Five Reasons Teen Athletes Need Better Sleep
Teens are getting less sleep today than they were 20 years ago, according to a study published in the Journal of Frontiers in Physiology, a problem made worse by the demands of daily life and the frequent use of technology devices. Some researchers believe that coaches and parents have an obligation to track their teens’ sleep to ensure they’re getting enough—8 to 10 hours a day, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. That’s because inadequate sleep can have a wide range of negative effects on teen athletes, from lower grades to a higher risk of injury.
“Poor sleep quality and quantity can affect both mental and physical functions in high school athletes and promote injuries that may not heal as well,” says Dr. Mark Buchfuhrer, medical director of the Comprehensive Sleep Center at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles. “Long term affects are not fully understood but studies have demonstrated increased mood issues such as anxiety and depression correlating closely with inadequate sleep.”
High school coaches can tell when their athletes aren’t getting the shut-eye they need each night.
“If students don’t get enough sleep or do not sleep well, their athletic performance suffers, as do their academics,” said Armando Talamantez, a Spanish teacher and former assistant wrestling coach at Sam Houston High School in Arlington, Texas. “It was evident when athletes didn’t get enough sleep because they were unable to perform at their maximum potential.”
Here are five ways teen athletes suffer when their sleep suffers.
1. They’re more likely to get injured.
In one study from the Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics, teen athletes who got less than 8 hours of sleep per night were almost twice as likely to have an injury compared to those getting at least 8 hours a night.
It’s not exactly clear why injury rates increase. There are probably several factors, says Dr. James Chesnutt, medical director of the Sports Medicine Program at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. One reason may be that longer sleep leads the brain to produce more growth hormone, which helps maintain physical health. Another reason may be that less sleep leads to slower reaction times.
“There are also increased mistakes and misjudgments which could lead to poor decision making at school or on the field and could contribute to injuries,” Chesnutt says.
2. They take longer to recover from sports-related concussions.
Inadequate sleep lengthens recovery for many injuries, according to the Sports Medicine journal, especially head injuries. A study last year in the American Journal of Sports Medicine compared recovery times of teen athletes with and without sleeping difficulties before they got a concussion. Those who slept less and had trouble falling asleep before their concussions had slower reaction times up to two weeks after their concussions compared to the teens without sleeping difficulties.
3. It’s tougher to learn new skills or improve.
“Immediate risks of frequent and repetitive sleep deprivation are slowed cognition and reaction time,” says Dr. Clifford Segil, a neurologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. That makes it harder to improve on plays or learn new skills.
The problem extends to the night after, too. What a teen learns doesn’t stay with them as easily if they’re not getting enough sleep, Chesnutt says.
4. Less sleep means less success in academics.
Many schools have a “no pass, no play” policy requiring student athletes to pass all their classes to play games. Research published in Frontiers in Physiology and the Journal of Adolescence has shown that teens with poor sleep have poorer grades. No matter how great a player is, their skills mean little if they’re not on the field.
5. They simply don’t perform as well.
College basketball players improved sprint times and accuracy in free throws and 3-point shooting when they slept longer, according to a study in the Sleep Medicine Reviews journal. Chesnutt cited research at an elite university showing that college swimmers improved every aspect of their performance after getting 10 hours of sleep a night for about 6 weeks.
“They continued to improve their reaction time every week and improved their swimming times, turn times and mood, and these were already excellent swimmers,” he says.
So what can parents and teens do? They can track sleep with a sleep log or wearable technology, Chesnutt says. He also recommends:
- limiting naps during the day
- no texting in bed
- limiting caffeine to five hours before sleep
- limiting exercise to two hours before sleep
- no reading or watching TV in bed
“Sleep hygiene consists of going to sleep at the same time every day, doing the same pre-sleep routine every night and, if awakening during the night, also always doing the same identical routine,” says Segil.
And hopefully dream of scoring the big goal.
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