Most young athletes know exactly how important training and nutrition are to their performance and recovery, but what many overlook is the importance of sleep. Ensuring young athletes get a good night’s sleep is vital to help support their growth, development and training goals. Perhaps even more so during lockdown when normal schedules are up in the air and it’s easy to fall into the habit of staying up all night watching TV or scrolling through social media. So, just how is important is sleep to a youth athlete?
Why’s it so important?
According to the Sleep Foundation, getting enough rest each night is key to everything from co-ordination, focus and stress management to muscle recovery, repair and growth . It’s not simply a time where the body shuts off, but rather where it regenerates, recovers, repairs and prepares. Sleep is in fact so important to athletes that just one night of poor-quality sleep can have a hugely negative effect on performance, affecting everything from, coordination, accuracy, decision making and reaction time to decreased strength and increased fatigue [2,3,4].
How much is enough?
Research suggests that teenagers need just as much sleep as younger children with a minimum of 9 hours per night recommended 
Recommended Sleep Duration
What about too much sleep?
Although there’s not a whole host of research in this area, it appears that getting extra sleep is actually beneficial to sport performance. Faster sprint times, increased passing and shooting accuracy, improved mood and reduced fatigue and exertion were reported when athletes were instructed to get in as much extra sleep as possible , showing just how important a good night’s sleep is to athletes!
How to get more sleep
With the hectic schedule youth athletes have, sleep is often the first thing sacrificed in order to find time for and balance training, travel, school, social commitments and more. Because of this, quality of sleep is vitally important. To help improve sleep ensure the following:
- Have a consistent sleep routine- go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
- Create a relaxed environment before bedtime to reduce the time it takes to switch off and fall asleep. This means cutting out screen and TV time in the hours before bed!
- Avoid caffeine including sodas and chocolate as well as tea, coffee and energy drinks.
- Foods such as tart cherry may be helpful in improving sleep quality when consumed before bed .
- Naps are a great way to supplement insufficient sleep during the night, especially if athletes have a late afternoon or evening training session. 20-30 minutes on the days where it’s needed is enough time to improve sporting and cognitive performance .
- Why Student Athletes Benefit from Getting More Sleep on a Regular Basis - Sleep Foundation(2020) [Online]. 2020. Available at: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/do-student-athletes-need-extra-sleep.
- Postolache, T.T., and D.A. Oren (2005). Circadian phase shifting, alerting, and antidepressant effects of bright light treatment. Clin. Sports Med. 24:381-413.
- Reilly, T., and T. Deykin (1983). Effects of partial sleep loss on subjective states, psychomotor and physical performance tests. J. Hum. Move. Stud. 9:157-170.
- Reilly, T., and A. Hales (1988). Effects of partial sleep deprivation on performance measures in females. In: E.D. McGraw (ed). Contemporary Ergonomics. London: Taylor and Francis, pp. 509-513.
- Mah, C.D., K.E. Mah, E.J. Kezirian, and W.C. Dement (2011). The effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players. Sleep. 34:943-950.
- Howatson G, Bell PG, Tallent J, et al. Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. Eur J Nutr. 2012;51(8):909–16.
- Hanson, S. L (2017) Sleep and Athletes, Gatorade Sports Science Institute, 167