Sleeping pill use rife in football, says expert after Dele Alli interview

Dele Alli has revealed he has battled addiction with sleeping tablets (Adam Davy/PA)
Dele Alli has revealed he has battled addiction with sleeping tablets (Adam Davy/PA)

A leading sleep expert says use of sleeping tablets is “rife” in football following Dele Alli’s revelation of addiction and has called for more education in the game.

Alli laid bare his struggles in an emotional interview with Gary Neville, where he also spoke of suffering sexual abuse as a child and revealed he had undergone a stint in rehab to battle his problems.

The Everton midfielder is the latest player to suggest it is a common problem in the game after former Football League defender Ryan Cresswell opened up on his troubles to the PA news agency last year, saying it was a “big issue” among his peers.

Sleep expert James Wilson, who has worked at West Ham, Rotherham and Lincoln, agrees it is a concern but said the pills are counter-productive for good sleep.

“You hear stories from players and members of staff that say, ‘You should go and work with this club because every single first-team player is taking sleeping pills every single night’,” he told PA.

“They are not generally good for your sleep and they are not good for recovery so that is why they are not a good idea in football. The fact they are addictive is the cherry on the cake in saying why we should not be using sleeping pills, especially as a first line of defence.

“In society in general we don’t understand the use of sleeping pills. The use is more rife in football because the job itself contributes to poor sleep, the night after a midweek game in particular footballers find it harder to sleep.

“There are two issues, one is which Dele has highlighted is that they can be addictive, depending on what type of pill it is.

“But also the sleeping tablet doesn’t give you sleep, it knocks you out. Sleeping pills impact on REM sleep and that is the stage where you go through an overnight counselling session, where your brain files the information from the day before.

“Without that REM sleep, the sleeping pill without him knowing will have contributed to him not being able deal with his mental health issues he was living with.”

Wilson attributes no blame to club doctors for prescribing sleeping pills, citing a lack of training, and says more education and a cultural change is needed across football.

“It is about education, we need to be educating players younger about sleep and we need to support players around their mental health,” he said.

“Often poor sleep can be caused by things going on in the players’ lives and I think within men’s football in particular we are not great at supporting men’s feelings. There needs to be more done there.

“There needs to be better-trained staff. It is more about nutrionisits, physios, or sports therapists having a better understanding of sleep so they can advise better.

“There also needs to be a cultural change. If senior and successful players are taking them then younger players look up to them and it becomes a myth.

“It is a better education, it is a better access to good sleep alternatives and that is for both players and staff.

“The problem in football is that we approach sleep like we approach training: the harder I try the better I get. If I put X, Y, Z in, I’ll get X, Y, Z out but sleep is not like that.

“It is about being in the right physiological state, dropping the heart rate, dropping core temperature. It is about being emotionally and physically secure. Natures of the job cannot create that. The more we accept that, the better our sleep will be.”