New Australian research suggests that sleep could be another important lifestyle factor for athletes wanting to improve their sporting performance, with the findings also providing some insight into how all of us can help get a better night's sleep.
The University of Western Australia's Centre for Sleep Science worked with Perth's top women's basketball team, the Perth Lynx, during the 2015/16 season to research more into the effect of sleep on performance.
The researchers split the team into two groups before looking at the sleep cycles or chronotype — whether you are a morning person or a night owl — or circadian rhythms of each player as well as their pre-bed routines and training regime.
Each player was fitted with a sleep monitoring device to measure their sleep, with each player also asked to keep a detailed sleep diary.
From the data collected the researchers found that one of the most important factors for improving sleep was changing the pre-bed routine.
This included adding in new routines such as switching off all electronic devices at least an hour before bed to help calm the mind, using mindfulness or meditation apps, and sleeping in a cool room.
Not only did the change in bedtime routine lead to better sleep, but it also improved performance on the basketball court.
Another major finding to come out of the study is that the team found that it was better to hold their training sessions in the afternoons rather than any other time of day, as it better suited the circadian rhythms of most of the athletes.
The team's strength and conditioning coach Josh Cavanagh commented that the study was useful for highlighting the importance of a pre-bed routine, and gave the team more insight into what was needed to improve sleep. "In terms of travel and sleeping on the road, it gave us a better idea of how to manage sleep while changing time zones, which helps us to avoid fatigue for away games."
Lynx forward Natalie Burton agreed, adding that, "The data collected from the sleep studies enabled our coaches to make informed decisions around the timing of flights, training sessions and rest periods to make sure we were performing at our best and minimising fatigue."
Ian Dunican, from UWA's Centre for Sleep Science, noted that the changes in the new routine "might sound obvious but are all incredibly important," and can be applied to everybody, not only professional athletes.