The demands of training, competition stress, and impact of frequent (inter)national travel are assumed to contribute to the shorter night-time sleep durations and poor overall sleep quality reported for elite athletes (1–3). However, systematically exploring this assumption is challenging, since a robust evaluation of sleep quality and practices in the presence and absence of sports participation would interrupt elite sports careers. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a cessation of international sport, and the home confinement of athletes. Using baseline data from an ongoing (pre-pandemic) study of athlete sleep, we compared the insomnia levels, sleep quantity and practices of elite athletes when exposed to, and deprived of potential athlete-specific sleep risk factors of training, competition, and travel.
Participants (competition level ≥ national) completed baseline (prior to 23rd March 2020) and home confinement (commenced 5th May 2020) assessments. The 10-section online survey included: the PSQI; MCTQ (Munich Chronotype Questionnaire); rMEQ (Reduced Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire; FIRST (Ford Insomnia Response to Stress Tests); PSAS-C (Pre-Sleep Arousal Scale-C); and GAD-7 (Generalised Anxiety Disorder 7-item scale), with additional expert-designed questions addressing sleep practices and DSM-5 insomnia symptoms.
Differences (N=74) between baseline and confinement responses were calculated with t-tests, Wilcoxon and McNemar’s tests. There was a reduction in prevalence of insomnia symptoms (75% vs 49%; p=0.002) and insomnia disorder (35% vs 28%; p=0.286) during confinement. Increased during confinement was total sleep time (7h36min vs 8h10min; p<0.0001) and total time in bed before training days (8h48min vs 9h34min; p<0.0001). Training load (minutes/daily) was reduced (4h14min vs 3h16min; p<0.0001) in confinement (table 1). 19% of participants resolved pre-confinement insomnia disorder during confinement (figure 1).
During confinement, participants registered lowered prevalence of insomnia and training load. This research offers valuable insight on the insomnia profile of confined elite athletes, also addressing the role of the athletic lifestyle in insomnia prevalence.
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