Teenagers have no idea how their athletic abilities can dramatically improve over night. All they need to do is get more sleep! Sleep deprivation is a growing epidemic in our 24-hour society, affecting adolescents and adults alike. Much research has been done on the deleterious health effects of losing sleep, including increased risk of hypertension (heart attacks and strokes,) type II diabetes, depression, cancer and obesity. Sleep deprivation can actually cause brain cells to die and the effects are irreversible.
What research has been done in the area of sleep and athletics?
Getting more sleep results in significantly improved athletic performance and victories. Sleep deprived participants have also been found to have astoundingly slower glucose metabolism – in some cases up to 40% slower than in the well-rested individual. As you might expect, this has tremendous consequences on your child’s athletic ability and can greatly diminishes their energy.
Cheri Mah, a researcher at Stanford University, has done revolutionary work in the field of sleep and sports. Working with the Stanford men’s basketball team, she encouraged the players to maintain a regular sleep schedule of at least 10 hours per night for 5-7 weeks. She found a 9% increase in the success of free throws and 3-pointers, faster sprint and reaction times, and an increase in general health and wellbeing. Similar work was repeated with the women’s tennis team and the men’s football team, with improved performance and increased vigor resulting for both.
Research at Cornell and elsewhere has found that when athletes reduce their sleep debt to zero (getting adequate sleep every night), they show improved conditioning, an increase in focus and concentration, a decrease in injuries, faster reaction time, a decrease in fatigue and an increase in energy.
One great example of how sleep makes a difference was demonstrated when Sarah Hughes, a struggling 15 year old figure skater with Olympic dreams, decided to get significantly more sleep and keep a regular sleep-wake schedule. Not only did she make the Olympic team, but “unexpectedly” won the gold medal with a record shattering performance. Similarly, Amber Way of Charlevoix, Michigan was not expected to contribute much as a freshman high school cross-country and track participant. She decided to change her sleep from 7 hours per night to 9 ¼ hr. After she made this change, she broke 5 school records as a freshman and went on to win the State of Michigan Division III 3200 meter race as a sophomore, setting an all-time record for her event.
Research has shown that the best time to work out is in the late afternoon, between 6 and 9 PM. At this time, a teenager’s body is at its optimal temperature for physical exertion; strength, flexibility, and reaction time in performance sports all seem to peak.
Early morning workouts are far from ideal. Getting up early to exercise often cuts into meeting a teen’s required hours of nocturnal sleep. Secondly, their body temperature is still low, making them susceptible to slower reaction time and injury (like tripping on an early morning run). If teens must exercise early, make sure they spend at least 20-30 minutes stretching before doing any vigorous activity. All night long the fluid between the discs in your spinal cord has been building up pressure waiting to be released. By encouraging your teen to stretch for a long time, they can help dissipate that pressure and reduce the possibility of developing lower back pain or herniating a disc. Research has also shown that those athletes who practice only once a day in the afternoon often perform better than those who follow a “two-a-day” practice routine.
So, how much sleep do teenagers need?
For teenagers and young adults, their developing body causes their need for sleep to be about 9 ¼ hours of sleep each night—about two hours more than most in that age group are getting! According to research by Dr. Charles Czeisler at Harvard University, the teenager’s circadian rhythm is set to maximally fall asleep at 3am and wake up at 11am.
Studies find that athletes who sleep the recommended amount, rather than cutting their slumber a few hours short, show significantly more improvement afterward. Aside from the essential restorative qualities of deep sleep at the beginning of the night, lighter sleep stages that dominate the end of the night are just as important – particularly for athletes. Between the seventh and eight hours of sleep something happens that researchers recently discovered to be the key to your athletic success. A cascade of calcium rushes into the motor cortex of the brain.. This calcium consolidates the muscle memory in your teen’s brain, so any of the techniques they may have practiced during the day are transferred into their permanent memory. The next time your son attempts a sequence of athletic moves (like those necessary to make a 3-pointer in basketball or to hit a golf ball squarely), every successive necessary move in the sequence will be fast and automatic.
With all of these helpful tips, your teen will be sleeping to win in no time!