Do you know what probably affects young athletes even more than their diet and the quality of their instruction and practice? Sleep. It’s simple, but its significance simply can’t be overstated. And forget about 8 hours: according to the National Sleep Foundation, most children actually require between 9 and 14 hours per 24-hour period, depending on age and other individual factors. When a person of any age gets enough healthy sleep, the result is a well-rested person who is able to be creative, productive, and energetic. For children, the stakes are even higher: proper intellectual and physical development can only occur when they’re getting enough sleep. Your swimmers, gymnasts, or musicians will be able to reach their full potential only when they are in the habit of getting healthy sleep.
Why Sleep Habits Matter
This isn’t just about going to bed on time the night before a competitive event. More importantly, a daily habit of getting uninterrupted nighttime sleep will result in a well-rested child who can function mentally & physically at the top of his or her game. It’s important for that sleep schedule to coordinate with the child’s biological rhythms and to occur 7 days (well, nights) per week, with rare exceptions.
What a Well-Rested Young Athlete Looks Like
More importantly than the number of hours a child lies in bed or his/her official bed time or alarm clock setting is the story that person’s body tells. There is no across-the-board magic number here. Instead, consider the signs of a well-rested person:
• alert but not hyper-alert or jumpy
• able to interact well with others
• capable of following a coach’s instructions
• conscious of physical cues from others
• self-controlled in responses to various scenarios
For those who are generally wide-eyed, pleasant, and attentive, you can be assured that among other contributing factors, healthy sleep is part of his or her lifestyle.
How Sleep Deprivation Affects Young Athletes
While fatigue is an obvious sign, some young athletes don’t display behaviors we often associate with lack of sleep. Sometimes, lack of sleep causes the body to produce adrenaline and other hormones to fight fatigue, resulting in over-stimulation. If an athlete seems to have a lot of energy but also struggles emotionally, he or she may actually be over tired. Reasons for lack of sleep can range from staying up late, nighttime waking, or actual sleep disorders.
If you think one of your athletes may be suffering from sleep deprivation, you may want to talk with his or her parents. Be sure to let them know you’re on the same team and simply want to help their child achieve his or her full potential — not only at the gym, but also in their life.