The rigors of balancing academics and athletics can be daunting for student-athletes, both from a sleep and mental health perspective.1
Morning practices, the pressure of playing big college sports, and the dedication it takes to balance academics and sports lead to high rates of depression, anxiety, and various sleep conditions.
In new research presented during the annual SLEEP 2023 in Indianapolis, researchers explored how circadian preferences might affect the prevalence of sleep disorders and psychiatric conditions for student athletes.
A team, led by Jesse Cook of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, evaluated the influence of circadian preference on sleep, depression and anxiety in student athletes from Canada.
Due to the demands, both academic and athletic, of being a student athlete, they are at greater risk of sleep and mental health problems.
Circadian preference is an individuals preferred time for sleep and wake activity. This is thought of as a continuum between the extremes of morning and afternoon and has been shown to influence both sleep and mental health.
A greater preference for nighttime is primarily associated with worse performance, but these relationships have not been extensively explored in student-athletes.
In the study, researchers examined data identified throughout the academic semester from Canadian institutions, with student athletes completing the Athlete Sleep Screening Questionnaire (ASSQ), which captured sleep health characteristics, as well as Sleep Disorder. general anxiety-7 (GAD-7). ), and the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9).
Choices on the ASSQ for circadian preference were definitely morning, morning, afternoon, or definitely late. Each response was coded on a scale of 0-3.
The researchers used estimated associations for circadian preferences with sleep, depression, and anxiety, which were adjusted regressions controlled for age, gender, race/ethnicity, and type of sport.
The study included 559 student athletes from 8 different sports with a mean age of 18.9 years.
Results show that 1.4% of participants reported definitely morning circadian preferences, compared with 27% who reported morning, 41.8% reported afternoon, and 19.8% reported definitely late.
Furthermore, this equated to a preference for the night was significantly associated with worse overall sleep difficulties (P adjusted <0.0001). This was also true for the longest sleep latency (P adjusted <0.0001), reduced sleep satisfaction (P adjusted <0.0001), longer sleep inertia (P adjusted <0.0001), plus daytime naps (P adjusted = 0.01), and more severe depressive symptoms (P adjusted = 0.0006).
“A longer night in a sample of Canadian student-athletes was associated with worse sleep and psychological characteristics, including overall difficulty sleeping, sleep latency, sleep satisfaction, sleep inertia, daytime naps, and the severity of depressive symptoms,” the authors wrote. “The results of this study provide compelling evidence that evening CP may predict poor sleep and mental health outcomes in student athletes.”
The study highlights a growing need for more research on circadian preferences, particularly for student athletes.
The researchers also said the results could be used to implement modifications to training schedules and changes to team routines as preventative strategies for mental health and sleep problems.
Jesse Cook et al, 0016 Influence of circadian preference on sleep, depression, and anxiety in Canadian student-athletes, Sleepvolume 46, issue supplement_1, May 2023, pages A7–A8, https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsad077.0016