study: how athletes fare in quarantine

With reports circulating about Australian Open tennis players complaining about their lockdown measures and hotel quarantine in Melbourne leading into the tournament (and don’t get me started on the whole “I’ve had to wash my own hair” situation – you’re kidding, right!), it got me thinking:

How have other professional athletes coped with the impact of the necessary Covid-19 measures on their training routines, social engagement and sleep?

Well, wonder no more.

A recent Monash University study into the impact of Covid-19 lockdown and mandatory quarantine on athletes found:

  • Many athletes benefited from improved sleep patterns and mental health.
  • An increase in screen time and reduced exposure to outdoor light increased depression and anxiety.

The study, led by research fellow Dr Elise Facer-Childs from the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health, in partnership with the St Kilda Football Club, looked at about 600 elite and community athletes from across Australia and found athletes were able to follow their natural rhythms and develop more consistent sleep patterns during lockdown, which decreased their ‘social jetlag’ and resulted in better mental health outcomes.

Social what?
Social jetlag apparently is the “mismatch in sleep timings between workdays and free days.
So, if you’re someone who sleeps and wakes early during the week for work and then goes to bed late and wakes up late on weekends, you will have high ‘social jetlag’.
Basically, it throws off your body clock, which has been said to lead to poor health outcomes. Interesting.

However, the study, which was published in the journal, SLEEP, also found that changes to exercise frequency, duration and lack of team training, an increase in screen time and a decrease in exposure to outdoor light were associated with higher levels of depression, anxiety and stress.

A good night’s sleep

“Sleep deprivation and sleep disturbance result in decreased performance, impaired recovery and increased injury risk,” explains Dr Facer-Childs.

We all know how important sleep is and how crap we feel the next day if we’re tossing and turning all night.

A good night’s sleep helps with mental health, is said to maximise athletic performance, reduces the chances of overtraining, helps us to keep our emotions in check, enhances motivation – it’s so important to get enough sleep.

With sleep closely linked to mental health, it’s important for all of us – including elite athletes ­– to get enough sleep.

This means that even in lockdown/quarantine we all need to focus on good sleep habits such as:

  • Getting outside into the natural light as much as possible.
  • Putting away the screens before bed.
  • Maintaining a consistent sleep/wake routine to reduce ‘social jetlag’.

While this study focused on elite and community athletes, concluding that “messaging and strategies to better manage sleep and mental health in a population for whom optimal performance is critical”, all of us – who also need to perform at work, in family life etc. – would benefit from taking this advice on board.

Sleep and adequate recovery are just as important for elite athletes as they are for the rest of us.

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