Shout From The Stands: Why We Should Eliminate Morning Practice During School

Robert Lawrence is the producer of the video above and the paper below. His research into student-athletes suffering from sleep deprivation was fueled by his 11 years of experience on the City of Birmingham School Board (operational positions included President, Vice President, Treasurer, and Trustee) and because he is the father of two swimmers.

The articles in our “Shouts From the Stands” series are not written by SwimSwam and are not necessarily our opinions, however we believe they are well argued points from our readers. If you have a Shout you would like to share, please send them to [email protected]

Sleep: Mission Impossible

sleep deprivation (courtesy of Robert Lawrence)

Eliminate Morning Practice During School: Improve Health, Mood, Academic and Swimming Performance!

I believe that the coaches of our athletic programs seek “on-field” success while simultaneously promoting academic excellence and good character development. I also believe our community expects our high schools to challenge our children with a rigorous college preparatory curriculum. I feel, however, that the district has silently endorsed a practice that undercuts the academic, psychological, and physical d!evelopment of our athletes. This “practice” is the 5:45 am to 6:45 am workouts during school days.

In isolation morning practices are not harmful, but coupled with after school sessions and academic demands they force athletes to choose between losing sleep to study, or losing study to sleep. The “choice” of skipping 5:45 am practice is not an option if an athlete wants be on the “A” team. Universally the choice is to lose sleep.1 That choice is proven to harm our children’s health, academic, and athletic performance. Conversations with parents whose children participate in 5:45 am practices describe exhaustion, anxiety, d!epression, and near “mental breakdowns” over the course of a typical season.

Researchers, including the National Institue of Health, have shown that teenagers require a minimum of 9 to 10 hours of sleep per day.2 Classes run for 8 hours, and afternoon practice blocks off 3 1/2 hours. High School homework averages 3-4 hours per day. To meet these demands while attending a 5:45 am workout there is only about one hour available for homework. Given the choices, the only variable students can control is to sacrifice sleep (see chart 1), this creates timelines where the best an athlete could hope to achieve is 6 to 7 hours of sleep; 25% to 40% less than required. This often carried over to non-am practice days when sacrificed homework time is “crammed – in.” These choices initiate a cycle of chronic, and extremely detrimental, sleep loss. The sleep deprived tend to downplay the impact which helps “justify” the “sacrifice”, but the negative results are measurable and persistent. For an adult these shortened sleep cycles might be within a manageable range, but for the developing mind of an adolescent the sleep deficit i!mpact is substantial, and cumulative.

Even nominal sleep deprivation has negative health and athletic performance impacts:

  • A 25% reduction in required sleep produces stronger inflammatory responses in women4
  • Sleep debt – the accumulation of insufficient sleep – is difficult to “pay back” and can take months to mitigate by adding back proper sleep times 5 
  • Sleep deprivation in teens is linked to lower levels of growth hormone 6!
  • A 2010 study by the journal Sleep found that teens who go to bed after midnight are 24% more likely tosuffer from depression and other illnesses. 7 
  • American Academy of Pediatrics research shows higher injury rate for adolescent athletes getting lessthan 8 hours of sleep per night. 8 
  • Authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman book, NurtureShock, link the loss of one hour of sleep to the !loss of two years of brain power. 9 

These represent a small sample of the universe of research and studies documenting the negative impact o!f sleep deprivation.

Several studies that show how supporting the recommended sleep times can improve sports and academic performance:

  • Later start times for high school improve standardized test scores 10
  • With extra sleep (extended to 10 hours per night) Stanford’s University men’s and women’s swim teamsshowed significant improvements in measures of athletic performance and mood (similar results were found in testing of Stanford’s mens’ varsity basketball team 11); the following metrics showed improvement: (Study Summary Attached)!
    • Swam a 15 meter sprint 0.51 seconds faster!• Reacted 0.15 seconds quicker off the blocks!• Improved turn time by 0.10 seconds! !• Increased kick strokes by 5.0 kicks!I am not opposed to morning workouts, but I am opposed to morning workouts during the academic year where school demands compete with sports demands.12 The academic, afternoon practice, and school schedule make is mathematically impossible for our athletes to reach even the research supported MINIMUM amount of healthy sleep. We cannot continue to endorse this situation given there is no s!cientific evidence of morning practice efficacy? 13 !What are the alternatives?!There are three givens which must be stated prior to offering alternatives. 1) High School age children should be given the opportunity to achieve a minimum of 9 to 10 hours of sleep per night, 2) School times should be adjusted to a later start, but until the State of Michigan, or all Oakland County Schools, implement this change it cannot happen in isolation. 3) School hours and homework requirements continue to be the primary variable assessing available hours-in-a-day calculations. Holding all things constant, there is only 1 hour in the day for homework with 5:45 AM practices. The only hope of providing sufficient t!ime for school, afternoon practice, and study time is to eliminate AM practice. !To ensure our coaches and athletes can achieve success several commitments must be made:
  • If “over lapping” groups are required to balance lane time (due to high participation), the district must support the addition of qualified assistant coaches if needed
  • Professional development will be provided for coaches to research and implement effective changes to training techniques
  • To keep coaches aware of school demands, the district will inform and keep coaches apprised of heavy !testing dates that will impact their athletes (AP’s, ACT, etc.)!The deleterious impact of sleep deprivation14 driven by high home work demands coupled with 5:45 am practice schedules creates an imperative for change if we are to be true to the districts mission of ensuring educational excellence. The Stanford research shows that not only will this improve our students overall health, it will also improve their athletic performance, a rare win-win.

Sleep comparison (courtesy of Robert Lawrence)


  1. 1)  Siri Carpenter, American Psychological Association. Sleep deprivation may be undermining teen health. October, 2001, Vol.32, No. 9 (page 42) (
  2. 2)  National Institutes of Health ( Other studies support arange of 8.25 to 9.75 hours.
  3. 3)  Hans P.A. Van Dongen, PhD; Greg Maislin, MS, MA; Janet M. Mullington, PhD; David F. Dinges, PhD, The Cumulative Cost ofAdditional Wakefulness: Dose-Response Effects on Neurobehavioral Functions and Sleep Physiology From Chronic SleepRestriction and Total Sleep Deprivation, (, January 2003
  4. 4)  Irwin, 2008 via John Mullen (Science of Performance: Morning Workouts Worth Sleep Deprivation? Pt3) 2/25/2013!
  5. 5)  Dr. William Dement, M.D., Ph.D Stanford University, Sleepless At Stanford, ( 1997
  6. 6)  Gabrielle Brandenberger, et al, “Effect of Sleep Deprivation on Overall 24 Hour Growth Hormone Secretion,” The Lancet,October 21, 2000.
  7. 7)  Journal Sleep Volume 33, Issue 1 (
  8. 8)  AAP Abstract: Lack of Sleep Tied to Teen Sports Injuries (10/21/2012)
  9. 9)  From New York Times, What Do Students Need Most? More Sleep. January 15, 2014
  10. 10)  Vicki Ables and Abigail Baird, Ph.D Washington Post, Sleep derivation and teens: “Walking Zombies”, 3/10/2012
  11. 11)  CheriD.Mah,MS;KennethE.Mah,MD,MS;EricJ.Kezirian,MD,MPH;WilliamC.Dement,MD,PhD,TheEffectsofSleepExtension on the Athletic Performance of Collegiate Basketball Players, (, 2011
  12. 12)  G. Jon Mullen, Science of Performance: Are Morning Workouts Worth the Sleep Deprivation (Part 5), (, 4/09/2013
  13. 13)  Swimming Science (, Feb, 2014

14) Mary Carskadon, Ph.D of the Bradley hasbro Children’s Research Center, from Science Daily, Lack of Sleep Can Affect

Athletic Performance in Teens, ( 5/11/2005

A!dditional resources are attached

  1. 1)  Stanford University Abstract: Varsity Swim Team Study
  2. 2)  Health Advisory: American Academy of Sleep Science
  3. 3)  Report American Academy of Pediatrics


Mah CD, Mah KE, Dement WC

Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA


Relatively few studies have clearly elucidated the immediate and long term effects of extended sleep. In particular, little research has thoroughly investigated the impact of multiple nights of extra sleep over a prolonged period of time and specifically, how extended sleep affects athletic performance.


In this ongoing study, five healthy students (age 18 – 22) on the Stanford men’s and women’s swimming teams established a two week baseline in which they maintained their usual sleep/wake patterns. Athletes then extended their sleep to 10 hours per day for 6-7 weeks. Following each regularly scheduled swim practice, swimmers were assessed for athletic performance including 15m sprint, reaction time off the block, and turn time. To monitor daily sleep/wake activity, actigraphy and self-reported sleep logs were recorded throughout the study. The Epworth Sleepiness Scale assessed daytime sleepiness and the Profile of Mood States(POMS) monitored weekly changes in mood.


Indicators of athletic performance significantly improved following the extended sleep period. Improvements included faster 15m sprint (6.98 ± 0.99 seconds at baseline, 6.47 ± 0.64 seconds at end sleep extension, p<0.05), faster reaction time (0.88 ± 0.20 at baseline, 0.73 ± 0.13 at end sleep extension, p<0.05), improved turn time (1.10 ± 0.20 at baseline, 1.00 ± 0.22 at end sleep extension, p<0.05), and increased kick strokes (26.2 ± 1.53 at baseline, 31.2 ± 1.84 at end sleep extension, p<0.05). Swimmers also demonstrated mood improvements including POMS vigor ratings (42.9 ± 3.80 at baseline, 65.3 ± 5.08 at end sleep extension, p<0.05) and decreased POMS!
fatigue scores (57.9 ± 4.86 at baseline, 34.1 ± 0.22 at end sleep extension, p<0.05). Epworth scores decreased from 11.0 ± 3.32 at baseline to 2.40 ± 2.07, p<0.05 at end sleep extension.


Significant improvements in measures of athletic performance and mood were observed in collegiate swimmers after extended sleep.
SLEEP, Volume 31, Abstract Supplement, 2008!

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adolescents get a little more than nine hours of nightly sleep for optimal health and daytime alertness during the critical transition from childhood to adulthood. In puberty a natural shift occurs in the timing of the body’s internal “circadian” clock, causing most teens to have a biological preference for a late-night bedtime. It is important that parents and local school boards work together to implement high school start times that allow teens to get the healthy sleep they need to meet their full potential.

Adopted by the AASM Board of Directors: Feb. 17, 2014

Health Advisory: Teen Sleep Duration and School Start Times

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) is a professional membership society that improves sleep health and promotes high quality patient centered care through advocacy, education, strategic research, and practice standards (

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6 years ago

I don’t know of any school that dishes out 4 hours homework per day.. Also if the parents take a proactive approach & make the school aware of high achieving athletes – schools generally give less homework & more allowances are made.

Education is important but you can do that at 40 years old.

You only get one chance at being an elite athlete and that is when you are in your prime – younger years!

Reply to  AT90
6 years ago

Four hours of homework a night is not at all unusual for me, as well as many of my friends. As a junior in high school taking 3 AP, 1 honors, and 3 regular classes, I’m lucky to have less than 3 hours of homework on any given night. As far as what you said about education being able to wait, I strongly disagree. Student-athlete: The word student comes before athlete for a reason. For the majority of people, swimming is not a career. Education needs to come first in order to guarantee a successful life.

also a student-athlete
Reply to  Student-Athlete
6 years ago

I’m on a similar boat as you (4 APs 1 regular) and I can attest to the massive homework load. Students who excel in school evidentially have no place if they are required to go to morning practices. Previously I have been able to handle a rigorous course load such as the one that I now have, but ever since I have been asked to attend morning practices, it has become harder to concentrate in school and to complete homework in time to get ample rest for practice. And if I so much as skip 1 or 2 morning practices a week for my studies I’m ridiculed by my coach and the team for slacking off.

Reply to  AT90
6 years ago

If kids procrastinate at all, or aren’t the fastest at getting homework done, and are in any sort of college prep program, four hours a night is not unheard of.

Varsity Swimmer
Reply to  AT90
6 years ago

First of all, I doubt that any school will give less homework if the student is an athlete. And, 4 hours of homework is not that uncommon.

6 years ago

I am not buying this for a minute..back in the 70’s we cranked out the yardage with 2 a days in HS and college. Remember the Mark Schubert era 12K to 18K a day? Funny thing swimmers almost always had the best grades of any sports team..discipline in training and in school. Training is a lot more sophisticated now and these high schools/colleges do less yardage and less practices..which is great! But if us old timers found a way to do well in school and graduate with tons of yards and practices..I think most National and National junior qualifiers will find a way to make it all work for their coach who wants a few am practices each week

6 years ago

I’m not sure it’s fair to compare high school swimmers and college swimmers. And I’m absolutely positive it’s not fair to compare our experiences from the 1970’s to what students and athletes experience in this era. The academic loads for high achieving high school students are far greater now than they were in the 70’s. And the academic pressure these high school students feel far surpasses anything most of them will experience in college. I worked with elite students and athletes for many years. Almost all agree college is much less stressful than high school. What you and I did in the 70’s, which for me extended into the early 80’s, doesn’t compare.

agree and disagree
Reply to  Mark
6 years ago

Yes… high school classes take more time out of your day, but the workload done at home is much more stressful in college.

6 years ago

Yeah! Lets go back to the way things were in the 70’s! Smoke on airplanes! Never wear a seat belt! Bike helmets are for wienies!

Reply to  ChestRockwell
3 years ago

Um … Bike helmets ARE for wienies.

6 years ago

Hear, hear!! Back in the old days we walked uphill both ways to and from school and practice in blizzards year round! We never slept and did all of our homework exceptionally well! And swimmers were faster back then too! That’s why cuts are slower and none of the records have been broken from that era! These damn kids are so lazy, sleep is overrated they just need to toughen up!

Get real. This is the backwards @ss attitude that prevents any sort of progress. Here are some actual thought-provoking ideas supported with studies and evidence and your response is to throw some old anecdotes out about the “good ole days”???

Reply to  stupid
6 years ago

Swimming is a million times faster than it was in the 70s

Reply to  stupid
6 years ago

Look at the high school records… most have been set in the past 5 years. Not sure where you got that conclusion from. And doing more work isn’t always better. Training smart and having a balance is how you keep improving and not plateau.

Rules rule!
3 years ago

I’m sorry… the rigors academically in the 70’s were not the same…the requirements especially on boys with Title 9 require superior academics in all programs in all divisions. I think morning are important because they are required in college but 1 during the week and two on the non-competition weekends provides that acclamation. All the times in the world mean nothing without grades.

6 years ago

Lots of schools dish out 2-3 even 4 hours of homework, and homework builds up and when the time allotment gets less, the 4 hours of homework demands more then 4 hours. My point is, with student athletes in high school, especially junior year creates time pressures that are hard to meet. Not every high school swimmer is an elite athlete, and will be taking their swimming to the biggest stages in the world. Sleep and health does play a big part in any athlete and I think many parents know but are afraid to press this subject with their coaches. I have not known of any school (in my area) that have given special privileges with less homework to… Read more »