Episode 45 – Sleep and the Athlete

Your Sports Resource

In this episode, we will talk about how sleep really affects the athlete’s performance and the ways you can help them.

You will learn the areas that are affected when an athlete lack sleep:

✔ Accuracy & Speed
✔ Difficulty in Learning and Decision Making
✔ Injury Rates and Preventing Sickness
✔ Statistics Regarding Sleep and Athletic Performance
✔ Things that you can Recommend

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Happy listening!



00:00:03 – Introduction

This is the Your Sports Resource podcast where each week you’ll learn actionable strategies that you can implement so the operations of your club support your coaching staff and the direction of your organization. We are committed to excellence in youth sports leadership.


Let’s get started.


Hello and welcome everyone to the Your Sports Resource podcast. Thank you for joining me today.


We are going to move out from an operations conversation to speaking about the role sleep plays with athletes while we as adults understand how important it plays in our ability to function for some reason we really don’t hold that to our middle and high school kids.


I guess mainly because we feel they have an abundance of energy to go around.


But the older they get, the more pressure there is in school and the better they become as an athlete, which means there’s more practices, more strenuous practices, and then a whole different level of stress with regards to competitions.


I was reading information from the Fatigue Science website that stated there are five main areas to consider when trying to ensure athlete performance.


Those are nutrition, hydration, mental preparation, conditioning, and then sleep. Poor quality and quantity of sleep lead to several negative effects in any person.


Mentally sleep deprivation reduces the ability to act quickly and think clearly. People who are sleep deprived are more likely to make poor decisions and take risks, and a lack of sleep also increases irritability and risk for anxiety and depression.


Now, physically, a lack of sleep increases the risk for medical concerns, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and stroke.


But today I want to get into what it does to an athlete’s performance. So, the first area that lack of sleep affects is in accuracy and speed according to the fatigue website.


Sleep quality has been shown to impact both shooting accuracy and sprint times of basketball players.


Improved sleep has also increased athletic performance in tennis players, swimmers, weightlifters, and more, so they go on to say that measures of athletic performance specific to basketball were recorded after every practice, including a time, a time sprint, and shooting accuracy.


Subjects demonstrated a faster time spread following a sleep extension.


And shooting accuracy improved with free throw percentage increasing by 9% and three-point field goal percentage increasing 9.2% improvement in specific measures of basketball performance after sleep extension indicate that optimal sleep is likely beneficial in reaching peak athletic performance.


Now the next area that lack of sleep affects is difficulty in learning and decision-making. The impact of reduced sleep showed that motivation, focused memory, and learning are all impaired by shortened sleep.


So, without sleep, the brain struggles to consolidate memories and absorb new knowledge.


So, for example, when you have planned out certain splits in a race or how you are strategically going to approach a race or a practice for that matter, your ability for recall and just the motivation to carry out the plan could be hindered through lack of sleep or poor quality of sleep.


A study of Major League Baseball players found that they consistently showed better judgment at the beginning of the season than at the end.


The suspected cause was mental fatigue during the arduous 162 game season, so the study covered 30 baseball teams.


And showed that players demonstrated a decrease in plate discipline as the season progressed, leading to an increase in batter swinging balls outside the strike zone.


This seems to buck traditional logic that predicts teams to have increased discipline over the season as players receive more feedback and at-bats.


When describing the impacts of the study, the principal investigator, Scott Kutcher stated that a team that recognizes this trend and takes steps to slow or reverse it by enacting fatigue, mitigating strategies, especially in the middle and late season, for example, can gain a large competitive advantage over the opponent now if you think about swimming.


The championship season of short course is, you know, by the time you get there, it’s been an incredibly long season, so they’re going to be tired and more stressed.


That’s also coming to the end of the school year as well right before exams or right at exams, depending on how far the swimmer.


So, it’s absolutely important that they get their sleep and quality sleep to boot. Injury rates is the next area and along with this, I’m going to add preventing illness.


During sleep, your body produces hormones that helps the immune system fight off infections. Now, I know you’ve heard your mom and your auntie say that so and so got sick because they were overtired.


And that’s actually a statistical reality. Further and according to the website, Reduce Sleep has been linked to increased injury rates during athletic competitions.


A University of California study concluded that injury rates in youth athletes increased during games that followed a night of sleep lower than six hours.


Another study looking at injury rates in high school athletes found that sleep hours were the strongest predictor of injuries, even more so than hours of practice.


Keep your head up as a common refrain of coaches in youth sports for good reason, especially in high-impact and fast-paced sports. It’s important for players to read their surroundings and anticipate potential collisions.


When the player is fatigued after poor sleep, they’re slower to react. A slowed reaction time could be the difference between a player taking a preventable injury or bracing for impact.


I’d like to take a moment to talk about how you can improve the direction of your organization and how the board and head coaches work more productively together.


Sometimes clubs need an objective individual to work with them, to pull things together, and develop a plan. Our consulting services do just that. Our approach with youth sports clubs is to work in a way where you have a game plan that you can implement immediately.


We stay away from theory. You know, fluff drives me insane. We’re there to work and to ensure that your club can move out of old mindsets and sameness and move into running the club like the business that it is.


Together, moving from surviving to thriving with options. Send me an e-mail and we’ll schedule a no-obligation call where we can discuss your areas of concerns. That e-mail is info@yoursportsresource.com. OK.


Next, I’d like to read you some statistics regarding sleep and athletic performance. These are from the Sleep Foundation website.


So, a standard study of men’s basketball players who extended their sleep 10 hours a night found several positive outcomes.


The players ran faster in both half-court and full-court sprints and their shooting improved by 9% for both 3 free throws and three-point shots. The athletes also reported improved physical and mental well-being.


Male and female swimmers who extended their sleep to 10 hours also saw many performance improvements, reaction times off diving blocks were faster, turn times were improved, and kick strikes were increased times.


Swimming a 15-meter Sprint also improved. Additionally, these athletes experienced improved mood and decreased daytime sleepiness.


Varsity tennis players, male, and female, who increase their sleep to at least nine hours a week also perform better.


The accuracy of the player serves increased significantly from about 36% to 42%. The players experienced less sleepiness as well.


Other studies of female netball players and male soccer players have demonstrated that sleep hygiene education helps athletes increase their overall sleep time.


This adequate sleep before competition is likely to encourage top performance, so both the increased quality and quantity of sleep helps athletes improve performance in many areas related to the demands of the sport.


So, for example, Michael Phelps said that his normal sleep routine was at least 8 hours of sleep at night and two to three hours of a nap during the day. That’s pretty crazy.


OK, So what are some things that you can do or recommend to your child so they can get enough sleep? And again, this is mainly from the Sleep Foundation website, so you can look all this up yourself.


So, create an appropriate sleep environment so the sleeping space should be dark and cool with a little to no noise.


The sleep environment should be used really only for sleep, so not a lot of roughhousing or, you know, playing games or doing anything in the room.


If you can make it as a place, maybe where they just do homework quietly and they read quietly and they sleep quietly, then that should be a great environment for them.


Avoid caffeine before bedtime. I mean this should be a no-brainer. But I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve seen my own kid, you know, make now that he’s older, make himself a cup of coffee.


But even like those caffeine drinks late in the day. These beverages can interrupt sleep or lead to more disturbed sleep.


Stay away from electronics in the hours before bedtime. These includes tv cell phones and computers that blue light, it really can emit and affect your circadian rhythm.


Have a wind-down routine so activities such as reading or taking a bath, meditating can help your child relax and get the sleep that they need.


Get out of bed if you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes of trying, so getting out of bed instead of tossing and turning and stressing about not sleeping, so get up, do an activity in another space until you feel sleepy.


Just avoid the blue light activity. No computers or phones. If you take naps, keep them brief. Nap should be no more than an hour and never should be taken after 3:00 PM or you’ll interrupt your evening sleep and then reduce stressors as much as possible for your child.


So not only do those mental stressors affect sleep quality, but they can also impact the performance overall. Now, what if you’re traveling and worried about jet lag?


So, the recommendations are that you prepare for travel, adjust your sleep schedule to mimic the time of the destination you’re traveling to in order to quickly adjust to the time upon arrival.


Set your watch for the destination time zone when you board the plane or get in the car so you automatically are getting ahead of yourself and getting on schedule.


Get enough sleep before you travel to avoid sleep debt upon arrival, so be sure to sleep prior to and during travel if necessary if that helps. Make a comfortable environment.


So, on the plane or in the car, pillows can be used for cushion and comfort, ear plugs and eye masks can really help create a quiet and dark environment for sleep during a flight or car ride and avoid distractions such as electronics.


So, I also think that when you’re traveling in a hotel room, you can’t really control the environment of that room, and sometimes you can’t actually get it dark or it’s loud in the hotel where it’s on the main road.


Or you got people running around in the hotel, so those masks and the earplugs will help then as well. Staying hydrated.


So, on the airplane be sure to drink plenty of fluids or in the car drink plenty of fluids and avoid that caffeine. And then try to eat meals at the destination time once you start your travel.


So, arranging mealtimes just like your sleep according to the destination time zone can also shorten the time it takes to adjust to that new time zone.


Trying to get your teenager to sleep more might feel like an uphill battle. But maybe if you were to share this information with them, it could help.


So high performance is a direct reflection of how much and the quality of sleep the athlete has, according to studies and statistics, sleep quality can predict how fast an athlete will react. How well they’ll react and how accurate they will be through that decision-making.


And if you do make an error or if they make an error, will they avoid an injury or will simply avoiding illness because their body has time to rest and repair?


Along with the physical and mental conditioning, proper nutrition, and hydration, sleep should be a regular part of any elite athletes preparation. So thank you for listening today.


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