Bio: Associate Professor Shona Halson from ACU’s School of Behavioural and Health Sciences has a research focus in recovery, fatigue, and sleep and she has published over 120 peer-reviewed articles and multiple book chapters. She was the Head of Recovery at the Australian Institute of Sport from 2002 to 2018 and has been a part of three Olympic campaigns with the Australian Olympic Committee. Associate Professor Halson was named as one of Exercise and Sport Science Australia’s three Female Leaders in Exercise and Sports Science on International Women’s Day 2019. Shona has a particular interest in maximizing recovery and monitoring and improving sleep in elite athletes. Shona is an Associate Editor for the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, is co-chair of Exercise and Sport Science Australia’s (ESSA) Research to Practice 2020 Conference and is a member of ESSA’s Research Committee. Shona also provides consultancy services to the Australian Open Tennis Tournament and Nike as part of the Nike Performance Council and Nike Scientific Advisory Panel and she is a trusted advisor to countless elite teams and athletes both in Australia and internationally.

In this interview with Dr. Shona Halson, Shona explains the high-level concepts of sleep and recovery and the importance of sleep and how to set yourself up for success.

We discuss:

  • Shona’s background in sleep and recovery research and consulting (00:13)
  • High-level explanation of sleep and recovery (01:46)
  • The importance of sleep (02:56)
  • The difference between Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Deep Sleep (03:34)
  • Understanding chronotypes and performance (06:59)
  • Sleep differences seen in age groups (08:07)
  • How to build habits for a good sleep routine (09:18)
  • Taking into consideration caffeine consumption (10:49)
  • The impact of stress and anxiety on sleep (13:06)
  • Time management and stress management (16:18)
  • Shaping your environment (18:03)
  • The negative impacts of poor sleep (19:27)
  • Three big takeaways for better sleep and recovery (21:07)
  • Considerations and responsibilities for managers and coaches (23:01)

Check out the full video here.

The power of sleep (02:11)

Over the last 10 to 15 years it’s recognized while training is important, whether it is 2 hours or 8 hrs (depending on your sport, gaming included), what you do during the other hours of your day are just as important and sometimes more important. All of the hard work put into your training can be discounted by poor choices that lead to a drop in recovery and ultimately negatively impact your performance and longevity. 

The recovery period after training, whether physical or cognitive, is important for building adaptation and encouraging improvements in performance. Sleep is one of the main tools you can use to optimize your performance, and the best part is that it’s FREE!

The different phases of sleep (03:21)

Sleep is really important for a number of different factors. During sleep, there are different things that go on both physiologically and from a brain recovery perspective. The different phases of sleep start out in lighter and then go into deeper phases of sleep and cycle through that numerous times over the course of the night. All phases of sleep are necessary:e know that for physical recovery, deep sleep is really important and for the brain, the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is crucial.

  • Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM)
    • A deeper sleep state with 4 stages, each with its own level of brain activity
      • Restoration of the body
  • Rapid Eye Movement (REM)
    • A lighter sleep where dreams and physical movement occur
      • Rejuvenation and repair of brain

Why getting a full night sleep is important (05:37)

If you have your eight hours of sleep and you divide it up into two parts, what we tend to see is that the first part has a bit more of a focus on the deeper phases of sleep. In the second half of sleep, you tend to have a little bit more of a focus on REM sleep. You still get both in each half of sleep, but the focus is a little different depending on which half you’re looking at. But we tend, as humans, to cut our sleep short. 

If you miss out on either of those aspects of sleep or you shorten them, there are some repercussions. If we miss more of that REM sleep, we know that that’s really important for reaction time and cognition, in general. So when we shorten that’s when we wake up and we don’t feel good or we make mistakes and we make errors and our reaction times are slowed.

You have a circadian clock that essentially controls pretty much everything in your body. So you have the master clock in your brain, but then you also have these peripheral clocks. And the peripheral clocks are involved in the immune system, they’re involved in muscle repair, and more. And so, sleep is obviously incredibly important and linked to the master clock; there are things that are supposed to happen when we’re awake and things that are supposed to happen when we’re asleep. If you deprive yourself of sleep, something has to give. We were meant to sleep about a third of our lives, and so if you don’t, there are some potentially physiological and psychological repercussions.

Suggestions for setting up a good sleep routine (10:37)

  • Create a bedtime routine: consistency matters
    • Turn off electronic devices
    • Hot shower
    • Journal and/or read
  • Shape your environment
    • Make your room cool (60-70 degrees F, 15-21 degrees C) and as dark as possible. You might want to consider wearing an eye mask 
    • Limit noise as best as you can. You might want to consider earplugs

Other considerations…(11:14)

  • Watch your daily caffeine consumption
    • The half-life of caffeine, depending on how your body metabolizes it, can last from 4-6 hours. So if you have a 200mg dose of caffeine at four PM in the afternoon, at eight PM you’ll likely still have around 100mg in your system, plenty to keep you up.
    • The issue becomes when you start dosing later and later in the night and don’t take into consideration the compounding effects of dosing. You ended up extending your dose well beyond what you might realize which could impact the time you can fall asleep as well as the quality of your sleep

Check out the full video here.


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