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Evidence of Disturbed Sleep and Increased Illness in Overreached Endurance Athletes


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: May 2014 - Volume 46 - Issue 5 - p 1036–1045
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000177
Applied Sciences

Purpose This study aimed to examine whether (i) objective markers of sleep quantity and quality are altered in endurance athletes experiencing overreaching in response to an overload training program and (ii) potential reduced sleep quality would be accompanied with a higher prevalence of upper respiratory tract infections in this population.

Methods Twenty-seven trained male triathletes were randomly assigned to either overload (n = 18) or normal (CTL, n = 9) training groups. Respective training programs included a 1-wk moderate training phase followed by a 3-wk period of overload or normal training, respectively, and then a subsequent 2-wk taper. Maximal aerobic power and oxygen uptake (V˙O2max) from incremental cycle ergometry were measured after each phase, whereas mood states and incidences of illness were determined from questionnaires. Sleep was monitored every night of the 6 wk using wristwatch actigraphy.

Results Of the 18 overload training group subjects, 9 were diagnosed as functionally overreached (F-OR) after the overload period, as based on declines in performance and V˙O2max with concomitant high perceived fatigue (P < 0.05), whereas the other 9 overload subjects showed no decline in performance (AF, P > 0.05). There was a significant time–group interaction for sleep duration (SD), sleep efficiency (SE), and immobile time (IT). Only the F-OR group demonstrated a decrease in these three parameters (−7.9% ± 6.7%, −1.6% ± 0.7%, and −7.6% ± 6.6% for SD, SE, and IT, respectively, P < 0.05), which was reversed during the subsequent taper phase. Higher prevalence of upper respiratory tract infections were also reported in F-OR (67%, 22%, and 11% incidence rate for F-OR, AF, and CTL, respectively).

Conclusion This study confirms sleep disturbances and increased illness in endurance athletes who present with symptoms of F-OR during periods of high volume training.

1Laboratory of Sport, Expertise and Performance, National Institute of Sport, Expertise and Performance, Paris, FRANCE; 2Laboratory of Functional and Cellular Responses to Hypoxia, University Paris 13 North, Sorbonne Paris City, Bobigny, FRANCE; and 3Sport and Exercise Discipline Group, UTS: Health, University of Technology Sydney, AUSTRALIA

Address for correspondence: Yann Le Meur, Ph.D., Laboratory of Sport, Expertise and Performance, National Institute of Sport, Expertise and Performance, 11, Avenue du Tremblay, 75012 Paris, France; E-mail:

Submitted for publication August 2013.

Accepted for publication September 2013.

© 2014 American College of Sports Medicine