Students who specialize in one sport more likely be tired during the day, research suggests

Thursday, June 28, 2018

NEW ORLEANS – Add daytime sleepiness to the list of risks for students who specialize in one sport and play it year-round, suggests a study being presented today at the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) 69th Clinical Symposia & AT Expo. To reduce the that risk, coaches, parents and athletic trainers should ensure athletes take recommended breaks from one-sport training, researchers say.


Involvement in youth sports has changed dramatically through the years, with neighborhood pickup games and playing different sports seasonally giving way to specializing in one sport that is played throughout the year. Previous research found year-round, one-sport athletes are at risk for overuse injuries and psychological burnout. The new study suggests they also are more likely to be excessively sleepy during the day. Additionally, the research found student athletes are more likely to be tired during the day if they have an overuse injury or travel for their sport.


“Today’s students have so many responsibilities and when you add specializing in a sport – with participation in school and club teams, practices, tournaments and lots of travel – there just aren’t enough hours in the day to finish their school work, spend time with friends, enjoy other activities and get a good night’s sleep,” said Eric G. Post, PhD, ATC, lead author of the study, athletic trainer and research assistant at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Kids who have a hard time getting up in the morning or staying awake in class are at risk for burnout in everything from sports to school.”


The study included 647 athletes (aged 12-18) who participated a variety of club sports such as soccer, football, basketball, lacrosse and volleyball. Depending on how they answered three questions (“Do you train more than eight months out of the year in one sport,” “Have you quit other sports to focus on one sport” and “Do you consider your primary sport more important than your other sports?”) they were categorized as highly specialized (252 athletes), moderately specialized (224 athletes) or low specialization athletes (171). They also completed the eight-question Pediatric Daytime Sleepiness Scale (PDSS), which gauged how tired they felt during the day. Questions include “How often do you fall asleep or get drowsy during class?” and “How often do you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning?” Total scores can range from 0 (not at all sleepy during the day) to 32 (excessively sleepy). Scores higher than 15 suggest poor sleep quality. Researchers also analyzed PDSS results according to whether the athlete had sustained an overuse injury and traveled regularly for the sport. Researchers found:


  • Highly specialized athletes scored an average of 16.1 on the PDSS while low-specialization athletes scored 14.6.
  • Those who had sustained an overuse injury scored 16.3 vs. 14.2 for non-injured athletes. Researchers said it is unclear if students are at higher risk of injury because they’re tired, don’t get quality sleep because they are injured, or both.
  • Athletes who traveled regularly for their sport scored 16 vs. 14.5 for those who did not travel regularly. Not only does travel cut into their sleep time, but athletes might not get the same quality sleep in a hotel as they would get at home, researchers note.


“We certainly don’t want to discourage kids from playing sports, but parents, coaches and athletic trainers need to guide them to ensure they lead a well-balanced life, with time for family vacations, homework and unorganized activity,” said David Bell, PhD, ATC, co-author of the study, athletic trainer, assistant professor in the kinesiology, orthopedics and rehabilitation at the University of Wisconsin Madison and director of the Wisconsin Injury in Sport Laboratory. “Student athletes should follow sports participation recommendations, including playing a variety of sports and taking one or two days a week and three or four months a year off from a primary sport.”