In Part One you met Nick Littlehales, elite sport sleep coach. Below, Alex Griffiths resumes the discussion as it narrows to focus on how referees can best utilise Nick’s expertise… and you could always investigate his recently-released book for even more pillow talk!
It might sound daft to ask something so specific, but can a referee’s foul recognition, for example, be improved through better sleep patterns?
That’s not a daft question at all! Alertness; anger management; cardio vascular; peripheral vision; stamina, these represent just a fraction of the elements which are influenced by recovery, or lack of it.
Even though they don’t all improve along the same curve, if a referee is on the R90, 28-cycle per week routine, and gets his or her sleep kit right, for example, the evidence says you will see marginal gains.
There is definitely the opportunity for a poor decision due to poor approach. Too often, air travel and punishing schedules are not factored in, no matter how high the standard of an athlete, and the example of Mark Clattenburg breaking curfew to go and see Ed Sheeran a while ago really does illustrate how little we know of what they are up to anyway!
The modern elite ref travels to Europe mid-week and then they are back on an EPL game a couple of days later, how should they adjust, ideally?
They should adjust by spreading recovery over 24 hours instead of using a single block overnight, and they should start their preparation in the knowledge of their chronotype and then their regime can either minimise the fact they’re reffing a night game or take full advantage of it.
It’s always better not to over stimulate and do it naturally, but unfortunately, caffeine is on offer all around us, while you have some energy drinks stronger than others and military gum available at 100mg per tube.
Technology is another factor, and our habits are unrecognisable from 20 years ago, when I got my first mobile phone. Now you’ve 24-hour gratification if that’s what you want from your device.
Honestly, I’ve never met anyone who gets the mythical ideal of eight hours per night, so the question is, how do we deal with that reality? I don’t study sleeping disorders, I’m more to do with designing your regime from the minute you wake and how what you do effects your sleep, not the act of sleep itself.
There are ways to help get your serotonin level up, but sadly the majority of people don’t understand the consequences of self medication. You don’t need a prescription for coffee, and people won’t ordinarily take account, for instance, of caffeine possessing a half-life of six hours.
Now if you are caffeine free, that’s all well and good, and the same if you are a caffeine user, but as a user you must understand the whole process. When you take another refill for example, how much is in there?
They should be thinking: ‘If I don’t take any more on in the next three hours, my level’s down to 100mg’. We need to manage it, and less balance means it’s all the more difficult to get off to sleep.
The biggest problem is obviously not in the consumption, it is in the comedown, it’s like cold turkey. A ref is at risk of this caffeine crash, as a cyclist might be, just when he needs to be peaking, so all you need to do is understand how you are loading yourself up.
When logistical circumstances might be against you, the ref is understandably inclined to try and catch up or even cheat when it comes to recovery, but he or she should not be forcing sleep on themselves when they could be relaxing, and being positive.
Grass roots and amateur refs work 24/7 and have to cope with preparing for a game at the weekend, what advice do you have for them?
The need to find the right personal recovery programme applies equally to them. Just as much as anyone else does, they need to maximise their opportunity to recover and minimise the effects of whatever is thrown at them.
Whether you are an elite, full-time ref or juggling jobs, meetings and Sunday league, my techniques help you set a course in every set of circumstances and from there you find what is unique to yourself. The principles are a practical first step: establish what is your chronotype and then you can count back in 90-minute cycles, and see what you actually need.
I find most people certainly place too much emphasis on their mattress, when you really just need a comfortable surface to experience mental and physical recovery, a drop in temperature and a change in lighting.
Your ideal kit might even turn out to be two bits of foam on the floor, as opposed to thousands of pounds worth of multi-thousand spring, orthopaedic bells and whistles.
Remember, anyone can stick the label orthopaedic on anything! And make sure you don’t have a pillow that increases the risk of back pain and injury, even if that does mean letting go of a lifelong habit.
So refer to my beginner’s check-list, consider spending a tenner on the book and then the next level is to get in touch if you want! See the website here:
Here is Nick’s basic check-list of do’s and dont’s:
- Do change to a thinner pillow IF you really need one at all
- Don’t go to bed as early as possible… quality not quantity!
- Don’t buy the most expensive mattress, just replace it more frequently
- Do use a camera phone to buy the right mattress while in the bed shop
- Do buy synthetic sheets, make them breathable & hypo-allergenic
- Do sleep in cycles of 90 minutes, not hours
- Don’t neglect valuable pre-sleep & post-sleep regimes
How much danger is there of monitoring just getting too plain intrusive, with selection of referees, as well as players, being based on ever more tenuous stats?
It might feel like we are a long way from testing refs the same way as Olympians, but I do agree there is that trend.
It should come down to the reliability of measurement, and sooner or later every aspect throughout a season will be subject to monitoring, be that sleep or nicotine/caffeine intake… everything.
Athletes might understandably resist explaining spikes or inaction in their graphs related to personal nocturnal choices… and what if they want no one to know?
So the next challenge will be to make data and measurement tools non-intrusive, and that goes beyond football, into completely new territory.
I can see penalty takers selected on their recovery profile, alertness factors and so on because
comparisons of ‘first two minutes’ versus ‘last three minutes’ performance have obvious implications for those choices as well as the potential to influence possible substitutions.
What does the future hold, then, without going too space age and relying on jargon!
I’m no expert on eye health, but as for my area I predict more simplicity and more carbon friendly developments, whether or not that means athletes carrying around their own inflatable lilo, and the rise of recovery innovations taking us further away from our dependence on bedding and the surface we actually sleep on.
These things are not decades away, and it will soon be even more of a numbers game, where wearables combine with compression skins, possibly hooked up to temperature and perspiration controlling technology…
You get the eternal need for things to be quicker and more relevant, so the sense of a space race is already here. Look at previous developments, where the objective was always to not have to spend so much time asleep, and you see we are finally acknowledging the vital role recovery has to play for us all.
Once you can make people aware, then it’s not just a case of sleeping better or smarter, it’s the resulting control that gives them confidence in itself.
In part one we addressed the growing use of recovery programmes in football as well as some myths. Read that article here. Sleep by Nick Littlehales, published by Penguin Life, a Trade Paperback, is out now.