Sleep disturbance after squash?

27th March 2014

This blog was prompted by a question from a reader regarding difficulties sleeping after having played/trained late in the evening.

Team squash, in particular, is notorious for late finishes due to players running behind on their journeys and matches running over, and while not an issue that affects everyone there are certainly enough anecdotal reports to suggest that post-game disturbed sleep can be a real problem for some players.

Sleep is of essential importance to health and wellbeing, particularly so for the more active individual due to its restorative function and crucial role in recovery. It’s a topic we’re going to take a closer look at on the blog in the near future, but for now, there is a good research review article worth a read here.

General wisdom would suggest that the fatiguing nature of hard exercise such as takes place in a game of squash, would increase tiredness and actually encourage sleep. So why exactly do so many people report difficulties sleeping after a late evening tough game/training session?

Perhaps the most likely reason for disturbed sleep in these circumstances is the presence of certain key hormones that are released during intense activity.

The body secretes adrenaline and norepinephrine (or ‘noradrenaline’) in response to exercise, and they act toward readying the brain and body for action by raising heart rate, increasing blood flow to the muscles, enhancing focus, and triggering energy release.

Cortisol is another hormone which can be elevated in the body in response to strenuous exercise. Cortisol levels rise and fall throughout the day, but this cycle can be negatively affected by bouts of prolonged intense exercise which in turn may affect sleep patterns.

So whilst all of these hormones are crucial to the body’s ability to perform highly challenging physical tasks, they are not desirable to be at an elevated level when trying to relax and sleep, a time when production and secretion would normally be at a far naturally lower level.

It’s important to note here, that these hormonal issues tend to only be an issue in relation to strenuous exercise. Studies by the National Sleep Foundation have shown that for most people, general exercise at any time of the day is beneficial to sleep quality. For those susceptible however, the sheer physical and mental intensity of something like a brutal 5-set match or max effort interval session can potentially contribute to these excess hormonal releases and subsequent sleep disturbance, in ways a light jog on the treadmill would almost certainly not.

Other factors come into play as well here for those playing/training late in the evening. Caffeine ingestion, eating later than usual, and increased water consumption are issues related to playing squash later in the day, that can all have their own negative impact on sleep.


So what can be done to help alleviate the sleeping issues that some players suffer from late evening sessions?

If scheduling your games/training for earlier in the day is not an option, the best advice is to allow yourself a ‘wind down ‘period before you attempt to go to sleep. Instead of getting home and jumping straight into bed only to lay there tossing and turning trying to sleep, take the time to just sit back with a warm drink or a good book for 30 minutes or so first, and let your relaxedness bring on tiredness naturally.

Something that can be extremely helpful in promoting relaxation and better quality sleep here, in particular, is mindfulness meditation.

This is a topic we’ll be looking at in more depth in a future blog, but for now, check out this article that offers an interesting introduction. There is some evidence to suggest both Magnesium and Vitamin D supplementation may also be of benefit in some individuals, though there remains little credible evidence that any popularly advertised ‘herbal remedy’ will have much effect in promoting sleep. There’s no evidence either for any ‘alternative therapy’ solutions, such as the bogus homeopathy potions that make their own spurious claims to enhance restfulness.

For anyone looking for further information regarding sleep issues, it’s worth checking out the NHS insomnia treatment page. While the recommendations are aimed at more general insomnia, the advice offered as regards ‘sleep hygiene’ is likely to benefit anyone looking to enhance the quality of their sleep.


Gary Nisbet

B.Sc.(Hons), CSCS, NSCA-CPT, Dip. FTST
SquashSkills Fitness & Performance Director

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