As Michigan high school student athletes get back to sports competitions, most are not getting the sleep they need to perform at their best, says Meeta Singh, MD, a sleep specialist at Henry Ford Health System.

“Since sleep can modulate reaction time and accuracy, it’s important to ensure an athlete gets his or her appropriate amount of sleep,” says Singh in a release.

Singh is the medical director for the Sleep Disorders Center at Henry Ford Medical Center– Columbus in Novi and Henry Ford Medical Center–New Center One in Detroit. She is also part of Henry Ford’s sports medicine team and advises teams in the four professional sports leagues: Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association (NBA), National Football League, and National Hockey League. She led a study titled “Urgent Wake Up Call for the NBA” published this month in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine that focuses on sleep-related issues and the detrimental effects on athletic performance and health of players, coaches, and management caused by the NBA season travel.

In addition, Singh treats student-athletes with sleep disorders and provides sleep health education that helps develop positive sleep behaviors and empowers athletes to reach their desired performance levels. “Sleep and recovery are integral parts of being an athlete that are often ignored,” Singh says. She also believes that restorative sleep is a cornerstone for athletes’ successful recovery and performance.

[RELATED: For Young Athletes, Inadequate Sleep Leads to Decreased Performance]

Nick Parkinson, supervisor of athletic training at the Henry Ford Center for Athletic Medicine, also understands the connection between proper sleep and performance. “The importance of athletes getting sleep cannot be understated. Our athletic trainers and sports performance specialists discuss proper sleep hygiene with the athletes we care for and emphasize its role in their recovery,” Parkinson says in a release.

Singh says that overlooking the importance of sleep and allowing the body to recover parallels the discussion in the 1960s about the importance of hydration for athletes. “People back then wondered why drinking enough water was important for athletic performance,” Singh says. Sleep and recovery are similar as an essential part of reaching peak performance, and in preventing and recovering from injuries. “It’s important to improving reaction time, speed, hand-eye coordination, judgement, and adjusting to tactics during competition,” Singh says.

These helpful tips from Dr. Singh can guide student athletes toward building healthier sleep habits and getting the right amount of sleep.

  1. Limit caffeine. Caffeine is a popular ingredient in many pre-workout drinks, and many athletes choose to use it for an energy boost. However, having caffeine late in the day may make falling asleep and staying asleep difficult. Athletes should try logging their intake to determine what time to stop consuming and how much is okay to consume.
  2. Maintain a regular sleep schedule. The body has an internal clock that’s largely affected by environment. Going to bed and waking up at approximately the same time each day can add a natural rhythm to the body’s internal clock, which can cause people to feel more awake during the day and fall asleep easily at night.
  3. Workout early. Often, working out later in the day gives people a burst of energy that can keep them up late into the night. For example, exercising after 9 p.m. can boost body temperature, making sleep difficult. However, research shows morning workouts can help achieve deeper sleep, and working out in the afternoon can help reduce insomnia.
  4. Unplug. Nothing can keep one up at night like a buzzing smartphone. Additionally, the blue light a phone emits may slow the production of melatonin, making sleep difficult. Leave electronics out of reach while sleeping. And as an added bonus, if their phone is their alarm, it will force them out of bed in the mornings.
  5. Focus on breathing. Focusing on breath can help steady heart rate and relax the body. A popular breathing technique is the 4-7-8 exercise, in which one inhales through the nose for four seconds, holds their breath for seven, and exhales for eight.
  6. Keep it dark, cool, and quiet. Having the right environment is an important part of falling asleep…and staying asleep.

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