Sleep in Young Athletes: If You Don’t Snooze, YOU Lose!

imagesSchool. Practice. Homework. Family. Friends. Instagram. Texts. Parties…let’s face it, it is NOT easy for a teenager to fit it all in 24 hours, especially student athletes. I worry about this ALL THE TIME, especially as my 13 year old wakes up at 3:45am to go to skating practice. And she’s not alone; the National Sleep Foundation reports that even though children and teens ages 10-17 should sleep 8.5-9.25 hours/night, the average adolescent sleeps 7-7.25 hours/night. This is understandable since we know the circadian rhythm readjusts during the teen years and makes them want to stay up later.

But why is sleep SO important?

  • growth hormone is released during sleep, even if you’re “done” growing. The hormone is needed for the repair of muscles and tissues, building bone, burning fat, and to help the body repair and recover. In young athletes, it has been proven that sleep is critical to good athletic and academic performance.  Good sleep can help an athlete manage stress and can even lead to better eating habits. (Teens and Sleep, 2013)
  • In a study performed at Stanford University, student athletes were asked to increase their sleep to 10 hours a day for six to seven weeks.  Overwhelmingly, the study showed that athletic performance, including sprint and reaction time, increased with more sleep. Lead author Cheri Mah commented “It is interesting to note that many of the athletes in the various sports I have worked with, including the swimmers in this study, have set multiple new personal records and season best times, as well as broken long-standing Stanford and American records while participating in this study.” (Extra Sleep Improves Athletic Performance, 2008)
  • Another study out of Stanford University involving basketball players required them to sleep an adidtional 2 hours per night. Results showed a 9% improvement in free throws, faster sprint times and overall improved physical and mental well being.

What are the Risks of Insufficient Sleep? 

  • Adequate sleep for student athletes is key in preventing negative outcomes.  According to Kevin Costello in Why It Does Pay to Fall Asleep, “Sleep is often the forgotten component of high performance.  It’s important because it is the time when actual physical growth occurs and tissues recover from daily activity. Sleep-deprivation leads to fatigue, which can cause a decrease in both academic and athletic performances.” (Costello, 2006)
  • A decrease in sleep can also lead to other serious side effects, even depression. This is easy to see especially since we know the teens years can be full of stress. When students are worried about test scores, practice, and their social life, that anxiety can lead to poor sleep, which in turn can lead to depression. (Teens and Sleep, 2013)
  • Not only does sleep affect a student’s academic and athletic performance, but a lack of sleep may lead to a greater risk for injury. In a study conducted with student athletes at Harvard-Westlake School outside of Los Angeles, 7-12 graders who sleep < 7 hours per night have 50% MORE SPORTS-RELATED INJURIES! 

What can my Young Athlete Do to Improve His/Her Sleeping Habits?

  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Wake up at the same time on the weekends as you do weekdays.
  • Eat a larger meal at night, but make sure it’s at least three hours before bedtime.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol; both can lead to insomnia and less restful sleep.
  • Make your room a sleep haven! Keep it cool, quiet and dark. If you need to, get eyeshades ( I absolutely LOVE mine!) or blackout curtains.
  • Develop healthy ways to manage stress (go to a movie, exercise, do yoga).
  • Try to exercise earlier in the day, no later than four hours before bedtime.
  • Nap if feeling drowsy, but for no longer than 30 minutes.

Think about it, as athletes and parents of athletes, we make countless sacrifices to be the best; young athletes train hard, eat well and stay hydrated…what about sleep? make sure this is also on your priority list, because athletes that don’t snooze will LOSE!


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