Professional athletes suffer from sleep disorders more frequently than generally thought, but the good news is that the experts say those problems are easily fixed.
Published in the Journal of Sports Sciences, a new Finnish study clearly shows for the first time that systematic measures can improve the sleep of professional athletes.
The study carried out by the University of Eastern Finland and Oivauni Sleep Clinic analyzed the sleep of 107 professional athletes through a survey. All athletes were provided with general guidance on how to sleep better. In addition, those athletes who on the basis of the survey suffered from significant sleeping disorders were referred to a sleep specialist for examination and an individualized treatment plan.
The study found that one in four athletes suffered from significant sleeping disorders such as trouble falling asleep, snoring or sleep-disordered breathing. In addition, most athletes slept too little and one in six used sleeping pills that helped them to fall asleep or stay asleep on a regular basis during the playing season. All athletes regarded a good night’s sleep as an important factor for their health, and one in four reported that the sleeping-related guidance had also enhanced their athletic performance. The study showed that general sleeping-related guidance, further examinations when necessary and a personalized treatment plan significantly improved athletes’ sleep.
Only a little scientific research has been conducted on athletes’ sleep; however, earlier studies, too, have reported sleeping disorders. Sleeping disorders are so widespread, not only in athletes but also in the general population, that they are nowadays considered a common chronic disease.
Over the past four years, Tuomilehto has been in charge of the sleep of more than 500 Finnish professional athletes, most recently working with Finland’s leading football and ice hockey teams, athletes aiming at the Rio 2016 Olympics, and cross-country skiers aiming at the Lahti 2017 World Championships. He is one of the few sleep specialists focusing exclusively on patients suffering from sleeping disorders in Finland.
“Solid research evidence of the adverse effects of sleeping disorders on our health and our ability to function exists, and this calls for action,” Tuomilehto says.
An earlier study led by Tuomilehto was the first in the world to demonstrate the benefits of healthy lifestyle habits in the treatment of sleep apnea. The findings resulted in the updating of treatment recommendations worldwide.