Young athletes today are growing up in a world of fast food, electronic gadgets and imposed societal pressures. They’re often over-scheduled and aren’t getting as much physical activity on a year-round basis as young athletes 25 years ago.
This has played a major role in teenagers’ sleep patterns, with scientists recently concluding that most U.S. adolescents operate almost in a constant state of jet lag.
The National Sleep Foundation says that adolescents ages 10-17 need between 8.5-9.25 hours of sleep per night, but that the average person in that age range only gets about 7-7.25 hours per night.
Without proper sleep, teenagers will have a harder time focusing on their studies and their athletic performances will suffer.
Stanford University recently conducted a study in which 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.
In addition, according to an abstract presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics conference in 2012, adolescent athletes who slept eight or more hours each night were 68 percent less likely to be injured than athletes who regularly slept less.
Good sleep can also help athletes manage stress and can lead to better eating habits. On the other hand, poor sleep can lead to side effects such as depression and anxiety.
Here are three tips to help young athletes maintain better sleep behaviors:
1. Get Enough Sleep Consistently
It’s just as important to prioritize sleep over a long period of time as it is the night before a big game or an important exam. Young athletes should keep a consistent sleep schedule as much as possible, waking up and going to bed at the same time on the weekends as they do on weekdays. It’s also good to plan for exercise earlier in the day, no later than four hours before bedtime.
2. Optimize Your Sleep Environment
A key to a good night’s rest is creating an environment that is conducive to that good rest. Not only should you have a comfortable bed and mattress, but you should keep your bedroom dark, quiet and at a proper cool temperature. Sixty-five degrees is an ideal sleep temperature. It’s also important to avoid bright lights and electronics in the 30 minutes prior to going to sleep — basically giving yourself an electronic curfew. Interactive technology makes people more alert and can lead to insomnia when used before bed. Light from computer screens and televisions can interfere with the body’s circadian rhythm and keep you awake. Also, be sure to use your bed as a sacred place only for sleep, not for activities such as working, reading, watching TV or listening to music.
3. Use Caution with Substances
It’s vital to minimize caffeine intake during the afternoon and evening hours, and to use sleep medications sparingly, if at all. Caffeine and energy drinks have negative effects on sleep, and medication can decrease the quality of sleep, even if it increases the quantity. Young athletes should develop a relaxed bedtime routine that works for them, which could include anything from reading or writing to meditation exercises or taking a warm bath. Just find a routine that works for you and stick to it.
For more information, check out: Stanford Sleep Center and the National Sleep Foundation.