Better Sleep Case Study: Willi Heinz, England and Gloucester Rugby Player

© Martin Bennett/Gloucester Rugby

England and Gloucester scrum half, Willi Heinz, talks all things sleep, injury and lockdown with Mammoth after buying his new RISE mattress.

From the highs of travelling to Japan with England’s 2019 World Cup squad to the lows of enforced lockdowns in 2020, it’s fair to say that it’s been an interesting 18 months for Willi Heinz. Reflecting on the enforced break brought about by COVID-19 last March, he says:

“The thing I found most challenging was not knowing what was going to happen, both with how long the lockdowns were going to last, but also within the landscape of professional rugby […] I think the lockdown has brought about a mix of emotions in most people: frustration, worry.”

But while the lack of game time in 2020 may have been tough to tackle, Willi says that it was important for him to look at the positives as well as the challenges:

“There’s also gratitude for what we do have, and the chance to ‘slow down’ and enjoy time with family. That’s something I’ve heard a lot and can resonate with. The positives for me have definitely been spending more time with my wife and three kids.”

As someone who is used to the pressures of professional sport, it’s no surprise that sticking to a routine has helped Willi look after his mental and physical wellbeing over recent months:

“I think we are lucky in that, as professional rugby players, we get a lot of support in terms of programs for each part of our wellbeing. So in that respect, we are given a bit of a head start.

“For me personally, I like routine, so I found that while we weren’t training each day, I still stuck to a daily routine that helped me stay focused during lockdown.”

Willi is no stranger to injury on the pitch, commenting that “there’s always something niggling away.” In fact, getting back on form and onto to pitch is what he’s most looking forward to in the coming months:

“I’ve had my fair share [of injuries] I’d say! Broken tibia or fibula being the worst. Injury for me is the most frustrating part of what we do, so the quicker I can get myself healthy and back playing again, the better. I think we as rugby players all miss the opportunity to compete when it’s taken away from us! There’s nothing quite like that matchday feeling.”

To avoid injury and stay in top condition, Willi emphasises the importance of adequate recovery time:

“The importance of recovery time is huge. Rest and recovery make up a massive part of our weekly schedule. There are so many different options available to athletes these days, and with training and playing demands getting more and more, recovery is crucial.

“[I try to get] as much sleep as possible, and usually hit about eight hours. When I don’t have a good night’s sleep, I can feel lethargic and not as ‘sharp’ as I’d like. If you’ve had a tough session the previous day, sometimes a poor night’s sleep can increase feelings of soreness. I would say I’m quite a light sleeper. Ever since having kids, any noises seem to wake me up!”

And as for the secret to a solid night’s sleep? It’s back to the good old routine:

“A good routine is always important – putting some time and thought into what that looks like for you and doing your best to replicate that each night. I used to be on my phone or iPad watching things before going to sleep, but I’ve had it hammered into me via endless seminars that this is bad, so now I read a book. I find I usually only last a few pages before starting to fall asleep, so it seems to work! I also prefer to sleep in a cool and tidy room. Clutter stresses me out.”

For Willi, prioritising sleep at home has been a big part of optimising his performance and protecting himself against further injury:

“Mammoth was recommended to me by some teammates. I’d never really put much thought into bed purchases in the past, but when you think about the amount of time we spend in bed, it’s probably the most important investment you can make.”

With his Superking Mammoth Rise mattress installed at home, Willi says:

“I am really enjoying the mattress. It’s super comfortable, and when you wake up in the morning your body feels good. I feel well-rested and ready for the day ahead.”

And if Willi could lose sleep for a late-night chat with anyone, he says funny man Ricky Gervais would be top of the list, accompanied of course by “a decent glass of red.”

Willi Heinz purchased his Mammoth Rise mattress for his home. To find out more about how to improve your sleep routine, why not check out Mammoth’s National Guidelines for Sleep.