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
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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