Running down the clock: MVHS athletes deal with sleep deprivation

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Running down the clock: MVHS athletes deal with sleep deprivation

Om Khandekar

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The mental aspects of sleep deprivation can hit a student particularly hard; drowsiness, irritability and a general reduction in mental ability turn the average school day into a series of challenges. MVHS students have heard people condemning sleeping late for its mental effects. People say things about academics like “don’t stay up late before a test” or “sleeping the night before is better than cramming,” but not much is said of the physical handicaps athletes exhibit when operating on a less than optimal amount of sleep. This subject is more difficult to observe but is no less important for the performance of athletes.

Lack of sleep is a common issue for MVHS students, but out of 102 athletes, 75% reported not getting enough sleep. Athletes are the group where the effect of sleep deprivation has a more noticeable physical effect, and when an athlete goes to practices, games and tournaments with a lack of sleep, it becomes extremely difficult to recover and refuel. Senior runner Kelly Bishop can recall times where lack of sleep has affected her performance in meets.

Kelly Bishop at home

Senior Kelly Bishop continues her homework late into the night after she comes back from track practice. In addition to the responsibility to practice daily, school work also kept her awake. Photo illustration by Om Khandekar.

“There was one time when I was running the mile and the first lap is like, ‘ok I can do this,’” Bishop said. “But come the second lap and especially the third lap suddenly everything sort of crumbles and your stride and core loosen up, and you just don’t feel like yourself.”

Wrestlers often need to gain or cut weight so they can compete in the weight class they are most suited to compete in. Since they need to rapidly undergo transformations, their bodies need the sleep to catch up mentally with these physical changes. They often need to cut up to four or five pounds in a relatively short amount of time, and according to varsity coach Joevon Barnes, sleep is a huge factor in whether a wrestler can make weight.

“It’s often not about the workout,” Barnes said. “It’s about giving your body rest and eating right.””

In addition to the time spent at practice, sports like volleyball and wrestling also compete in weekend tournaments. These tournaments swallow up hours on friday and sometimes spill into the saturday after. Many tournaments start before sunrise, and travel times affect the quality of sleep an athlete can get on the road. When junior Jason shen experienced sleep deprivation at a weekend tournament, a competitive experience transformed into a mentally draining challenge.

“It’s the worst thing, because for volleyball tournaments if you have to travel [then] most of the tournaments aren’t far enough to get a hotel for the night,” Shen said. “so you have to get up at four in the morning to drive there.”

Time management is essential for athletes. With the time spent in practice these athletes have to be efficient with their time spent on their school work. Senior runner salma sheriff claims that time she spends running keeps her from other distractions.

“When I’m off season I still go running,” Sheriff said. “Even on the days I don’t go running, often the time I would have spent running I instead spend getting distracted so it actually helps I think. It also makes my sleep more consistent.”

Student athletes take on an extra burden when they compete as an MVHS Matador. On top of balancing their daily academic schedules with practices, sometimes the burden of time management isn’t felt as clearly. As varsity volleyball coach Paul Chiu observed, sleep deprivation can creep up on students who let their time management skills slip.

Practice Vball Long Exposure

Junior Jason Shen recalls a volleyball tournament that was a mental challenge because of lack of sleep. Fatigue crept up at lengthy tournaments and practices. Photo illustration by Om Khandekar.

“The [students] who procrastinate and kill time screwing around, texting, surfing the internet, essentially doing nonproductive work to ‘relax’ actually wind up staying up until two or three in the morning,” Chiu said. “I’ve seen it in my kids. Both of my kids are Monta Vista grads and at the time they were not very efficient with their time.”

Sprints coach John McKeeman has witnessed sleep deprivation eat away at his athletes throughout the season. He attended a class at Stanford led by sleep scientist and expert Dr. William Demment, where he discussed the effects of sleep deprivation on the body and mind based on studies on volunteers.

The study filmed them sleeping under various conditions, with their sleep either disrupted or left undisturbed, and the people with interrupted sleep performed much worse on the tests. Coaches like McKeeman know the importance of sleep, but can only watch the results when their athletes have to make it through a practice on little to no sleep.

“It’s just a responsibility thing, you know?” McKeeman said. “Kids have to realize that [sleeping is] just as important as eating well [or] training hard.”