Q: [Adolescents and teens] How can sleep improve my child’s athletic performance?
A: Want an important tip to improve your child’s athletic performance and reduce risk of injury? Have them get enough sleep.
It’s literally that simple.
The importance of sufficient amounts of high-quality sleep
Well-rested athletes learn quicker, have less injury risk, and perform better during longer training blocks and tournaments. Of all the “recovery” options out there (such as cold, heat, stretching, massage), sleep is hands-down the most important choice.
- Sleep gives muscles needed time for repair and growth. In fact, most of getting taller takes places during sleep (a huge selling point for kids waiting to grow).
- Mood and performance improve with good sleep as key chemical transmitters are recharged.
- Bodies and brains move faster, think faster and respond more favorable to coaching.
The best coaching, strength training, and nutrition advice cannot overcome the nightmare of inadequate sleep. Now, how much sleep does that mean?
High school athletes who got at least eight hours of sleep a night had less risk of injury. Elementary school athletes best benefit from nine to 10 hours of sleep a night.
Now, part of this recommendation is somewhat individualized. Some may need more, and some may need a bit less. So how do you measure the amount and quality of sleep?
Look at your child’s mood and feelings of how hard they are working.
- If the child is more irritable, quicker to anger, less patient or focused, he/she probably needs more sleep.
- When balls are whizzing past them on defense, amp up their sleep.
- If he/she seems to be working harder on the court, on the field, or in class and getting less done, it’s time to get more sleep.
Sleep Hygiene 101
When deciding on scheduling anything “extra” (practice/skills training), ask if that commitment is “really” needed. Anything that jeopardizes sleep jeopardizes performance. So if there is any risk of affecting amount of sleep, it is best not to schedule that activity.
- Try to get your child to go to sleep the same time (or within ½ hour) every night.
Use his/her bedroom for sleep and changing only. Try not to let them study, watch Netflix, or do too much else in the bedroom. Train their brain to view his/her bedroom as a sleep room.
- Don’t have the time visible. Waking up and checking the clock can lead to poor sleep patterns and increase anxiety.
- Don’t have electronics in the bedroom. Eliminate blue light, chirps, pings and other distractions.
- Stop electronic use at least one hour before bedtime. Have them alert friends that they are going off the grid.
- Maybe even have them put down that device more often during the day. Less checking of social media might mean homework gets done quicker and more time for sleep.
- Do not use any supplements or medications for sleep without appropriate medical advice.
- Don’t rely upon using weekends or breaks to “catch up” on missed sleep. Getting a longer or deeper amount of sleep one day cannot make up for poor sleep on previous or future days.
Final words on sports and sleep
For sports that demand significant technical and tactical skill and high levels of concentration, sleep is vital to peak performance. Sleep deprivation has long been associated with lapses in decision-making, attentiveness and judgmental errors as well as reaction time and agility.
Sleep alone won’t put you on the podium, but without enough of it, all the other stuff just won’t matter as much.
Dr. Chris Koutures is a dual board-certified pediatric and sports medicine specialist who practices at ActiveKidMD in Anaheim Hills. Please visit activekidmd.com or follow him on Twitter (@dockoutures).