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Young athletes need sleep
Justis column: Performance can be affected by lack of rest
Nancy Justis - correspondent
Jan. 23, 2023 10:55 am
Is your young athlete getting enough sleep?
When I was a young athlete, there wasn’t a TV in every bedroom, a video game on every set, a phone in every hand. The only things I needed to worry about was getting my homework and chores done, and being on time for practices.
That’s not the case in today’s youth competitive sport world.
I watch my two grandsons maneuver their responsibilities on a daily basis and, honestly, I don’t know how they do it. They have school, homework, church and home responsibilities.
One has a TV in his bedroom, the other a TV just steps away, video games, training on top of practices and games, and yes, personal phones.
I asked the 14-year-old recently how much sleep he thinks he gets each night. His response was “probably seven hours.” I said that’s not enough.
“I’m not going to bed at 8:30,” he said.
An article by Gordon MacLelland of Working With Parents in Sport noted “Post-exercise recovery with extra sleep accelerates the building of muscle, strength and endurance.
“Without proper sleep, athletes suffer from poorer reaction times, longer recovery times, and worsened performance.”
He noted sleep deprivation does not negatively affect aerobic capacity, but it does affect reaction time.
Reduction in reaction time puts athletes at greater risk of injury. A Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine study found that adolescents who played a game following a night of fewer than eight hours of sleep were nearly twice as likely to get injured.
Lack of adequate sleep can have detrimental long-term effects, as well. A study published in the American Academy of Sleep Medicine followed 80 Major League Baseball players over three seasons. Players who scored high for sleepiness were less than 40 percent likely to still be playing three seasons later, compared to those with 72 percent of players who scored low on sleepiness.
Lack of sleep also impacts mental focus, mood and stress levels. Olympians, for example, often attribute part of their success to a strong visualization practice and positive attitudes. Little sleep can cause irritability which interferes with an athlete’s ability to “keep their head in the game.”
Sleep deprivation is linked to increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. I can attest to the fact that performance already causes stress and nerves which doesn’t need to be added to.
Lastly, sleep deprivation has been shown to inhibit production of glycogen and carbohydrates which provide a source of energy.
Does more sleep lead to better performance? The short answer is yes.
The recommended amount of sleep for an average adult is seven-to-nine hours per night and they should get 10 hours in the weeks surrounding their training and competition. Adolescents should aim for at least nine hours.
I have seen my grandson nap during the day which can help to make up for lost sleep hours, but they should be kept to 30 or fewer minutes and should be avoided before practice or events. Naps provide a two- to three-hour boost in alertness and performance.
Females are more prone to sports-related injuries than men and they are more likely to suffer from sleep disorders such as insomnia. But we do recover more quickly from sleep deprivation.
Heavy or deep sleep is important because growth hormones are released during this time and promotes tissue repair and recovery of body and muscles.
Athletes wishing to improve their quality of sleep should follow these tips:
- Follow a regular sleep schedule, seven days a week. The bedroom is only for bedroom activities. Do the same things each night before bed. The temperature should be set in the mid-60s or cooler. Avoid caffeine, particularly days before an event, and avoid sleep aids since they might interfere with performance.
- Sleep is induced and sustained when the body temperature lowers so avoid nighttime exercise. Save training and workouts for the early morning and afternoon.
- Athletes can be affected by travel and change in time zones, but it may be impossible to arrive a few days early.
Other suggestions include:
- Making the bedroom dark and quiet. Consider blackout curtains, earplugs to reduce noise and a fan to circulate air while blocking out other noises. I use a white noise machine when I sleep. It works.
- Hydrate during the day and cut back on liquids one to two hours before bed.
- Avoid screens.
Nancy Justis is a former competitive swimmer and college sports information director. She is a partner with Outlier Creative Communications. Let her know what you think at email@example.com