Your 5 Step Plan: Staying Healthy for Hockey | Part Three: Prioritize Sleep

Here’s part three in our series about how to keep in tip-top shape on and off the ice: all about those zzzs. Remember, if you have persistent difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, you should talk to a trusted adult. Your parents, your coach, and your doctor can all help.

Want to kickstart good sleep? Scroll to the end for some practical tips!

The Centrality of Sleep
Sleep is a core part of your overall health: after all, you spend nearly a third of your life asleep! Going to bed is sometimes annoying, because you don’t want to stop hanging out with friends or watching a great movie, but young athletes can sometimes forget the all-important power of sleep.

Sleep is particularly important for middle and high school students. According to the CDC, middle schoolers should sleep 9-12 hours a night, and teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 should sleep 8-10 hours per night. That’s a lot of sleep! That means that if you’re 14 years old and you need to be awake at 6:00 AM for practice, you need to get to bed the night before by 10:00 PM at the latest. If you feel sleepy even after eight hours of sleep, you probably need to shoot for going to bed even earlier.

If you’re not sleeping enough, you’re not alone. The CDC reports that 58% of middle school students and 73% of high school students are not getting enough sleep.

Just because lots of people don’t get enough sleep doesn’t diminish how important sleep is. Here’s why sleep is so important.

The Physical Benefits of Sleep
The Sleep Foundation notes that sleep is particularly important for athletes, and that athletes can see significant performance improvement with enough sleep.

In a study of Stanford men’s basketball players, the study designers had team members extend their sleep to 10 hours a night. Here’s what they found.

  • The players ran faster in both half-court and full-court sprints,
  • Their shooting improved by 9%,
  • The athletes reported more physical and mental well-

According to the Sleep Foundation, Here’s some of what’s going on physically that accounts for this amazing athletic improvement.

While you’re asleep, you allow your heart to rest. You also allow your body to repair cells and tissue that have become damaged over the course of the day. These benefits happen for anybody, not just athletes, but athletes stand to benefit in a special way. On the ice, or wherever you’re working out, you’re focused on maxing out what your body can do, and you’re pushing your body to the limit. Sleep helps solidify those gains made during the day and resets you for the next big push.

Another benefit of sleep, it makes your heart stronger. During the night, your breathing and your heart rate change. This special cycle promotes heart health.

Sleep also helps you fight off illness. When you sleep, your body produces “cytokines” — ”hormones that help the immune system fight off infections.” That means less sick days for you, and more time on the ice. Sleep is incredibly important for helping your body repair and prepare for the work of being an athlete.

The Mental Benefits of Sleep
The Sleep Foundation also points to mental benefits for athletes when they get enough sleep.

Researchers understand that sleep helps everyone consolidate memories. Worked on a new shooting strategy that day? Good sleep will solidify those new skills. On the other hand, if you don’t get enough sleep, your brain can’t make the connections that will allow you to remember those new skills.

Sleep also is “essential for cognitive functioning,” according to a researcher at the Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology in Germany. While loss of sleep can have negative effects on cognitive function, enough sleep can “enhance performance beyond the boundaries of the normal condition”—in other words, adequate sleep can actually “enhance” what normal looks like for you. Want to make quick decisions on the ice? Get enough sleep.

Good Sleep Habits
Convinced that sleep is important? Here are a few things you can do to help you actually make good on that commitment, as laid out by the CDC.

  1. Go to bed at the same time each night. In fact, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reports that it’s particularly important to wake up at the same time every day. Otherwise, you might wind up “accidentally jet lagging” yourself! Try to sleep for the same block of hours every night, no matter whether it’s a weekday or a weekend.
  2. Make sure your bedroom is quiet and dark, and plug in your smartphone in the kitchen or somewhere it won’t distract you. Even better? Ask a parent to hold on to your smartphone to keep you honest.
  3. Pay attention to how much caffeine you’ve had during the day, and avoid eating a ton of food right before bed.
  4. Be sure you’ve had enough exercise—although hockey will definitely take care of that!

For all of these strategies, setting some sleep goals with a parent, sibling, friend, or coach can help keep you accountable and motivated. Let other people into your sleep journey. After all, it’s the foundation of the rest of your day and the rest of your life.

Sleep tight!