Sleeping for Performance

Are you familiar with the term “low hanging fruit”? Basically this is the concept that some things can be won, had, or achieved with little effort. In the world of performance there are not many of these, but the ones that do exist hold the potential to drastically alter your golf game. Food choices, hydration, movement, clubs, and sleep are the low hanging fruits that come to mind when I think of golf performance. Are you eating foods that will fuel your body to perform and train to its highest potential? Are you drinking enough water to maintain your focus and keep your strength levels up? Are you addressing limitations in your body that may be hindering your swing, and are you getting as strong as you can? Do you have the right club heads, shafts, and grips for your game? And lastly, are you getting enough sleep to help your brain and body rest so you can have good motor function and decision making on the course?

Our lives hardly resemble those of generations past. We are chair bound much of our days, rely on screens to consume most of our information, and have immense amounts of societal/family stressors that require time and energy. All of these things will have a big effect on sleep quality, and amount. For years I have heard people say, “I am just fine with 5-6 hours of sleep”. Although I have fallen into this trap myself, especially when I was in high school, college, and grad school, I still find myself trying to battle with getting in bed and getting enough sleep for my needs.

The truth of the matter is that there are so few people on this Earth than can actually function on 5-6 hours of sleep a night and not have some form of physical or mental effect that I can almost guarantee that you are not one of them. You are much more likely to get a hole in one than to actually be one of these people. You might think that you can do it, especially with the help of some caffeine, but despite you feeling “alert” there will be repercussions to your decision making, physical health, and movement quality that you may not even be recognizing.

It’s been pretty well established that 7-8 hours of sleep are the gold standard for length that you should sleep. This should be as ingrained in us as the knowledge that eating fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins is good for us. But like eating these healthful foods, sleeping 7-8 hours has to be a choice these days. For a 5:30AM alarm, that means being asleep by 10:30PM at the latest. That doesn’t sound very achievable to most people I discuss this with. A lot of it comes down to prioritization.

But if we chose not to get these 7-8 hours of recommended sleep what are we doing to our bodies?

  • Increased urge to eat high carbohydrate foods
  • Decreased ability to critically think
  • Decrease in ability to maintain emotional stability
  • Reduced physical energy
  • Reduced reaction times
  • Decreased motor skill memory retention
  • Increased occurrences of chronic pain
  • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Increased risk of dementia
  • Increased risk of cancer

The list is long, and not very good. All of the items mentioned will have a drastic effect on your golf game, and on your life in general.

By getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep per night you will make better choices in food to help fuel your body for training in the gym, and to get through a round of golf without having your energy trail off on the last 3 holes. You will have better decision making skills so you might leave the driver in the bag when you should, or more appropriately go for the green when you should. The only shot we can make in golf is the one right in front of us. If we are focussed on the shots that got us to where we are, we might start to take greater risks, get upset, and make poor choices. By getting more sleep, we are able to stay in a more even emotional state, which can help mitigate risk in our golf game. By getting more sleep we will obviously have more physical energy so we can make it to the end of the round and be physically and mentally alert. More energy might also allow us to sneak in a workout at home or the gym. Besides having more energy, we will have better reaction times and control over our body as we move it through our swings. If we are taking a lesson or practicing on the range, motor skill retention also drastically improves, and then when you go to use what you have learned while playing on the course, your body will have an easier time remembering what to do - basically this is muscle memory.

The last four items on that list, are more general, but are still crucial to the way you live your life. In reality, there is not one medical condition that improves by getting less sleep, but there are many that get much worse by not getting enough. Cardiovascular Disease, Dementia, Strokes, Cancer, etc are all really terrible diseases and conditions. But our risk for all of them increase with less sleep. So you may think that getting 5-6 hours of sleep a night is fine for you, but you are increasing your chances of these medical conditions by doing so.

What are our recommendations for getting enough sleep?

Prioritize sleep like you would eating well, drinking enough water, or going to the gym. I know it sounds crazy but you might have to work backwards from your wake up time. For instance, I wake up around 5am every day. This means that I need to get to bed between 9 and 10 every night. I shower at night so I need to allot the time needed to shower, get ready for bed, make my lunch and food for the following day, as well as write my to-do list for the next day. This is usually a 45 minute process. So at about 8:15-8:30 I know I better get my act together.

Right about this time is when I also try to put my phone or computer down and stop watching any show that might be on to reduce screen time. The blue light that is emitted from these devices can throw off our circadian rhythm by altering our Melatonin production and also altering the Delta brainwaves that induce sleep within the brain. To prevent this from happening, it is recommended that we shut our devices down about an hour before bed. Besides this blue light problem, I feel that these screens don’t do much in the way of taking away stress from our lives. E-mails, work projects, and even dramatic shows can elevated our stress levels and make getting to sleep even harder than it can be for some of us.

This next one might seem obvious, but don’t drink anything 2-3 hours before bed. This goes for water, juice, soda (does anyone drink soda anymore?), and YES alcohol. Kidney filtration and urination will occur somewhere between 2-3 hours after something is drank. So if you gulp down some water before bed, you can expect to have to go in the middle of the night. This can compound issues that many of us have with frequent urination due to medications or BPH.

In regards to alcohol, the same rules apply for having to pee out the liquid, but alcohol also does some funny things to our systems that almost guarantee we will sleep poorly. First, it’s fluid so you’ll have to pee it out. Secondly, alcohol stifles the release of ADH, or anti-diuretic hormone, also known as Vasopressin. ADH is the hormone that tells our kidneys to retain water. If they are not sensing this hormone then they will make you have to urinate more frequently than if you had not had alcohol. Lastly, and this is very similar to the effects of THC/marijuana on the system, alcohol will prevent the body from entering into REM sleep. Although all the phases of sleep are important, REM, or Rapid Eye Movement, sleep is typically described as the most restorative phase of sleep for the brain. You’re essentially depriving your system the nourishing benefits of REM sleep. This would be like purposely not eating fruits and vegetables. Also, most over the counter sleeping pills have this same effect.

Lastly, naps can alter your ability to sleep. Most of us have felt that strong desire to shut the office door, and just put our heads down on our desk for a minute or 60. Unfortunately this desire usually comes after lunch or a little later in the day. However, this time of day is actually a bad time to nap unless you know you need to stay up late. There is always a constant drive to sleep building up in our body. This drive to sleep progresses as our day moves on and gets stronger. Mid day there is usually a progression of this drive, but it overlaps with a change in our circadian rhythm resulting in feeling sleepy. Eating a huge meal in the middle of the day doesn’t usually help either. Napping in the late afternoon essentially rids the body of its sleep drive, and the building up of the drive to go to bed starts over. This will make it more difficult to sleep at night. The best time to nap is likely late morning because of this. Not ideal, I know, but if you can sneak in a nap you could actually be improving your memory and helping prevent all those other things we talked about above.

So how does only 5-6 hours of sleep sound now? If you’re having difficulty with your sleeping, I’d suggest trying to make a few simple changes to your routine. These changes might be the difference in playing the golf you want, or simply feeling the way you want. And of course, if you are struggling with your sleep, please see a certified professional who can help specify the changes that would be best for you.

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