Sleep for the travelling athlete

I recently returned from an out of town hockey tournament that required a 2 night hotel stay and a 3 hour drive to the host city. This isn’t an unsual practice for sport teams or athletes involved in competitive sport but it had me wondering what can parents do to support these young athletes during travel season.

Lets first begin with the recommended sleep for children

Sleep and School-aged Children (6-13 years)

Children aged six to 13 need 9-11 hours of sleep. At the same time, there is an increasing demand on their time from school (e.g., homework), sports and other extracurricular and social activities. In addition, school-aged children become more interested in TV, video games, computers, and social networks as well as caffeine products – all of which can lead to difficulty falling asleep, nightmares and disruptions to their sleep. In particular, watching TV or other forms of screens close to bedtime has been associated with bedtime resistance, difficulty falling asleep, anxiety around sleep and sleeping fewer hours.

Sleep problems and disorders are prevalent at this age. Poor or inadequate sleep can lead to mood swings, behavioral problems such as ADHD and cognitive problems that impact on their ability to learn in school.

Sleep Tips for School-aged Children

  • Teach school-aged children about healthy sleep habits.
  • Continue to emphasize need for regular and consistent sleep schedule and bedtime routine.
  • Make child’s bedroom conducive to sleep – dark, cool and quiet.
  • Keep TV and other screens out of the bedroom.
  • Avoid caffeine and caffeinated beverages such as coffee, teas, pop and sport drinks. Foods with caffeine include chocolate, as well as protein or energy bars, and those with coffee flavouring.

Children and Sleep – the importance of sleep for young athletes who travel

For children who play on a travel sports team, sleep should be a top priority. Not only is ample shuteye important for physical and mental wellbeing, but getting a good night’s sleep can also improve a young athlete’s chances of doing well during the game. Sleep positively affects many areas of athletic performance, including speed, accuracy, and reaction time.

Ensuring that kids get enough sleep while traveling for a game may also decrease the chance that they get hurt on the ice or field. In fact, children who get fewer than eight hours of sleep per night are 1.7 times more likely to get injured while playing their sport, compared with those who get eight or more hours of sleep. Use these tips to keep your athlete feeling rested and healthy while on the road.

  1. Prepare pre-bedtime activities. Your child may be overly excited after a game, especially following a win, and may want to have a dance party rather than relax and hit the sack. Help with the wind down during the hour before bed with books, puzzles, and other relaxing activities.
  2. Tackle homework on the go. If athletes have homework or assignments, encourage children to finish their homework while traveling to the game so that there’s one less task to check off before bedtime.
  3. Encourage napping. If a child gets too carsick to do homework on a bus or has finished all assignments, encourage your child to get a quick nap. A 30-minute nap may help your child feel more refreshed before a game—just don’t let the napping time go beyond much more than that, since excessive napping can make it harder to fall asleep at night. Pack a blanket and travel pillow in your child’s sports bag because it will be easier to nod off in transit.

For other ideas and tips visit the Sleep Time and Screen Time sections on the PLAY website.

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