The thing that is perhaps most taken for granted in the world of athletics is sleep. We imagine that we can push ourselves, which we of course can and should, but there are limits. Staying safe and healthy is such an important part of staying on top of the fencing game. Getting enough rest is an absolute key to being healthy.
Why Sleep is Important for Fencers
Often the very first thing to go when schedules get tight and training hours get long is sleep. Suddenly getting enough sleep just isn’t a priority when there’s homework to be done, laundry to be washed or there are television shows to catch up on. However it’s especially important that sleep be a priority during heavy training and competition times.
In order to perform at top conditions, fencers MUST get the right amount of sleep. Not getting enough sleep has the following effects:
- Slower decision making
- Less responsive muscles
- Foggy focus
- Negative mood impacts
- Lower tolerance for pain
- Higher likelihood of injuries
- Poor form
- Long term poor health impacts
- Less capable immune system
- More tension in the body
- Harder to learn new skills
And these are just a few! The negative impact that getting too little sleep has on the life of an athlete is cascading, with so, so much negative impact on performance!
How Much Sleep do Fencers Need?
Top athletes, fencers included, need more that the average amount of sleep. That’s because their bodies are spending a lot more time working hard than average people.
How much sleep you ask? Well, get ready to be shocked. Professional athletes like LeBron James and Roger Federer get somewhere along the lines of eleven to twelve hours of sleep per night! That’s obviously an incredible amount, but keep in mind that these guys are working in what amount to near ideal conditions, so they can really do this in the most perfect way.
For us mere mortals, getting that amount of sleep might not seem feasible, but it’s actually not that terribly far off the norm. The Sleep Foundation recommends the following number of hours for each person, by age. So whatever age your fencer is, you can’ know that they need.
● School age (6-13)
9-11 hours, up to 12 is normal
● Teenage (14-17)
8-10 hours, up to 11 is normal
● Young Adult/Adult (18-64)
7-9 hours, up to 11 for young adults or 10 for adults is normal
● Seasoned Adult (65+)
7-8 hours, up to 9 hours is normal.
Experts all agree that athletes need the higher end of the spectrum on these sleep tables, which isn’t too far off from what those famous professional athletes get! Most of us don’t get anywhere near the recommended number of hours of sleep that we need each night, and that’s true especially for student athletes who tend to burn the candle at both ends. Figuring out how to work eleven hours of sleep per night into a busy schedule for your school aged child can be incredibly challenging, but realize that teaching good sleeping habits now will help them a great deal later in life.
Keep in mind that these sleep times include naps, which can be a very effective way to add in some time when it’s challenging to get it at night.
Getting Better Sleep
A big issue is getting high quality sleep in the time leading up to competition. In fact, more than two thirds of athletes report not getting enough sleep the night before an event. Anxiety, stress and even just plain excitement can lead a fencer to not getting the good sleep that they need in order to perform they way that they want to, or more pointedly at the level that they’re capable of.
Here are some solid tips to help fencers get the shut-eye that they need at home and while on the road to compete.
- Cut caffeine after 2pm. This isn’t so much for kids, who probably aren’t drinking much, but is really pertinent for teens and adult fencers. Caffeine seriously messes with sleep.
- Black out as much light as possible. Darker rooms equal better sleep!
- Limit liquid in the hours before bedtime to prevent middle of the night wakeup calls for the restroom.
- Avoid screen time for an hour before bed – the blue light from a TV, tablet, phone or computer screen messes with the production of melatonin, an important chemical for sleep.
- Make time for sleep! Schedule practices and other things such that there is enough time for sleep.
- Schedule plenty of time around the competition to allow for good rest leading up. If you can arrange to pad the trip with an extra day on the front end to settle in, then really work to do this!
- Experts say that it takes one day per hour change when traveling across time zones for the body to acclimate, so keep time changes in mind!
- If sleep is consistently a problem in the lead up to competition, try to get more sleep in the week or so leading up. It is possible to “bank” sleep, though this only works in a very limited capacity and isn’t something to practice all the time.
- Be firm about bed times when traveling. It’s tempting to stay up late to explore or to enjoy the hotel room, but early bedtimes are a must!
- If fencers are traveling together and sharing rooms, discuss the importance of sleep well before you leave so that everyone is aware of how important it is and is supportive of making sleep happen.
Think About Everyone
With all of this talk about young fencers and the sleep that they need, don’t forget to look at those numbers for parents too! If parents aren’t getting the high levels of sleep that they need then they aren’t going to be able to offer the support and smart decision making that their young fencers need for them to offer.
Sleep is a big issue for everyone, and one that will impact not just fencing competition, but long term health as well. Getting enough sleep will help fencers to do their best, to feel great and to get on with life.