High school athletes would get a plentiful, deep, and refreshing sleep each night in an ideal world. They would wake up naturally before their alarm because they had gone to bed reasonably, having spent the previous hour doing a relaxing activity with no screens in sight. However, this scenario rarely exists, and most high school athletes will be sleep deprived. If they are unable to sleep in a solid block at the end of the day they might have to take naps to catch up.
The sleep deprivation of the high school athlete may be due to several reasons:
- Late-night practices
- Part-time job/ caring
- Online gaming
- Incessant ‘notifications’ on various devices and the need to respond.
or, more likely, a combination of all of them.
This, combined with a sub-optimal diet, means that the sleep is not only short but fitful. The alarm clock goes, the snooze button is tapped and tapped, the parent shouts, and shouts and the search for caffeine and/ or sugar to kick start the day begins.
Why do we need sleep?
This might seem like a daft question but in an age of macho-work ethic stories where business people and politicians compete to show how much work they can do in a day, the necessity for sleep is sometimes overlooked. Sleep is essential for mental restoration. Whilst the body can cope with less sleep in the short term the mind suffers. You may know this when you try to exercise after a bad night’s sleep: you dread the thought of it, struggle to lace up your shoes, but five minutes into practice you feel okay. Your decision-making might be sluggish but your body is moving fine.
This is only a short-term solution. Repeating this endeavor is likely to increase your risk of injury: especially in fast-moving, collision sports like football or high-skill/high-risk sports such as gymnastics. You need 100% of your brain capacity to perform effectively and safely.
Your body also needs sleep in order to repair and restore from its exertions. As athletes train harder than normal people and put their bodies under stressful loads, their need for sleep is potentially higher than normal.
Naps are one solution.
One way to increase the amount of sleep is to have a nap, or multiple naps, during the day. It is better to plan a nap and be fresh for your class, practice or match than to be tired and groggy and doze off in the middle of class or just before kick-off.
The early afternoon or early-evening slump is a natural part of our day. Unfortunately, work and school interfere with our natural tendency to nap. But, a 15-minute nap will improve your mood, cognitive ability and even cardiovascular health (as shown in one study on Greek men who removed their afternoon siesta.
A short sleep will leave you refreshed. So will a longer sleep of about 90-minutes. Anywhere between 20-60 minutes may leave you groggy, this is known as ‘sleep inertia’. It becomes even harder to get going after this longer, but not long enough, nap.
Of course, the problem with high school athletes napping is that they are at high school! It is unlikely that they have quiet rooms or sleep pods available for naps like Californian tech firms. The nap might have to take place in the bus or car on the way home or leave it until they are home and before they go on to practice.
To avoid sleeping too long, either set the alarm for twenty minutes or drink tea or coffee before your nap. There is a twenty-minute lag between caffeine ingestion and its effects that is useful for nap-timing.
Sleep is essential for everyone. It is especially important for high school athletes who are growing, learning, and competing. If they are unable or unwilling, to improve their nighttime sleep habits, then encouraging and facilitating planned naps will help them deal with the stress of their young lives.