Getting Enough Sleep Can Help Prevent Injuries

STUDIES SHOW SPORTS INJURIES GO UP WHEN ADOLESCENTS DON’T GET ENOUGH SLEEP

By John C. Hayes

Parents have been warning their adolescent children to get a good night’s sleep for many decades. While this used to be done out of concern about academic performance, today’s parents have an additional worry: Lack of sleep may increase young athletes’ risk of sports-related injury.

The issue is particularly acute because studies are showing that in today’s pressure-packed and digital world, adolescents are getting shorter and shorter nightly periods of sleep. Sports medicine researchers have explored the consequences of this trend and found that as sleep falls below the recommended 8-9 hours-per-night level, injury risk goes up.

A study published in August in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports found that elite adolescent athletes who got at least 8 hours of sleep per night were 61% less likely to be injured than their less-rested counterparts. A 2014 study in the Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics reached much the same conclusion; data from the orthopedic center at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles showed that the likelihood of injury over 21 months was 65% in athletes who reported less than 8 hours of sleep per night, and 31% in athletes who reported sleeping 8 or more hours per night.

“We often forget that sleep is an important component for a young developing person,” said Matthew D. Milewski, MD, lead author in the 2014 study and a pediatric orthopedic and sports medicine specialist at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Farmington. “Kids’ days are becoming filled with after-school activities, sporting activities, science projects and playing multiple instruments.”

At least some of the pressure parents put on their children to excel in different programs in school perhaps should be directed to assuring those children get a good night’s sleep, he said.

All coaches should monitor players for signs of burnout, which can reflect sleep deprivation and over scheduling, Milewski said. These include a tired appearance, anxiety, loss of sports-specific speed and coordination, and the appearance of stress from playing on multiple teams or pressure from coaches, players, or parents.

“We often forget that sleep is an important component for a young developing person. Kids’ days are becoming filled with after-school activities, sporting activities, science projects and playing multiple instruments.”

Holly Benjamin, MD, a pediatric sports medicine specialist at the University of Chicago, has co-authored studies of athletic performance and sleep patterns in adolescents. Besides packed academic schedules, she notes that adolescent athletes may be especially vulnerable to the effects of sleep deprivation and/or general sleep disorders due to precompetition stress and travel, especially when it spans time zones. Even athletic competitions near home can have an impact on sports performance when early-rising adolescents must compete in the evening after a long and stressful day at school, Benjamin said.

“We want them to be happy. If they are fatigued or depressed and their performance is poor, it can be a sign of overtraining and burnout,” Benjamin said.

To check for sleep problems, concerned parents or coaches may want to ask student-athletes to prepare a sleep diary for a week. The diary should rate the quality of the sleep, whether they woke up at night, whether they woke up rested in the morning, and whether they were sleepy during the day.

John Hayes is a freelance medical writer based in San Francisco with more than 20 years of experience in the medical field. He has written and edited for physician and patient audiences in multiple medical specialties ranging from anesthesiology to ophthalmology and when he’s not writing, enjoys hiking, photography, and tai chi.

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