Having had conversations about this phenomenon with many athletes over the years in preparation for their World Championship or Olympic finals, there’s some simple rules to follow. There’s also some very valuable stuff which is specific to the world of work, which also provides useful perspective.
So, here’s a collection of the top tips in what seems like a useful order.
- Get your mindset right – you’re going to lose sleep, and that’s o.k. Accepting an unsettled night from the outset makes everything else a lot easier to work with. In reality, the sleep loss isn’t going to make a massive difference to your performance potential on the day and there’s a lot you can do to offset any impairment, so get into a place of acceptance. From here, you can then be curious about just how relaxed and rested you can be during the night and what quality of sleep you can achieve.
- When you’re actually in bed, focus on relaxing and resting as much as you can. We’ve found that the people who stop worrying about being awake and who simply focus on using the time in bed to relax and regenerate do very well. They simply focus on giving themselves the best chance of getting off to sleep. They set an alarm, commit to not looking at the clock (because knowing what the time is doesn’t make any helpful difference usually), and then they just focus on relaxed breathing in their normal sleeping position, to see what happens.
- Regardless of the amount of sleep you have managed, when it’s time to begin the big day, this is where the performance mindset and approach is really going to help you. From now on you’re going to be thinking about maximising 2 things. First, you’re going to enjoy seeing how effectively you’re going to be able to stay in the here and now. Second, you’re going to know that you’re fuelling brain and body in just the right way so your energy isn’t going to be compromised in any way throughout the day and certainly not at the most important points.
- Stay focused on the here and now, you’re going to make sure you’ve got a really clear plan of action for the day. Know your diary, but more importantly know your own build up plan to the specific moment that matters. Where are you going to go when? What specific activities are you going to carry out that will have you build up with confidence to your performance moment. When you combine a clear plan of your day with knowledge that you’ve got great pre-performance routines anyway (Pre-performance routines) then it’s a whole lot easier to take one moment at a time in the day. You won’t be worrying excessively about the approaching moment and you won’t be dwelling on the lost sleep. You’ll simply be taking the next step to being as ready as you possibly can be for your performance.
- Now you need to think about offsetting any worry about lost energy from not sleeping. This is all about simple food choices throughout that day that keep your bloody sugar levels in good shape, and your short-term energy stores nicely topped up to meet the immediate need in front of you. Along with the fuelling plan, it’s a good strategy to keep the hydration levels up, as that really aids concentration, which is particularly important on those days when sleep hasn’t been optimal. If it helps, do a 12 hour version of step 1 and 2 in this tool (energy plan, your ideal 24 hours) so you’ve got a clear plan of attack for fuelling.
- Finally, there’s a couple of mindset checks to keep working with through the course of the day.
- The first one, is to have in mind all the similar important performance days in the past where you’ve been successful and remind yourself that you’ve stepped up well in the past and be sure these reminders tune you into the strengths and qualities that you’re going to have with you today.
- The second mindset tip, is to stay curious throughout the day. Be curious about how well you can manage your performance today and enjoy the opportunity to learn about how well you can perform on a day that really matters, with or without the perfect amount of sleep. Performance on the day will be far more influenced by your long term track record, the quality of preparation you’ve put in well before the previous night, and your ability to trust and deliver with confidence one moment at a time.
Follow the steps and you’ll definitely make sure that the volume levels of worry about sleep are pretty much muted in your mind.
Enjoy making the plan your own and share it with as many people as you can.