Sleep for Teenage Athletes Why It's Important and How Much They Need

Sleep for Teenage Athletes: Why It’s Important & How Much They Need

Sleep for Teenage Athletes: Why It’s Important & How Much They Need

With school, practice, and game schedules, teenage athletes are busy.  Unfortunately, sleep often gets neglected as schedules fill-up.  Adequate sleep for teenage athletes is critical, not only for performance, but also to support the teen’s physical and mental well-being.

Importance of Sleep for Teenage Athletes

Sleep is essential for optimal physical and mental health in teenagers.  Getting adequate sleep each night is associated with improved attention, memory, learning, and the ability to regulate emotions1.  In addition, adequate sleep is important for supporting a healthy immune system.

In adolescents and teenagers, lack of sleep is associated with attention and behavior problems, impaired decision making, and difficulty concentrating.  All of these can negatively impact academic performance.

Sleep and Mental Health

Getting the recommended amount of sleep each night is important for promoting the mental well-being of teenage athletes.  Inadequate sleep is associated with increased feelings of anxiety and depression.  Teenagers getting insufficient sleep are also at an increased risk for self-harm behavior1, as well as mental health and substance abuse concerns.

Sleep and Athletic Performance

When it comes to athletic performance, inadequate sleep is associated with difficulty concentrating, slowed-reaction time, fatigue, and an increased risk of injury.  During sleep the body heals and repairs, which is essential for muscle growth and recovery from exercise sessions.

How Many Hours of Sleep Do Teenage Athletes Need?

Despite the importance of sleep, 7 out of 10 high school students do not get adequate sleep each night2.  The amount of sleep an athlete needs each night varies by age.  The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends the following1:

  • Youth 6-12 years old: 9-12 hours of sleep per night
  • Teenagers 13-18 years old: 8-10 hours of sleep per night
Sleep Recommendations for Teenage Athletes

Is Too Much Sleep a Concern?

In addition to concerns related to teenagers not getting enough sleep, too much sleep can also be problematic.  Routinely sleeping over the recommended amounts is associated with the development of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, obesity, as well as mental health concerns1.

Tips to Improve Sleep for Teenage Athletes

If your teenage athletes are not getting enough sleep, here are some tips to help improve their sleep habits.

Importance of a Consistent Sleep Routine for Teenage Athletes

Aim to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on the weekends.  This will help your body develop a regular sleep cycle.  

Developing a consistent schedule is an important sports nutrition concept as well.  Don’t sleep in on the weekend and miss the chance to fuel your body with a nutritious breakfast.

Creating a relaxing routine before bed can positively impact sleep.  Consider reading a book, deep breathing, or practicing mindfulness and meditation.

Ideal Sleep Environment

Create an ideal sleeping environment by keeping the bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.  Start dimming the lights in the hour before bed to help prepare your body for sleep.  Use your bed for sleeping only; not for watching TV, playing video games, or doing homework.

Limit Electronics Before Bedtime

Limit the use of electronics at least 30-minutes prior to going to bed.  Electronics emit blue light which can impact sleep.  It is best to keep all electronics, including TVs, smartphones, computers, and tablets, out of the bedroom.

Creat a Sleep Routine Sma

Use Caution with Caffeine Close to Bedtime

Caffeine is a stimulant, which can impact your ability to fall asleep and to stay asleep throughout the night.  In the hours leading up to bedtime, teenage athletes should limit food and drinks that contain caffeine.  This includes caffeinated beverages such as coffee, soda, and black tea.

Energy drinks contain caffeine along with other ingredients that have a stimulatory effect on the body.  Energy drinks can cause insomnia and difficulty sleeping. Teenage athletes should avoid energy drinks.  The combination of ingredients in the drink may have a synergistic effect in the body and lead to health concerns.

Can Naps Help Teenage Athletes?

Naps can be a great way to help teenage athletes get in some extra rest during the day.  Taking a 20-30 minute power nap during the afternoon can help you feel more energetic the rest of the day.  When planning a time to nap, make sure it is not too close to bedtime, as this can disrupt your nighttime sleep.

Naps may be particularly beneficial to athletes who have early morning workouts3.  Getting in an afternoon power nap can help decrease sleepiness and increase mental alertness.  Power naps can be a great tool to help teenage athletes supplement their nighttime sleep.

Sports Nutrition: Fueling Around Sleep for Teenage Athletes

Teenage athletes can support their sports nutrition goals by carefully planning evening snacks and starting the day with breakfast.

Evening Snacks for Teenage Athletes

Eating an evening snack that contains a good source of protein can be advantageous for athletes desiring to gain or maintain muscle mass.  Consuming protein before sleep can help promote muscle protein synthesis during the overnight recovery period4

Evening snack ideas that contain protein include: Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, fruit smoothies, and high protein waffles and muffins.  Capitalizing on a nutritious evening snack can give your body the nutrients it needs to recover and be ready to perform at your best the next day.

Start the Day with Breakfast

Before heading to morning practice, it is important for teenage athletes to start the day with breakfast.  After sleeping 8-10 hours, your body is in need of energy to support your normal daily activities, athletic practices, and academic performance at school. 

Plan for your breakfast to include a good source of carbohydrates along with lean protein.  Breakfasts teenage athletes can eat on the go include:

  • Fruit and yogurt parfait: Greek yogurt, frozen berries, granola
  • Bagel with nut butter, sliced banana, and honey
  • Kodiak Cakes frozen waffles, fresh fruit cup, milk
  • Granola bars, nut butter, apple slices, milk
  • Overnight Oats

Make Sleep a Priority

Bottom line, it is important for teenage athletes to make sleep a priority.  Regularly getting the recommended amount of sleep can support teenage athletes mental and physical well-being, as well as their athletic performance.  As an athlete, sleep should be an essential part of your performance plan. 

If you have additional sports nutrition questions, consider visiting with a Registered Dietitian who can develop an individualized meal plan to meet your sports nutrition needs.  For additional guidance of fueling your body for competition, check-out my recent blog: Your Guide to Game Day Nutrition.

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  1. Paruthi, S., Brooks, L. J., D’Ambrosio, C., Hall, W. A., Kotagal, S., Lloyd, R. M., Malow, B. A., Maski, K., Nichols, C., Quan, S. F., Rosen, C. L., Troester, M. M., & Wise, M. S. (2016). Recommended Amount of Sleep for Pediatric Populations: A Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Journal of clinical sleep medicine : JCSM : official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine12(6), 785–786.
  2. Wheaton AG, Jones SE, Cooper AC, Croft JB. Short Sleep Duration Among Middle School and High School Students — United States, 2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2018;67:85–90. DOI:
  3. Halson S. L. (2014). Sleep in elite athletes and nutritional interventions to enhance sleep. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.)44 Suppl 1(Suppl 1), S13–S23.
  4. Res, P. T., Groen, B., Pennings, B., Beelen, M., Wallis, G. A., Gijsen, A. P., Senden, J. M., & VAN Loon, L. J. (2012). Protein ingestion before sleep improves postexercise overnight recovery. Medicine and science in sports and exercise44(8), 1560–1569.
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