Experts recommend that children aged 3 to 5 get 10 to 13 hours of sleep every 24 hours and at least 180 minutes of physical activity each day, including 60 minutes of moderate or vigorous activity. Kids in this age group are still developing the physical skills they need to play organized sports. At this age, some children may begin to drop their daily nap. Like teens and adults, however, young children who are especially active may benefit from additional sleep.
Bedtime routines can help preschool-aged kids fall asleep more easily. Children who follow a regular bedtime routine are more likely to consistently sleep better. Routines have also shown to improve kids’ and parents’ moods, lower household stress levels, and lead to better learning outcomes.
To help your preschooler get more sleep, consider implementing a 30-40 minute bedtime routine that combines physical contact like cuddling, language-based activities like storytelling or singing, and hygiene activities like brushing teeth or bathing. Avoid screen time, boisterous games and activities, and loud music.
Kids aged 6 to 12 need between 9 and 12 hours of sleep each day to stay healthy and develop normally. Good sleep habits are associated with better overall health and learning outcomes. Physical activity is also associated with health benefits. However, only 24% of kids aged 6 to 17 get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day.
Some parents report that their elementary- and middle-schoolers avoid sports due to pressure from coaches, classmates, and society at large. To combat this, it may help to encourage school-aged children to explore multiple sports and physical activities without pressuring them to specialize.
Carefully monitor the sleep habits of student athletes to ensure that they get enough rest each night. If your child is getting less than the recommended hours or struggling to fit sleep in between sports and school, talk with them about making some adjustments to their schedule.
As high school athletes progress in their education, many face increased pressure to excel academically and athletically. Some teenagers ignore crucial aspects of health like sleep and proper nutrition in favor of intense training. However, teens aged 13 to 17 should be getting 8 to 10 hours of sleep a day at minimum. Like adult athletes, teenagers who play sports may benefit from sleep banking before competitions and getting additional sleep during the week.
In addition to the demands of school and sports, technology and caffeine use can chip away at teens’ sleep time. It may help to monitor teen athletes for signs of fatigue, anxiety, or overtraining and encourage tired teenagers to extend their usual sleep periods by 30 minutes to an hour. Schedule workouts and practices during the day in a way that promotes healthy sleep at night.
Factors That Influence Sleep in Youth Athletes
Every child is different, and sleep needs can vary considerably among individuals. A preschooler will have different sleep requirements from a high school student. However, there are additional factors besides age that affect how much sleep a young athlete needs:
- Type of sport: The type of sport a child or teenager plays might influence how much sleep deprivation affects their athletic performance. For example, some early studies have shown that a lack of sleep may not affect athletic performance if the sport involves short bursts of energy rather than sustained effort.
- Training and academic schedules: Many young athletes, especially those in high school, struggle to fit sleep into schedules jam-packed with training sessions, tournaments, tests, and even part-time jobs. While student athletes may get less sleep than others their age, they may actually need more due to their demanding schedules.
- Travel: Kids who travel to play sports often face additional difficulties getting enough sleep. Along with disrupted schedules, traveling athletes may deal with disrupted sleep cycles as they cross time zones.
Tips for Improving Sleep in Youth Athletes
Supporting young athletes in developing healthy habits can help them meet their full potential at school, in sports, and as they continue to grow.
- Curb technology use before bed: Although many teens spend their nights glued to a smartphone or laptop, too much screen time before bed can lead to an “on call” mentality that makes it hard to sleep. Encourage teenagers to limit or reduce their nighttime tech usage.
- Maintain consistent bedtime routines: While young children thrive on routine, older kids and teenagers can also benefit from maintaining a consistent evening routine that helps them wind down and get ready for bed.
- Communicate about scheduling: If a child is too anxious to sleep or struggles to fit the recommended amount of sleep into their schedule, it may be time to make some adjustments. It could help to talk with them about how their current schedule makes them feel. Avoid “overbooking” practices and lessons, and consider ways to scale back obligations if they continue to have difficulty getting enough rest.
Frequently Asked Questions About Sleep in Youth Athletes
Does Sleep Loss Affect Athletic Performance?
Lack of sleep has been tied to slower reaction times, reduced accuracy, and less effective decision-making during games. Athletes who get poor quality sleep become fatigued quickly and may be more prone to injury. In contrast, getting more sleep is associated with increased athletic success and better recovery.
Why Does a Lack of Sleep Affect Your Body’s Performance?
The body needs sleep to prevent inflammation, repair cells and tissue, and recover from strenuous exercise. Sleep deprivation may also cause metabolic problems that are especially troublesome for athletes. For example, chronic sleep loss is associated with unhealthy food cravings and lower levels of human growth hormone. All of these issues can lead to poor athletic performance and health challenges.
How Many Hours of Sleep Do Teenage Athletes Need?
Teen athletes should be getting at least the recommended 8 to 10 hours of sleep every night, and possibly more. Adolescents who play sports must balance academics, competitions, and training, often struggling to fit all three into highly variable schedules. Some studies show that increasing sleep in young athletes may result in better grades and improved athletic performance.
Resources for Parents
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