How important is sleep for young athletes?
Sleep, alongside good nutrition, and physical exercise plays an essential role in helping young athletes perform at an optimal level. Sleep is essential for repairing muscles and replenishing energy stores after a heavy training session. Getting enough sleep also contributes to cognitive functions of the brain, increasing judgement, focus and decision-making which not only helps performance on the pitch, but in the classroom too.
According to the National Library of Medicine, young athletes who regularly sleep less than eight hours a night are 1.7 times more likely to get injured, have lower endurance levels, tire faster, have difficulty completing tasks and have slower reaction times.
The Sleep Foundation guidelines state that youth athletes (13-18) should be getting between 9 and 10 hours of sleep per night with primary school-aged athletes (aged 6-12) needing at least 9-11 hours of sleep per night.
Factors affecting Sleep in young athletes
- Irregular bedtimes – Sleep experts recommend having the same consistent bedtimes and wake up times, this can be hard for young athletes with training, matches and schoolwork to keep on top of.
- Sleeping too close to the end of a training session – vigorous evening training sessions may cause a rise in core body temperature and a rise in heart rate and blood pressure. Young athletes may also feel physical discomfort due to sore muscles or injuries; these factors can cause discomfort for the athlete and prevent the onset of sleep.
- Pressure to perform – Young athletes may find it difficult to sleep due to stress and anxiety about upcoming matches, or stress about not performing well in previous matches.
- Screen time – Excessive screen time can lead to a delayed onset of sleep due to exposure to blue light.
Tips for improving sleep in young athletes
- Getting plenty of light during the day and avoiding screen time at night.
- Keeping the bedroom cool, dark, and quiet, or using adaptive strategies such as earplugs and a sleep mask if this is not possible.
- Avoid caffeine before bed.
- Avoid large meals and excessive liquids before bed.
- Wait at least 90 minutes after training before sleeping.
- Winding down in the evening with a quiet book or other soothing activity.
- Mindfulness/breathing techniques.