Young athletes who aren’t getting enough sleep often face difficulties concentrating, focusing and learning.
And that can lead to poor performances, increased injury risk and a lot of frustration.
We caught up with Dr. Shalini Paruthi, a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). She is board-certified in sleep medicine and internal medicine and is the co-director of the Sleep Medicine and Research Center at St. Luke’s Hospital in St. Louis.
Use her insights to help your young athletes be well-rested and ready for Game Day action:
SPORTINGKID LIVE: How does a parent of a young athlete determine how much sleep their child needs, and are there any differences regarding boys vs. girls, or for the sport the youngster plays?
DR. PARUTHI: The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommends, and research strongly supports, that teens between 13 and 18 years of age should sleep eight to 10 hours per night on a regular basis to promote optimal health. This recommendation is for both boys and girls. A good starting point to determine an ideal bedtime for a young teen athlete is to count back approximately 10 hours prior to the necessary wake-up time for school. For example, if wake-up time is 6 a.m., then bedtime is ideally 8 p.m.
It can be hard to get to bed after late-night practices, but it is still so important to go through a quick version of the usual bedtime routine and then get to bed as soon as reasonably possible. A well-rested teen athlete is able to fall asleep within 20 minutes of getting in bed, sleeps through the night, awakens easily at the wake-up time, and does not usually need to sleep in on weekends (i.e., does not need to catch up on sleep since they are well rested every night). Sleeping in on the weekends is a sign that a teen is not getting enough sleep on weeknights.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: How does not enough sleep impact a child’s performance in a practice or game?
DR. PARUTHI: Sleep recharges teens’ energy for peak performance in sports, making them faster, stronger and more accurate. When teens sleep, hormones are released that help them grow taller and develop muscles. Sleep also helps restore energy to the brain and body.
There are a few research studies looking at sleep deprivation in teen (and college) athletes. Athletes who did not get enough sleep were prone to have more accidents and injuries on the field, and need longer recovery times. In addition, student athletes who did sleep enough at night noted improvements in their athletic skills. For example, tennis players had more accurate serves, basketball players had higher free-throw shooting percentages, track athletes could run their races faster, etc.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: How does lack of sleep affect a child’s ability to understand a coach’s instructions or comprehend plays or strategies that are used during the game?
DR. PARUTHI: Lack of good-quality sleep and enough sleep has been associated with difficulty concentrating, focusing and learning. It’s important for teen athletes to be well rested so they can concentrate, focus and pay better attention to what they are learning, and to perform better in games. Everything that is learned during the day is processed when we are sleeping, so it is important to get good-quality sleep and enough sleep so there is time to make and store new memories.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What are the warning signs coaches/parents can watch for that indicate a child isn’t getting enough sleep?
DR. PARUTHI: Coaches and parents who would like to see their teen athlete excel should be on the lookout for warning signs that they are not sleeping enough. For example, if a teen falls asleep at inappropriate times, such as during class, while talking to friends, or while driving or eating, they likely need much more sleep on a regular, consistent basis. If a student needs to sleep in on weekends, then they are not getting enough sleep during the weekdays. Students who are hard to wake up in the mornings are likely not getting enough sleep at night regularly. Students who need to take a nap during the day may not be getting enough sleep at night.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Is there anything else that would be important for a parent of a young teen athlete or coach to know regarding this topic?
DR. PARUTHI: First, make sleep a priority! There is strong evidence that one of the best performance enhancers on and off the field is sufficient and good-quality sleep. Coaches and parents should also try their best to model good sleep behaviors and sleep hygiene and get involved with helping their teen develop healthy sleep habits to get enough, good-quality sleep.
Parents can enforce a consistent sleep schedule and create a quiet sleep environment for their teen athletes. Additionally, setting restrictions on screen time before bed is key to helping teens get to sleep on time. Teens may be tempted to keep using their laptops, smartphones and game consoles late into the night rather than going to sleep.
Second, it’s important to know that sleepiness from lack of sleep can be harmful, or even deadly. It can lead to more accidents and injuries, including fatal car crashes. In fact, teens and young adults have the highest risk of being involved in a drowsy driving accident. This is preventable!
Finally, parents should be aware that sleep can be disrupted by sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome. Talk to a doctor if your teen displays potential signs of a sleep disorder, such as snoring loudly or complaining of restless, uncomfortable sensations in the legs. Help for an ongoing sleep problem is available from a board-certified sleep medicine physician at an accredited sleep disorders center. Find a local sleep center that is accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine using the online directory at www.sleepeducation.org.
Parents and coaches can learn more about healthy sleep habits in teens by visiting http://sleepeducation.org/healthysleep/sleep-recharges-you-teen-sleep-duration.