Sports Medicine Research: In the Lab & In the Field: A Nap a Day May Keep the Doctor Away (Sports Med Res)


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

A Nap a Day May Keep the Doctor Away

The influence of sleep and training lead on illness in the nationally competitive male Australian Football Athletes: A cohort study of one season.

Fitzgerald D, Beckmans C, Joyce D and Mills K. J Sci Med Sport. 2018. [Epub Ahead of Print].

Take Home Message: An Australian Football athlete who reported fewer hours of sleep or poorer sleep quality may be at greater risk of illness than his peers.
Illness is a leading cause of absenteeism in athletics. Disrupted sleep patterns and excessive training loads may contribute to an athlete’s risk of illness. However, there’s insufficient data on this concept to inform the design of training programs to reduce the risk of illness. Therefore, Fitzgerald and colleagues completed a retrospective analysis to identify the incidence of illness among 44 nationally competitive Australian football athletes with respect to training load and sleep. The author defined illness (ill or not ill) based on the International Olympic Committee’s definition. Official team doctors recorded the presence or absence of illness daily. Training load was measured by recording athletes’ distance traveled via a portable GPS device worn by each player and asking for their rate of perceived exertion. Sleep was self-reported by the athletes using a 5-point Likert scale, which related to the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index. Changes in sleep and training load were observed 7 days (acute) and 28 days (chronic) prior to illness. Overall, 67 illnesses were recorded, resulting in a ratio of 1 illness for 84 hours of training. An athlete who reported poorer sleep quality or fewer hours of sleep, especially during the previous 7 days, was more likely to develop an illness. Training load was not consistently related to illness.

Overall, the data from this study supports the need for educating athletes about the importance of adequate sleep during training. While this is somewhat expected, this study is the first to monitor the impact of training load and sleep on Australian football athletes over the course of an entire season. However, it is unclear how applicable this might be to other sports or competitive levels. Therefore, more studies evaluating sleep in different athletic populations would be beneficial. Future research should also evaluate if formal sleep training and sleep hygiene programs can reduce the risk of illness in this population and a wider athletic population. Ultimately, clinicians should advocate for their athletes to get an appropriate amount of sleep and more actively monitor athletes’ sleep quality. This can help clinicians be more proactive in reducing the risk of illness.

Questions for Discussion: Do you currently monitor or educate your patients on the need for adequate quality and quantity of sleep? If so, have you anecdotally found any results based on this effort?

Written by: Kyle Harris
Reviewed by:  Jeffrey Driban

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Lauren Krywy said...

I never thought about educating athletes on sleep quality before until after reading this article. It's surprising that one illness occurs in every 84 hours of training. One thing to look at would be the different sports that are out there and the training demand that is required. I would assume that the higher the training demand for the sport, the lower sleep quality and the less training demand for the sport, the higher the sleep quality. Another factor that could play a role in this is their social life and what happens outside of training. Does the athlete attend school and what type of school are they attending. If they are attending a university, I'm sure (based on personal experience) the sleep quality will be much less do to homework, studying, projects, groups on campus etc.
It serves as a nice reminder that even though the athlete may be exercising and staying healthy, it is also important to look at the finer things such as sleep and educate them on the importance of it.

Kyle said...


Thanks for the great comment. After reading the article and creating this post, I too asked many of the same questions you are. I think the the simple answer of monitoring and helping student athletes with sleep scheduling is such an easily modifiable factor, is a great teachable moment for clinicians. I agree that all of the factors you raised need to be addressed in future research. This study is certainly the tip of a much larger iceberg of information.

Thanks again for the great comment.

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