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Why the right kind of rest is the real goal for sports professionals

Sports stars regularly talk about getting the right kind of rest. Good quality sleep can aid performance and is also essential to recovery. But what if sleep just doesn’t come easily? That’s the case for so many of us mere mortals, and sports stars aren’t exempt from these issues either.

Whether you’re a full time sports professional, an aspiring athlete or somebody who takes part in competitive sports as a pastime but takes your performance seriously, sleep is the key to improving your performance and your mindset. It’s not just about the duration of sleep. Quality and sleep routine are just as important, according to British Sport Sleep Coach Nick Littlehales.

Making sleep a priority

In the late 1990s Littlehales made contact with his local football club, Manchester United, to talk to manager Sir Alex Ferguson about why elite sporting organisations and teams weren’t paying any attention to the importance of sleep at the time. Ferguson soon realised that in order to help his players with their performance levels, he had to monitor their sleeping patterns along with their diets.

With this in mind, Littlehales worked closely with Ferguson and the club to assist its players in sleeping better. After initially helping Manchester United defender Gary Pallister alleviate a back problem by recommending alterations to his mattress, Littlehales went on to work with numerous stars at Manchester United on their sleeping patterns to improve their overall performance on the pitch, such as altering a room at the club’s training ground that allowed players to take naps in between demanding double training sessions. 1999 ultimately proved to be a highly successful year for the club, winning an unprecedented treble of the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League trophies.

Improving performance and recovery time can’t be attributed to sleep on its own. Nutrition and physical therapy are important elements too. But sleep is a major factor that could be easily overlooked.

Getting the timing right

For professional sports people, timing is an important element of sleep. Research has suggested that athletes give their best performance when their body clock believes it is late afternoon. To benefit from this theory, you would have to ‘trick’ your body clock into thinking that whatever time your sports activity takes place is actually late afternoon. For example, if you’re competing in a late-morning event, you would have to wake up in the middle of the night and keep yourself awake in order to make your body believe that its actually late afternoon when the event begins.

But how can you guarantee that your sleep fits into a specific schedule, or a sleep schedule that changes regularly to fit around sports events that take place at different times? At Cambridge Sleep Sciences, we put years of research and development into the development of SleepHub® a science powered device that uses sound to re-train the brain to revert to those natural sleep cycles, as and when you need them.

Beating the clock

SleepHub® features a range of sleep modes that can help sportspeople get the right kind of rest that fits around their schedules. For example, making your body believe that late-morning is actually mid-afternoon so that you can give your best performance can be helped by using the Deep Sleep mode. Your aim would be to wake up in the middle of night, so you would go to bed in the late afternoon and activate Deep Sleep mode which is an eight hour sleep programme with an 18-minute wake-up cycle.

To prepare for events at other times of day, you would simply calculate what time you would need to wake up in order for your body to believe the event time is mid-afternoon, then go to bed and activate Deep Sleep mode eight hours prior to the time you need to wake up.  

There are shorter programmes too. Fall Asleep mode helps the brain achieve two hours of deep sleep, perfect for getting some rest between training sessions or after an event to help your body recover. Power Nap mode does exactly what you would expect, with a choice of 30, 45 or 60 minute nap durations.

If you have a career that fits around your sporting lifestyle, you might not have the luxury of being able to get a full eight hours of sleep. Easy Sleep mode provides a customisable sleep programme, automatically adjusting the Deep Sleep mode to fit around however many hours you can allow for sleeping.  

Sleep is an integral element to being successful in any kind of sport. If you struggle to get the right kind of rest, whether it’s adapting to changing sleep schedules of simply struggling to drift off when you need to, you can find solace in the fact that the right science has been combined with the right technology to help natural sleep occur more easily.