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12U: The Importance of Sleep

02/11/2014, 12:45pm MST

Sometimes the difference between playing a good game and a bad game, or getting an “A” or a “B” on a math test, can come down to one common denominator: sleep. For young athletes to perform optimally – on the ice and in the classroom – the rest they get the night before is critical.

Is your child exhibiting signs of sleep deprivation? How can they get back on track?

Signs of Sleepiness

Sleep affects 12U players in a variety of ways, including growth implications, concentration levels, behavior and overall health. Here are some signs your child is not getting enough sleep.

  • Mood changes
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Inattentiveness
  • Memory disturbances
  • Sluggish play

Three Stages

There are three separate stages of sleep for children:

  • Light Sleep: The beginning stage. Very easy to be awoken during light sleep.
  • Deep Sleep: The most important stage for children to feel well rested the next day.
  • REM Sleep: There is a growth hormone secreted during REM sleep. A lack of REM sleep can directly impair the physical growth of your child.

Sleep should flow through these stages without disruption, but that’s easier said than done. Watch USA Hockey’s Sleep and its Effect on Performance video for more information.

As a guideline, remember that children between the ages of 7 and 12 should sleep 10-11 hours nightly for optimal health. For 12-to-18-year-olds, the recommendation is eight to nine hours.

What to Avoid for Better Sleep

  • Caffeine: Caffeine will interrupt the sleep pattern and also cause children to stay up later. Caffeine is a no-no for kids in general.
  • Meal timing: Try to eat at the same times every day. Stay away from late-night meals. Forcing the system to digest a full stomach at bedtime can interrupt sleep patterns.
  • Digital media: Cellphones, TV, computers, tablets – digital media exposure is everywhere and it can have a damaging effect on sleep. Not only does late-night digital media usage take valuable sleep time away from kids, it can also cause disruptive brain function that impairs proper sleep. Limiting screen time before bed will help children fall asleep and stay asleep.

Develop a Routine

It's easy to say a young person needs to get a certain amount of sleep each night, however, Dr. W. Christopher Winter, of Charlottesville, Va., believes parents and children must work together to create a routine unique to their needs.

"On average, young people need nine hours of sleep," says Winter, who has practiced sleep medicine and neurology since 2004. "There's a number, but it can be different for everyone. People ask me how much sleep their children need, and it's difficult for me to say because I don't know their kids and what they do every day."

Like anything else, families must settle into positive routines that foster good habits. Time management is a challenge for everyone. It’s becoming a bigger challenge for kids as they enter 12U and beyond. More hockey, more homework and more social events fill up the schedule quickly, making it harder to fit adequate sleep.

It’s also common for kids to want to stay up later and then sleep-in later at this age. This is one way bad habits develop. Stick with the routine and be vigilant.

Sleep Impacts Performance

"In a sport like hockey, where players have to do so much, it's important that they're well rested," Winter says. "You have to hold your stick correctly, skate well and know where your teammates are. If your brain isn't rested, it's going to be harder to do all of that."

As children advance to higher levels of hockey, the game gets even faster. Decisions are made in fractions of seconds that determine the outcome of a shift and a game. Without the proper amount and quality of sleep, it becomes even more challenging to do all of this effectively.

"It's impossible to be at your best if you're not getting enough sleep," Winter says. "The best advice I can give any parent is to develop a routine and a schedule. Every child is different, and they change as they get older. Children need to be honest and open to advice about how to improve their performance. That's not just while they're playing. Sleep is as important as anything they learn on the ice."

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