School has started. Days are getting shorter and darker. As an athlete, are you focusing enough on sleep this time of year? Or at any time of the year?

Sleep is essential for our body’s regulation of internal processes, maintenance, and rhythms. It is also essential for muscle repair and vital organ function and is a key ingredient that influences mental health and resilience. Not getting enough sleep has been associated with a decreased ability to concentrate, perform, and make decisions, higher levels of irritability, and increased cortisol levels (stress hormone that damages our bodies when we are exposed to it over a long period of time), for starters. Sleep sounds important, doesn’t it? It is. As the research on sleep and its effects on the human body and mind has advanced, the old adage of, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” begins to hold less and less weight. In fact, people who sleep a healthy amount every night are found to live longer and healthier lives than those who are routinely sleep deprived.

Sleep effects our everyday functioning and performance. Although your performance might not always suffer if you’ve had just a few bad nights of sleep, performers have been found to experience a 10-30% increase in performance due to establishing a better sleep schedule. Imagine the impacts a regular and healthy sleep routine can have not only on yourself, but your players or teammates!

If you aren’t getting enough sleep, you may not even know how much it is affecting you because the more impaired you become with too little sleep, the less you are able to recognize how impaired you are. If you’re not getting enough sleep, you may be likely to report that you’re ok and you can survive on little sleep, but pay attention to others’ observations of you. Sleep deficits are cumulative, so if people are saying you are not performing like you typically do or appear tired all the time, it may be a good time to buff up your sleep hygiene.

College student-athletes have the most sleep disturbance of any group of individuals and people tend to over report and think they sleep more than they actually do. If you’re sleeping at least 7- 9 hours a night and waking up feeling alert and refreshed, you might need to add some more sleep to your routine. Some factors to consider that can help you with your sleep include buying a white noise maker to cancel out loud and distracting noises, using blue light blocking glasses to block daytime signals to your brain (that may be coming from devices such as your cell phone, tablet device, or computer), or meditating at bedtime. Also, be aware that drinking caffeine later in the day may affect your body as well, as it is still in your system for approximately 4-6 hours after consumption.