JOHN McMAHON: Sleep is the key

THE GAA athlete, I’m sure, is very familiar with recovery strategies from ice baths, compression, massage, foam rolling ete, but the importance of sleep in your recovery is key.

There are many examples of recovery pyramids outlining the main recovery strategies currently being used in high-performance sport. However, all the best examples have sleep as their foundation followed by nutrition and hydration.

In my opinion, these three key areas have the potential for the greatest impact on athletic recovery and performance. Stacking on top of these foundational pillars are a list of other recovery strategies that I have listed below.

These complimenting recovery strategies, such as water immersion, compression, and massage, which have been the focus of less research, can aid and help maximise your recovery.

Below is an example of recovery strategies (this is not an exhaustive list):

1) Sleep and downtime.

2) Nutrition and hydration.

3) Water immersion.

4) Compression, active recovery strategies and stretching.

5) Massage.


Sleep is considered the foundation of recovery due to its importance for athlete performance and wellbeing.

Sleep deprivation has been shown to have negative effects on performance, mood state, metabolism, and immune and cognitive function. Training and competition times and travel, as well as stress and anxiety may contribute to poor sleep in athletes.

Smartphones and video games emit blue wavelength light which can decrease melatonin release and may also be a source of stress, worry at a time when light and stimulation should be avoided before sleep.

The intensity of training may also influence sleep; while sleep would be expected to improve during intensified training due to an increased need, evidence suggests that this does not occur.

Other factors such as caffeine consumption, muscle soreness, injury and travel are reported to have a negative effect on an athlete’s sleep if not managed appropriately.

Only a small number of studies have investigated the effects of sleep extension in athletes; however, based on the available information, it is suggested that a minimum of one week of increased sleep duration results in improvements in a range of performance metrics in athletes.

Recovery is multifaceted, however, sleep, nutrition and hydration should be your pillars of recovery and performance. The choice of your recovery strategy and the ways in which you plan these into your week has many considerations. Initial considerations should have you prioritising good quality sleep and creating an environment so that you can optimise your sleep.

Three tips for sleeping better:

Sleep routine – A good sleep routine should include having a set time to start winding down. Going to bed and getting up at fixed times is another good sleep habit. Ideally, a sleep routine should be the same every day, including weekends.

Relax and unwind – Remember, your sleep routine starts before you get into bed, so build in time every evening to relax. Avoid electronic devices at least an hour before bed, as mobiles, tablets and computers all throw out blue light that stops sleep. Reading and listening to soft music or a podcast can help you if you have trouble sleeping.

Environment – It’s generally easier to drop off when it’s quiet, dark and cool – although the right sleep environment is personal, so try different things and see what works for you.

Silence is golden when it comes to sleep for many of us, so wearing earplugs, putting your phone on silent (or out of the room entirely) can keep things quiet.

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