Through our association with many Olympic and National level athletes, we take a keen interest in the general health issues surrounding athletes: Exercise principles, sports psychology, nutrition and sleep. Yes plain old sleep.

Insufficient sleep over a period of time can cause sleep deprivation which can lead to physical and emotional problems, especially in teenagers. Sufficient sleep in adolescents is said to equate to > 9.5 hours per day with some coping well with 8.5 hours. Athletes may need even more. A National Sleep Foundation study however showed that only 15% of teenagers get sufficient sleep. This can affect both academic and sports performance.

Factors with may impinge on sleep include; hectic time schedules, travel between activities, long training sessions, leisure activities, bad habits, overstimulation prior to bed such as social networking or electronic devices . Light exposure from these devices close to bedtime has been shown to trick the brain into being overaroused and less able to sleep or poor quality sleep. If an actual sleep disorder is suspected a doctor should naturally be consulted.

In an athlete , sufficient good quality sleep is vital for recovery from heavy training and competition sessions. At night the body’s tissue and cells repair, rehydrate and regenerate energy sources ready for the next sessions. Tendons subjected to high loads in athletes remodel with collagen. Proteins synthesise into lean muscle tissue and bones mineralise and strengthen. Adequate sleep assists bones recover and help prevent the development of stress fractures. Good sleep also helps to build and reinforce the immune system and fight off colds and flu etc. A healthy athlete can train, practice and improve.

Good sleep habits include:

  • Routine – try to go to bed at the same time each day.
  • Practice – it sounds silly but everything needs practice.
  • Avoid naps, especially in the pm and eating too close to meals.
  • Regular exercise
  • Healthy diet – cut out caffeine and sugary food and drinks.
  • Sleep environment – quiet, well ventilated and not too hot.
  • No electronic devices.
  • Good pillow and mattress.

Sport psychologists can help with techniques for problem sleepers especially with nerves  prior to competition.

Athletic excellence relies not just on strength and flexibility but on complex brain functions of Concentration, coordination, spatial awareness, reflexes and decision making. All these functions need a healthy rested brain and that requires SLEEP.