Introducing our latest brand ambassador England Rugby and Wasps RFC star James Haskell, who explains how a good night's sleep is key to his performance on the field, and his recovery off it.
Sleep isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think about sporting achievement, but in fact it plays a key role and is something that every elite athlete prioritises in their day-to-day lives.
Ergoflex has a proud history of providing consistently great sleep to sportspeople at the very top of their game. Along with England rugby star James Haskell, record-breaking three-time Tour de France champion and Team GB Olympian Chris Froome is also among the many top-level athletes who consider Ergoflex mattresses as an important part of their regimes.
The particular benefits of the Ergoflex mattress for athletes can be distilled down into two main areas – quality sleep and optimal support.
Sleep is linked to sports performance in some surprising ways. As well as being essential for restoring physical and mental energy, sleep also influences weight, motivation, stamina levels, decision making, memory performance and reaction times – all vital components of success in sport. The bulk of the body’s recovery from exertion also comes during sleep, as this is when the body creates the naturally-restorative HGH, making it absolutely key to making gains and avoiding injury. Ergoflex’s body-cradling comfort encourages quicker transition to sleep, as well as unbroken rest throughout the night. Fewer night-time awakenings means you’re able to naturally transition through the various phases of sleep, rejuvenating the body and mind in the process – the perfect preparation for sporting excellence.
Whether training or competing in events, the body goes through a lot of punishment during sports, so it needs the right support for efficient recovery. An inconsistent or unsupportive mattress won’t just disrupt sleep, it’ll also put unnecessary additional stress on the body, creating aches and pains that come after a bad night’s sleep. The Ergoflex 5G’s high-density visco-elastic layer ensures that every part of the body that comes into contact with the mattress is optimally supported throughout the night – so areas that can typically suffer on lesser mattresses, like the lower back, hips and legs, get the support that they need during sleep.
By promoting consistently deep sleep and body-cradling support, the Ergoflex 5G is the perfect partner for discerning athletes who simply can’t take risks with their sleep quality.
We spoke to our new brand ambassador James Haskell about his pro rugby and fitness lifestyle, and the role that sleep plays in it.
Q: Ergoflex: James, you’ve been a professional rugby player for both England and Wasps for some time now. When did you first turn pro?
JH: First of all when I was 17 I did a whole preseason with the team while I was still at school and I basically finished school, had a couple of weeks off then I went straight into professional rugby.
Q: Ergoflex: Why rugby? Did you have a natural aptitude for the game from an early age, or is it something you have had to really work at?
JH: I never really said when I was younger I wanted to be a rugby player, I think when I had the opportunity to become one I obviously took the bull by the horns. I’ve had to work really very hard at my game, I don’t think I’m particularly naturally gifted in that respect. I’ve fallen in love with it subsequently.
Q: Ergoflex: As an aspiring rugby professional in your earlier years, what advice were you given that you now agree or disagree with?
JH: It’s always about attitude and work really, a lot of stuff people say rugby-wise, the game has changed slightly, but it was more to do with how you apply yourself. You can lie to everyone else but you can’t lie to yourself, in terms of putting the work in, whether you’ve been committed, whether you’ve done everything you can do to be the best rugby player you can. That was some pretty good advice I was given.
Q: Ergoflex: When was your first cap for England and how old were you? What was that experience like?
JH: I was 21, it was in 2007 down at Cardiff which was an amazing place to make your debut in terms of how big a stadium it was. The Millennium Stadium was relatively new, we played with the roof closed, there’s an incredible atmosphere, so I was a little bit nervous as to what was going to happen. But as I ran out for the national anthem, the flame cannons went and I just couldn’t stop smiling. That for me was huge.
Q: Ergoflex: You’ve been a pro rugby player for club and country longer than most. Would you say that science and research designed to improve nutrition, fitness, rest/recovery, and ultimately success on the field is now taken far more seriously than ten years ago?
JH: The conditioning element and the recovery element in rugby has just got bigger and bigger. It’s pretty insane how much it’s changed. I think we’re still well behind the NFL, but as more money comes into the game the more important stuff will start filtering in, but we’ve gone from doing unplanned gym sessions to everything being calculated and monitored, we wear GPS units to train with heart rates, and blood tests are done. Everything’s covered to try and get the best out of athletes because they understand how important that is. And then you’ve got the mental side which is even more important.
"The conditioning and recovery element in rugby has just got bigger and bigger...
...it's pretty insane how much it's changed."
Q: Ergoflex: How many pro games have you played in total for club and country? Do you feel like it’s taken its toll on your body?
JH: By the time I’m 40 it’ll be very interesting to see what kind of state my body’s in. I would’ve said I’ve played probably over 400, with near 200 for Wasps alone, I had another 80 for Stade Francais and other teams in Japan and New Zealand, then 70-odd for England.
Q: Ergoflex: After an England game, what is the post-match recovery programme like?
JH: The thing with recovery is there’s no miracle solution that fixes everything, there’s a whole load of different protocols – ice bath, recovery massage, mobility, sauna, compression tights, there’s lots of different options available to all players.
Q: Ergoflex: Has this changed dramatically over the years since your first cap?
JH: Yes. With England, it’s always about raising the level. Certainly within my time there’s a lot more influence and attention to detail on that kind of stuff. It’s ever-evolving really.
Q: Ergoflex: As a pro athlete and fitness influencer you’ve spoken about the importance of sleep, putting it alongside nutrition and training as the ‘Holy Trinity’ of fitness success. Have you always been aware of sleep’s role in fitness, or is it something that has developed with your experience?
JH: I’ve always been aware of the importance of sleep because if I don’t have a lot of it I don’t perform very well, I don’t recover very well. It’s something that I’ve had a lot more focus on recently, acknowledging things like the quality of mattress you have are really important. I’ve said it many times before, that if you’re not sleeping well then you’ll not achieve the gains that your efforts in training and nutrition management deserve. A lot of time we take it for granted. I’ve invested in a good mattress and it’s changed the way I sleep, and I now struggle to sleep on a dodgy hotel one and I will notice how I feel the next morning!
Q: Ergoflex: Nutrition is a big part of your Health and Fitness brand. What would you recommend as a sleep-friendly food or drink? Do you have a routine or certain foods or drinks that you consume before bed?
JH: A higher carb meal at dinner is always recommended. There are also a couple of things I’ll take before I sleep – something called Aminoman which is high in magnesium and available from our website, and a supplement called Dedemae, which I find both help me have a really good night’s sleep.
Q: Ergoflex: Do England Rugby or Wasps place any particular emphasis on sleep’s importance with recommendations and advice, or is it just expected of players to manage their own sleep regime?
JH: We did a whole sleep study recently where we had to wear monitors for ten days and filled in a questionnaire about how we sleep. Because of my neck issue a doctor recommended me a particular shaped pillow which has helped me. All of these things are taken into account, we’re just trying to get the marginal gains out of every player.
Q: Ergoflex: Could any of your team-mates, England or Wasps, use some sleep education?
JH: Surprisingly, no! The professionalism and demands of the game these days just doesn’t allow for it. If you’re not 100% committed in every area, there are a raft of hungrier, more committed players ready to take that shirt from you. There is zero room for complacency in any area.
Q: Ergoflex: Your club career has taken you around the world – did you find any cultural differences when it came to acknowledging sleep’s importance?
JH: I’ve seen with the Tongan boys, culturally, sleep way more than anyone else. They have a big focus on that. They sleep a lot in the afternoon. When I was playing in Japan a lot of the boys used to do a lot of napping. It’s not something I’ve culturally done, but I could try and do a bit more of it.
Q: Ergoflex: What’s your regular sleep routine and duration?
JH: I try to get a minimum of seven hours, preferably 8. I try to keep the room as dark as possible, and try not to go to bed using my phone but I sometimes do. I find it’s important to factor in at least an hour or two of winding down time, preferably without screen-time and stimulation form blue light. I like to read a fair bit, Chloe and I will listen to an audio book on a sleep timer for ten minutes, we’re both asleep by the time it runs out and we’ll sleep through. I have to get up most often with an alarm.
Q: Ergoflex: Does your sleep routine change when you’re away from home?
JH: I try to keep everything consistent. On holiday, it’s a little bit later and a lot more relaxed, and I might sleep a bit more in the afternoon, but on the whole I’d say it’s consistent. I like to keep a consistent routine.
Q: Ergoflex: Do you use any wearable technology to monitor your sleep quality?
JH: I haven’t for a little while, but I sometimes use the Apple Watch for sleep tracking.
Q: Ergoflex: What’s your one recommendation for a good night’s sleep?
JH: It sounds obvious but making sure that sleep is always the main focus of the bedroom is vital. So making it as cool and dark as possible, and cutting out or limiting the use of any screen technology, which includes having a TV in there, would definitely be my main recommendation. Having time to amply wind down and let your mind relax prior to sleep is also really important. If I have things on my mind, I’ll make notes and get them down on paper before turning in which alleviates an active mind. I’m also conscious of limiting caffeine intake as the day goes on and try not to train too late in the evening so I can be fully wound-down and rested mentally and physically prior to bed.
Q: Ergoflex: Like a lot of pro cyclists, footballers and pro rugby players, you sleep on an Ergoflex mattress. In your opinion, what makes the Ergoflex so popular with elite athletes?
"Leaving your quality of sleep to chance is a risk you simply can't afford to take
JH: I just think it’s very supportive and comfortable and you don’t move around a lot in it. The value of good support and pressure-relief can’t be overstated when you’re putting your body through the punishment of professional sports and training.
It’s not too hard, not too soft, it’s just the perfect mix really and my lower back really benefits from the improved support. I love the way that the mattress has a flat and consistent surface with no buttons or indents and I definitely toss and turn less and I find I sleep in one position through the night, which means I’m getting a consistent night-long sleep with fewer awakenings. If you have important things to tackle the following day, you really need to be the very best version of yourself that you can be. You can prepare, practice and train for the task at hand ‘till you’re blue in the face, but if you’ve slept poorly, you can’t really perform to the very best of your ability. For professional and elite athletes in particular, leaving your quality of sleep to chance is a risk you simply can’t afford to take.
Q: Ergoflex: What would you say was the single biggest difference you’ve found since using the Ergoflex mattress?
JH: I love how it slowly cradles around you and is really supportive but I’d have to say that not feeling your partner move around next to you or disturb you has been fantastic. I’m a fairly large guy at 6ft 4” and 19 stone whereas my partner, Chloe, is very petite. On the Ergoflex mattress if one of us comes to bed later than the other, or has a very early start, then we don’t disturb each other at all. On our previous mattress when I rolled over or moved around it was pretty evident that the other side of the mattress moved as well. I love the way that it completely dampens this movement and neither of us feels the other move around at all. Ideal if you have a restless partner or there is a large weight / size differential between partners sharing the bed.