The Whole Athlete (Four Part Series) Part Two of Four: Sleep
By Julie Shepherd
Sleep, good-old-fashioned sleep. Can you remember the last night you had a really good sleep? Your head hit the pillow and you didn’t wake up until the next morning. You got out of bed with a smile on your face, full of energy, eager to start the day. Now compare it to a night when you hit the pillow, tossed and turned, eyes wide open, and barely got any sleep. How did your mood compare? Maybe no smile, maybe grumpy wishing you could go back to sleep.
Today we are going to continue our conversation on building the whole teen athlete (if you missed part one on nutrition you can find it here). We will explore what happens to your body when you sleep and why sleep is so vitally important. We will also look at how sleep or lack of sleep can affect your mental and physical game and some strategies on how to get a good night’s sleep.
Sleep, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is the natural periodic suspension of consciousness during which the powers of the body are restored. It is recommended that teen athletes between the ages of 14-17 should sleep between eight to ten hours. During sleep we cycle through four to five phases several times during the night. The first few phases occur while we are falling asleep, perhaps still aware of our surroundings, but our awareness fades and, our body temperature starts to drop until we are finally asleep. The next two phases are where the magic happens. This is when we get our deepest and most restorative sleep. During these phases, the body repairs muscles and tissues, releases hormones, such as human growth hormone, and restores energy. Some research has also found that during this phase your brain prepares for new learning when you wake up. This is the time when your brain transfers short-term memory into long-term storage.
Now that you understand a little more about sleep and what happens while we sleep, let’s dive into why sleep can affect your physical game. As a teen athlete, your decision making and reaction time must be quick. If you take too long to decide who should get the ball or if you should take a shot, the other team can take advantage which may be the difference between a win and a loss. Sleep deprivation has been shown to negatively impact your decision-making skills, decrease your reaction time, and inhibit your ability to recover properly. All of these deficits, either alone or together, can increase your risk of injury.
Stanford University Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine has conducted many studies examining the effects of sleep on athletes. In one particular study, they examined the effects of extended sleep on several different athletic teams. Each group was given a goal of 10 hours of sleep per night during a five to eight week period. The results showed basketball players achieved a more accurate shot, swimmers improved turn times and kick strokes, and football players improved their 20-yard shuttle. In another study, they found that athletes who slept at least 8 hours a night decreased their risk of injury by 68%. If you are looking to improve your game at all, this research shows you how important sleep is to performance.
We all know the importance of your mental state on game day. I’m sure you know how off you can feel if you are having a bad day, didn’t do well on a test, are experiencing relationship issues, or any other plethora of reasons you can feel off. These life issues are typically something we deal with on a daily basis on some level or another. Now add how you feel when you wake up from a restless night of sleep. A little groggy, spacey, maybe you have some difficulty making decisions and perhaps a little grumpy. How do you think that affects your play and ability to be a good teammate? Sleep deprivation can make you more irritable and decrease your ability to cope with stressful situations. A teen athlete’s ability to manage a bad call or poor decision by a teammate can be negatively impacted if they are sleep deprived.
Now we know why we need to get a good night’s sleep, but how do we do our best to make it happen? First and most important, put down your electronics; phone, iPad, Kindle, video game, etc at least two hours before going to bed. The blue light emitted from these devices can trick your mind into thinking it is daytime. Second, try and be consistent on what time you go to bed and when you wake up. An irregular pattern can affect your levels of melatonin, a hormone which helps you fall asleep. Finally, relax your mind. Listen to music, read a book, or meditate.
Getting a good night’s sleep has many benefits. When a teen athlete gets the recommended eight to ten hours of sleep, they are better equipped to recover, restore energy, and help transfer short-term memory to long-term storage. Mentally they can also handle situations on the field appropriately and ensure their speed, reaction time, and decision making are at it’s best.
Next up, part three – Mindset