One of the biggest problems I see with today’s young athletes is lack of sleep, or sleep deprivation.  Today’s young athletes need to get 8 – 9 hours of sleep a night.  Closer to 9 would be fantastic.

How many hours is your athlete getting?  Probably closer to 7 and that might be generous.

Sleep is crucial for an athlete’s recovery.  Recovery is another key buzzword that is a hot topic now.  The better recovered you are the better you can play at your optimal level.

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One of the big problems today facing professional athletes, especially NBA, is getting consistently good night’s rest.  Sometimes they aren’t getting to sleep until 2 am (and no, it isn’t because they are partying).

Typically, your average athlete after they have played an activity the body has released cortisol, a hormone that keeps the athlete awake because it is used in stressful activities like sports.  At the same time it is suppressing melatonin, the hormone the body uses to regulate sleep.

Eventually, the cortisol will regulate and allow the body to calm down and sleep, but how long will that be?

One of the best ways athletes can start to get in sleep mode is by shutting down all electronics a good hour before you go to bed.  The light from the electronics triggers your body to be in awake mode.  If you can control that and then use a sleep app (typically something that produces soothing sounds), it will help you get into sleep mode faster.

If you can get into REM sleep, that is the deep sleep your body needs to really relax, recover, and repair itself.

Experts feel that sleep deprivation not only affects athletic performance, but it is setting athletes up for injury and possibly harming themselves.  Other experts think sleep loss can lead to such ailments as cancer, heart attacks, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, stroke, and even suicide.

People might say, what about taking naps to counter this?  Not nearly as helpful.  We have a natural circadian rhythm where our bodies work best if we are deep sleeping at night.  That is optimal sleep, optimal sleep quality.  If we throw that off with naps during the daytime, it leads to poor sleep quality which leads to possibly worse health problems.

The other significant issue is lack of sleep lowers testosterone levels.  Testosterone impacts speed, strength, muscle mass, and mood among other things.  All vital concerns for athletes.  You can recover and get those levels back to normal, but it takes actual days of recovery.  A study showed that athletes whose testosterone levels had depleted were highly susceptible to more injuries.  Not good.

Here’s another fun sleep deprivation fact – it can affect brainwave activity as well.  Your cognitive abilities to remember some things, processing items quickly, are dulled due to lack of sleep.  This stinks for athletes who a lot of times have to process what’s happening really fast.

In short, your young athletes need sleep and recovery.  Not just to help with their athletics, but to help with their schoolwork as well.  Coaches really need to look at the data and figure out if they need all those practices and extra work or if it is something they can do without.

View an off day as a practice without any activity.  Let the body recover, let them get their homework done, and get the sleep they need to be the best athlete they can be.