The use of Stilnox by high performing athletes has been a hot topic this week following admissions from Grant Hackett and trouble at Richmond in the AFL.

I can understand the debate from both sides, but see it as a very complex issue.

As an athlete, expectations have gone through the roof and demands on the body are only going up as the intensity of competition increases.

Each week you come home late after games and struggle to come back down to earth with the adrenaline pumping well into night.

Not helping, recovery sessions are often scheduled for early the next morning, leaving you with little time to get the required R&R after putting your body through hell.

Sleep is the best form of recovery and without it you can be chasing time, especially with quick turnarounds during short weeks.

Earlier in my career, it would be 3am or 4am before I was able to drift off to sleep naturally, so the easy fix on occasion was popping a sleeping tablet.

They enabled me to get five or six hours sleep, turn up to recovery without any side effects and hit the ground running in preparation for the week ahead.

Over time though, I found this cycle was more of a hindrance than a help.

They were legal and always prescribed by doctors, but in my personal experience I found sleep assistors, pain medication and anti-inflammatories masked deeper-lying issues.

I was always rushing against time to get my body right for the next challenge and that inevitably led to shortcuts.

I never abused the drugs, but the quick fix was dehydrating my body from the inside out and over time that caused compound issues like joint pain and general soreness.

These days, I try to avoid prescription drugs at all costs, but every player has their own story. Some will tell you they never had any dramas, while others will tell horror stories about dependency and loss of control.

During the extended period when I was rebuilding my body, I spent a lot of time educating myself and made significant changes to the way I prepared for (and recovered after) games.

In the short term, I think the NRL could do more to educate players, especially young ones, on the dangers associated with prescription medication.

The pressure on athletes is only going to get higher and it is important for the league to protect its assets over the long-term.

Looking ahead, we face the Cronulla Sharks on Monday night, which is shaping up as a huge challenge.

The Sharks are flying high in second position and will welcome back their leaders, Paul Gallen and Todd Carney, from State of Origin duties.

In my experience, the physical and mental hangover from Origin can last a couple of weeks at least, so fingers crossed they are off their game!

We need a string of back-to-back wins to put us in contention for finals football and there's no better time to start than on Monday under lights at Shark Park.

Cheers, Mini


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