Author Archives: Rick Madge

Teens, Sleep Deprivation and Morning Swim Practices

I know that a lot of coaches will disagree with my message in this blog. And if they don’t, they should. I’ll explain why at the end.
Almost every serious swim team holds many morning practices a week for their older swimmers. Usually at least 4, sometimes 5 or even 6. And they start as early as 5:30 am. This means that swimmers are getting up between 4:30 and 5:00 am in order to get there.  It’s all part of swimming, right? Getting used to early mornings, sleep deprivation, falling asleep in classes?
The problem is that study after study shows that teens need more sleep than adults (see here, and here). In fact the studies show that they need between 8 1/2 and 9 1/4 hours a night. If we work backwards from this, they would have to go to bed the night before at roughly 8 pm.  And yet they will only get home from afternoon practice at 6 pm at the earliest, and they still have to eat and do homework. Forget about leisure time. Now imagine that this happens almost every weekday night for the whole school year.
Here’s the next problem. Studies also show that adolescents are more alert at 10 pm than they are during the day. It’s just the way their developing brains work (see here). So it’s almost impossible for an adolescent to even be able to go to sleep at 8 pm, assuming they were done all of their homework.
So what? So they’re a little tired during the day. We all are. They’ll get used to it, right?
No. Other studies on sleep and school marks have shown a consistent pattern. Moving school start times ahead one hour results in lower marks in everything from math to English. Moving them back one hour results in higher marks. (See here and here).
Sleep deprivation also affects swim performance as sleep helps to aid muscle tissue repairs, improving recovery before the next practice.  A pattern of too little sleep means that the body just can’t repair itself fully for the next practice. Chronic sleep deficit can and does result in overtraining (see here).
What a nice combination this turns out to be. Too many early morning practices, leading to sleep deprivation, causing lower school marks and the possibility of over training. And this is absolutely the norm in almost every serious swim team out there. While I’m sure not every swimmer is affected exactly like this, the information would indicate that many are.
What is our team doing about this?
More or less we’re shooting for moderation, with some uncommon twists thrown in there.
We have 2 morning practices a week for our Seniors. Wednesdays and Fridays. They start at 6 am, not 5:30 am. This gives us 90 minutes, which is more than enough to get in some good training.
Now I realize that two mornings may not be as much training as swimmers need to reach their potential. So we also have 2 morning dryland sessions a week, to be done by the swimmer at their house. The dryland is designed to take 30-45 minutes, which means they only have to get up 30-45 minutes earlier than normal. It is heavily geared towards core, but also includes some cord work to develop arm strength.
We also have a third dryland session to be done by the swimmer some time on the weekend, preferably Sunday.
So why should most coaches disagree with me?
Because they put their swimmers through many early morning practices, and apparently don’t believe that it causes sleep deprivation, lower school marks, or a chance of overtraining. They wouldn’t put their swimmers through this if they thought I was right.
I’d love to start a discussion with the coaches out there about this.

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