How to Improve Sleep for a Better Recovery

Posted on 
February 29, 2024

A better, faster exercise recovery is a goal shared by many young athletes, as well as their parents and coaches.

While a number of things can help, including good nutrition, adequate hydration and active recovery, Forté athletic trainer and outreach operations manager Jillian Hacker is quick to point out that sleep also plays a major role in a young athlete’s recovery.

“High school student-athletes need eight to 10 hours of sleep a night, on average, to recover from school, from the day, and from any physical activity to be ready for the next day,” says Hacker.

Here, she and Dr. Michael Del Busto, a rehabilitation and sports medicine physician at Forté, share five strategies to improve an athlete’s sleep and optimize recovery.

  1. Prioritize Wind down Time

Adding wind down time to your evening routine can help improve sleep. Recommendations include participating in a relaxing and quiet activity, such as reading or journaling, and limiting screen time starting approximately 30-60 minutes before bedtime.

  • Go Natural

Keeping sleep natural generally means avoiding sleep medications due to potential side effects. Natural ways to improve sleep include avoiding alcohol, staying active, setting your thermostat at an ideal temperature (typically between 65 and 72 degrees) and turning off unnecessary lights.

  • Keep a Consistent Schedule, Adjusting for Travel When Necessary

Athletes on a consistent practice schedule often sleep better than those without.

“The benefit of staying on a consistent schedule is that your body knows when it’s time to start winding down and when to wake up each day,” says Hacker. “While travel can complicate this process, trying to keep athletes on track and making adjustments when needed will help them perform better across time zones.”

  • Watch Caffeine Intake

It’s recommended to limit caffeine and avoid after lunch.

  • Limit Naps

Limiting naps to between 20 and 90 minutes can ward off grogginess that can affect sports performance and ensure that your bedtime doesn’t get pushed later into the night.

While all five strategies can help young athletes improve sleep, leading to faster, better recoveries, Dr. Del Busto shares a bonus strategy that can also make a difference in sleep hygiene.

“It’s also a good idea, if possible, to have a dedicated sleep space,” says Del Busto. “People often use a bedroom for things besides sleep, such as homework and watching movies. Reserving a space for sleep will help you fall asleep faster and sleep better.”

Focusing on these strategies can help your athletes feel more prepared for practices and games and perform to the best of their abilities.

These recommendations have been excerpted from Coaches Corner, a free monthly webinar series for coaches, athletic directors and athletic trainers. The series, developed and presented by Forté, in partnership with IHSAA, aims to arm coaching and support teams with helpful information to consider when working with their athletes. Subscribe online so you don’t miss an episode.

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