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Sleep characteristics of highly trained wheelchair rugby athletes with and without a cervical spinal cord injury during the competitive season

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posted on 19.03.2021, 14:14 by Conor Murphy, Iuliana HartescuIuliana Hartescu, Ifan E. Roberts, Christof LeichtChristof Leicht, Vicky Goosey-TolfreyVicky Goosey-Tolfrey
Sleep behaviours although significantly relevant to exercise recovery are poorly characterised in Para sport athletes. Therefore, the main aims were to describe sleep quality and quantity of highly trained wheelchair rugby (WR) athletes during the competitive season, and to investigate whether impairment type or attending a training camp influenced sleep outcomes. Eighteen male WR athletes (mean ± SD; age: 30 ± 5 yrs) with cervical spinal cord injuries (n = 11) [CSCI] and without (n = 7) [NON SCI] wore an activity monitor over a 16-day period to objectively quantify sleep parameters, while the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index and nightly sleep diary entries were used as a subjective means. A sub-sample of the athletes (n = 11) had their sleep monitored during a 3-night training camp to assess the impact of environmental change on sleep. Furthermore, as an additional exploratory measure core temperature was measured for a single night-time period using ingestible telemetry capsules. The athletes had total sleep times and sleep efficiency scores of 7.06 (1.30) h.min (median [interquartile range]) and 81 (9) %, respectively. Sleep onset latency and wake after sleep onset were 13 (24) min and 1.11 (0.45) h.min, respectively. No significant differences were found in objective sleep variables between the impairment groups despite the CSCI group being significantly more likely to report a poorer night’s sleep (p = 0.04). Furthermore, attending the training camp caused a significant reduction in total sleep time for both groups (Δ 38 ± 33 min; [95% CI: 18 – 60 min] p < 0.01). This study highlights suboptimal sleep characteristics that are present in both CSCI and NON SCI wheelchair athletes, as defined by the National Sleep Foundation. Although objective scores did not differ between groups, athletes with a CSCI rated their sleep worse. Furthermore, the disruption of sleep during training camp reflects an additional risk factor that is important to recognise for those working with wheelchair athletes.


Peter Harrison Centre for Disability Sport and Loughborough University



  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences

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Frontiers in Sports and Active Living




Frontiers Media


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This is an Open Access Article. It is published by Frontiers Media under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported Licence (CC BY). Full details of this licence are available at:

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Prof Vicky Tolfrey. Deposit date: 17 March 2021

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