The effect of rugby union match-play on sleep patterns and subsequent impact on post-match fatigue responses



Sleep is recognised as an important recovery strategy, yet little is known regarding its impact on post-match fatigue. The aims of this study were to 1.) describe sleep and post-match fatigue 2.) understand how sleep is affected by contextual and match factors and 3.) assess how changes in sleep can affect post-match fatigue. 23 male rugby union players were monitored across one season (n=71 player-match observations). Actigraphy was used during pre-season to establish baseline sleep quality and quantity. Sleep was then measured 1 and 2 days after each match (MD+1, MD+2). Global positioning systems, notational analysis and rating of perceived exertion represented external and internal load from matches. Subjective wellness and a standardised run were used to characterise post-match fatigue two days prior (MD-2; Baseline), at MD+1 and MD+2. Linear mixed models established the magnitude of change (effect size [ES]) between baseline, MD+1 and MD+2 for sleep and post-match fatigue. Stepwise forward selection analysis ascertained the effect of match load on sleep and the effect of sleep on post-match fatigue. Each analysis was combined with magnitude-based decisions. Sleep characteristics, neuromuscular and perceptual post-match fatigue were negatively affected at MD+1 and MD+2 (ES=small to very large). Kick-off and travel time had the greatest effect on sleep (ES =small). Wellness and soreness were influenced by sleep (fall asleep time, fragmentation index) and collisions respectively (ES=small). Sleep quality and quantity were affected independently of the match load (i.e. running activity) sustained while changes in sleep marginally affected post-match fatigue.

International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 2021, Epub ahead of print
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Jason Tee
Jason Tee
Coach educator and performance consultant

Coach and sports scientist with an interest in player and coach development