Better Sleep Case Study: Lee Jewitt

Having recently retired from professional Rugby League, former Widnes, Castleford and Salford player Lee Jewitt has been busier than most since hanging up his boots. As a performance psychologist, qualified counsellor and a key figure in the Offload mental fitness initiative run by the charity Rugby League Cares, Lee is giving back to the game that gave him so much. Lee is also now leading the delivery of  Rugby League Cares’s health programme with the NHS in the North West along with fellow former player Paul Wood. The programme uses sport to inspire NHS staff to develop tools and skills to build mental fitness and resilience. With what little spare time Lee has left, he has also recently assumed a role as Mammoth Sleep Ambassador, bringing his own experience and expertise to help raise awareness of the importance of quality sleep – both in day-to-day life and in professional sport. We caught up with Lee to talk about Friday night matches, the evolution of sports science and why sleep is one of the most critical tools in his kitbag as he helps others to work on their mental health. Asked to look back on his professional playing days and the role that sleep played in his regime, Lee suggests that the approach taken when he first signed a contract with Wigan as a teenager is a far cry from the approach employed by sport science teams in his last few seasons as a senior player.   “Early in my career I don’t think there was very much emphasis on sleep and recovery time, if I’m honest. That was back in the days when pre-season training was all about ‘beasting’ players and aspects like nutrition and rehab were only just beginning to be understood.   “It was probably only into my last few years as a professional that there was a bit more of an understanding about how to not just get players fit but keep them injury free and look after them a bit more. In fact, there was a huge shift from trying to break players and ‘create mental toughness’ towards taking a more balanced approach.”   In the unique environment of professional sport, it’s not just the intensity of the exertion that Lee says presented a challenge to players; it was also the timing of the games and the nature of the weekly schedule.   “If I look back at those Friday night games I played in for many years, it definitely didn’t accommodate quality sleep. You’d get home at midnight and then be back at training at 7am the next morning – that’s just not sensible or sustainable. Particularly given that players wouldn’t just get home and fall asleep straight away. You’d be amped up and maybe had some caffeine pre-game for energy, so you’d probably watch TV and most likely not get to sleep until 2am or 3am. There’s not much sleep there and certainly not enough time for quality sleep.   “It was probably when I moved to Hull KR towards the back end of my career that they introduced a day off after a matchday. They recognised that getting a good night’s sleep was more important than the active recovery or rehab at the club. And that made such a difference.   “That’s probably when I first realised how much of a difference it made for me to get that rest and recovery time. Early in my career I used to feel really lethargic, cranky and under the weather the day after a game. I thought that was all down to fatigue from the match. But once I started getting those rest days, I realised it was actually just down to lack of sleep.   “Having that day off really did help me recover a lot quicker and avoid all of those symptoms. And from a personal perspective, mood change and the reduction in stress levels was huge; it was really noticeable.”   With these experiences behind him and a deep understanding of what quality sleep and recovery can achieve – both physically and mentally – Lee says that he’s taking those learnings forward into his role as a counsellor and through his recent work in supporting under pressure NHS staff through a new scheme managed by Mammoth partner, Rugby League Cares.   “What’s become clear is that sleep is really undervalued in all walks of life and all settings. People take it for granted but that doesn’t mean they prioritise it. The conversations I’m now having with NHS staff is actually very similar to those I’m having with the athletes. It’s all about struggling to switch off, struggling to get rid of the worries of the day.   “When I hear that these hardworking people are only getting 4-5 hours of broken sleep it’s no surprise to learn that those feelings of stress and fatigue are getting worse. Productivity starts to go down and enjoyment of not just work but life also suffers.   “Part of my role within the NHS is to put in those coping strategies to help people switch off. But that’s really just to help them get ready for sleep – that’s when the real benefits come. The feedback we get from people who’ve put in place coping strategies and then prioritised sleep is always that they feel better. It’s so simple but so effective.”   Having recently started sleeping on his new Mammoth mattress, Lee is not only prioritising his sleep but also measuring the value of investing in a quality sleep surface – by recording his sleep patterns on his brand new Mammoth Shine.   Lee said:   “My Mammoth Shine mattress has made a massive difference, it’s really improved both my quality of sleep and my quality of life.   “I never anticipated it would be make such a difference. Where before I would wake up three or four times during the night, I’m now sleeping right through. “After a series of operations on my back and hips, sleeping has been tough for years but the new mattress is easing all the pressure and I don’t ache anywhere near as much as I used to.   “It’s made a huge difference to my mental wellbeing: I wake up fresh, I’m ready for the day to start as soon as I get out of bed and I feel more alert throughout the day.   “My day is much more positive and proactive than it ever used to be.”

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