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The teenager's challenge: Sleep well, play well
by Dev Mishra, March 29th, 2017 3:24PM
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TAGS:  youth, youth boys, youth girls, youth soccer

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(For those parents and coaches welcoming a new generation of teenagers, the Youth Soccer Insider republishes this article annually.)

By Dev K. Mishra, M.D.

I'm sure anyone who's raised an adolescent or teenager can attest to the idea that teenagers don't get as much sleep as they need.

For the adolescent or teenager a number of outside influences take place: more demands on time for homework, socializing, sports, music, or any number of other activities.

Let’s take a look below at some reasons why sleep patterns change, what the proper amount of sleep is, and how it can affect sports performance.

Why sleep patterns change in a teenager
Each of us -- no matter how old -- has an internal clock that follows roughly a 24-hour cycle. The internal cycle has a wide range of effects on many different body functions such as body temperature, release of hormones (human growth hormone is released in larger amounts during sleep than wakefulness), and amount of sleep required.

In younger children the normal body clock would have them fall asleep around 8 or 9 each night and wake up in the morning when they’ve had enough sleep. But in puberty the surge in different hormones produced by the body changes all of that and it becomes very difficult to feel sleepy often until after 11 pm. Throw in the required time on Instagram and you can see where all of this leads.

How much sleep does a teenager need and how many teens actually get that?

Most sleep researchers tell us that the typical teenager should have 9 hours of sleep per night. Right now many of you are saying to yourselves “get real, that’s impossible” for most teenagers.

As the father of two teenage boys I’d have to agree. Several studies of teens have shown that about 90% get less than 9 hours of sleep per night and unfortunately 10% said they typically get less than 6 hours per night. The definition of “sleep deprivation” in teens is not completely clear but generally means that the teen is consistently getting less than 8 hours of sleep per night.

How sleep deprivation affects school and athletic performance
Anyone who’s sleepy can be awfully moody but there are many negative consequences beyond that. Being tired during class will obviously make it more difficult to concentrate or even stay awake during class, and there is evidence that being sleep-deprived leads to poorer school performance. And most tragically a sleep deprived teen driving a car can lead to disastrous consequences.

In a test of reaction times at Stanford University, people who were tired because of disrupted sleep performed about as poorly as subjects who were legally drunk. The study is the first to show severe impairment in people who have only mild to moderate sleep disturbances. This was an older group of people but it’s easy to see that it could be true for teenagers too. Would you like to face a high and tight fastball when you can’t react?

As for sports performance, research by Dr. Cheri Mah at the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic has shown that members of Stanford’s women’s tennis team, men’s and women’s swimming teams, and men’s basketball team improved performance by increasing sleep times.

Some practical tips for sleep and sports performance in teenagers …

There are many good reasons for teenagers to get more sleep than they do, but once again reality can get in the way of a good plan. So do the best you can to get as close as you can to 9 hours of sleep for your teen.

At the very least there are special situations when you’ll want to pay special attention to “sleep preparation” for performance. Do you have an important tournament or championship game coming up? How about a national team tryout? A college identification camp where you’ll be traveling east through several time zones? Here are some simple tips:

* Increase your sleep time several weeks before a major event.

* Make sleep as much of a priority as technical skill, fitness, and nutrition.

* Go to sleep and wake up at the same times every day.

* Turn lights off at night; use bright lights in the morning.

* When traveling from west to east for competitions try to get out to your new time zone several days in advance to acclimate to the new time zone and avoid jet lag.

(Dr. Dev K. Mishra, a Clinical Assistant Professor of orthopedic surgery at Stanford University, is the creator of the SidelineSportsDoc.com online injury-recognition course, now a requirement for US Club Soccer coaches and staff members. Mishra writes about injury management at SidelineSportsDoc.com Blog, where this article first appeared.)



10 comments
  1. Quarterback TD
    commented on: March 29, 2017 at 5:06 p.m.
    This editor is living in a perfect dream world or speaking about kindergarten students..When it come to athletic youths in this country sleep requirements means nothing.. In north east region HS starts at around 7am so buses arrive at 6:20am.. Home work is completed between 11pm and 1:30am.. so unless your kid is a totally geek (like one of mine) and does not participate in any sport or school club activities this blog has zero bearing.. The editor instead should talk about alternative to maintaining a health lifestyle while being an athlete such as eating right including hydrating during school, getting permissions to not take Physical Education on Friday's if game is on Saturday, additional tuition on days off to keep ahead of the teacher, keeping focus when tired by breathing properly and standing up in the back of the class.. As parents one has to work around these barriers hard work will pays off for these kids, it will not be pro contract but it will be stronger personalities and confidence when they go out on their own.
  1. Bob Ashpole
    commented on: March 29, 2017 at 6:40 p.m.
    QTD, you are talking about 4 hours sleep a night. I don't know what that does to kids who require more sleep than adults, but to an adult it throws off their hormones and can contribute to obesity. Adequate rest is very important.
  1. Quarterback TD
    commented on: March 30, 2017 at 8:42 a.m.
    Bob, I would comment the same way if I were you reading my comments.. However at Junior level the workload increases as kids start preparing for SAT/ACT including honors and AP classes.. you are looking at a considerable amount of time a kid must put in for studies. To complicate things one must take away about 2-3 hours 3-4 times a week for Academy soccer during the week. This is the reality of High School students playing for a club. I would agree with the article if it was written for Junior High or Kindergarten
  1. Jay Wall
    commented on: March 29, 2017 at 6:20 p.m.
    Grew up playing and coached for nearly 4 decades, so know there just isn't enough time in the week to do everything youth players want to do. A few thoughts I've found useful. Teams should use basic periodization, learning what their players are doing in their lives so you can tweak the activities of each player to avoid injury and have them perform at their very best. Parents and players should know no cell phone, tablet or computer usage after 9 PM, except for specific class assignments. As a coach I didn't allow cell phones at practices or games because they break focus which increases the risks of injuries and causes less than perfect practice repetitions which results in bad habits that become hard to break. To some extent you can substitute healthy foods that help with energy and focus when sleep is deprived. High caffeine energy are dangerous and should be avoided. Also using deep breathing exercises in player development, practices and games increases oxygen rich blood in the system while playing. Simple technique in slower moments of the game that helps. Breathe in slowly for a count of 6, hold for a count of 3 and exhale for a count of 3, then repeat. Also when players have been sleep deprived practices and even warm-ups can be modified to protect players while conserving energy; and of course their is the old drink chocolate milk if you have a game the next day to help in recovery. FIFA's Coach of the 20th Century, Rinus Michels, developed pressing soccer as a way for players to rest by shortening the field to try to win the ball back as close to their opponents goal as possible. Another energy saving used by Johan Cruyff to make both Ajax and Barcelona Champions: instead of running, let the ball do the running, by passing to supporting teammates who are close by so the passes are short and very quick. Also short passes forward so almost your entire team is eventually behind the ball and must be beaten by your opponent for you to give up a goal. There is also the fast and safe 2 touch approach to saving energy and playing faster than your opponents can handle. Touch the ball a meter to space, look at your supporting teammate and when they start running pass in front of them. When you pass in front of teammates running, your opponents are always behind, off balance and choas results. Also you help your opponents rest and win when you walk to do restarts and give them time to rest. Always run, get the ball and if the opponents aren't set-up to defend beat them with a fast restart. Most of being able to adapt to lack of rest is training and always being in the habit of adjusting, instead of standing and having to restart. Moving and adjusting all the time gets you there with less energy, but if you wait to start you must use a lot of energy to catch up. Cruyff said "For every disadvantage there is an advantage". When your players don't get enough sleep turn that into an advantage . . . challenge your players to create an advantage.
  1. Quarterback TD
    commented on: March 30, 2017 at 8:53 a.m.
    Jay, thanks for the useful comments and I hope a lot of coaches are reading this because I don't know any youth coaches that have enough brains to even comprehend how important what you wrote can help young athletes..
  1. frank schoon
    commented on: March 30, 2017 at 3:23 p.m.
    Good stuff, Jay....
  1. Nick Daverese
    commented on: March 30, 2017 at 3:47 p.m.
    When kids are in college they are not looking to sleep. They are looking to stay up when tired because of everything they have to do that might not be done. They take things like no doze full of cafeen to stay awake. Every drive on no doze. Stop for a light you can't wait for the light to change. You start trying to pull the sterling wheel off the car. Had to call our under 19s 5 o'clock in the morning so they will show up for an 8 am game. Once you hit 70 yrears old there is no sleep. At least you can do stuff without being disturbed. I usually sleep from 4:30 am to 6:30 am and that it. I even bought the MY Pillow to help me sleep that didn't work. As the old song said I think song by Warren Zevon I will sleep when I am dead.
  1. frank schoon
    commented on: March 31, 2017 at 2:53 p.m.
    Nick, my wide bought 2 of those pillows. I can't sleep on the thing for it sits up to high,LOL. I let my cat use it
  1. stewart hayes
    commented on: March 31, 2017 at 12:05 p.m.
    Do modern teams that shorten the field by pressing run less than teams past? I don't think so.
  1. frank schoon
    commented on: March 31, 2017 at 3:03 p.m.
    Stewart , players today run a lot more. That is why Cruyff wanted to play a style of controlled Possession style football, which includes keeping the lines close together , and allowing the ball do the running not the player. Like Cruyff states 'the more one runs the dumber you are as a player". Xavi when he played for Barcelona averaged about 6.5 to7 km per game as compared to his opponents that averaged 10-12km. The modern teams that don't play like Barcelona (Cruyff style) do tend to run more. Modern teams that press do in general run less as compared to teams , but that depends upon the teams of the past. For Example, Dutch National Team of '74, Ajax of the 70's, AC milan, Barcelona(Dream Team of the 90's all ran less.

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