Is it true that sleep helps chronic pain relief for race car drivers?
We’ve heard it time and time again: hydrate consistently, eat whole and nutrition foods, and sleep a full eight hours every night.
While we know that these simple health tweaks have been scientifically proven to promote and maintain a well-balanced lifestyle, we tend to demote sleep to the bottom of the priorities list, especially when there is so much to do in a day, and so little time to do it all. 😩
Sleep plays a vital role in our daily lives, in our mental and physical health, and our emotional wellbeing. We think a little clearer, work more efficiently, and stress a bit less, after a good night’s sleep.
While the benefits are endless for the average person, is it true that sleep helps chronic pain relief for race car drivers?
Canadian race car driver, Sam Fellows, 25, sat down with Polysleep to weigh in on the importance of sleep in his life, both on and off the track.
Following in the footsteps of his father, Ron Fellows, Sam got into cars and racing around the age of 15, when he began dabbling in karting. With his family on the road every summer to support his dad, Sam never quite found the time to pursue his racing career.
Eventually, he completed Formula 2000 school at CTMP, got into club racing, and fully immersed himself in the sport. Last year, in 2018, he raced a BMW M235i and this year stepped up to a Porsche GT3 cup series for PFAFF motorsports.
As racing became the focal point of his day-to-day life, healthier lifestyle habits subsequently followed.
How important are sleep and recovery to Sam Fellows?
As it turns out, very. Sleep helps chronic pain relief, especially when it comes to pain management and lumbar support.
It's second nature to think of sports and automatically associate them to being physical and intense in terms of athletic ability and health.
While race car driving appears to be more sedentary, it is extremely physically demanding.
We tend to associate driving or being seated in a car as the less strenuous version of, let's say, walking, when in fact, driving and racing are two different practices entirely.
The general public doesn’t quite realize the amount of physical stress that is exerted onto the body when in a race car. In a 30-minute practice or qualifying session, Sam can burn between 500-600 calories and upwards of 800-1000 calories during a single 45-minute race.
The muscle stress endured is only heightened based on the speeds and bumpiness of the track in question. The sheer amount of g-force that a driver’s body fights through in a single race profoundly impacts the body.
All while sitting down. Sam's height of 6'4" makes him one of the taller drivers in the sport and his stature coupled with the configurations of a race car can make for less than ideal conditions.
While back pain can be a common side effect from taking on that amount of g-force, Sam's height means that it's inevitable.
Because of the long seasons and the practice and race days that make up his week, Sam’s back pain never recovers, it maintains itself on his days off and picks back up when the next practice day comes around – something he has had to accept as part of the deal.
Sleep and recovery are crucial to him because sleep helps chronic pain relief, and this significantly impact his active performance, especially when it involves persistent pain. Compared to off-season, the amount of stress placed onto the body during practices and races is far more likely to cause sleep disturbances. This means that a good night’s sleep is essential to relax the body and ease tension.
Sleep is one of the only things that can help alleviate some of the back pain and leg numbness that comes from sitting in a race car where all of the cushions have been removed to accommodate Sam’s height.
While his team does what they can with foam and padding to make his driving conditions a little more bearable, the constrictions make it that pain is still inevitable.
Structurally and ergonomically, a car is pretty different compared to a race car.
The latter places a lot more physical strain on the body because of its compact structure and because while it's in motion, the driver can expect g-force, accelerations, lateral sways, decelerations, heavy turns, and a lot more.
While a driver's hands and feet are constantly shifting around for close to two hours at a time, they can't provide any support or stabilization for the lower body. When the day is done, sleep becomes vital for recovery because it gives the spine a chance to be supported for several hours.
Sam can also experience the added mental stress of hotel stays throughout his season.
Staying in different hotels usually means not knowing what kind of mattress and pillows he ends up sleeping on. Most of the time, they’re too hard, too soft, or just plain old, making the sleep he gets in his own bed that much more important to his recovery and performance.
Several studies have shown that increasing sleep has real athletic benefits and that proper sleep is just as much of a commitment to their training as nutrition, hydration, and working out.
How does sleep help race car drivers?
Managing pain is essential for healthy rest. Back pain, such as what Sam experiences, can make it difficult to get comfortable at night because of the compacted muscles and the strain placed on those same muscles during the day.
While sleep helps chronic pain relief, sometimes that same back pain can make it impossible to sleep.
Finding a proper sleep solution, such as a quality mattress that supports and comforts the spine and neck, makes all the difference to race car drivers and athletes as a whole.
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