Unfortunately, there is a no solid measure of sleep quality according to the experts – it’s something that is yet to be universally agreed on. Sleep researchers rely on questionnaires, so the results of ‘sleep quality’ test are subjective . Lab results can show periods of wakeful, time taken to sleep etc, but that’s not necessarily good quality data.
We know that athletes are at a higher risk than most of suffering from poor sleep quality. This is due to several factors…
- Extended states of arousal (adrenaline remains high for hours post-competition)
- High stress levels
- Regular travel across multiple time zones
- Lack of sleep environment stability (multiple nights in different locations)
- Irregular competition times – competitions can start early morning or late at night
Unfortunately, these points aren’t going to go away – they’re part and parcel of competitive sports.
When studied in relation to evening competition (a common feature in the professional sport), sleep deprivation is proven to have a biochemical impact on recovery . Players who are unable to sleep effectively post evening competition display higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those who sleep properly. This is known to significantly increase the risk of musculoskeletal injury .
Furthermore, we know from research that you can’t simply ‘shift’ a sleep cycle by a couple of early morning wake ups, so consistency remains a key point for a sleeping pattern. Sticking to a regular sleep regime is important .
There is some early research into a concept known as ‘sleep banking’, where essentially you make sure you get some really good quality sleep which will allow you to absorb short periods of low-quality sleep. Whilst I wouldn’t be willing to recommend it, some of the findings suggest it could be a good option for times when sleep may be compromised .