The importance of sleep for footballers

8a38ed922df649bfa3e5b9d34f766b56 Sleep deprivation is a chronic stressor on the body and effects every organ system, as it is a crucial process that helps our bodies repair and regenerate. For children and teenagers it is also a crucial period for bone and muscle growth/development.
Sleep depravation can obviously lead to fatigue and poor mental and physical performance. For a young footballer this is can be extremely detrimental because their mental and physical demands are greater than most young kids. Young footballers need energy and alertness for school as well as their training sessions after school. A poor nights sleep can lead to a decrease in mental and physical performance both at school and training, which is obviously not desirable.
Decreased amounts of sleep can also increase a young footballers risk of injury. Sleep helps our body’s regenerate and repair. If a young footballer is not getting adequate amounts of sleep, this process will be compromised, therefore increasing their risk of injury. Also, because a lack of sleep can effect physical and mental processing, a young footballer may make certain decisions on the field that they don’t normally make, which could lead to an injury (e.g. going into a tackle the wrong way).
As mentioned, decreased sleep is a major stressor on the body and can elevate stress hormones, leading to health issues like digestive problems, food intolerances, poor immune function, fatigue, sugar cravings, weight gain, brain fog, anxiety, low moods and changes in appetite. Therefore, just for overall health and longevity, it is vital a young footballer gets the right amounts of sleep each night.




But why are young footballers not getting enough sleep?

Things like a lack of daylight exposure during the day, increased artificial light exposure, especially at night and poor diet choices, wreaks havoc with the hormones that govern an person’s circadian rhythm, therefore causing delayed sleep onset and poor sleep quality. A few nights of disrupted sleep can also have a large flow on effect, increasing the risk of getting into a cycle of poor sleeping patterns.

How many hours should a young footballer sleep?

For Children aged 7 – 12 years of age, researchers recommend that they should aim to get 10-11 hours per night of sleep. At these ages, with social, football, school, and family activities, bedtimes gradually become later and later, with most 12-years-olds going to bed at about 9 p.m. There is still a wide range of bedtimes, from 7:30 to 10 p.m., as well as total sleep times, from 9 to 12 hours, although the average is only about 9 hours.
For 12-18 Years Old, it is recommended that they get 8 – 9 hours per day. Sleep needs remain just as vital to health and well-being for teenagers as when they were younger. It turns out that many teenagers actually may need more sleep than in previous years, especially if they are highly active. However, for many teenagers social pressures conspire against getting the proper amount and quality of sleep.





Tips to increase sleep onset and sleep quality:

1) Increase sunlight/daylight exposure during the day:
Most children and teenagers will get this during recess and lunchtime breaks at school. If they don’t, then it is important they do so for at least 30 minutes.  This could involve doing activities outside or sitting close to a window throughout the day.
2) Decrease artificial light exposure 2 hours before bed:
importance-of-good-sleep-2Artificial light exposure (this is usually in the form of phones, computers and TV) emits light onto the retina and makes the body think it is daytime, therefore it releases hormones like cortisol, which is the get up and go hormone. Cortisol should be highest in the morning when we are exposed to daylight and then slowly taper off into the evening as the sunsets and it becomes ark. Darkness then hits the eyes and stimulates the release of melatonin, which is the sleep hormone.
But when we are exposed to artificial light at night, the body get confused between night and day, causing chronically high cortisol levels. This decreases melatonin, therefore decreasing sleep onset, duration and quality.
Also, a lack of exposure to direct day light during the day, increases the bodies sensitivity to artificial light at night, which is even more of a reason to get as much sunlight/ day light as possible, because lets face it, in the world we live in, it is hard for people to not use these electronic devices when they get home from a long day. Keeping the devices as far as possible from the face will decrease the intensity of the light hitting the retina.
Lastly, the variability of light exposure and the variability in the intensity of the light exposure has a profound impact on the circadian rhythm. Although our hunter-gatherer ancestors used to stay awake after the sun had set, they were exposed to a consistent amount of light in the form of fire. However, in our modern world, we are exposed to a huge variability of different light sources.
3) Sip on some tea before bed:
Lavender, peppermint or chamomile tea are good options to help induce sleep and relaxation. These herbs have relaxing effects on the nervous system.
4) Ensure the bedroom is dark and cool in temperature:
Cover any sources of artificial light (e.g. alarm clock) and turn any electrical device on night mode. Even the smallest amount of light through our eyelids can disrupt our circadian rhythm. Also, our bodies sleep best in cooler conditions as our core temperatures drop in the evening. Therefore the outside environment needs to stay consistent with the internal one.
5) Leave enough time for the optimal amount of sleep:
Leave enough time to fall asleep and still get the required amount of sleep you need. This doesn’t mean going to bed at 1am and waking up at 9am. The more sleep a individual gets before 12am, the more restful it is. The whole night owl thing is a myth. Go to bed earlier and wake up earlier, leaving more time in the day to be productive in a well rested sate.
6) Go to bed at a consistent time and wake up at a consistent time:
In order to establish healthy sleeping patterns, making some form of bed and wake up time routine will help the body get into a consistent rhythm. Obviously the occasional late night is fine.
7) Take a hot bath before bed:
A hot bath raises the bodies core temperature, therefore blood vessels dilate and blood moves to the peripheries, away from the internal organs. Then when you get out the bath, the body wants to get rid of the heat and there is a drop in core body temperature, which is why a person may feel drowsy after a hot bath because lower body temperatures are required for sleep and the core body temperature naturally drops at night.
8) Eat a carb rich meal before bed:
Carbs increase serotonin (a neurotransmitter) in the brain, which helps stimulate sleep and relaxation. Make sure that the carb sources are from whole foods.


While incorporating these tips listed above, the key is to develop some form of consistent bedtime routine that helps a person wind down after a long day and get ready to sleep. Our body cannot sleep when it is overstimualted and “wired.”
Alon Blumgart

Naturopath and Functional Medicine Practitioner. Bachelor of Health Science. Visit for more practical, evidence based and unbiased diet and lifestyle information.

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