To be at the top of their game, any athlete knows that they need to eat right and train regularly. But not all athletes, especially kids who may still perceive themselves as invincible, realize that sleep is a crucial part of performing at their best. REM sleep in particular, where researchers believe that our bodies consolidate memories that show us how to do things, rather than recall facts, is necessary for athletes. 

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Sleep is the time when our bodies repair muscle, heal, and release hormones that help us grow and stay healthy. Sleep is crucial for all kids, and even more necessary for young athletes. It’s up to parents to make sure that the demands of sports are balanced with the demands of school and family, so that kids can get an adequate amount of sleep. 


The first thing parents should watch out for with their athletic kids is the number of hours of sleep that kids get. Children need more sleep than adults. Elementary school aged kids need between 10 and 11 hours of sleep a night, while teens need 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep. It’s up to parents to watch for concerns like sleep onset insomnia, where the child goes to bed but can’t fall asleep for a long time, or circadian rhythm disorders, where kids don’t get tired until the wee hours of the night. 

Lack of sleep can also affect performance. We all know how tired and slow we can feel after a poor night’s sleep; studies have shown that split second decisions and overall reaction time and accuracy are all affected by being overtired. When athletes are exhausted, they quite simply cannot perform as well as they can when they’re well rested. 

If parents are sure that their kids are getting enough hours in bed, the next question they should ask themselves is whether or not their kids are getting good quality sleep. To assess this, a few things to consider: 

  • Children of any age should not snore on a regular basis. 
  • Children older than babies should not experience pauses in their breathing; this is a sign of obstructive sleep apnea, a potentially dangerous condition. 
  • Children should not regularly complain of being tired during the day. 

With athletes, concerns like anxiety before a big game or practice, or aches and pains because of working the body hard can make getting to sleep more difficult. If your child has to travel for a match, getting adequate sleep before their game so that they can perform their best becomes even more difficult. 

When athletes travel across time zones, they may also feel even more dysregulated. Circadian rhythms are greatly affected by travel, and it may be difficult to go to bed when they need to, to perform well at the game. This is commonly agreed to explain the classic “home field” advantage.


If your young athlete regularly complains of being tired or seems to struggle with sleep before big games or other events, your first step should be to seek the advice of one of the pediatric sleep specialists at our clinic. With yours and your child’s help, we’ll undergo a total sleep evaluation to give you insight into how well your child is sleeping, and help you understand what your next step should be. 


Physical fitness is great for kids. For young girls in particular, team sports have been shown to have a protective effect against eating disorders and self-esteem concerns. But parents need to make sure that all of their child’s needs are balanced, and that they get the rest they need to become a healthy, well-balanced adult. To do that, make sure your child is getting a full night’s rest, and is getting up ready to face the day - whether it holds the next big game or not! Contact us today to schedule an appointment and get started.