The Case for Sleep

July 19, 2005 10:47 AM

By Jim Brown, Ph.D., Executive Editor, Sports Performance Journal, Author, Tennis: Steps to Success

Convincing a teenage tennis player that sleep is related to performance on the court can be a difficult task for parents, coaches, and teaching professionals. For too many young players, getting quality sleep, especially during a tournament or series of matches, is somewhere near the bottom of the things-to-do-list (close to nutrition and hydration).

Two new studies of the effects of sleep deprivation as it relates to performance may give you a little more ammunition in making the case for sleep. Good luck on getting the message across to your players.

Two Nights of Sleep Deprivation and Performance
Every athlete has been told to get a good night's sleep before a big event the next day, but how many of them think about getting two good nights of sleep before competition? A research team designed a study in which 22 middle-aged athletes were put through a series of tests after being deprived of sleep, followed by a sleep/exercise cycle in which the subjects got adequate sleep. Although there was no significant decline in performance after being deprived of sleep for 28 hours, the authors concluded that well-trained athletes should avoid sleep deprivation for at least two nights before competition. Stated in a more positive manner: get two consecutive good nights of sleep. The study appeared in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness.

Sleep Deprivation and Teen Athletes
Researchers at the Bradley Hasbro Children's Research Center in Rhode Island found that lack of sleep not only affects teenagers' learning, mood, and behavior, but also their athletic performance.

According to the study published in Clinics in Sports Medicine, Dr. Mary Carskadon compared the results of studies that measured sleep patterns and circadian rhythms in children and adolescents. "Young people live in nearly a constant state of chronic insufficient sleep, and adolescents who don't get enough sleep on a regular basis are extremely impaired in the morning," Carskadon said. She cited part-time jobs, caffeinated beverages, social activities, away-games/matches/tournaments, and long practice sessions as factors that help contribute to chronic sleep deprivation for young athletes.

Dr. Carskadon suggests that adolescent athletes heading westward across time zones have an advantage over home-town players and teams early in the day. While most adults who routinely travel from coast to coast might be well aware of the difficulty adjusting to a different time zone, teens are at even more of a disadvantage. "For morning games, the home team or player might still be in the lowest point of alertness,' while the one that headed west will have the advantage of having been awake for an hour or so longer, and thus have more energy," she said. She also warns that athletes and teams taking trips of a week or more may experience schedule difficulties on the return home.

Carskadon also said that afternoon naps don't help morning fatigue the next day. "In order to help adolescents do their best, parents need to take an active role in helping set a regular sleep pattern for their teens."

© 2005 HMS Publishing, Inc.
Jim Brown will be contributing new content to this site on a monthly basis. If you have a question for Dr. Brown please feel free to email him at