Professional Baseball Strength & Conditioning

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YOUTH SPORTS

Sleep, Recovery and Performance in Youth Sports

By Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E, FACSM

In an attempt to better serve the coaches, players and parents involved in youth baseball, the PBSCCS periodically publishes information on factors that can affect conditioning and performance at this level. Topics are selected from questions submitted by participants, coaches and parents involved in youth sports. Recently a 14U coach said “My team seems to play much better in tournaments when we play later in the day than when we have the first game in the morning. Players seem to be in a haze during early games.  Are there sleep guidelines that I can share with my team?” For a response, the PBSCCS obtained information from the Sleep Center at Children’s Hospital of Colorado and other recognized sleep experts. The following is a summary of the findings.

While every parent, player and coach involved in youth sports knows the importance of getting adequate sleep for health and performance, research indicates that many young athletes are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis. Research from Nationwide Children’s Hospital indicates that the average teenager gets between 7 and 7 ¼ hours of sleep each night, which is almost 30% less than that recommended by sleep experts1. That’s like a MLB team trying to fly from Tampa Bay to Anaheim on only 2/3rds of a tank or gas. For youth baseball, it’s like trying to win with only 6 players on the field.

Researchers at Children’s Hospital of Colorado say that teens need 9 to 10 hours of sleep every night, and about 80% of them don’t get it2. Their data suggest that one-half of teens report feeling tired all day which puts their academic and athletic workloads at increased risk. Now, let’s look at how much sleep young athletes need and why sleep is important for health and performance.

How much sleep do athletes of different ages need? Experts recommend that3:

  • 6 to 12 years: Need 9 to 12 hours

  • 13 to 18 years: Need 8 to 10 hours

  • College: Need 10+ hours

  • Professional: Need 8-10 hours

Why is sleep important for athletes? Sleep is essential for recovery, growth, development, personal health, learning, athletic performance, etc. Muscle growth is stimulated by exercise, but the body releases growth hormone to help repair and grow muscles, build bone, strengthen tendons and ligaments, increase energy stores and enhance recovery during sleep. Sleep improves higher cognitive functions such as judgment, focus, reasoning, memory, decision-making and emotional control, which may make the difference between winning and losing and success or failure.

Sleep also plays a role in helping athletes learn new skills. The skills that you work on in practice are actually learned while you sleep. Proper sleep reinforces skill development. Lack of sleep delays it. If you want to improve the spin on your curve ball, shorten your swing, tweak your backhand, etc., work on it in practice and then sleep on it.

  • Positive effects. Research on college athletes indicates that sleep improves athletic performance by improving sprint speed, reaction time, accuracy, endurance, energy level, memory and cognitive function5-7. Research on MLB players found that players slept less in the latter months of the season and the reductions in sleep were related to impaired strike-zone judgement, plate discipline and longevity.8

  • Negative effects. Research also found that a lack of sleep delayed recovery by reducing the production of human growth hormone, increasing the stress hormone cortisol and increasing the risk of infections leading to a cold or flu. Lack of sleep has also been associated with an increased risk of injury by decreasing balance and postural control. Data suggest that athletes who sleep less than 8 hours per night have a 1.7 times greater risk of injury than those who sleep 8 hours or more11. And, these negative effects don’t just go away if you take a nap or sleep an extra hour or two on weekends. There are no rollover minutes in sleep9. Missing sleep disturbs your sleep cycle and it can take four days to fully recover from one hour of lost sleep10.

So, ask yourself, “Will staying up until 11:00 pm playing an extra hour of video games affect how I help my team tomorrow when I have games at 9:00 am and noon or should I go to bed?” How much and how well you sleep tonight can have a significant impact on performance tomorrow and in the days that follow.

How can you improve sleep? While there are several effective techniques that athletes can use to improve sleep, the following are a few examples of methods that might work with youth athletes.

  • Set a regular bedtime and wake-up time. This is one of the first things sleep experts recommend.

  • Make your bedroom comfortable. Evening practices and games can increase core body temperature and interfere with the onset of sleep. Some athletes may also experience sore muscles, fatigue, or even pain that causes discomfort at night. Overhydration or dehydration before bed can also affect sleep quality. Minimize the negative factors by staying hydrated throughout the day, foam roll and stretch before bedtime, keep the bedroom cool – 60 to 670 F, and reduce noise and light.

  • Turn off devices. Minimize the use using smartphones or other electronics in the evening. These devices release blue light that can delay the onset of sleep.

“I sleep 9 hours each night. Before game days, I sleep 10-11 hours. I always get my rest and I think that’s one of the things that people don’t often talk about. Your body heals and repairs itself better than anything. Being able to get some sleep really does a great cause for your recovery and helps you wake up with a renewed, fresh mental and physical outlook.” – Larry Fitzgerald, eight-time Pro Bowl receiver for Arizona Cardinals.

“Sleep is very important to me. I need to rest and recover in order for the training that I do to be absorbed by my body.” – Usain Bolt, World Record Holder in 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay.

References

  1. https://www.nationwidechildrens.org/specialties/sleep-disorder-center/sleep-in-adolescents

  2. https://www.childrenscolorado.org/conditions-and-advice/sports-articles/sports-safety/sleep-student-athletes-performance/

  3. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/teens-and-sleep/student-athletes-sleep-time

  4. The Effects of Sleep Extension on the Athletic Performance of Collegiate Basketball Players (nih.gov)

  5. The Effects of Sleep Extension on the Athletic Performance of Collegiate Basketball Players (nih.gov)

  6. Sleep extension improves serving accuracy: A study with college varsity tennis players – PubMed (nih.gov)

  7. Ongoing Study Continues to Show that Extra Sleep Improves Athletic Performance – American Academy of Sleep Medicine – Association for Sleep Clinicians and Researchers (aasm.org)

  8. org/studies-link-fatigue-and-sleep-to-mlb-performance-and-career-longevity/

  9. There Are No Rollover Minutes in Sleep – Professional Baseball Strength & Conditioning Coaches Society.

  10. https://wakefitco.medium.com/how-long-does-it-take-to-repay-sleep-debt-26fec3d91393.

  11. https://www.cornwallhighperformance.co.uk/blog/sleep-tips-for-the-youth-athlete

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Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E, FACSM has over four decades as a head strength and conditioning coach (Astros) and strength and conditioning consultant (Rangers). He is Professor Emeritus in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake, Website Education Manager baseballstrength.org and Senior Contributor for SportEdTV.

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