Life Health & Wellbeing

Sunday 23 September 2018

A good night's sleep is the key to your dreams, GAA stars told

Warning: Michelle Biggins. Photo: Hany Marzouk
Warning: Michelle Biggins. Photo: Hany Marzouk
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

They strive for perfection on the pitch, but elite GAA players may be undermining their chances of winning that coveted championship this year by not getting enough sleep.

A sleep study conducted on 69 of our top players found half are "poor sleepers". Their sleep can be compromised by early and late-night training sessions, travel, caffeine intake, work or academic commitments and stress, says study author Michelle Biggins, a chartered physiotherapist who is currently doing her PhD on Sleep in Elite Athletes in University of Limerick.

"We gave three inter-county teams - 69 elite male GAA athletes - a set of validated questionnaires related to sleep, general health, stress and mood.

"The sleep questionnaire is a research tool that enabled us to classify the athletes as 'poor sleepers' or 'good sleepers'.

"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."

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

"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."

Some 64pc of the poor sleepers took longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep - only 4pc of the poor sleepers were in bed before 11pm, compared to 70pc of those who enjoyed a restful night.

"There is growing research into sleep as a performance enhancing tool. Longer duration and good quality sleep is linked with better overall team performance," said Ms Biggins, who works in private practice in Galway.

"Increasing sleep duration in athletes is associated with greater endurance and sprint performance, improved accuracy and reaction times, and enhanced mood and motivation. Sleep may be the most under-utilised method of improving athletic performance."

She advised athletes - not just GAA players who are having problems getting forty winks - to try to pinpoint the barriers and try to put strategies in place. Former Monaghan midfielder Dick Clerkin told the Irish Independent he frequently struggled with his sleep during his intercounty career.

"Inter-county players have to operate long days, working, travelling and training so that by the time they get to bed their sleep is shortened," he explained.

"You put yourself under pressure. You cannot lie in and rush out to the door to work if you are playing because you have to have your breakfast.

"There was a couple of years where I was playing, commuting and had young children. That was the most difficult time to get sleep," he added.

"I suppose with children you are sleep-deprived anyway."

Gearóid Devitt, the GAA's player welfare officer, said: "We are also developing an integrated player monitoring and injury surveillance system at inter-county level which will help inform us on injury trends, players training load and wellbeing."

Irish Independent

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