Have You Ever Wondered Why Sleep is Actually Important?
Most of us get caught up in the "No Sleep" mentality or somewhere a long the line we have come across something that tells us that we should be working harder, longer and sleeping less. It most often looks like this: "While other's sleep, I'm working," or "Let them sleep while I grind." Although a lot of hard work is required to become a professional footballer, one thing that all three of us have learned from our journeys in football is that we should never sacrifice our sleep. As a professional footballer, you travel almost every other weekend for an away game and sleep in a different hotel every time. This means that you often have to cross time zones, spend long hours on plane rides and you will have to adjust your sleeping patterns. This cycle can be very taxing on your body and can affect your performance if you don't take the necessary precautions.
Just like you, we are in a constant search on ways to become better and optimize our performance. While doing so we came across Shawn Stevenson's book 'Sleep Smarter'. After reading his book and implementing most of his strategies, we can most certainly say that every aspiring footballer should be investing in their sleep and learning how to sleep better. Here are some of our reasons why:
The physical aspect of the game is paramount to a footballer. When you have a really hard training session- whether that's on the field training with your team, lifting in the gym or by yourself working on a few individual drills- your body enters into what is called an elevated catabolic state. Which basically means you're breaking down your muscle tissue. In order for your body to fully recover you need proper nutrition, hydration and adequate sleep. When you have a deep and restful sleep during the night, your body has the ability to recover your muscles and make them stronger by entering an anabolic (rebuilding) state.
"Being awake is a catabolic state meaning it breaks you down and sleeping is an elevated anabolic state which heightens your growth and rejuvenation of the immune, skeletal and muscular system. Basically, sleep rebuilds you and keeps you youthful."
So no matter how hard you train on the pitch or in the gym, if you are not allowing your muscles to fully recover with deep and uninterrupted sleep you will never be able to see the results you work so hard for.
Have you ever made a mistake on the pitch and a few hours after the game or practice you are still thinking about it? Most of us may think, "HOW? I'm so stupid, I should have seen that play coming miles away!" or you wonder how you can avoid the same mistake from happening next time. As a professional footballer you need to be alert and one hundred percent focused during practices and games. Why? Because a single mistake can cost your team the game. As you move up in levels you realize that time and space on the ball become very limited. Most of the time you can only take one or two touches before getting pressed by multiple opponents and ultimately losing the ball if you don't pass it to a teammate quickly enough. You constantly need to check your surroundings so you can either keep your team in possession, steal the ball away from an opponent, make a quick save or create a goal scoring opportunity. However, if you are sleep deprived, all of these decision become harder to make and the chances of making simple mistakes go up.
"Sleep is a function called memory processing in which your brain tries to organize all of your ideas and thoughts and find solutions for your problems. Research shows that just after 24 hours of sleep deprivation, there is an overall reduction of 6% in glucose reaching the brain. Simple translation: you get dumber. This is also why you crave candy, chips, doughnuts, and other starchy, sugary things when your sleep deprived."
We can get into the whole topic of nutrition another time. But what you have to realize is that if you ever want to evolve as a footballer you have to invest in your sleep. You already know how to grind and enter the "work harder than your competition" mindset. Now you have to learn to work smarter and allow your body to fully recover so you can actually be stronger and sharper.
"It's important to remember that there is a big difference between 'working' and actually being effective."
If the Best in the World Take Their Sleep Seriously, Why Won't You?
We all know Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the hardest working footballers on the planet. However nobody focuses on the fact that he is probably the best athlete at recovering his body. "I go to bed early and get up early, especially before matches. Sleep helps my muscles to recover, which is really important," Ronaldo tells British soccer magazine Four Four Two. "Winding down and resting is a key part of my day-to-day routine and enables me to perform to the highest level in my profession and prolong my career."
NBA superstar LeBron James recently came out with a master class on the mindfulness app Calm called 'Train Your Mind' in which he stated, "There is nothing more valuable to my body, to my recovery, to my career and even just my happiness than sleep. What's crazy is the most powerful thing you can do for your health is also the most natural thing you can do." He continue to explain the importance of his sleep routine and said, "When I don't get the proper sleep, I know what happens. My recovery plan gets thrown off, I start to feel lethargic, my mental game slips and my thinking gets narrow. I lose control of my options in certain situations."
So How Can we Actually Sleep Better?
Follow these 6 tips to get better sleep:
Avoid blue light emitting devices such as your cell phone or TV at least 90 minutes before bed. Blue light slows the production of melatonin which is the hormone that makes you sleepy at night. So the longer you are on your phone, the later you will actually go to bed. If you have to wake up early for a practice or school the next morning you will feel the effects if you don't get enough sleep. Do yourself a favour and buy a pair of blue light blocking glasses and wear them at night if you still want to use your devices before bed. You can find a pair on amazon for around $20.
If you don't want to buy the glasses, then avoid having your cell phone in your room or at least put it on airplane mode if you need it as your alarm. Rather than mindlessly scrolling through social media, read a book before bed to calm your body and mind and get you prepared for a restful sleep.
Make sure the temperature in your room is cooler rather than warm. Research suggests that sleeping in colder temperature actually helps you sleep better.
Create a sleeping routine. Have you ever noticed that when you schedule something important, you always find the time to complete it. What gets scheduled gets done. If you are serious about taking your football to the next level, make sleep a priority.
If you are someone who likes to nap, avoid napping longer than 30 minutes. Research suggest that long naps can really impact your sleeping patterns.
Do your own research about sleep to confirm these ideas. If you find that getting adequate sleep can help you become a better player, do not waste anytime and prioritize your sleep.