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Sleep Better, Play Better: 5 Tips to Optimize Sleep for Youth Athletes
Sleep has a profound effect on the health and wellbeing of us all. While the focus of Team Elite Cares is education pertaining to youth athletics, the information below pertains to all of us…. parents, coaches, and kids. Sleep and nutrition could arguably be the two most important factors when it comes to recovery from sports. But beyond recovery, the quality and quantity of sleep effects the growth and development of our kids. The brain is the mothership….it regulates the hormones our bodies produce, the way we process information, motor learning, cognitive growth and development, reaction time, mental health, and more. The brain requires adequate sleep in order for these functions to properly occur. We as parents and coaches must put sleep at the top of the priority list if we want to stack the odds in the favor of our kids when it comes to optimal development and proper recovery from athletics.
Here are 5 basic tips to ensure you are promoting the best sleep hygiene for you and your family.
1. Establish a Routine
A nightly routine is an indication to the brain that it is time to “wind down.” This may include a warm bath (warm water relaxes the nervous system), brushing teeth, and reading a story (from a book, not a tablet).
2. Consistent Bed Time
Consistency is key when it comes to sleep for everyone, not just youth! While occasional conflicts may disrupt the normal schedule, be as diligent as possible with bed time (within 30 min of your set time). Routinely turning in for bed around the same time assists in establishing your ‘inner bed-time clock’ signaling to the brain that it is time to sleep. Along with a consistent bed time is a steady quantity of sleep. A study in the Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics on youth athletes (grades 7 to 12) reported that those who slept less than 8 hours were 1.7 times more likely to suffer an injury compared to those who received more than 8 hours (see article here). Typical recommendations for school-age kids (6-13 years old) are between 9-11 hours and for teenagers (14-17 years old), 8-10 hours is indicated. So, count the hours backward from when they awaken for school to determine the appropriate bedtime. If your child continues to feel drowsy in the late afternoon, increase the quantity of sleep until the drowsiness is unappreciable.
3. Minimize Screen Time (Blue Light)
Television, computers, and tablets emit light along the blue-light spectrum. This light inhibits the production of melatonin, a hormone produced in the evening signaling the body to sleep. Electronics in addition to the lights in our home emit blue-light thus “tricking” our brain into thinking it’s daytime. Best bet is to eliminate these devices 1 hour before bedtime or utilize a blue-light filter (like this one) on your devices. Special bulbs for the lights in your home, especially for bedrooms and bathrooms, can be changed to decrease the blue-light spectrum. You can purchase these special bulbs here.
4. Avoid Large Meals and Excess Fluids Just Before Bed
Eating a large meal or drinking a large amount of fluid before bed often disrupts sleep with frequent trips to the restroom during the night or difficulty getting comfortable in order to fall asleep. Try to eat dinner at least an hour before heading off to bed or opt for a smaller meal if your schedule is thrown off and dinner time is encroaching upon bedtime.
5. Create an Ideal Sleep Environment
Try to create a “cave-like” environment. What does this mean? Keep the bedroom cool by setting your thermostat between 65-72 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, aim for a dark room that is as quiet as possible. Invest in blackout curtains to keep unwanted light out of the room and keep the door closed and noise at a minimum to ensure your little ones stay asleep.
If despite attempting the recommendations above, your child continues to exhibit difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, consult with your pediatrician. It is not uncommon for our youth to experience sleep disorders. These issues may arise from physiological issues such as obstructive sleep apnea or disruptive behaviors like sleepwalking. Sleep is important to every human being…. there is no exception. Be sure to keep your child’s sleep a priority, not only as it pertains to recovery from athletics, but for optimal growth and development.