Cart is empty
We all know that sleep can have a huge impact on both our short and long term health. Getting the right amount of sleep can make us more alert, as well as boosting memory and many other cognitive functions, while chronic deprivation is associated with stress, heart disease, diabetes and long term brain damage. It’s not surprising then that professional sports teams take extra precautions to ensure that players get a good night’s shut eye before a game; often putting players in a curfewed team hotel prior to a match.
But a new study suggests that it isn’t just how much we sleep, but also when, which determines whether a person is at peak mental and physical ability. A study by researchers at the University of Birmingham, published in peer reviewed journal Current Biology, found that performance in physical tasks can vary by up to 26% throughout the day.
Aggregate analysis of the results suggested that performance peaked around mid-afternoon and declined on either side of that window, but on a case-by-case basis performance was strongly affected by when the participant had last slept; in short the position of their “body clock”.
The body clock, or circadian rhythm, of the body is a roughly 24 hour cycle which affects our body in innumerable ways. For a typical English person, waking at 8, the brain is at peak function early in the morning between 09:00 - 12:00 and the body at its peak between 15:00 - 18:00. However these cycles adjust to your sleeping pattern; so late risers would naturally get a boost later in the day.
The Birmingham team conducted their tests on a group of 20 female hockey players, who were asked to complete a series of 20m runs throughout the day. Their results showed that early risers peaked in physical performance around 12:00, but night owls could peak as late as 20:00.
This result has big implications for how sportsmen train for big encounters and has been immediately cited as an explanation for the poor performance of English football teams in European competitions; where kick off times are, on average, much later than in domestic leagues. It has been suggested that Spanish teams receive a boost in this time period due to a cultural inclination towards “shifting the day forward”, rising and sleeping later.
In fact even prior to this study QPR midfielder Joey Barton had already cited the circadian training he experienced in France as a competitive advantage, as training schedules would be adjusted to reflect the time of the team’s next game. As the researchers point out, even a 1% difference in performance at elite level could make the difference between gold and 4th at the Olympics; and victory or defeat on the pitch.
Management and physical training in all branches of sport are becoming increasingly guided by scientific thinking and cutting edge research. Football is a good example as the vast sums now spent within the game make maximising performance, through individually tailored training and diet regimes, expected rather than a “nice to have”. If the Birmingham study’s results are replicated elsewhere we can expect to see elite English teams adapting their regimes to later kick offs in big games; who knows, it might even give them a fighting chance next time round! So if you are a keen sportsman or Women or just enjoy keeping fit make sure you have the right bed to make sure you get the perfect nights sleep.