Mar 2, 2019Focus on the Sleep of Your Athletes
The Peach Belt Conference (PBC) was recently looking for a unique way to kick off its educational campaign on the importance of adequate, high-quality sleep. It did so by distributing sleep masks to student-athletes at all member schools.
“It’s a way to help them get better sleep or make their environment a little more conducive to sleep wherever they happen to be,” says Diana Kling, Associate Commissioner of the PBC, which includes 12 NCAA Division II institutions. “When student-athletes are traveling, some are watching movies and some are doing homework, while others want to go to sleep. Now, they can put on the sleep mask and drown out the light from the people around them or the cars on the freeway. They can also use it in their dorm room if their roommate gets up earlier than they do or stays up later.”
The masks are just one part of the PBC’s educational effort, which also includes teaching athletes, coaches, and administrators about all aspects of sleep hygiene. “There are studies that show injury rates go down when athletes get better, longer sleep,” Kling says. “In addition, reflexes and reaction times are faster when they get more sleep, so their athletic performance improves. And more sleep also translates into better academic performance.”
The men’s soccer team at PBC-member Flagler College has embraced the initiative fully, although players were skeptical at first. “When the sleep masks arrived, everybody kind of looked around said, ‘What are these?’” says Head Coach Chris Kranjc. “I encouraged them to give it a try, and as time went along the kids started using them more and more frequently. They found stimuli was blocked and that helped with the quality of their sleep. I even used it on my flight to Europe for a recruiting trip—I found it really helped not only for getting to sleep but for staying asleep.”
The PBC has received positive feedback on its sleep efforts from several schools, and Kling believes student-athletes are buying in. “Everybody wants a quick fix, like an energy drink,” she says. “We are working to get the message out that quick fixes can have unintended consequences, while just a little more sleep can do a lot of wonderful things.”
An earlier article from Training & Conditioning, titled “Lights Out,” provides the following tips that you can give your athletes in emphasizing the importance of sleep to them:
• Get enough sleep: Obtaining eight to 10 hours of sleep every night, and not just before a game or competition, is critical.
• Be consistent: Establish a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Our bodies like regularity and with a regular sleep schedule, it will naturally start to anticipate sleep. Set a daily alarm on your phone to remind you that you have 30 minutes to wrap up your day and head to bed.
• Sleep in a cave: Make your bedroom cave-like–dark, quiet, and cool. Blackout curtains are strongly recommended. Earplugs can minimize noise, and a fan can circulate air while blocking out other noises. A white noise machine may also help. Cooler temperatures are better for sleep, so start at 70 degrees and decrease the temperature a few degrees each night until you find the right temperature for you.
• Establish a routine: Develop and stick to a 20- to 30-minute routine before bed. Adopt a practice such as reading or listening to music so that your body knows sleep is near.
• Bathroom before bed: Hydrate during the day and minimize liquids one to two hours before you sleep. Use the bathroom before bed to cut down on awakenings.
• Avoid electronic screens: Stay away from TV, laptops, and video games one hour before bed. The emitted light can prevent sleep. Download the program f.lux (justgetflux.com), which can help promote sleep by making the color of your computer display adapt to the time of day–warm at night and more like sunlight during the day.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol: Refrain from caffeine after 3 p.m. Alcohol can prevent REM sleep and fragment sleep during the second half of the night.
• For sleep only: Reserve your bedroom and bed for sleeping only. Don’t watch TV, eat, or do work in bed.
• Leverage power naps: Ten- to 30-minute power naps provide a two- to three-hour boost in alertness and performance. Be cautious of longer naps, which can result in sleep inertia (feelings of grogginess) upon awakening from deep stages of sleep. Eliminate naps if you have difficulty sleeping at night.
• Pay your sleep debt: Chronically obtaining less sleep than your body needs builds a sleep debt over time. For optimal functioning and sports performance, you should eliminate your sleep debt by gradually extending your sleep duration, such as increasing from your typical seven hours per night to seven and a half hours for one week, then eight hours per night the following week.
• Be patient: Reducing your sleep debt takes more than one night or weekend of good sleep!