We all know that sleep is essential, but reading why this is the case and what happens if sleep is at the very back end of the priority list for young athletes, might make them want to go to sleep.
Getting a young athlete to sleep (not only to bed, that might not do it) can be challenging. They often have been busy all day long. After dinner and probably some more homework, there finally is time for checking on friends and strangers on the internet, watching a movie, or anything else but going to bed and sleeping.
What is good sleep doing for young athletes and their performance:
I´m sure you know of athletes who come to practice for two weeks, and then they are out again with a cold. That may constantly happens to them, and it becomes “normal.” Well, it´s not normal! Their immune system can not handle any load, and I would check their sleep. Sleep helps the body fight off infections. While sleeping, the immune system has more energy for itself and therefore fights anything that doesn´t belong in our body on a higher level than being up and going. We only feel sick when our immune system can not handle the work in the backend anymore. Then the athlete gets sick to slow down, so that the immune system finally gets the energy it needs to kill some unwanted strangers.
I guess I wouldn´t need to point out the ripple effect of this, but I will do it anyway. The athlete sleeps well - the immune system can do its thing and is done in the morning - the athlete will wake up energized, excited, motivated… everything they need to have a powerful day. Not just is this athlete able to be present in school, but they also can train at the level they want and need to to reach their desired goals and to perform at a level they can - if they sleep. Now you can turn the ripple effect around and picture the athlete who doesn´t belief that sleep can make a difference.
We all know that being tired and not totally present also affects our coordination, reaction time, and even balance. Well, all of this can easily lead to injuries. Injuries can happen, but it would be a bummer when it would have been possible to prevent the injury by having slept enough. Injuries often happen at competitions or the end of bigger training blocks. At those times, of course not only a possible lack of sleep has an influence, but physical and mental stress through pressure and higher loads. That we need to “stress” the systems through training in order to improve performance is not going anywhere. Also, competition will always come with some sort of pressure. How I would deal with that, you can read in other blog posts of mine. Here, here and here. 😉 But does it not sound like the most simple thing to do is to make sure to sleep well and plenty to prevent injuries?
Let´s go over the scenario.
When sleep is given the immune system the time and energy to repair, restore and recover, why would an athlete not want to make sure to sleep enough on a regular basis. Especially knowing that the other option is to get sick at some point, only to miss training or even a competition, while others keep improving there performance, because those can keep practicing and racing with the energy needed.
And why would a young athlete not want to sleep enough, when they would see the connections to unnecessary injuries?
Both, an ineffective immune system and a lower body awareness that leads to injury, also causes unsatisfying performance and missing opportunities. Of course all of it has other following consequences on top of it. A decrease enjoyment and motivation, increased pressure and stress, loss of confidence and so on.
By now we really want to make sure young athletes get all the sleep they need. I know it´s easier said than done. But let´s take a look on how to do that and what exactly means enough.
Of course, it´s a bit more complex than just saying athletes should go to bed earlier. But of course, that´s the essential ingredient. Go to bed at a time, so the athlete has enough hours left before the alarm goes off in the morning. (that´s pretty surprising 😄). I recommend at least 8 hours. When training and academic load gets higher at certain periods, 9 hours wouldn´t be a bad idea.
I already mentioned that going to bed and falling asleep is not the same.
To fall asleep, we need our sleep hormone to be present in our brain cells, called Melatonin. Ideally, Melatonin is low in the morning and high in the evening and is effected by light. Melatonin also is a very powerful antioxidant that keeps control over free radicals. No one wants to have damage to their brain cells. We need them, especially when being in a developing phase like young athletes.
To increase our sleep hormone in the evening, bright light needs to be dimmed. But sitting in a dark room and looking at a screen doesn´t do it. Most of the lights in our living spaces, and screens of any sort, emit blue light which interrupts Melatonin production. That´s what might make it hard for young athletes to fall asleep when they finally thinks it´s time to do so.
Putting everything aside and looking at a fire would be one way to prepare for sleep, but since this might be a bit of an overkill, there are other solutions as well. Wearing blue-light-blocking glasses in the evening is a great way to still be able to do everything we want, while Melatonin can raise. There are also blue light blockers on our phones and computers and you also can find anti blue light screen protectors. I like the glasses the most, because I´m good no matter what I´m looking at when lights come on.
I want to finish it up with some extra short tips on how to prepare for sleep. Avoiding thrilling TV shows, heart rate raising conversations with an open ending, worrying over stuff, and late eating.
I wish you a good, restful night when it´s time for you to fall asleep 😴
Do you have a Dream? Keep going towards it :)
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