For young athletes, sleep is extremely important. We’ve talked about that before. But now we’re going to get really practical and give you four steps that you can apply personally toward healthier sleep. While keeping bed times and wake times regular are certainly part of the equation, they’re definitely not the entire picture.
Know Your Body
While there are certainly plenty of general health facts that are true for just about everyone (salad is healthier than candy, for instance), some are pretty individualized. While each person needs a certain amount of sleep, that amount can vary, as can the cues our bodies give us to let us know we’re not getting enough. Let’s say you’re the life-of-the-party type, but one day, for no apparent reason, you really have no desire to even go to practice. Or maybe you can usually roll with the punches, but today you find yourself arguing with your coach and teammates. The cause may be sleep. As you track these behavior tendencies, you may notice a pattern and that they coincide with disruptions to sleep.
Allow for Margin
A huge culprit when it comes to healthy sleep is not getting enough time to unwind. If you’re constantly on the go, hopping from one activity to another until bedtime, your mind and body simply don’t have the opportunity to transition to healthy sleep. We all need time to decompress, and that may look different for you than for your parents or your peers. Not only do you need some time that’s free from physical activity, but you also need some time to mentally refocus.
Turn off Screens
Whatever you choose to unwind with, don’t let it be light-emitting screens. They can confuse your body, making it think it’s actually morning! Your body’s circadian rhythms lead to the production of melatonin, and you don’t want that going on when it’s time for you to get to bed. Instead, turn off all screens an hour before bed time, so your body’s natural cycles can work with you, not against you. For extra insurance, make sure all electronics “go to bed” in another room; by keeping them away during sleeping hours, you’ll not only avoid having noisy notifications wake you up, but you’ll also send your body an important message: it’s time for sleep, not screens.
Implement De-Stressing Routines
Again, this will look different for each individual, but the point is to make some sort of stress-relieving, low key activity your bedtime ritual. Remember how Mom or Dad read you a bedtime story when you were little? Well, it’s time for you to choose something that will have the same effect, signaling to your brain and body that it’s time for bed. You may choose to write a sentence or two in a journal, listen to a relaxing song, read a chapter of a book, or flip through a few old photos that bring back pleasant memories.