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Calgary researcher creates tool to help athletes snooze better

The sleep disorder screening tool is aimed specifically to help athletes perform better

Researcher Amy Bender studies sleep quality in athletes - while watching sports in her office.

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Researcher Amy Bender studies sleep quality in athletes - while watching sports in her office.

One of the most important parts of an athlete’s routine is one of the least athletic things they need to do: sleep.

University of Calgary researcher Amy Bender as dedicated herself to developing an online tool specifically aimed to helping athletes get a better night’s rest.

It’s efficient enough that Bender just won an award for commercialization through MITACS, a national non-profit which partners companies, government and academics to promote Canadian research.

Created in partnership with the Centre for Sleep and Human Performance (CSHP), Bender’s tool is one of the few to focus specifically on athletes. The problem with many sleep disorder-screening programs is they cater to the general public, and don’t take into account an athlete's lifestyle.

“Amy’s work to develop a method for large-scale, automated screening of top athletes is unprecedented,” said CSHP medical director Dr. Charles Samuels.

The tool starts with a targeting questionnaire to understand an athlete's needs.

“The number one concern is quantity of athlete’s sleep,” Bender said. “Are they getting at least a minimum of seven hours per night? With an optimal goal being eight hours or more. We’re also looking at how satisfied they are with the quality of their sleep.”

Then the tool will dole out advice to help sleep better – from putting away electronics before bed time, potentially donning blue-blocking glasses or even dealing with extreme evening-type personalities, which is a huge red flag as training schedules are often in the early morning.

For those suffering from insomnia, the tool will recommend online programs in cognitive behavioural therapy, or recommend seeing a specialist.

In their testing phase, Bender found the tool overall improved sleep for the users within three months.

Counting sheep in bed might be one of the best ways to count seconds off the track.

“We believe it’s the most potent performance-enhancing tool out there,” Bender said.

“It affects every system in the body and every cell in the body. Getting good sleep is very important for health and performance as well. As an athlete, you’re looking for any edge you can get, so making sure you have enough, good-quality sleep is important.”

A good sleep leads to better reaction times and even a better mood.

The tool should be available for all to use online early next year.

Keep an eye on http://centreforsleep.com for the latest information.

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