When it comes to training for sports, many student-athletes and their parents recognize the importance of eating well and exercising consistently. But sleep is often overlooked as a factor that can affect a child’s performance and recovery. That’s unfortunate because getting enough quality slumber is critical for a young athlete’s energy, coordination, muscle growth, recovery, and repair, mental focus, ability to manage stress, and academic performance. After all, contrary to common perception, sleep isn’t a passive activity; it’s an active state that leads to repair, recovery, and regeneration for a young athlete’s body and mind.
How Much Is Enough?
While the basic recommendation is for teenagers to get at least 8 hours of sleep per night, getting more sleep—say, 10 hours per night—on a regular basis can help those pursuing sports goals to reach their peak athletic performance. For kids ages 6 to 13, the recommended amount of sleep is between 9 and 11 hours, meaning your budding soccer star should really be aiming for 10 to 12 hours. (And yes, that can mean 7:30 PM bedtimes some nights!)
How It Helps Their Game
Besides improving physical energy and mental stamina during practices and games, sleep can improve skills specific to various activities. For instance, logging more snooze time can increase shooting accuracy among basketball players, and the accuracy of serves among tennis players. By contrast, insufficient sleep or sleep deprivation (such as pulling an all-nighter) can impair a student-athlete’s reaction time, lead to decreased exercise tolerance, and a quicker onset of exhaustion while playing sports.
Way to Get More Sleep
Given the demands of practice, travel, and competition schedules, as well as academic responsibilities, student-athletes are at a considerable risk of not getting enough sleep to meet the needs of their active bodies and minds. Making high-quality sleep a priority is a must.
- Start by helping your child stick with a consistent sleep schedule (including bedtimes and awakening times) that allow for sufficient shut-eye.
- Support good-quality sleep by creating a relaxing routine before bed to help your child manage stress and decompress.
- Don’t be afraid to re-introduce your child to napping for short periods (20 to 30 minutes) to supplement inadequate night-time sleep on an as-needed basis.
If a student-athlete is consistently struggling with sleep where it could be because of a more serious condition, such as insomnia, sleep apnea, or a sleep-related movement disorder, he or she should see their primary care physician who may refer a sleep specialist if needed.