The big game is finally here! The excitement has been building all week and players can’t wait to hit the ice. Then, the atmosphere changes as the players take the ice. The players can feel it, and the parents can sense it. The team is flat today. There’s no jump, no spark, no energy. The same kids that are usually flying up and down the ice or bouncing off the walls look slow and lethargic.
Was it just the car ride to the game and they will snap out of it? Did they spend too much time in the pool last night? Have they played too many games in a short time frame?
Depending on the situation, each of those reasons could be to blame, but many times poor sleep habits may be the underlying problem. These issues have a knack for showing up at the worst possible time, like the team’s favorite tournament, an important league game or the start of playoffs.
“Proper sleep in children can have significant effects on a child’s development, behavior and physical and mental health,” said Chris Winter, the Medical Director at Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medical Center. “Encouragement to develop a healthy night time routine can be an invaluable tool for player performance.”
Parents and coaches should watch for signs their players aren’t getting enough sleep and work to resolve them before they start affecting performance at school, home and on the ice.
Here are five tips to help your players maximize their energy by ensuring they get adequate sleep quantity and quality.
Set a Bed Time. Just like setting a pre-game routine helps players prepare for games, going to bed at the same time each night and awakening around the same time each morning helps kids establish good sleep habits. It will make it easier for them to fall asleep and to get up each day.
Many parents do a great job of this with younger kids, but they often allow kids to have more control over their sleep schedule as they get older. This can create some challenges to maintaining an effective sleep schedule.
“Circadian delay is a natural tendency for an adolescent to want to stay up later and awaken later,” said Winter, who notes that this starts to occur around the age of 12. “Allowing children to stay up late and then sleep in late on the weekends can further disrupt sleep schedules and create a host of sleep issues for the child.”
Myth Busters. One of the most common fallacies regarding sleep is the idea that you can “catch up” on weekends to recover from not getting enough sleep throughout the week.
The National Sleep Foundation notes that a group of researchers from the Harvard Medical School examined this idea by having people attempt to sleep an additional 10 hours in an effort to compensate for going two weeks with only six hours of sleep a night. The results showed that not only was “catching up on sleep” a myth, but it actually reduced reaction time and people’s ability to focus.
If you are short on sleep and need to regain some energy, try short naps instead. Properly planned so that they last no longer than 30 minutes and aren’t too close to bed time, naps can provide that needed boost.
Have Regular Meal Times. Big meals may tend make people sleepy, but going to bed on a full stomach is often a bad idea. Many people find it causes indigestion, making it more difficult to fall asleep. It is also common for people to struggle getting to sleep when they are hungry or thirsty.
“Players that eat sporadically and at inconsistent times may have more difficulty with their sleep and diminished performance,” said Winter, a consultant for USA Hockey. “Coaches should encourage their players to eat on a regular schedule and to avoid eating late at night.”
Cut the Caffeine. This is an obvious one, right? That doesn’t make it any less important. Remember that caffeine affects kids more than adults so avoiding soda/pop, chocolate and other items containing caffeine, especially late in the day, is critical to good sleep habits.
“Caffeine containing products are frequent contributors to poor sleep quality but also impaired sleep scheduling as their use, particularly at night, may lead to later bed times and secondary insomnia,” said Winter.
A Sleep Sanctuary. Another great way to improve your ability to fall asleep at appropriate times is to assist your body in realizing it is time to sleep. Making sure the bed room is cool, quiet, dark and free of interruptions helps send those signals. If you can set up a routine that slowly transitions from our fast-paced, technology driven world to your very own sleep sanctuary, that is even better.
“With cell phones, digital music players, internet surfing, texting, email and good old fashioned TV viewing, the number of bad night time choices are immeasurable,” said Winter.
By taking some of these steps, players and their parents can guard against performance letdowns when the next big game, math test or work deadline rolls around.