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Sleep And Your Child Athlete


If your child athlete is serious about their sport, a sure way to increase performance is to encourage them to get enough sleep.   Sleep is the very foundation of post-exercise recovery and regeneration.

sleeping teenager with weights in front of him

The document Sleep, Recovery and Human Performance, published by Canadian Sport for Life states that in order to increase athletic performance, post-exercise recovery and regeneration, sleep is just as important as your child’s specific athletic training.

3 Factors to Evaluating Your Child Athlete’s Sleep

There are three main factors to look at when evaluating your child athlete’s sleep:

  1. Sleep length– Is she getting the optimal number of hours per night?
  2. Sleep quality– Is she dealing with sleep fragmentation, disturbances in the environment or sleep disorders?
  3. Sleep phase– Is the timing of your child’s sleep in line with circadian rhythm, leading to the most restorative sleep?

Ensuring optimal sleep length, quality and phase will affect your child athlete’s ability to train, increasing performance results and overall recovery. These three components of your child’s sleep will change over time as her body grows and training demands intensify. Through each new stage of an athlete’s career and increased levels of training intensity, a new evaluation of sleep needs is required. Not only does sleep support athletes in reaching their training goals, it also increases resistance to illness and improves recovery from injury.

Sleep Length Recommendations by Age

3-5 Years Old: 10-13 hours

6-13 Years Old: 9-11 hours

14-17 Years Old: 8-10 hours

What is the best time for your child to go to sleep?

When determining a good time for your child to go to bed, it’s important to work backwards from the time that your child likes to (or needs to) wake up. So, for example, a five-year-old who needs to be at school at 8:00am and requires about an hour to get ready and eat breakfast might function best when going to bed at 8:00pm or 9:00pm and waking up at 7:00am. Remember, though, that most children wake up early. So extending their bedtime until 10:00pm isn’t necessarily going to result in their sleeping later in the morning—it will likely just result in a cranky child, particularly if this isn’t part of their regular routine.

As a parent, you can discuss the importance of sleep and athletic performance, post-exercise recovery and regeneration with both your child athlete and your child’s coaches.  Overscheduling athletes at the expense of sleep will not increase a child’s performance, instead it will have the opposite effect.  If your child is serious about her sport, you can support her training goals by helping her get serious about her sleep.

Samuels, Charles H. & Alexander, Brent N. (2013) Sleep, Recovery, and Human Performance: A Comprehensive Strategy for Long-Term Athlete Development. Canadian Sport for Life.

Alysa Dobson is a Certified Child Sleep Consultant with SleepWell Consulting. She works with families to help them get the sleep they need. Alysa offers support to parents with children ages 4 months- 8 years old through both in home and remote consultations. SleepWell Performance offers both group and individual consultations to maximize athletic performance through better sleep. For more information, contact Alysa at [email protected].

Natalie Monson

I'm a registered dietitian, mom of 4, avid lover of food and strong promoter of healthy habits. Here you will find lots of delicious recipes full of fruits and veggies, tips for getting your kids to eat better and become intuitive eaters and lots of resources for feeding your family.

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As a sleep consultant I can’t agree more with the importance of sleep. This is the one time of day that your athlete will be rebuilding the muscle fibers from the training that day. One of the best things you can do to make sure sleep is staying on par is to set an alarm for when it’s time to go to bed and not just when it’s time to get out of bed.