Lack of Sleep Increases Injury Rate in Teenage Athletes

Want to help your teenager be a better, healthier athlete? Get them to bed on time. New research shows a direct correlation between injury risk and lack of sleep in adolescent athletes.

A good night’s sleep is important to the general health and well-being of people of all ages. It appears to be especially true, however, for adolescent athletes. This is according to a recent study presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans.

The study polled 160 adolescents in grades 7 through 12 at a school in California. It asked them questions about the number of sports they played, their time committed to sports, whether they used a coach, if they participated in strength training, how much sleep they got each night, and how much they enjoyed the athletics in which they were involved. Over a 21-month period, 57% of the athletes sustained injuries that were recorded, and 38% of all athletes suffered multiple injuries.1

The results of the study indicated that the hours of sleep each student got each night was significantly associated with a decreased likelihood of injury. Student athletes who said they slept less than eight hours per night were significantly more likely to suffer a sports injury. Additionally, the older or higher the grade level of the student, the higher the likelihood of injury (2.3 times greater for each additional grade in school). The study concluded that gender, weeks of participating in sports per year, hours of participation per week, number of sports, strength training, private coaching, and whether or not the athlete enjoyed his/her sport were not significant variables that were associated with injury.2

The lead study author, Matthew Milewski, MD, felt the findings of this study were consistent with similar studies in the past revealing that a lack of sleep can affect cognitive skills and fine motor skills. However, Milewski pointed out this study was the first of its kind to actually focus on the adolescent population. Previous research indicated professional athletes had longer careers when they regularly got enough sleep.3

Milewski admitted that prior to this study, he and researchers had hypothesized that the amount of sports played, year-round play, and increased specialization in sports would be much more significant for injury risk. Instead, “what we found is that the two most important facts were hours of sleep and grade in school.” said Milewski. Milewski also stated the increase in injury risk associated with age might reflect a cumulative risk for injury after playing three or four years. In particular this could be so at the high school level where athletes even a couple years apart are bigger, faster, and stronger.4

In conclusion, if you are the parent of an adolescent athlete, one way to improve performance might be far simpler than equipment, practice, or nutrition – just get your teenager to bed on time. Easier said than done, right?

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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