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 (VO2max) 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 VO2max 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.