If your child athlete is serious about her sport, a sure way to increase performance is to encourage her to get serious about sleep. The document Sleep, Recovery and Human Performance, published by Canadian Sport for Life states that in order to increase athletic performance, post-exercise recovery and regeneration, sleep is just as important as your child’s specific athletic training. Sleep is the very foundation of post-exercise recovery and regeneration.
There are three main factors to look at when evaluating your child athlete’s sleep:
- Sleep length– Is she getting the optimal number of hours per night?
- Sleep quality– Is she dealing with sleep fragmentation, disturbances in the environment or sleep disorders?
- Sleep phase– Is the timing of her sleep in line with circadian rhythm, leading to the most restorative sleep.
Ensuring optimal sleep length, quality and phase will affect your child athlete’s ability to train, increasing performance results and overall recovery. These three components of your child’s sleep will change over time as her body grows and training demands intensify. Through each new stage of an athlete’s career and increased levels of training intensity, a new evaluation of sleep needs is required. Not only does sleep support athletes in reaching their training goals, it also increases resistance to illness and improves recovery from injury.
The following guidelines from Canadian Sport for Life will help your child athlete maximize her athletic potential through optimal sleep:
0-6 Years Old (males and females)
Sleep Length: Your 0-6 year old child athlete needs 13-16 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. This total accounts for both daytime and nighttime sleep.
Sleep Quality: Develop a consistent naptime and bedtime routine. Set the stage for good quality sleep by creating a comfortable and safe sleep environment. Avoid screen time and stimulation 1-2 hours before bedtime.
Sleep Phase: Teach your child to consolidate nighttime sleep and use natural light exposure first thing in the morning to help regulate the body’s internal clock.
Females 6-8, Males 6-9
Sleep Length: 10-11 hours of night time sleep, plus a 30 min nap between 2-4pm.
Sleep Quality: Develop a consistent naptime and bedtime routine lasting 15-30 minutes. Avoid screen time and stimulation 1-2 hours before bed. Create a comfortable and safe sleep environment. Encourage your child to develop independent sleep initiating behaviours. Begin observing for possible sleep disorders.
Sleep Phase: Establish a sleep pattern of 10-11 hours a night following a 9pm to 8am schedule as closely as possible (give your child some time to settle down after evening practices). Encourage your child to take an after school nap or rest prior to training. Offer healthy meals at the same time every day, keeping in mind that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
Females 8-11, Males 9-12
Sleep Length: 9.5-10 hours of nighttime sleep plus a 30 min nap between 2-4pm.
Sleep Quality: Quality: Maintain a consistent naptime and bedtime routine lasting 15-30 minutes. Avoid screen time and stimulation 1-2 hours before bedtime. Create a comfortable and safe sleep environment. Encourage your child to develop independent sleep initiating behaviours. Begin observing for possible sleep disorders. Monitor caffeine intake.
Sleep Phase: Maintain a predictable sleep pattern. Get early morning light exposure for 30 minutes every day. Maintain healthy nutrition with a focus on breakfast as the most important meal of the day.
As a parent, you can discuss the importance of sleep and athletic performance, post-exercise recovery and regeneration with both your child athlete and your child’s coaches. Overscheduling athletes at the expense of sleep will not increase a child’s performance, instead it will have the opposite affect. If your child is serious about her sport, you can support her training goals by helping her get serious about her sleep.
Samuels, Charles H. & Alexander, Brent N. (2013) Sleep, Recovery, and Human Performance: A Comprehensive Strategy for Long-Term Athlete Development. Canadian Sport for Life.
Alysa Dobson is a Certified Child Sleep Consultant with SleepWell Consulting. She works with families to help them get the sleep they need. Alysa offers support to parents with children ages 4 months- 8 years old through both in home and remote consultations. SleepWell Performance offers both group and individual consultations to maximize athletic performance through better sleep. For more information, contact Alysa at email@example.com.