The Common but Fixable Problem of Sleep Disorders in Athletes

Sleep disorders are more of a problem in professional athletes than many people believe; however, individual counseling, treatment planning, and examination has been shown to help improve their sleep quality.  A new Finnish study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences reported, for the first time, that systematic measures can improve the sleep patterns of athletes and, therefore, improve their performance.

The University of Eastern Finland and Oivuani Sleep Clinic carried out this study.  The researchers analyzed survey results and sleep patterns of 107 athletes. All participating athletes were given general guidance and education on improving their sleep.  Additionally, the participants who truly suffered from a sleep disorder were referred to a specialist for systematic examination and an individualized treatment plan.

It was found in this study that one in four professional athletes had significant problems with sleep, including such symptoms as difficulty falling asleep, sleep disordered breathing, and snoring.  Additionally, most of the participating athletes got too little sleep and one in six were using sleep medications to help them fall and stay asleep throughout the night.  These medications are being used on a regular basis, both on and off season.

Every athlete surveyed stated that a good night’s sleep was just as important to his or her health as eating right and exercising.  One in four of the participants reported that the sleep guidance and education they received improved their performance in their sport.  This study demonstrated that general sleep education, examination of sleep disorders when necessary, and an individualized treatment plan improves their sleep.

Docent Henri Tuomilehto, study leader and sleep specialist says that you must sleep in order to succeed.  In order for athletes, or anyone for that matter, to reach the top of their performance, they need to be talented, train hard, and recover properly, which includes regularly getting a good night’s sleep.  Sleep is restorative.  It is regarded as a cornerstone for professional athletes’ ability to recovery and improve their performance and skill.

Very little research has been done on the sleep patterns of athletes, however.  Previous studies have only reported sleep disorders, but no correlations to athletes.

Tuomilehto and colleagues over the last four years have been in charge of sleep patterns for over 500 professional athletes in Finland.  Most recently, they have been working with HJK (their leading football team), as well as Jokerit (their hockey team).  Additionally, they have been working with athletes going for the Rio 2016 Olympics, as well as those cross-country skiers going for Lahti 2017 World Championships.

We already know that sleep disorders are widespread around the globe, in both the general public and athletes.  These disorders are so common they are now considered a chronic disease, so any study to identify and treat the issues will prove beneficial.

Tuomilehto reminds us that solid evidence of the health and cognitive problems associated with sleep disorders calls for action.  He is one of the few people in Finland who are focusing on sleep disorders in Finland, with the potential for findings that could influence the rest of the world.

Tuomilehto led an earlier study that was the first in the world to identify the benefits of healthy lifestyle habits and the treatment of sleep apnea.  Those findings led to an update in the treatment recommendations for this condition around the globe.



Author: Rachael Herman is a professional writer with an extensive background in medical writing, research, and language development. Her hobbies include hiking in the Rockies, cooking, and reading.


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