8 Ways to Ensure Your Athlete Gets Quality Sleep

Nap time and bedtime for babies and toddlers is serious business.

Parents often work their schedules around these precious and magical blocks of time—and protect them fiercely.

If they’re interrupted for any reason, we’re quick to blame crankiness, unfocused energy, rude behavior, and a host of other unsavory activities on a LACK of proper sleep.

So why is it that when our children enter elementary, middle, and high school, we treat the need for quality shut-eye any differently?

Of course, napping might not be a realistic expectation once they start school, but getting quality sleep is just as important as it was when they were younger.

Not only are children still growing and maturing during this time, but add to that the demands that school and sports put on their bodies, minds, and emotions and it could be argued that it is MORE crucial.

In fact, the QUALITY of your child’s sleep can impact how quickly his body recovers from the rigors of athletic training and how much focused-attention he can give in school.

Take a look at these 8 areas to make sure you’re setting your athlete up for a successful night of sleep.

1) Lighting

Light is a major external factor that affects sleep. Your internal clock is triggered by light—making it difficult to fall asleep or causing you to wake early.

In the last decade, the blue light that comes from the devices in a typical bedroom has been a guilty suspect in poor sleep. Although it might seem minimal, this type of light actually suppresses the body’s release of melatonin—a sleep-inducing hormone.

Here are some suggestions from the National Sleep Foundation on ways to protect your child’s sleep environment:

  • Set a digital curfew 1-2 hours before bedtime
  • Dim the brightness on a computer screen that might be used late, for homework
  • Install an app that warms the colors toward reds and yellows and away from blues around sunset
2) Temperature

Just as you have an internal clock, you also have an internal thermostat, and if you’re having to work hard to maintain that temperature, it’s counterproductive to sleep.

When your athlete first lies down in bed, her body will start to reset at a lower temperature. If the room is a bit cooler, she can fall asleep quicker. Additionally, the reparative stage of sleep—REM—is affected by a consistent temperature.

Most sources say that an ideal sleep temp is between 65-72 degrees Fahrenheit.

Create a comfortable room temp for your child by:

  • Cooling your home down at night
  • Ensuring she has enough breathable blankets
  • Has the use of a fan to keep air moving
3) Noise

Most of the sleep cycle is spent in what is known as the non-REM sleep. This lighter phase of rest is when most people are sensitive to sudden noises. Studies have found that the elderly and children are most vulnerable to sleep disruptions.

Because even low-level noises—things like a drippy faucet or outside traffic—can make it hard for your child to fall or stay asleep, it impacts the quality of their rest.

Here are some common culprits that you might be able to limit:

  • ringing phones
  • slamming doors
  • loud talking
  • noisy appliances
  • pets
  • snoring family members
  • outside storms

Of course, many of these are unavoidable, but the disturbance-factor can be lessened by some form of low “white noise.” Many parents find it helpful to set a sound machine in their child’s room. The steady whirring of a fan might also do the trick.

4) Comfort

“Where” your child lays his head at night is also important. We often think that kids can fall asleep anywhere and that only as we become adults do we need a more firm or plush mattress. However, research shows that kids need comfort too if the quality of sleep is a priority.

Unfortunately, many teen boys and girls find themselves on a twin bed that they’ve had for many years, and thanks to a growth spurt have outgrown.

Even if your child’s mattress still fits their body, if it is older than 9 or 10 years, it might:

  • give less support
  • contribute to allergies since dust mites are an unfortunate reality
5) Late Night Sugar

A bowl of ice cream at night might seem like the perfect way to end a day but according to research, consuming a lot of sugar—especially close to bedtime—makes it harder to fall asleep and more likely you’ll wake up during the night.

The feeling of alertness and focused energy that we all notice on productive days is due to a vital peptide called orexin. When we have an abundance of glucose in our system—from eating sugary drinks and snacks—orexin is inhibited.

Things are made worse by the fact that when we are sleep-deprived, our body CRAVES sugar.

Help your athlete to be mindful of his sugar intake by keeping:

  • Sugary drinks, including sports drinks, to a bare minimum
  • Discouraging late-night snacking
  • Sending them to school and sports with healthy snacks that include protein and fiber
6) Beds Used For Everything

If you visit the room of a typical teenager, you’ll probably find them on their bed surrounded by books, devices, snacks, etc. The desk that was intended for school work is likely to have a pile of clothes and other random items that didn’t quite make it to their designated space.

Other than being an eyesore, this scenario can spell disaster to a quality night of sleep. According to the experts, designating the bed as a sleep-only zone sets your child up for maximum restorative rest.

Help your athlete to create a space in their bedroom that is only used for sleeping. This might mean:

  • Having a separate room for study
  • Keeping TVs and video games out of the bedroom
  • Placing a couch or comfy chair in their room
  • Giving them a desk with a good chair and light for their “homework area”
7) Consistent Sleep Routines

Do you remember that internal clock I mentioned? Well, it happens to be regulated by CONSISTENCY too.

When you or your kids go to sleep at random times and wake up early some days and sleep in on other days, it throws this clock off.

Once again the National Sleep Foundation weighs in on this, with the advice to protect a regular sleep ritual and try to keep the same sleep schedule—even on the weekends.

This can prove to be more of a challenge as kids get older since many normal activities will keep them out later. Parents can help their athletes get enough sleep by:

  • Educating them on the athletic and academic REWARDS of sufficient sleep
  • Allowing them to sleep in on the days following late nights
  • Setting a good example of making sleep a priority
8) Stress-Free Evenings

If the last thing your child hears is, “You better be asleep when I go in there,” it’s likely that your statement will have the opposite impact and might actually cause more tossing and turning due to the stress of getting in trouble.

Unfortunately, patience—for all family members— has usually been tapped out by the end of the day and the weight of stress seems particularly heavy in the evening.

But a late-night argument or parental threat can leave everyone with a restless night of sleep.

Be vigilant to:

  • Recognize that the ability to respond well diminishes as you tire
  • Avoid stressful conversations right before bed
  • “Sleep on it” and make important decisions when your mind is fresh
Will You Be Making Sleep Changes?

Performance-driven cultures, such as the world of athletics, tend to let some aspects of a healthy-living slide.

Quality sleep often falls into this category. 

Evaluate your’s and your family’s sleep patterns and make the necessary adjustments to get back on track.

What’s the 1st step you’re going to take to set your athlete up for quality-sleep success?

Michelle is a wife to one and a mom to six, with 20 plus years of experience at both. With a love for being active in sports, she took her passion for competitive training to the world of triathlons where she rocked the elite age group level for several years. In an effort to share her enthusiasm for a balanced and healthy life she inspires others through personal training and freelance writing.

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