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How do you explain the importance of sleep  and the correlation with performance to your athletes and their parents?

2017 Canada Games021


Post-exercise recovery and regeneration (PERR) is as important as the training regimen to the complex adaptive process of increasing athletic performance.  The foundation of PERR is sleep. Sleep constitutes the passive recovery, regeneration and rest process.

For the most part we have a tendency to ignore sleep or compromise sleep for other activities. Athletes have no choice but to make sleep a priority because their competitors do, and it could be the difference between winning and losing or experiencing a career ending injury. Parents, coaches and trainers have to help the athlete develop and maintain good sleep habits and routines during the off-season, pre-season and competitive season throughout the athlete’s career. These routines have to take into account changing demands through the developmental stages such as sleep requirements, training volume/intensity and travel.

The most important messages to remember and pass on to others are:

  • Sleep requirements and potential disturbances change over time;
  • Establishing a sleep routine is the key;
  • Never compromise sleep for training;
  • Establish the importance of sleep early in the athletes career;
  • Provide time for sleep opportunity; and
  • If the athlete complains of poor sleep get help.

The relationship of sleep to PERR and performance can be viewed in a structured fashion

  1. Sleep length (total sleep requirement: hours/night)
  2. Sleep quality (sleep disorders, environmental disturbance or fragmentation)
  3. Sleep phase (circadian timing of sleep)

These factors are the key factors affecting the overall recuperative outcome of the sleep state and affect an athlete’s ability to train, maximize the training response, and recover. Most importantly, these parameters change over the course of an athlete’s career and life. Therefore, the athlete, parents and coaches have to have strategies to adjust to the changing sleep requirements throughout the athlete’s career. Finally, attending to the importance of sleep will reduce the risk of overtraining/under-recovery, enhance resistance to illness and improve recovery from injury.

There is great interest and debate over the optimum amount of sleep (sleep length) required for humans to recuperate and function normally. Sleep requirements change over the course of an individual’s life. […] It is a safe assumption that based on training demands the sleep requirement for an athlete would be greater than for the average individual who is not an athlete.

Therefore, establishing guidelines for athletes at various stages in their career development for sleep requirement, providing tools to assess sleep patterns/routines accurately and implementing strategies to achieve the recommended amount of sleep are important practical interventions. It is very important for athletes, parents and coaches to be aware of the fact that at the time in life (12–18 years old) when adolescents require the most amount of sleep (9–10 hours per night) they tend to develop a delay in their biological clock (circadian sleep phase) that reduces the amount of time available for sleep. This results in a chronic sleep restriction during a time of increasing training demands, growth and development. […] It is important to establish sleep routines at the Active Start stage, maintain those routines insuring adequate sleep through the FUNdamental and Learn to Train stages (6 – 12 years old) and prepare for the challenges of getting adequate sleep (9 – 10 hours per night) during the Train to Train and Train to Compete stages (adolescence).

This “upfront effort” will establish the importance of sleep and sleep routines for the demanding Train to Win stage so the added stress of travel can be more easily managed to reduce the impact of travel fatigue and jet lag.

The above article is excerpted from Canadian Sport for Life’s Sleep, Recovery and Human Performance. Full article can be found here: 


Do you think there is enough importance placed on sleep for young athletes these days?

How do you explain the importance of sleep  and the correlation with performance to your athletes and their parents?

Mary Rao – Rowing – St Catharines – 10 years

“…One to one basis! Checking in with each kid on how well they sleep at night, do they feel refreshed when they wake up? How many hours they are working each week, how much school work they have, and booking Friday mornings off so they can stay up late on Thursdays to finish homework and still get their 8+ hours of sleep”

Patricia Howes – Fencing – Kingston – 30 years

“…Sleep is a real challenge at our institution. With academic, military duties and varsity my RMC students are often challenged to get enough sleep for adequate rest and recovery. One of the tools I have incorporated into our varsity training program is called iRest. This meditative tool helps people relax, let go, and unwind, which in turn can allow them to recover better when they do sleep. We use this tool at our pre-season training camp, as well as periodically throughout the season. I will end some practices iRest Yoga Nidra to remind students about this valuable practice. It’s something they use at a quiet time in their day or week or before going to sleep at night. Since it’s a tool they can locate easily on iTunes it is a great addition to their training regimen as very busy officer cadets and varsity athletes. I use it myself, so it’s also great for recovery for busy coaches!”

Francois Belle-Isle – Track & Field – Hawkesbury – 32 years

“…I have been coaching and teaching physical and health education for the past 30 years and sleep has always been a hot topic of discussion. Too many students have poor sleeping patterns and simply put do not sleep enough. And now, with all of the electronic devices that teenagers have in their hands, I feel that it has gotten worse. Screen time is a danger in itself. Not related to screen time, here is a very interesting overview with regards to sleep habits and nutrition, the other culprit for poor recovery, that I read on Bob Alejo’s Twitter account:

Vicious teenage cycle! Wake up late: missed meals, missed calories and missed recovery opportunities, missed preparation for training, practice or competition. Wake up early…..or rather wake up earlier than normal. ”I am not hungry”. Missed meals, missed calories and missed recovery opportunities, missed preparation for training, practice or competition. meals. Stay up late: Late night snacks probably not chicken and brown rice! All affecting strength, power, speed and recovery!”

Ken Anstruther – Taekwondo – Mississauga – 25+ years

“The work of Satchin Panda and others on circadian rhythms is compelling. Here is a Youtube link to a recent lecture.” (Circadian Theory of Health, recorded at the Salk Institute, 2018)