Heading Exposure, Sleep, and Neuropsychological Function in College Soccer Players

Cara F Levitch, Fordham University


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 are associated with worse neuropsychological function; however, factors that can increase risk of injury following exposure to such head impacts have been largely unexamined. Thus, the present study provided a novel examination of the modifying role of sleep on the relationship between repetitive head impact exposure and neuropsychological function in college-age soccer players. Soccer players completed questionnaires assessing recent and long-term heading exposure, as well as self-report and objective measures (actigraphy) of sleep functions. A battery of neuropsychological tests were administered to assess neuropsychological function. In a sample of 50 college-age soccer players, the present study found that with reduced self-reported sleep duration, a high level of recent exposure to repetitive head impacts was related to worse neuropsychological outcome in sustained attention. However, with greater hours of sleep duration, long-term exposure to repetitive head impacts was related to preserved or improved neuropsychological outcome in executive functioning. Therefore, sleep can serve as a risk or protective factor for soccer players following extensive exposure to head impacts and highlights the importance of interventions to improve sleep duration and quality in college-age soccer athletes. Ultimately, the present study furthers the field’s 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.

Subject Area

Clinical psychology|Neurosciences|Psychology

Recommended Citation

Levitch, Cara F, "Heading Exposure, Sleep, and Neuropsychological Function in College Soccer Players" (2019). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI13886089.