayComment