By Dr Mitchell Turner and Dr Ian C Dunican
Tennis is one of the most popular sports in the world, played by males and females of all ages. Based on data from 2019, it is estimated that 87 million people play tennis worldwide with <4,000 of them professionally ranked. The sport of tennis requires players to repeatedly make fast and accurate decisions and perform short, powerful movements; however, matches can last several hours, demanding players also have a high level of endurance 1. The timing of matches also varies, with players competing early in the morning and late into the evening. Recent research by members of the Melius Consulting team has sought to determine what impact sleep and time of day have on the performance of tennis players.
Previous research has shown that specific skills, such as the serve, may be impaired by substantial sleep loss 2, 3. Still, it was unknown whether habitual sleep variations would have the same impact and if this would influence a player’s match performance. Four research articles by Dr Mitchell Turner, Dr Ian Dunican and colleagues explored the impact of habitual sleep on the physical, skill and match-play performance of junior (9 to 17 years) and senior (18+ years) tennis players. The influence of the time of day and chronotype was also investigated. The four papers that we will discuss here are:
- Turner, Mitchell, Beranek, Philipp, Sofyan Sarom, Alexander Ferrauti, Dunican, Ian, Cruickshank, Travis (2022) The effect of sleep behaviours, chronotype and time of testing on tennis specific skills and physical performance, Journal Sports Science and Coaching.
- Turner, Mitchell, Beranek, Philipp, Dunican, Ian, Cruickshank, Travis (2022) The impact of sleep wake behaviour on tennis match performance in junior state grade tennis players, Journal of Science in Sport and Exercise.
- Turner, Mitchell, Beranek, Philipp, Sofyan Sarom, Alexander Ferrauti, Dunican, Ian, Cruickshank, Travis (2022) The impact of sleep behaviours, chronotype, and time of match on the internal and external outcomes of a tennis match, International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching.
- Mitchell Turner, Johnny Lo, Philipp Beranek, Ian C Dunican, Travis Cruickshank (2022). The influence of self-reported total sleep time and quality on physical performance in junior tennis players, International Journal of Racket Sports Science.
These studies included subjective and objective measures of sleep and fatigue, including the Consensus Sleep Diary, questionnaires and wrist-worn activity monitors (ActiGraph). The first study (http://dx.doi.org/10.30827/Digibug.77269) found that junior players who reported feeling more rested and refreshed had faster reaction times during a tennis agility test. In an investigation of junior tennis match-play (https://doi.org/10.1007/s42978-022-00177-x), it was found that female players who won had significantly lower sleep fragmentation index than those that lost. Sleep fragmentation index was also the only sleep-wake behaviour (SWB) metric to substantially change the night before a match, decreasing by 19%.
Tennis match-play performance in senior male tennis players (https://doi.org/10.1177/174795412211304) was significantly influenced by time of day but not SWB. Specifically, a higher percentage of unforced errors and decreased winners, forced errors and distance covered was observed in evening (8:00 pm) matches, compared to morning (8:00 am) and afternoon (2:00 pm) matches. The final study (https://doi.org/10.1177/17479541221136023) found that backhand consistency and serve velocity decreased in the evening compared to the morning and afternoon. In addition, later in bed and sleep onset times decreased backhand velocity in senior male tennis players. Interestingly, chronotype had no significant influence on performance outcomes in any of these studies.
The key takeaways from this research are,
- How well-rested or refreshed a player feels they may be the most crucial factor in determining performance. This is useful for players and coaches as it is a low-cost, straightforward question that can be administered regularly before training and matches.
- The impact of SWB metrics appears to be most influential on players’ skills, with no associations observed between SWB and physical performance.
- Quality sleep is essential for players to execute the tennis-specific skills needed during match-play. Therefore, players should adhere to sleep health recommendations, such as consistent sleep-wake times, before matches to ensure the best possible sleep quality.
- Performance in the evening is impaired compared to the morning and afternoon. Therefore, if players are scheduled to play in the evening, strategies, such as delayed sleep-wake times or training in the evening, should be employed before the match.
- Fernandez-Fernandez J, Sanz-Rivas D, Sanchez-Muñoz C, et al. A Comparison of the Activity Profile and Physiological Demands Between Advanced and Recreational Veteran Tennis Players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 2009; 23: 604-610. DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318194208a.
- Reyner LA and Horne JA. Sleep restriction and serving accuracy in performance tennis players, and effects of caffeine. Physiol Behav 2013; 120: 93-96. 2013/08/07. DOI: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2013.07.002.
- Vitale JA, Bonato M, Petrucci L, et al. Acute Sleep Restriction Affects Sport-Specific But Not Athletic Performance in Junior Tennis Players. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance 2021; 1: 1-6.