Sports scientist Jonathan Bloomfield is better placed than most to comment on the importance of sleep. A former Strength and Conditioning coach at Ulster Rugby, Jonathan later became an Exercise Physiologist at the Sports Institute of Northern Ireland where he looked at a wide range of factors that could help Olympic and Commonwealth Games athletes make improvements in performance.
Since then, Jonathan has worked with the England Rugby team and as a Performance Consultant on projects with a whole range of professional sports teams.
Jonathan was first introduced to Mammoth while working with Manchester City Football Club at their training facility in 2014. He was so impressed with Mammoth’s technologies and credentials that he had to have one for himself.
And he was only too happy to take some time out from his busy schedule to talk performance improvements, wearable tech and working with professional athletes.
Jonathan, could you introduce yourself and outline a little about your career background?
Certainly. I have been providing high performance support to elite athletes and coaches for the past 15 years. I have worked across a number of sports from professional rugby and football to golf, cricket and hockey.
I now work within a business called Support2Perform, through which I deliver performance-related projects focused around physical activity, nutrition and sleep – the fundamentals of health and performance.
Can you tell us a little bit about the work you do at Support2Perform and some of the teams/organisations you’ve worked with?
I use a range of wearable technologies to provide an objective approach to enable behaviour changes and performance improvements. Quite a few of my projects have focused on sleep and fatigue – both within sport and industries such as Construction and Policing.
At the moment, I’m working on an exciting project profiling athlete fatigue and reducing injuries in professional sports.
What does an average day at work look like for you?
Every day is different and I enjoy a lot of variety in my line of work. I spend a lot of time connecting and networking with people around the globe, speaking to other experts or clients via skype.
It can be difficult to switch off from work. However, as I preach about fatigue management and maintaining a work–life balance to others, I recognize how critical it is not to overwork and under-recover. I always place a priority on my evenings, weekends and holidays to be with the family.
What importance does sleep and comfort have in your own line of work?
One of my key services is to show my clients how important the process of sleep and a bedtime routine is, within every 24hr cycle.
Most of us sleep at night without giving it a moment’s thought. We’ve done it all our lives and it’s a habit, but just like diet and exercise, we adopt good habits and bad habits. When we are young, we are taught about healthy eating and the importance of physical activity, but why are we never taught about the importance of sleep or even how to sleep well?
I aim to bring to enlighten clients about the importance of sleep, helping them to understand the physiological processes that are occurring and show them data based on professional grade wearable technologies. Once they have a better understanding of the basics of sleep science, I can talk to them about good sleep strategies, such as comfort, lighting and temperature.
Can you explain the relationship between sleep and athletic performance? And how has our understanding of sports recovery improved in recent years?
In 2007 I had the opportunity to study the influence of sleep on athletic performance as part of the UK Sport Practitioner Development Programme. It was a year prior to the Beijing Olympics and I was working with a number of young athletes at that time. Until that point I felt that sleep was poorly understood, despite being widely regarded by athletes, coaches and staff as a key influencer of athletic development, recovery and overall performance. My project was aimed at increasing knowledge and understanding around the science of sleep and sleep behaviour.
I’m glad to say that in recent years sleep has become more of a priority in the sports industry. There are a number of research studies emerging to show the links between sleep reduction and an increase in injury risk. This is possibly due to reductions in physical performance and cognitive capacities such as decision-making and reaction speed.
In contrast, studies are now showing that sleep extension can enhance sprint speeds, strength & power tests, closed skill execution & accuracy (tennis serves, 3-point throwing in basketball). There has also been some really interesting research in the US looking into athletic career longevity and average sleep hours, appearing that those that sleep less, ultimately have shorter careers.
What might we consider to be the major implications of poor sleep – both for an average person and an elite athlete?
The major implications of sustained poor sleep are the same for an average person as they are for an elite athlete. These relate to decreased cognitive, physiological and immune system functioning. These are qualities that are fundamental to all human health so the same rules apply to everyone.
Essentially, as we accumulate fatigue, our judgement and decision-making abilities become impaired. Our reactions slow, our bodies begin to operate on auto-pilot and often we become sick. Worryingly, we also become poor judges of our own state of fatigue and can find it hard to gauge the levels of sleep deprivation.
As sleep is an essential part of physical recovery, mental restoration and injury avoidance, it is a vital part of any elite athlete’s routine. But exactly the same can be said for anyone in a workplace where fatigue-related mistakes can be costly.
Can you outline some of the effects of poor sleep and perhaps the long-term effects of sleep deprivation?
We no longer live in a world that is conducive to good sleep habits. Most of us need to wake up “early” for our commute to work and many are also up late at night with a variety of commitments, and “night-owl” tendencies. Add to this the widespread access to wi-fi and devices that are often used right up until bedtime (smartphones, iPads and laptop computers), and we create a toxic environment for sleep.
Insufficient sleep can have major long-term health implications, as well as immediate performance and behavioural problems. Research has found a consistent connection between sleep deprivation and health problems such as heart disease, obesity, reduced immune function, depression, anxiety and memory disturbance. Even more alarming, research has shown that reduced sleep in adolescence is connected to poorer academic performance, negative behaviour, increased risk taking and risk of substance abuse.
When I first heard about Mammoth, I was incredibly impressed with their innovative designs and the use of technologies such as Medical Grade Foam. By proving that their mattresses can improve sleep and aid recovery, they represent a genuine, clinically recommended tool in the fight against sleep deprivation.
Can you tell us which mattress you own?
I own a King Sized Performance 270
Could you tell us how you find sleeping on a Mammoth?
It’s a great experience. I feel that my whole body weight is supported and I don’t get any aches and pains that I may have got in the past with previous mattresses. Nor do I and wake up with a pillow soaked in sweat. It feels like sleeping in a 5-star hotel. Wearable technology is also showing me that I am getting excellent quality of sleep, so I’m very happy to recommend Mammoth to others.
What would be your top tips to maintaining a healthy sleep routine?
Firstly, find a routine. Next, stick to it! Establishing a regular bedtime and to wake up time helps the body’s circadian rhythm and ability to pass through each of the different sleep phases.
Aim not to use an alarm clock in the morning and look to wake up naturally at the time you need to get up. Working backwards from this point should indicate the amount of sleep you need and therefore what time to be in bed.
Approximately one hour prior to bedtime, you’ll need to be preparing for sleep, so do things in the evening that help you unwind and relax. Avoid things that stimulate you as this just delays your sleep onset and will make you tired. Wrong decisions around late night exercise, food & drink consumption, light exposure and entertainment are too easy to make.
Lastly, ensure your bedroom environment is a haven for good sleep, which should include a high quality mattress, pillow and duvet set.
Do you believe there is there an optimum length of time we should aim to sleep for?
Certainly. When we wake up naturally, without an alarm clock, feeling well rested and refreshed, we should be able to say that we’ve had a good sleep. Do this enough times consecutively, you should be able to calculate an average to tell you how much sleep you need and when is the optimum time to go to bed.