Sleep for performance

Ian Dunican

PhD candidate

A career in sleep science may sound relaxing but PhD candidate Ian Dunican isn’t one to rest on his laurels.

Halfway through his postgraduate research, Ian is investigating the relationship between sleep for recovery and performance in elite athletes, working specifically with Australian Institute of Sport (combat sports), Western Force (rugby union) and the Perth Lynx (basketball).

After serving in the military and working in the mining industry as a global adviser for fatigue/sleep and human performance, the amateur athlete left his job to pursue his real passion. 

“I was a rugby union fanatic, obsessed with playing and watching. I always wanted to be involved in optimising human performance.”

Ian Dunican

During the 2015-16 season, Ian carried out sleep studies with the Perth Lynx basketball team. Research found that changing the pre-bedtime routine of players led to better sleep and improved performance on the court.

The Perth Lynx’s season was split in two and Ian looked at the sleep cycles, pre-bedtime routines and training regime of each player. Players were fitted with actigraphy sleep monitoring devices and asked to keep sleep diaries, with biomathematical modelling used to analyse the results.

In general, the athletes were getting reasonably good sleep, but the study revealed that for those who weren’t, changing the pre-bedtime routine was key. This included switching off all electronics at least an hour before bed, using mindfulness or meditation apps and sleeping in a cool room. A major recommendation from the study was that the team’s training sessions could be held in the afternoons, better suiting the circadian rhythms of most of the athletes.

Ian’s main challenge now is analysis, writing his thesis and successfully communicating his findings to relevant groups. If you’re working towards achieving a goal, Ian says to never give up.

“Einstein had papers rejected, Lincoln overcame adversity. Love what you do and believe in what you do and success will follow. Success is the outcome of many ups and downs, tough days, frustration, elation and rejection.”

Ian Dunican

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