5 Quality Ways To Make Sure Young Athletes Get Sleep

Sleep is the greatest natural performance enhancer.

Yet, the need to ensure young athletes get sleep is commonly overlooked by parents, coaches and the individuals themselves.

Getting sufficient shuteye is hugely important for a variety of reasons.

First, sleep is when athletes actually learn new skills. Sure they spend hours on the pitch running drills, or in the batting cage swinging away, but it’s actually during sleep that these motor skills are consolidated by the brain and hardwired in a young athlete. It’s not practice that makes perfect.

It’s practice plus sleep.

Second, sleep is when the body repairs, replenishes and reinforces itself. Hours spent in the gym are rendered useless and can, in fact, be harmful if they’re not followed by sufficient rest. It’s during deep sleep that torn muscle fibers are rebuilt and damaged tissue is repaired and strengthened. It’s sleep that makes a young athlete strong.

Knowing a young athlete should be sleeping more, and actually getting them to do so, are two very different things, however. Today’s screen-obsessed youth are getting less sleep than ever.  

Don’t despair – below are five ways that could improve the odds of junior getting sleep.

  1. Don’t schedule workouts too close to bedtime

The timing and intensity of that exercise can have an impact on how quickly and how soundly sleep then follows. Working out late in the evening works for some but for many others, it can lead to spikes in adrenaline that leave them feeling a little wired in bed.

Plus, too much exercise too close to bedtime can lead to something known as sleep twitching. This is an annoying and sometimes unpleasant phenomenon where the muscles jerk uncontrollably, causing arms or legs to kick and flail. While not dangerous (unless you get hit by a flailing limb), it’s safe to say the condition tends to wake everyone in the bed up.

  1. Put screens in the sin bin before bed

A big problem for all of us and especially the youth of today is overstimulation.

The world is simply too connected and too interactive. Thanks to smartphones and omnipresent wireless internet, nowhere is free from distraction, including our bedrooms.

The consequence of this is that while we may feel tired when we actually lay our head upon the pillow our mind is racing. Instead of falling asleep quickly we spend an hour or so tossing and turning… and checking our phone every 5 minutes. Before they know it, it’s midnight. 

The solution is to encourage young athletes to introduce a pre-bed wind-down time; this involves powering down all screens the hour before bed. Including smartphones.

Especially smartphones actually, as they’re the most distracting and can get most in the way of a better sleep. So keep phones out of the room, give them a red card and confine them to the ‘sin bin’ (i.e. the living room), not to be released until morning. If there’s any resistance to this it might be time to sit the athlete down and give them a talk about the sacrifice it takes to be successful.

  1. Encourage regularity

Bedtimes are not just for kids.

Bedtimes are for everyone, especially to make sure young athletes get sleep . The human body adores routine. Regularity of action allows the brain to build associations and take shortcuts. If a young athlete goes to bed and rises at approximately the same time each day, the brain will quickly learn to anticipate sleep approaching and become prepared for it.

A regular bedtime will also allow athletes to adopt healthier routines across the day, whether they relate to training times or eating schedules. Athletic performance is all about managing energy levels and regularity is essential for this.

  1. Get them to cool off before bed

One of the best ways to encourage healthy sleep is to cool down before bed. Studies have found that to initiate sleep the brain actually has to drop 2-3 degrees in temperature. This tends to happen naturally as we get drowsier but there are ways to accelerate the process.

Keeping their room cool is an obvious place to start. 

An ice-cold shower also works very well.  When you step out of the shower after 1 minute of cold water, a massive thermal dump occurs, dropping the body temperature rapidly and making you sleepy, fast. After you shake off the cold! 

  1. Provide a calm environment

Stress is the enemy of sleep.

Worrying too much about the big game or race in the morning will lead to broken sleep and poor performance. Ironically the act of worrying too much, actually makes the thing they are worried about more likely to occur.

That’s why mental toughness preparation is so important. Parents, coaches, friends and teammates have a big role to play here. If the role models in a young athletes life are calm, level-headed and don’t take things too seriously, then this tranquility will be instilled in the athlete themselves. With a relaxed support base around them, a young athlete is less likely to become stressed. As a result, they will sleep better and be more likely to perform.

 Here’s the importance that young athletes get sleep AND five ways to encourage it. Remember sporting success often comes down to fractions, the difference between a winners medal and finishing second can often be something as simple as a good night’s sleep.

About The Author

sleep advisorHi all, I’m Sarah. I absolutely love sleep. If I don’t get my doctor-recommended eight hours a night I’m a wreck the following day. I adore sleep so much that I’ve made it my job. When I’m not tucked up in bed I am reading the latest research and writing for the Sleep Advisor. My colleagues and I firmly believe that the world would be a happy, healthier place, if we all got a little bit more shuteye!