14 Mar Can Sports Psychology Give You a Great Night’s Sleep?
Sign up to have Dr Ritza's Sleep Guide and Worksheet e-mailed to you if you want to sleep better[contact-form-7 404 "Not Found"]
Think of the best sales pitch you have ever been on the receiving end of? Maybe it was for a shirt, a car, a health product or a house. Think about why the pitch was so good - if the sale person got you to buy something that you might not otherwise have bought...... then it was really good.
If you cannot articulate it, I am going to guess it was because you were not being sold on the features of the product. It is more likely that something connected with you on an emotional level and was so congruent with your values that your primal brain had to have it, whether wanting to look great in that new dress / suit, or wanting to be apart of a group.
For me, the best pitch I have ever received was for a bed of all things. If you are not familiar with Hasten's beds, they are a Finnish bed maker that sells ridiculously comfortable hand-made beds with a price tag to reflect it - we are talking Honda Civic or BMW expensive in some cases. Laying on one of these heavenly beds is the type of thing that would make you happy to spend all day in it for days on end. It would make laying on a cloud uncomfortable in comparison.
It wasn't the features of the bed that got me but what a good night's sleep is worth.
Think about it, the saying "waking up on the wrong side of the bed" is a way to articulate why you had or are having a bad day because of the way you slept; everyone has experienced it. Hastens were selling the idea of waking up rejuvenated, rested and energized to start you day. They were selling the fact that 1/4 - 1/3 of your life is spend sleeping. It connected with me because I know good sleep is a requirement of good health.
If you sleep poorly, there is proven research linking it to spine pain, cardiovascular disease, mental illness, early death, and weight gain amongst numerous other health conditions. On the latter point, I can guarantee you that a lot of people struggle to lose weight even with a great exercise and diet regiment because of a sleep-deficiency induced hormone imbalance. Good sleep is a requirement to optimal health, feeling great and even success as you may define it.
Yes, a comfortable bed and pillow are important to sleeping well. Yes, both will help support your spine and reduce the severity / incidence of spine pain. Yes, a great bed is important but you do not need to rush out to buy a new one, least of all a Hastens. If your current bed is older than a decade or is limiting your ability to function at the level you want, you will want to consider it though.
What you do need to do, if you are interested in being healthier and having more energy, is to treat your sleep like it is one of the most important things in the world. In my biased opinion, it should be treated like a holy ritual that is going to allow your body to restore itself, and reenergize itself for all that you have to accomplish the next day
The best method of doing this, which I think is even more important than having a great bed, is to have a great bed time routine - a ritual if you will.
Here is where sports psychology comes into play. In Golf is Not a Game of Perfect, a book by golf psychologist Bob Rotella - if you are not a golf fan or are worried about instantly falling asleep at the thought of golf, give me a moment - he speaks to the importance of a sound preshot routine. He notes that at the professional level, the golfers are so equal in skill, that 90% of success comes down to mindset and about 10% to physical ability. They can all execute the same shots but how those shots are executed comes down to their mindset.
Unlike other team sports, the variables in golf can be controlled by the player to a high degree. The ball doesn't move and is not pitched to you. There are no players leaping at you with lethal intent. The crowed is relatively silent and there is not much you can do about the weather. Golfers can control how they set up to the ball, their intent and the swing that they make. For this reason, good golfers spend an inordinate amount of time of two things, 1) their setup to the ball and 2) their preshot routine
When we tour level golfers on TV, we are not aware of how much thought is put into controlling their mindset so that they can create the same swing every single time . It is equivalent to repeatedly executing the same computer program sequence with the push of a button. They put a lot of time and effort into it because it is their livelihood. We can all take this mindset and apply it to our sleep routine because our health is our livelihood.
Most golfers start their pre-shot routine the same way every time, often by tapping the headcover of their driver or by putting their glove on. This communicates to themselves and their subconscious that, "we are going to hit a shot soon, the routine is beginning, time to focus on the task at hand." Like Pavlov and his dog, constant repetition conditions our brains to prepare for whatever physiological task is ahead, whether is it eating, hitting a golf shot, or sleeping. Personally, I brush my teeth about 60-30 minutes before bed and turn most of the condo lights off to tell my brain that it is time to slow down for bed-time soon
Next a golfer uses a series of thought or physical routines to mentally and physically prepare the golfer to execute the same swing they have used a million times on the driving range. Most golfer practice visualizing their shot, using a set of physical cues to ensure their setup is perfect, take a deep breath to slow their heart rate and mind, and consciously shutout the crowd.
I implore you to do the same for your sleep. Regardless of what it is that you do, the goal is to mentally and physically prepare yourself to sleep.
On the mindset side, it is meant to help calm your mind by acknowledging and temporarily ignoring any stressful events from the day behind or ahead. At this point, stressing about something is like a rocking chair; something to do that will not get you where you want to go. In my humble opinion, the best thing(s) to do is/are the following;
- 5 minutes of meditation / deep diaphgramatic breathing
- 20+ minutes of fiction reading (non-fiction stimulates my brain too much)
- journalling for 5-10 minutes to vent, acknowledge and move-on from stressors in your life
Physically your body needs to be ready to sleep and there are some things that we can all do to prepare it, just like we would with a warm-up for exercise. The motive is to make yourself as sleepy and prepared to rest as possible by creating the right physiological conditions. As with professional golfers, you will be more successful if you can repeat the same routine in the exact same steps every time. Some golfer's change the process slightly from shot-to-shot but they know they cannot take the shot until they are in the right state.
To get your body ready for sleep throughout the day:
- Eat dinner more that 2 + hours before bed
- Avoid alcohol before bed as much as possible - it may help you fall sleep faster because it is a depressant but your sleep quality will suffer
- No coffee, tea or pop past 4pm - caffeine or stimulants earlier in the day
- Physical activity, especially outdoors, at some point throughout the day. Even 20 minutes of post-dinner walking is beneficial
- Avoid intense exercise prior to bed
- Keep your bedroom tidy and make your bed - this will subconsciously ease your mind and reduce anxiety
To get your body ready for sleep at bedtime
- Try to condition your brain so that it knows the bedroom is only for two things, with sleep being one of them. If it knows that you only go into the bedroom to sleep, it will be more tranquil and better for sleep
- Start your sleep routine the same every night and prepare for it to be a certain length. I recommend turning down the lights in your house or condo as a start
- Unplug - No e-mail, no phone, no internet - your sleep is more important than what is happening on the interwebs. If your brain is worrying about an email from your boss, a friend's Instagram post or what Kanye said on Twitter, it is more difficult to relax for sleep
- Turn off your computer, TV, and phone, and avoid screen time. The blue light emitted from your electronic screens interrupts your brain's natural rhythm. They additionally will be another distraction
- Make sure your room is a comfortable temperature
- Do your 5 minutes of deep breathing on the floor or meditate
- If you are anxious about something that happened on that day, or the day ahead, journal about it or talk it over with your partner, family, roommate etc
- Read a fictional book for 15-30 minutes, or what it takes for you to pass out in bed. I personally avoid non-fiction, especially self-development because it gets my brain working too much
You might be thinking that,this is sounds like a lot of work and that it seems really over complicated for just going to bed.
Firstly, it is a lot of work! But it is worth it. Secondly, whether at the gym, in business, studying or sport, organization and dedication to rituals leads to greater success. No one gets ripped at the gym without a plan. If you want to be healthy by sleeping better, it takes work and sticking to a plan