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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Too Little Sleep in Athletes

I am very concerned on many levels about late nights required for local sport programs from a parent perspective and as a pediatrician.

Many physical and emotional problems have been linked to sleep deprivation.  I see many kids who struggle in school and at home with behavior and learning problems that are directly related to loss of adequate sleep.  Poor sleep is also related to obesity, poor growth, depression, anxiety, poor school performance, and so many other issues.  Sleep is needed for release of growth hormone, which is needed for bone and muscle growth, muscle repair, fat burning, and learning.  Sleep loss leads to poor attention spans, inconsistent performance, decreased aerobic endurance, delayed response times, and increased illness, and will therefore affect their game!  There is increased risk of injury in these tired athletes.

You can argue that one late night a week will not have devastating consequences, but I disagree. We have all heard that consistent bedtimes are important for sound sleep.  Ironically sleep deprivation often leads to insomnia and more sleep problems. You cannot sleep "extra" to bank sleep hours.  Kids will often sleep in on weekends to attempt to catch up on the sleep hours missed during the week, but that means a week of struggles emotionally and physically.  It also gets their sleep routine off balance, which again contributes to poor sleep.

It is recommended to exercise at least 2-3 hours before bedtime because exercise is stimulating, making it difficult to fall asleep after exercise until the body temperature and metabolism return to normal.  Yet I find that many school aged kids have practices and games in the late evening into night hours.

School aged kids up to 12 years of age need 9-11 hrs of sleep per night to function adequately.  Practices and games late in the evening shortchange their night's rest by far too many hours.  Don't forget to consider that the time to settle down after the game is up to 3 hours. The following day they are likely to have problems at school.  An overtired child often has MORE problems getting to sleep, which affects the rest of the week.  These younger kids tend to have a lot of noticeable behavior and learning problems. Many are misdiagnosed with ADHD and treated with medication, when all they really need is better sleep. It is simply not acceptable to set them up for this failure.

As kids enter middle school they often need extra sleep due to puberty.  (Growth hormone is released during sleep.)  Unfortunately, school tends to start earlier and their game/practice times are often later, meaning they might be getting up just a few hours after they are falling to sleep.  Do we really want to affect their growth during these important years? 

No wonder many middle and high schoolers fall to sleep in class and struggle with falling grades, irritability, depression, and more.

Kids shouldn't have a hard time getting up in the morning.  If they are, it's a sign of not enough sleep!

I should also include coaches and parents in this, since we will be required to teach and transport these kids. Adults will fall short of their recommended 7-9 hrs of sleep, which affects mood, weight gain, and attentiveness.  This affects not only health, but also home and office life.  Can you wake up before your alarm?  If not, can you get to bed earlier?  That is a healthier choice than adding an extra cup of coffee or energy drink to your day.

We as parents and coaches want our kids to succeed in all areas of life. We want to give them the tools they need for this, which must include proper sleep.  Practice and game times on school nights must take into consideration the sleep requirements of these kids.  I do not want to be responsible for allowing  my child to be out late on school nights, therefore contributing to increased risk of poor school performance, behavior issues, immune deficiencies, depression, growth and obesity, and all the other known consequences of poor sleep. Once these issues surface it is too late to prevent them and the snowball effect begins!

The question: What can parents do?????