Should Real Madrid win La Liga and the Champions League this year special recognition will go to an unlikely type of coach.
Achieving optimum athletic performance has long been a focus for sports scientists, nutritionists and psychologists to deliver incremental benefits to elite footballers.
But Real Madrid has been one of the leading clubs to ensure that the sleep patterns of its billion-dollar squad provide a competitive advantage in the quest for glory.
Sleep coach Nick Littlehales has worked with the English national football team, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal. It was his visit in December 2013 that lead to Real Madrid providing expert guidance to its players about sleep.
Starting with the five-star quality accommodation facility at the club’s training complex to developing specific sleep plans for Gareth Bale, a notorious late morning sleeper, sleep has become a major consideration in the preparation and recovery of the squad.
The benefits of a consistent, good night’s sleep are numerous.
From a physical perspective poor sleep increases fatigue. This condition in turn increases levels of human cortisole. This can result in the body eating its own protein stores and reduce player muscle mass heightening the risk of strains and tears.
Also, when fatigued, the brain has a decreased ability to send messages to parts of the human body. The outcome can be more common types of injuries such as ankle sprains.
Fatigue also impacts on players from a mental perspective. Decision-making, alertness and patience decline, resulting in less confidence and awareness on field.
Simply put, top clubs cannot afford prized assets to under-perform and sleep is a primary driver of performance.
Likewise at amateur and junior level the importance of sleep cannot be under-estimated.
Recent research would suggest that a very large chunk of New Zealand do not sleep well. The 2015 Sovereign Wellbeing Index, a survey of the wellbeing 10,000 New Zealanders, suggests that one in every two New Zealanders do not get appropriate levels of deep rest.
So what can be done to make a difference?
Littlehales has a list of simple tips that are easy to follow.
Firstly, stay away from mobile phone and computer screens at least 90 minutes before bed. The blue light from these screens stimulates your brain and will keep you awake.
Next, make sure your bedroom is dark, comfortable with a temperature of around 19C.
Drink a warm glass of milk before bed. Dairy products are high in tryptophan, which aid the production of chemicals that help you sleep – serotonin and melatonin.
Finally, avoid caffeine, sugar or fat laden meals before bed. These take longer to digest and raise body temperature, making it hard for the body to go to sleep.
Massive budgets aren’t required to implement these simple steps, just a little bit of planning.
Sure, the five star accommodations at the training headquarters in Real Madrid would make things a little easier, but a better sleep is achievable for everyone.
Get sleep right and the foundation is in place for improvement on the training field and a top performance on game day.
What you do off the field can be just as important as what you do on it.
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