Science of sleep in the Premier League
Written by Simon Austin — March 28, 2017
BEFORE Christmas, Bournemouth gave each of their players a little present - their own sleep pack. There were three items inside: a pair of amber-lensed glasses, an eye mask and a small torch.
Now each player takes the pack wherever he rests his head, which is often a hotel room in a faraway town.
Bournemouth’s head of medical services, Dr Craig Roberts, remembers being in a hotel on the eve of one away game, when an anxious player rushed over to him in the lobby.
“He said, ‘oh no, I’ve forgotten my sleep pack, I won’t be able to sleep,’” the South African tells TGG.
“I gave him a spare one and was able to say, ‘it’s ok, you’ll be alright.’ That shows they have bought into it and seen the benefits."
For years, teams have focused on coaching and conditioning, while paying scant regard to recovery and sleep. Now that’s changing.
Roberts explains: “Your response to training happens when you are asleep. You are undoing all the good work you have done in the day unless you sleep well at night.
“There are two parts to it – one is sleeping really well after training, the other is doing the best you can in a hotel room to have a good night’s sleep before a game.”
Manchester United have also been paying a lot of attention to the science of sleep this season.
Robin Thorpe, their head of recovery and regeneration, explains: “Sleep was the big one for us – in terms of understanding how players' sleep pattern would change across the week, before games and following games.
“Getting sleep right is paramount for us as a club and as a performance team. It is a fundamental part of human recovery.”
Which brings us back to those sleep packs - and why the three items inside were chosen. Firstly the SleepSpecs, which are manufactured by a company in Johannesburg.
Roberts first heard about them when he was doctor for the South Africa rugby team. The principle is fairly simple – the amber lenses block out the blue light emitted by TVs and electronic devices that would otherwise fools our bodies into thinking it's day, even when it's dark outside. This inhibits the natural production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
“One of the teams in South Africa, the Golden Lions, had used SleepSpecs,” Roberts says.
“They told me they were very beneficial, particularly for jetlag.
“When you put them on, two hours later you will produce melatonin, because you are not seeing any blue light.
“I am as guilty as anyone of using technology at night. The last thing I do before I go to bed is check my emails, preparing for the next day. My last act is to close my laptop lid. It is not a good habit.”
So the players are encouraged to put the SleepSpecs on for a minimum of two hours' before bed, and the buy-in has been, “really good” so far.
Item number two in the pack is an eye mask, although not any old eye mask. “It's a really high quality one, because the type you get in business class on planes are no good - they touch your eyelids and that wakes you up,” Roberts says.
They were sourced by SleepSpecs and, again, the feedback from the players has been extremely positive.
And, finally, the small torch.
“It is a little infrared torch that gives you enough ambient light to get to the toilet without being exposed to blue light,” Roberts says.
“The problem with being exposed to the blue wave length light – particularly in a hotel room, where you’re not familiar with the layout – is that if you wake up in the middle of the night to go to the loo, the first thing you do is turn the light on and bang, you get hit with the blue light.
“It takes two hours before you get melatonin again.”
So the science of sleep has become increasingly important for many teams - and not only in the Premier League.
In Major League Baseball, the Boston Red Sox are having a sleep room installed at their Fenway Park Stadium, and the Toronto Blue Jays have provided players with technology to monitor their own sleep patterns.
Getting sleep right is clearly more than just a marginal gain.