The Impact of Sleep on the Relationship between Soccer Heading Exposure and Neuropsychological Function in College-Age Soccer Players

Cara F. Levitch, Eric McConathey, Maral Aghvinian, Mark Himmelstein, Michael L. Lipton, Molly E. Zimmerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Objective:Soccer is the most popular sport worldwide and is the only sport where athletes purposely use their head to deflect the ball during play, termed "heading" the ball. These repetitive head impacts (RHI) are associated with worse neuropsychological function; however, factors that can increase risk of injury following exposure to such head impacts have been largely unexamined. The present study provided a novel examination of the modifying role of sleep on the relationship between RHI exposure and neuropsychological function in college-age soccer players.Methods:Fifty varsity and intramural college soccer players completed questionnaires assessing recent and long-term heading exposure, a self-report measure of sleep function, and a battery of neuropsychological tests.Results:A high level of recent heading exposure was significantly associated with poorer processing speed, independent of concussion history. With reduced sleep duration, a high level of recent heading exposure was related to worse sustained attention. However, with greater hours of sleep duration, heading exposure was related to preserved neuropsychological outcome in sustained attention.Conclusions:We replicated our earlier finding of an association between recent head impact exposure and worse processing speed in an independent sample. In addition, we found that sleep may serve as a risk or protective factor for soccer players following extensive exposure to head impacts. Ultimately, this study furthers the understanding of factors impacting neuropsychological function in soccer players and provides empirical support for sleep interventions to help ensure safer soccer play and recovery from injury.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of the International Neuropsychological Society
StateAccepted/In press - 2020


  • Brain injuries
  • Cognition
  • Repetitive head impacts
  • Risk factors
  • Sleep
  • Soccer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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