The importance of a good night’s sleep is building traction among the average population.
But it’s something that’s getting extra attention in the world of professional athletes searching for the cutting edge in recovery.
In the pursuit of the best ways to manage player fatigue and enhance recovery methods, the Newcastle Knights has introduced sleep and saliva testing into the Club’s training regime.
Heidi Thornton, a sports scientist working in the area of analytics, has spearheaded new ways to monitor player fatigue and stress at the Newcastle Knights.
“During the pre-season we do a lot more training than during the competition. As a result, the main emphasis is on recovering between sessions,” Thornton told Knights TV.
“Sleep is considered the best recovery method there is available, so we’re putting more emphasis on their sleep this year and trying to improve it where possible.
“If they are able to recover better, they are able to perform better the following day.
“If we place a greater emphasis on their recovery, in turn they are able to at the end of the day perform better."
The players wear sleep-tracking devices on their wrists, which capture accurate data about the quality and quantity of their sleep.
The data is accessible by the players via a phone app and is also collected by Thornton who monitors the effectiveness of their recovery as well incorporates it in her PhD studies through the University of Newcastle.
Together with saliva testing, she can simply see how the player is then recovering which can assist the Club’s medical and performance team to make the most informed decisions possible.
The main advantages of the testing is its simplicity and non-invasiveness for the players.
“All they are required to do is wear a sleep tracking watch and occasionally provide saliva samples which is extremely quick,” she said.
“I’m able to get the data I need for my PhD, but at the same time, we’re improving the traditional methods we use in the Club.”
For the players, sleep is now seen as just as important than traditional recovery methods.
“There’s a big emphasis on educating them, and together with the saliva testing, we can see how they are responding to that amount of sleep,” she said.
“They are becoming a lot more aware of their sleep. Previous to this year they didn’t have that great of an emphasis on the importance of sleep or how they can improve their sleep.”
Since initiating the program, results have been overwhelmingly positive with the players eager to embrace the advantage of quicker and more effective recovery, particularly after rigorous pre-season training sessions.
“It is early days, but we’re already seeing improvements in that,” she said.
The study and monitoring will continue throughout the season when a number of additional stresses like travel and the high intensity of matches impact players' sleeping patterns.
“They are more than happy to participate in it and have been really interested,” she said.
“As we are trying to expand on the sports science practices at the Club, the players are all for it.
“If they can get a benefit out of it and in turn it helps them recover, then they are going to be all for it in the long run.”