During the night you go through different stages of sleep. Your body goes through different stages of sleep throughout the night. During the first third of the night we go into slow wave sleep. This is the time of sleep where we repair our body. The most essential part of recovery after an especially hard work out is the time for our muscles to heal and grow.
In order to take advantage of the best stages of sleep for your needs you need to create a routine that meets them. Since you want to take advantage of the healing time you have to plan to fall asleep rather early. To do this you need to plan ways to unwind before you go to bed. Practicing deep diaphragmatic breathing is a great way to help gear your body to unwind. By doing these exercise 6 to 10 breaths a night you will recruit airways you do not usually use and will increase the level of oxygen available to your body.
The best way to perform diaphragmatic breathing is to lay down and place your hands at the bottom of the rib cage. You want to fill your lungs by pushing your hands out. You want to take this breath in slowly. At the top of the breath you want to hold it for 2 counts which will allow you to equalize pressure throughout the lung including the less used areas. Then you slowly exhale through pursed lips. That slight back pressure helps to keep those airways open. If you have need for those airways they are easier to access when I need that extra big breath during a run or when you are lifting.
You also need to take advantage of light and dark. Our body really does run on light and dark and the excess light especially prior to sleep will make it very difficult to fall also and you might miss some important slow wave sleep. So turning off light producing product 30 minutes prior to going to bed will be helpful. In younger athletes helping them to develop the ability to sleep without electronics will help them to grow, heal and be strong.
Ending your sleep too soon robs your brain of the chance to go into REM. During this period of sleep our short term memory shifts to long term memory. This is essential and is more productive than cramming for a test or big presentation. Getting the proper amount of sleep allows your brain to process all the information and make it easier to access when you need it. When you are sleep deprived because you have missed stages of sleep.
Ultimately being athletic is a combination of proper nutrition, exercise and rest. Because there are much more specific needs that can lead to injury being aware of your sleep and your physical need which may be more than the average person your age due to the need for healing. Do not skim on this because the side effects of sleep deprivation will decrease your ability to compete the way you want to.