Very early last year I wrote a blog post about the above topic. Specifically, that research at the time showed some pretty bad effects on kids, and especially teens, of not getting enough sleep. You can read that blog post here.
Basically, it referred to many studies that say teens need between 8.5 and 9+ hours of sleep each night. Other studies show that adolescent brains are still developing, with a side effect that teens are more alert at 10 pm than they are during the day. Combine that with getting up at 5:00 am or earlier many times a week for morning practice. Now, do that for 40+ weeks of the year and you get chronic sleep deprivation.
So what? Everybody is sleep deprived. What’s the harm? Well, new research has been done in the last year that shows sleep deprivation can be much more harmful than we thought.
We already knew that, among other things, not getting enough sleep was strongly correlated with lower school marks, reduces the body’s ability to recover for the next practice, and if chronic, can even lead to increased chances of overtraining.
Since then there has been a LOT of new research on chronic and even short-term sleep deprivation, to the point where the results are hitting mainstream news. Here are some of the highlights of sleep research in the last year:
- CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta discussed sleep deprivation on students in his August 2014 show, and how it’s linked to problems with concentration, and higher incidents of obesity, depression and even car accidents
- March, 2014 Forbe’s Magazine published the article “Lack of Sleep Kills Brain Cells” in which they discuss a study of mice showed that getting 4-5 hours of sleep a night for just 3 nights caused a significant loss of certain brain cells used for alertness (Journal of Neuroscience)
- Sleep deprivation can impair the consolidation of certain types of memory (Neuroimage)
- Sleep deprivation is linked to impairment of the immune system (University of Helsinki)
- Even partial sleep deprivation is linked to weight regulation problems (Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics)
I can hear you out there. This is all theory. It’s not really affecting us or authorities would get involved.
They are. In late 2013 the US Education Secretary said that starting high school later and letting teens sleep more was a common sense way to improve student achievement. Even the Mayo Clinic advised moving school start times later to be in sync with the internal clocks of adolescents. The Start School Later movement has tracked start times, student performance and many other factors for many years. They’ve determined that moving school start times later by one hour increased math test scores by 2% points and reading test scores by 1% point.
To summarize, we are doing our swimmers a grave disservice by having too many morning practices, and by having those practices start too early. The impact of our enforced sleep deprivation may be extending into their school performance and their general health.
So what did our swim team do about this problem? Last year we decided to go with 2 morning practices a week for my seniors, starting at 6:00 am and not the more common 5:30 am. In order to provide a little more training, I also gave them two weekday morning and one weekend day session of 30-45 minutes of dryland training, to be done on their own at home. The thinking was that this allowed them to sleep in much later as the dryland is 45-60 minutes shorter than the swim workout, and they save the additional commute time to the pool.
How did that workout? Overall the group swam well. Lots of PBs throughout the whole year. But it’s impossible to definitely know since we didn’t have a control group. But I can tell you about one negative that I should have foreseen.
It appears for some swimmers it was too easy to not do the unsupervised dryland, or not to do it properly. This became painfully apparent when some swimmers still had problems with the exercises after supposedly doing them for many months. So this year, I’ve added a formal Saturday 10:30-11:30 am dryland session in place of one of the weekday home-based sessions. This will allow us to carry out a more structured and planned dryland program, and include some supervised strength-based movements to work on the central nervous system. Plus it will let them sleep in one more morning during the week without reducing the overall training schedule.
Am I being too soft on my swimmers? Quite possibly. Two 90-minute morning workouts a week is far less than many clubs out there. But in the face of so much evidence indicating real problems caused by sleep deprivation, I don’t see how I can, in good conscience, push any more on them.