This website along with many other publications has listed the virtues of playing soccer. There is little doubt that soccer has some wonderful physical and social benefits for both recreational and competitive players. Development of fitness, strength endurance, self confidence, team work and focus are important traits that can be gained through the soccer environment. New research from Switzerland now adds better sleep to that list. It seems that competitive players get a more restful night’s sleep than their inactive counterparts.
The researchers from the University of Basel recruited male players from the junior division of the FC Concordia club. Non-players were selected from a pool of students within the same school that the FCB players attended. The age of the entire pool ranged from about 5-16 years. Over the course of the school term, all of the participants were given a series of questionnaires about their sleep patterns, sleep quality, daily mood and exercise participation.
A key difference that emerged was the amount of physical exercise performed by the two groups of subjects. The players averaged between 12 and 13 hours of activity per week while the non-players exercised for less than two hours weekly. Also, the players were described by the investigators as “intense” footballers and chronic exercisers.
The main findings of the study were the rather large differences in both the pattern and quality of sleep between the two groups of students. The players averaged a bit more sleep each night, especially on school nights. Also, the players fell asleep more quickly after going to bed than did the non-players and they had fewer awakenings each night. As a result, the players felt more restored and were in a better mood each morning. This carried on through the day as measures of mood, tiredness and concentration during waking hours were all better.
Overall, the soccer players had more favorable sleep patterns and increased daily performance than their non-playing classmates. The researchers suggest that vigorous, regular exercise may be the key. This form of activity may lead to some long-term metabolic alterations that are crucial for regulating sleep. For example, earlier studies have shown a link between exercise training and a number of hormonal fluctuations that influence factors like hunger and tiredness. The investigators also point out that competitive sports may simply encourage adolescents to adhere to a fixed schedule and a more structured sleep routine. Because of the time commitment required by soccer practice and the knowledge that rest is an important part of training, players may stick to a regular bed and wake-up times. In either case, the advantages are clear. Playing competitive soccer improves sleep quality which, positively affects daily mood and concentration.
Brand S, Beck J, Gerber M, Hatzinger M, Holsboer-Trachsler E (2009) ‘Football is good for your sleep’ Favorable sleep patterns and psychological functioning of adolescent male intense football players compared to controls. Journal of Health Psychology, 14:1144-1155.