Through a couple of small coincidences, I’ve managed to find myself in the media a couple of times recently to discuss my involvement in a small research project examining the effects of sleep deprivation in endurance athletes.
Just to take a step back, I’ve got a scientific research background as a day job – you’ve got to pay for the next race or bit of gear somehow right? So while my experience is actually in molecular biology, I’m married to another researcher with an interest in sleep practices in child care settings. Long story short, I’ve been drawn into a project with my wife’s supervisor, sleep expert Assoc Prof Simon Smith. Together we are looking at the impact on sleep deprivation on the recovery and performance of endurance athletes using expedition racers as a model.
Adventure racers make fascinating subjects for sleep researchers. They are in a wilderness environment subject to natural light patterns. They travel in groups “tethered” together where group consensus, not personal needs, dictate sleep patterns. These packs contain a mix of genders. They are known for going extreme lengths of time with little of known sleep to the point of hallucinations. And they are trying to perform both physically and mentally demanding tasks while in this sleep deprived state.
Currently we have been collecting data on sleep duration, sleep latency, sleep quality, activity, light exposure and some heart rate data along with self reports on fatigue and injury. So far we hae data from a range of athletes competing in GODZone, GeoQuest, Expedition Alaska and XPD. In time, I’m keen to collect data not only on the afore mentioned parameters, but also on injury, cognitive function, sleep strategies as well as genetic linkage analyses.
Over the coming months, I hope to get some of this discussion surrounding sleep in Adventure Racing down in a few articles here at Rogue Adventure. In the interim, here are a couple of radio and TV interviews I’ve been involved with covering the topic in the past couple of weeks.