- in Environment
New mattresses, Mum’s washing powder and ‘body mapping’ – they’re all part of James Wilson’s regime to help Rotherham United’s players drift into peaceful slumber.
Wilson, 39, nicknamed ‘The Sleep Geek’, is a former academy player at Rotherham United and has been working with the club for two-and-a-half seasons.
He helps the League One players sleep by using analytics and one-to-ones to determine the best measures for each individual.
Wilson, who says “poor sleep was always an issue” for him as a player, has worked with Premier League club Sheffield United in the past and helped out Lincoln City last season.
So what are his top tips when hitting the pillow?
Change the bedding – temperature regulation
Wilson began his work at Rotherham United holding seminars and drop-in clinics to get to know the players.
“It worked reasonably well,” he tells BBC Sport, adding that there were still some players who were “sceptical”.
“One of the players was struggling to sleep so we monitored him and realised one of the issues was his temperature,” Wilson says.
“We changed his bedding and that helped massively.
“I know the players well enough now that I know what goes on in their lives. I know the players who have recently had children and the ones whose partners are not sleeping well.
“I ask them how they all slept the night before after each training session. Then I deal with any individual issues, like this one.”
Washing powder and ornaments
A number of players who come in on loan tell Wilson they are struggling to sleep. He says they often feel “a bit lonely” and are not used to being away from home.
“The room feels very alien to them so we do small things like get their parents to send the washing powder they have used at home, just to recreate that homely smell,” he says.
“We get them to bring ornaments or keepsakes from home to build an environment that works for them.”
Body mapping and a new mattress
Wilson works alongside independent companies. One, based in London, designs personalised mattresses and pillows based on the needs of the sleeper.
At Rotherham United, Wilson monitors the players’ sleeping patterns and chooses the best mattresses for them based on their individual ‘body maps’.
“We had a new physio who came over from Finland so we flew him in and did some analysis,” says Wilson. “No other football club had done that before.
“We design a mattress and a pillow that work for each individual. We also analyse their sleep postures. The manager, for example, was sleeping on his front and his back was hurting. We moved him on to his side and he’s feeling much better now.”
Sleeping over after midweek fixtures
Rotherham United have had nine midweek fixtures this season and Wilson says the players find these the hardest nights to sleep.
“If they play on a Tuesday, they are taking supplements after the game – which obviously increases the adrenaline in the body – then they are doing a lot of self-analysis afterwards.
“They would then travel home – some of the players would be two hours away – so they are not getting back until two, three or four in the morning. They have been keeping themselves awake on the drive home and then they need to try and wind down.”
The solution? Stay overnight and travel back the next day.
“All of these approaches from the club feed into that success,” says Wilson.
And what about injury prevention?
“Better sleep improves physical recovery,” says Wilson.
“It is also improving their mental health,” he adds. “The players’ decision-making is better and the mood around the team is better.
“A few weeks ago, they were 3-0 down [against Solihull Moors in the FA Cup second round] and they came back to score four goals in 15 minutes.”
Even something as simple as changing the position you lie in helps to prevent injury.
“We found that a lot of footballers sleep on their front which isn’t good for the back or the neck,” says Wilson. “That affects their heading in football and issues with the back can affect the hamstrings and the knees.”