A conversation with a friend during a work out recently brought up the issue of sleep. He complained that he didn’t feel he had performed as well as he should have at a NAC because he couldn’t reset his sleep well enough so he did not get much sleep. I’ve had college athletes run into issues with this. Teenage athletes often make poor choices about sleep. So here are some things to keep in mind.
First, you won’t perform well if you’re tired from lack of sleep. Being tired from fencing is something you can reduce by building endurance in training. You can engage in training exercises to help you overcome performance drops when you’re tired from effort. But being tired because you didn’t sleep the night before could slow reaction times, it can reduce your ability to make choices, it can lower your attention and focus. Your ability to see, assess, and respond will drop even if you can still move around fine. You could easily lose some of your drive to win.
So we need to plan to be able to sleep.
High School and College athletes sometimes want to go out with friends or party the night before an event. Events are usually on weekends, social time is usually on weekends it can be an unfortunate match up. While adults working as officials might say “Guess I’m not going out that weekend since I’m refereeing in the morning.” Young athletes might feel like they can handle it. One of my middle schoolers once thought he could convince his friends to leave him alone so he could sleep if he stayed over at a sleep over party the night before a qualifier.
As expected…they kept him up more because he asked to be allowed to sleep.
I’ve had college kids oversleep and miss meets, or need teammates to come to dorms to wake them up. It hasn’t happened in a long time but some have shown up drunk or hung over. Most commonly you get them up late at night and then not awake enough to perform the first round or two.
How do you avoid this?
Don’t tell them not to have fun.
Allow some fun. Make sure they schedule it early enough that they can finish early and get to sleep. Make sure they have guidelines for good choices so the don’t over do it. Trying to convince them, college students or high school students, to just stay in and do nothing won’t consistently work. Giving a little room but with guidance for good choices can help.
Even better…set up a social activity. If you have a team, set up a team dinner, and some games or social time. A scrimmage or fencing game can work too. Then remind them to hit the hay when they’re done.
For athletes in general, regardless of age, sleep for tournaments involving travel can be tough. It’s pretty normal for people to have trouble adjusting to sleep in new surroundings. It can be harder to get to sleep and if you do get to sleep the sleep may not be as sound or refreshing.
Sleep aids aren’t a good solution for this because it might be harder to wake up sharp the next morning, or they might make you need more sleep than you have time for.
The best solution is to travel a day early. If its an important enough event and your competition is Sunday, arrive Friday night if you know you need adjustment to be able to sleep. Or Thursday night if you’re fencing Saturday. If that’s not a possibility, bringing a pillow from home, an air freshener that matches what you use in your bedroom, or something familiar that will help you feel more at home can help. Meditation and relaxation exercises might help solve it too.
The final sleep issue we see a lot is a poor sleep wake cycle relative to your tournament schedule. If you’re on spring break or summer vacation, or if you’re in college and keep weird hours, or if you’re just home and have an open schedule and tend to be up late and sleep late…you probably will have trouble getting to bed on time to get enough sleep for your tournament.
Athletes are often clever enough to try and adjust when they’re going to bed a few days before hand. I frequently here from them how they didn’t start early enough so it didn’t work. Usually the problem is they move the wrong direction when winding the clock.
Human circadian rhythms are set off from the day and night cycle. So when we adjust them we have to be careful how we do it. Trying to force our bodies to go to bed earlier than we’re used to can be pretty hard. It often does not result in us waking up earlier. Even if it does it does not usually result in a comfortable reset that sticks.
If we want to reset our sleep wake times we need to wind forward. So if you’re used to going to bed at 3am and waking up at 11am but you’ll need to be up at 6am to be ready to leave by 7am to reach the venue by 8am for your 9am event. You need to be able to get enough sleep comfortably to be able to wake up at a time way different than you’re used to, be refreshed, and able to warm up and function normally.
To do this a few days earlier start adjusting your sleep time so you go to bed a few hours later and wake up a few hours later. So instead of 3am go to bed at 7am. Then go to bed at 11am. Then 4pm. Then 8pm. Then you’re set. Your sleep wake cycle will have adjusted and you should be able to comfortably sleep at your new time, wake up correctly refreshed, and keep that new cycle if you want it.
Hopefully this advice is helpful as you plan to get good sleep for your tournaments. Hopefully you understand how important good sleep is and are planning to make sure you get it, not just for tournaments but in general!
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