Most people are not getting enough sleep but poker players in particular struggle to get the 7-9 hours a day they need.
My new year’s resolution for 2021 is to prioritise my sleep. I have always been a light sleeper and last year I would often wake up in the middle of the night and struggle to get back to sleep. I stopped having caffeine in November but on Christmas Day last year I had a single cup of tea that kept me awake for 48 hours.
Since then I have enjoyed the best two weeks or so of consistent sleep I think I have ever had, so I want to have a full year of great sleep. Over the holidays I read Matthew Walker’s superb book Why We Sleep which was a real eye opener on the health benefits of sleep. There are too many to mention but sleep impacts almost every mental health issue, your risk of cancer, your mood, your creativity, your energy levels, appetite and more. If you are not a reader then you will at least get something out of this amazing Joe Rogan interview he did:
I know poker players often complain about struggling to sleep and in the past my friend and mental game coach Jared Tendler helped me with a problem I had where I could not sleep after tournaments. So today I wanted to share what I think are some of the most practical findings from Tendler and Matthew Walker that poker players could do right now to improve their sleep.
Have a wind down routine
Put tech away an hour before sleep
You have no doubt heard about this already but the blue screen light from laptops and smartphones is the enemy of sleep. It sends a signal to your brain that it is still daytime, which is why you can often lay in bed scrolling wondering why you don’t feel tired.
So the principle piece of advice you should take is to have a wind down routine where you turn off tech for the night an hour before bed. Do not go to bed right after using the internet and do not take your tech to bed. If you use your phone as an alarm, buy an alarm clock.
It also helps to turn half the lights off in the house to signal to your brain that it is getting darker and thus is time to wind down. Then spend your last hour or so doing something relaxing like reading a book. Even if you have been up late playing poker, you will probably get a better sleep winding down before going straight to bed.
Walker also suggests that we should go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. This is easier said than done if you play poker, especially if you play tournaments, but try and have some sort of consistency in your schedule.
Back when I used to play a lot of live tournaments I would really struggle to sleep afterwards, and if I made a Day 2 I would often show up exhausted. My mind was always racing and I felt very alert.
Then Jared Tendler gave me a piece of advice that changed it all for me, which was to get a pen and paper and journal. Just write down all the random thoughts in my head, the hands I thought I played well, the hands I thought I played badly, my goals for the next day and so on.
Tendler told me that doing this has the cathartic benefit of emptying your mind. It is like you take the thoughts out of your head and put them on the paper. I was skeptical as I am sure you may be, but all I would say is try it if you have this issue. I still didn’t have perfect sleep but I always got some sleep, which for me was massive.
Coffee is the enemy of sleep
More advice from Walker is to make your bedroom cooler than the other rooms because it easier to sleep in a cold room than a warm one. Before electricity was discovered darkness and cold would signal to us it was bed time and this helps get you primed for sleep. A hot bath paradoxically works too, not because heat helps but because your body cools down quickly. It is the fact your body tempreture drops that helps you sleep.
If it wasn’t obvious, caffiene really harms your sleep and I am sad to say I can no longer have it, I have become so sensitive to it, which is a shame because I love it. No caffiene after 2pm is the suggestion from Matthew Walker. There is actually a lot of caffiene in things you might not expect like chocolate and some pain killers. Alcohol and nicotine also have a similar degredation on your sleep.
Finally, and this is also a game changer, if you can’t sleep, get up and do something. Go into another dark room and do something to wind down, like reading, until you feel sleepy. If you stay in bed it will only perpetuate the problem but by getting out and doing something you can restart a wind down routine.
It is a myth that some people don’t need much sleep and we have wrongly lionised those who sleep just a few hours a night. Most of us need 7-9 hours of sleep a night and you certainly do if you want to perform well as a poker player.
Do you have problems sleeping after poker? Let us know in the comments:
Barry Carter is the editor of PokerStrategy.com and the co-author of The Mental Game of Poker 1 & 2, Poker Satellite Strategy and PKO Poker Strategy