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The Importance of Sleep

By now I am sure that many, if not all of you, have found the sleep tracker through the Coach’s Corner on the CrewLAB website. This feature allows us to view the athletes rating of their sleep on a scale of bad, meh, and good.

As coaches being aware of athletes’ perceptions of their sleep is important, especially as we have little control over their behaviors and habits outside of practice. By encouraging athletes to use this tool, we can track their perceptions of their sleep and link it to any outcomes that we notice. This is a game changer. We know that sleep has an impact on both mental and physical health, and now we have a tool at our disposal that allows us to track and show our athletes what outcomes their habits cause.

For myself as a coach, this tool has allowed me into the world of anxiety present to one of my athletes. Specifically, every other week we do an endurance piece on the erg. While improvement each time is not always the case, the overall trend is upward. However, I noticed that one athlete was not improving. At first, I believed that this could be a mental block, we had a conversation about how to approach the next erg with no improvement achieved. One day as I was clicking through CrewLAB I noticed that this athlete had logged bad sleep, not every day, but more frequently than the others around her. We sat down and had a conversation. During this conversation I found out that her senior year of school was very challenging and that while she was going to bed early, she was unable to have restful sleep. We designed a plan, and next erg she improved. While this example sounds cliché, it is important to realize that with sleep it really can be that simple. The difficult part is designing a plan that is effective, and the athlete buying into it.

So, what can you do to encourage healthy sleep habits? Let’s take a look

We’ve all heard the usual information to sleep better: stop looking at screens 30 mins before bed, go to sleep each night at the same time, stay away from caffeine, get some exercise. What these suggestions don’t account for are the stress of being a student. Specifically, our athletes are balancing beginning high school, studying for SAT/ACT exams, applying to colleges, balancing friend group drama, and trying to become better athletes. It’s a lot. And while many of us have forgotten how it feels, we should be aware and compassionate of it. However, we should also possess the necessary skills to help direct our athletes toward healthy coping mechanisms.

Healthy coping mechanisms include, writing to-do lists, prioritizing tasks, and writing down daily gratitude. Often it can be hard for individuals to switch off their brains at night, as they do not have a plan in place to overcome the hurdles that they face the next day. Therefore, encouraging athletes to write down a to-do list for the next day prior to bed allows the individual to understand what they need to accomplish and encourages them to manage their time better. Next, many of us are probably guilty of putting off a task you know needs to be done, to do something that is less pressing, but sounds a little more fun. Our athletes do this too. Teaching athletes to prioritize their tasks teaches valuable skills and relieves stress. Finally, encourage athletes to write down what they are grateful for. Teaching our athletes daily gratitude is important, especially because life isn’t always easy. I tend to encourage athletes to write down three things that they are grateful for. It could be something as simple as, I am grateful to have my dinner prepared for me. But encouraging athletes to think about these things, and the access that they have to different individuals and organizations can help them to end the evening on a more positive note.

Teaching athletes how to use these flourishing tools better prepares them for success. By reducing anxiety before bed, athletes can get a better night’s sleep, helping their bodies to recover and their minds to rest.

Article by Jessica Brougham

Jessica Brougham

Currently studying at University of Florida as a Doctoral Student towards a Doctor of Philosophy in Human Health and Performance. Rowed at High School in New Zealand and in College for Washington State University.

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