Can sleep enhance athletic performance?
Apr 6, 2018, 10:18:08 AM CDT Jul 30, 2018, 12:13:19 PM CDT

Can sleep enhance athletic performance?

What to know about young athletes and sleep

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Getting enough sleep is essential for growth and allows the body to recover and repair from the day's activities. These functions of sleep are especially important for young, developing athletes, who are exerting themselves physically on a daily basis – and a good night's rest can make all the difference in their athletic success.

Noel Williams, a registered dietitian and board certified specialist in sports dietetics at Children's Health℠ Andrews Institute Sports Performance powered by EXOS, answers some of the most important questions about sleep and its effect on young athlete's sports performance, injury prevention and recovery.

Why sleep helps optimize sports performance

Many people understand how sleep affects the developing brain. But for a high performing young athlete, getting enough sleep is critical for their developing body. Sleep enables the body to recover and repair – both mentally and physically.

“The first four hours of sleep are dominated by physical recovery, where more than 50% of your daily growth hormone is released, allowing the body to repair, recover, and optimize training adaptations like increased muscle growth, strength and power,” explains Williams. “The last four hours of sleep are dominated by the mental recovery phase, which is important in the development of short and long-term memory, processing and cognitive function. This phase helps keep the mind sharp. When trying to reach peak performance, sleep is a critical component – just as you would focus on hydration, conditioning, nutrition and mental preparation.”

How can getting enough sleep help reduce the risk of injury in young athletes?

Making sure young athletes get enough sleep each day helps reduce their risk of injury from both a mental clarity and physical recovery perspective. For example, adequate sleep improves reaction time and accuracy, and reduces mental errors. Restful sleep also allows the body to recover fully, repair and regenerate cells after workouts, all of which can help reduce the risk of injury.

How can getting enough sleep benefit a young athlete's sports performance?

In addition to the mental benefits of adequate sleep, athletes who get enough sleep will also see better results from their training, explains Williams. Lack of sleep, on the other hand, causes fatigue, which leads to impairments in cognitive and motor performance, thus slowing down reaction time. “Sleep loss impairs judgment, motivation, focus, memory and learning,” says Williams. “Without sleep, the brain struggles to consolidate memory and absorb new knowledge.”

How much sleep does a young athlete need?

Most parents personally understand the value of a good night's sleep. But it may not always be easy to instill that value in a teen athlete. Often teens are trying to balance school work, athletics and other commitments – meaning sleep may take a back seat. For your teen athlete, consider the following recommendations:  

  • Children between the ages of 6 and 12 need 9 to 12 hours of sleep each day.
  • Teens between the ages of 13 and 18 need at least 8 to 10 hours of sleep each day.

These sleep needs can be met through a combination of overnight sleep and midday naps.

Does exercise affect sleep?

“Exercising four to five hours before bedtime can improve sleep quality,” says Williams. “However, exercising right before bedtime can impair sleep, since the body’s heart rate, metabolism and circulating levels of adrenaline remain elevated for several hours after exercise. This can prevent your athlete from falling asleep.”

How to develop better sleep habits

The following tips can help young athletes get a more restful night's sleep:

  • Maintain a regular nighttime routine. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on the weekends and during school breaks.
  • Turn off screens in the evening. Avoid blue light from tablets, TV screens, computers and cell phones for 1.5 hours before bedtime. The blue light from these screens inhibits the release of melatonin, a hormone produced in the brain that tells your brain and body to initiate sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine.
  • Exercise in the late afternoon or early evening. Exercising four to five hours before bedtime is ideal for promoting good sleep.
  • Keep it cool. Lower the thermostat in your athlete's room to 65 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit and consider blackout curtains to keep the bedroom cool and dark.
  • Take time to unwind. Taking a 20-minute warm bath, and then going to sleep in a cool, dark room can help the brain release melatonin.

Learn more

The specially trained pediatric sports performance experts at Children's Health Andrews Institute Sports Performance powered by EXOS can help your young athlete perform at his or her best while remaining healthy and safe. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

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athlete, exercise, injury prevention, physical fitness, sleep, sports, sports injury, sports medicine

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