While increased amount of rest is common knowledge at higher levels of sport, it is commonly overlooked at lower levels. When it comes to improving athleticism in younger athletes, so much of the focus is put on strength training methods, diet, and supplementation, while little focus is put on sleep. There is a growing body of evidence that indicates that forgoing sleep might be a huge misstep.
A recent Stanford study compared sprint performances in athletes when they followed their normal sleep routine and again after an extended sleep program. They found that average sprint times improved by about 4.5%. The same study found that these athletes had faster reaction times when well rested. I can’t think of a single sport that doesn’t benefit from faster movement and reaction times.
The same Stanford study that showed improved speed with better sleep, also showed improved athletic skill with increased sleep. Basketball players that improved their sleep patterns shot, on average, 9% better with both free throws and 3 pointers.
Ok. The fact that better sleep improves mood shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody, but there is objective data showing that people feel happier when they are well rested. This can carry over onto the athletic field with improved morale. Professional teams aren’t afraid to let go of all-star talent if their locker room presence is toxic because they know what kind of effect that can have on a team’s success. Avoiding that negative environment can make the difference in a team’s season.
Your body’s natural chemicals that improve strength, like human growth hormone and testosterone, are both affected by sleep. This can affect strength levels over the long run. In the short term, some case studies seem to indicate that improved sleep leads to better strength performance. This doesn’t come as any surprise given sleep’s effect on speed and athleticism mentioned earlier.
This study from the Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics shows how adolescent athletes that got less than 8 hours of sleep each night were 1.7 times more likely to have an injury than those that got more sleep. Seeing how sleep improves both your physical and mental performance, it’s easy to see how a lack of sleep can have the opposite effects.
It may be time to look at the priorities of our young athletes and figure out how to prioritize sleep in the mix of school, school sports, club sports, homework, and a budding social life. It may be the missing factor that is holding you or your child back from your athletic goals. Figuring out a way to get in at least 8 hours of sleep a day and possibly a nap or two will benefit you in multiple ways.
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