The teenage brain is biologically predisposed to fall asleep around 3 a.m. and arise at 11 a.m. So it naturally sucks when you’re forced to wake up at a time when you’re designed to fall asleep.
According to sleep expert Dr. James Maas, it’s probably better to cut out early morning practices entirely:
“We’ve been trying to educate coaches in all different sports, but they’re pretty skeptical. But listen to this: In every case where we’ve convinced a coach to cut out early-morning practices, the team’s performance has improved dramatically. We now know that something happens in your brain after six or seven hours of continuous sleep that improves motor-skill performance. There are things called sleep spindles that enhance muscle memory. So if a coach schedules practices that shorten sleep, there’s no way the team will improve. In fact, early-morning practices are far worse than not practicing at all. It’s best to delay practicing until at least 10 or 11 a.m.” (Sleep to Win!: Secrets to Unlocking your Athletic Excellence in Every Sport, p. 10).
That part about sleep spindles is particularly important. After 6.5 hours of sleep the brain starts secreting calcium into the brain’s motor cortex to solidify muscle memory. So that new shot you’re working on, your swimming technique, or your running mechanics all get imprinted in the brain after 6.5 hours of sleep the following night.
Got less than 6.5 hours of sleep after a practice? You might as well have skipped.
Chronic sleep-deprivation has more dire risks though: hypertension, heart attack, stroke, Type II diabetes, weight gain, and cancer.
You can bring this article to your coach and see if she’s convinced, but regardless of what time you practice there are concrete steps you can take to make sure you’re not suffering through early morning practices:
* Get 9.25 hours of sleep each night, which is how much the body needs before age 26. If you’re practicing at 6 a.m. that means you’re in bed by 8:30 p.m. Yes, 8:30 p.m. Do not tell me you don’t have time to sleep; I’d rather you admit that you’re undervaluing your well-being and/or have poor time management skills.
* Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time each morning, within reason. You’ll train your biological clock to be tired at the same time each night.
* Get one continuous block of sleep rather than several chunks. Again, muscle memory isn’t imprinted until 6.5 hours of shut-eye.