Reducing risk in sports: Sleep is essential for student-athlete success

Reducing risk in sports: Sleep is essential for student-athlete success


Reducing risk in sports: Sleep is essential for student-athlete success


USA TODAY High School Sports and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association have partnered on a monthly column to address injuries, prevention and related issues to help schools, coaches and student-athletes. Here is the latest column from Scott Sailor, the president of NATA.

Does this scenario sound familiar? A high school athlete complains to her parents, coach or athletic trainer about chronic fatigue, headaches, poor performance on the field and lack of focus in the classroom. She thought the symptoms would pass in time, but finds that her health and schoolwork are suffering. She does not appear ill, nor has she sustained an injury that would bring on these types of symptoms. After undergoing a thorough exam including medical history to rule out an illness or injury, perhaps the adage, “sometimes the simplest answer is the correct one” applies: This athlete may be experiencing sleep issues.

Sleep is vital to health and function for everyone. For student athletes, the stress of physical performance and schoolwork may create an environment that affects their sleep. Here are three areas that are influenced by the lack of restful sleep; all play a role in sports performance:

Physical Health

  • The lack of sleep interferes with healing and recovery of injuries and physical conditioning. Cells grow, repair and rebuild during sleep, making it essential to athletic performance, as well as injury recovery and prevention.
  • Any disruption in sleep affects metabolism. Sleep controls insulin and glucose functioning, secretion of metabolic hormones and the way fat and muscle cells use energy.
  • Healing that takes place during muscle growth occurs during sleep. In order for the student athlete to recover and build muscle during weight training, proper amounts of sleep are required to allow hormonal secretion to take place.
  • Poor sleep quality and short sleep durations can lead to weight gain and obesity, especially in adolescents and young adults. Proper sleep helps stave off unwanted fat gain.

Mental Health

  • The body’s ability to control stress and emotions depends on sleep to maintain proper function, and without it, the body has a hard time processing mentally stressful events, resulting in a possible increase in anxiety and depression.

Cognitive Health

  • During sleep, the mind sorts, filters, evaluates, consolidates and integrates information taken in during the day, especially in class. A lack of effective sleep interrupts the brain’s ability to learn.
  • Poor sleep negatively affects decision-making and clouds one’s judgment.
  • Not getting enough sleep negatively affects the ability to focus and maintain attention, which are important components to learning in the classroom or in sports.

Here are some simple suggestions to enhance your sleep. Reach out to your athletic trainer for additional assistance:

  • Create a “sleep friendly” environment. This includes a room that is dark, cool and comfortable.
  • Get on a sleep schedule. Try for seven to eight hours of sleep per night, including weekends.
  • Put away electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime, if possible. The blue light of a cell phone can stimulate the brain and prevent it from going into a sleep cycle.
  • Manage stress. Everyone experiences stress, but how you manage it is important. If you feel that you handle stress in a negative way or very differently than other students, speak with a mental health professional to learn coping skills. Developing effective stress management skills and establishing healthy sleep habits will help you live a happier life.

If you continue to experience sleeping problems, contact your physician for further evaluation and care. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association has created a resource that provides tips on the power of sleep. Also, visit for additional sports safety tips for athletes and parents.


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