The Reality Of High School & College Students
High school and college students are among the most sleep-deprived individuals in the United States. While expert agrees that teenagers should receive between 8 and 9.5 hours of sleep per night, the average high-school student sleep only 7.5 hours on weekdays. College students are far worse. Research has shown that the average college student sleeps 6.1 hours per night. Also, it has been reported that athletes sleep less than non-athletes. These are alarming datas.
Psychological & Cognitive Cost Of Sleep Debt
Even a modest sleep debts of 7 or 8 hours over a week has a noticeable effect. You may occasionally experience such symptoms as itching or burning eyes, blurred vision, feeling chilled, and understandably, waves of fatigue or sleepiness.
Sleep debts of around 8 hours will also cause a nosedive in mood. Obviously, people will feel more fatigued, less vigorous, and more lethargic, but the data are quite clear in showing that with increased sleep debt people begin to become more depressed. It first shows up as a loss of their sense of humor. Jokes no longer seem as funny, and most of the sense of playfulness that they may have started seems lost. The ability to experience things as pleasant and desirable is also rapidly diminished.
Some of the mood changes associated with sleep debt can have a direct impact on athletes' ability to do their job. As their sleep debt goes up, people begin to feel overwhelmed and they become indecisive. Some people begin to feel worthless and guilty about not being able to keep up, even though their productivity might not have really changed. There is also loss of motivation. When someone carries a sleep debt, they just don't care as much about the tasks they are doing. They don't bother about details.
Running a sleep debt also has directs effects on thinking ability and mental efficiency. In the past 10 years there have been tremendous amounts of research that have looked at sleep debt and mental performance. They have produced a clear pattern of results. First of all, with sleep debt, there is a general slowing of the mental processes. Reaction time studies have shown that losing only 4 hours of sleep can make a person's 45% slower. Losing the equivalent of a full night of sleep can double the amount of time it takes for a person to react. This is huge for softball. Reaction time being essential in this sport, this means that fatigued athletes are significantly under performing.
There are also additional cognitive impairments that occurs such as memory processes, ability to focus on a single or multiple tasks, logical reasoning and much more. There is clear evidence that sleep loss affects mental performance significantly.
Physical & Physiological Cost Of Sleep Debt
Generally speaking, individuals with a total sleep debt of 3 to 8 hours will show very few obvious changes in their physical and athletic ability. When the first studies on this issue were performed, neither the aerobic or anaerobic exercise performance of athletes seemed to be affected by sleep loss. However, more recent research shows that some athletic activities are impaired.
Over time, the ability to generate forces from a contracting muscle is diminished by sleep loss, which may have a significant effect on athletic performance. Recent research has clearly shown the negative impact of sleep debt on athletic performance.
A sleep debt also impairs the ability of the body to repair itself. Physiological growth and repair are maximized during the deep stages of sleep. This has an effect on the recovery rate and training adaptations of athletes.
Softball being such a mental game where alertness, judgement and reaction time are critical, softball athletes can't afford to build large sleep debts without suffering the consequences on the field.
In the next article, I will discuss strategies to help you improve the quality of sleep of your student-athletes.
About The Author
Marc Dagenais, B.Sc., MHK, CSCS, is a Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Personal Trainer in addition to working as an assistant softball coach for Simon Fraser University. He also runs a website on performance enhancement, training and conditioning for softball - http://www.softballperformance.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: This is part two, click here for part one!