We live in a culture that takes pride in being sleep deprived. People, soccer players included, brag about getting only four, five, or six hours of sleep a night. College and high school students will talk about pulling an all-nighters as if it’s a badge of honor. We take pride in our ability to tolerate suffering and yes, being sleep deprived is a form of suffering. But when we brag about it, are others really impressed? Are the negative side effects of sleep deprivation worth it? (Please refer to the list below.) Another factor that prevents soccer players from changing their sleep habits is poor judgment. When sleep deprived our judgement deteriorates. We fail to recognize how poor sleep significantly negatively impacts performance and emotional regulation. In addition, exhaustion causes the body to crave unhealthy food which is something all athletes need to avoid. Teenagers seem to be the most sleep deprived population. Eight to nine hours of sleep is recommended for the average adolescent in order to function properly. Unfortunately 70% of teens fail to get this much sleep, while half of them are getting less than seven hours of sleep a night. Some experts report that sufficient, restful sleep can increase one’s ability to store memories between 20-30%, increase learning capacity 40%, and increase creativity up to 60%.
The aforementioned information describes the average adolescent. Soccer players are likely to be more sleep deprived because of the time demands of the sport. As a result they start and finish homework and studying later. On the bright side of things, improvements have been made to help soccer players better take care of themselves. US Soccer’s player development initiatives suggests 7v7 and 9v9 for U12 and younger, as well as no more than one game per day. There have also been discussions in the college ranks to move soccer to a full year sport with one game a week instead of the grueling 2 games/four training sessions/one day off a week schedule.
Parents also might want to concern themselves with the potential long term effects of ongoing sleep deprivation, not only for their children, but also for themselves. New research is beginning to connect chronic sleep deprivation with Alzheimer ’s Disease. Scientists are learning that toxic proteins (Amyloid Beta) naturally build up in our brains throughout the day. Sufficient, restful sleep allows our brains to be flushed or cleared of this protein. Insufficient sleep prevents this “flushing” process. Experts believe that these proteins might contribute to that foggy feeling and when sleep deprivation is chronic it can eventually to Alzheimer’s disease.
- Studies show that poor sleep can contribute to a 15-20% decrease in the following competencies, all of which are vital to athletic performance:
- Reaction time
- Decision making
- Situational awareness
- Increased general health/academic concerns with sleep deprivation
- Poor diet choices, your body craves unhealthy food
- Mental health triggers
- Poor emotion regulation
- Increased susceptibility to stress
- Crankiness, increased irritability and anger
- Poor sleep is associated with most forms of mental illness: anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder
- Cognitive impairment
- Decreased memory capacity/poor memory storage
- Poor focus/concentration/judgment
- Difficulty with or slow decision making
- Slower foggy thinking
- Poor visual attention
- Poor situational awareness
- Poor creativity
- When mice were injected with cancer, regular sleep led to a slow growing cancer. Ongoing disrupted sleep led to fast growing, invasive cancer.