Tag Archives: sleep

Balancing Work and Training Leading Up to a Major Competition

bjj-hand-raisedI’m now three weeks out from NY Open. This is where things get tough. Stepping up the training, and still managing a few trips, conference talks, research paper deadlines.

Time is not necessarily the issue here. I choose my priorities carefully, but of course even having one passion is enough to fill every minute of every day. I do the things I love and that make me happy. Right now that means two things: (1) research and (2) grappling.

Do What Makes You Happy

The biggest challenge of balancing work and training leading up to a major tournament is staying mentally focused and motivated. I have to take my body to the limit for 1-2 hours a day and then go home for 8-10 hours programming behind the computer with the same level of dedication and focus. Day after day after day. Again, the only way any incredibly taxing schedule of that sort is manageable is if it’s something you love. And indeed, it is something I love, and the moment I don’t, I stop doing it.

Gene Zannetti from Wrestling Mindset has a mindset video up that recommends before competition you focus on the things that you’ve always loved about wrestling, and not let any of the pressures of the actual tournament creep into your mind. His list (starting at the 2 minute mark of the video) is a good one and reflective of a good wrestling mindset:

  • The hard, the challenge of it.
  • The 1-on-1 combat nature of the sport.
  • Breaking the opponent, making the other guy tired.

These are some of the same reasons I love competing as well, but I would expand that list to include technical mastery. I love drilling the crap out of a technique until it becomes effortless so I can pull it off against a stronger, bigger, younger, better conditioned opponent. In other words, I love the “art” of it as well as the “heart” of it.

Sources of Stress

Throughout the training process, there is a lot of room for stress to creep in. I have to be very alert and aware of anything that’s making me at all unhappy, and figure out immediately how to remove that negative source of stress. In the past, for me, the #1 source of stress has been cutting weight. If all I did was train and sleep, then cutting weight would be a lot easier. But as sleep goes due to deadlines and work in general, the mental wear of a strict diet grows exponentially. So I was faced with a choice: don’t compete or don’t cut weight. I decided to remove the thing I hate, and keep the thing I enjoy. I moved up a weight class (I’m now about 12 lbs under) that allows me to eat as much as I want (still everything healthy, but amount is less restricted). It’s more important to remove stress, than to compete against smaller dudes. Winning is not done at the tournament. Winning is done in the years, months, weeks leading up to the tournament. And to make that process optimal, I have to enjoy the hell out of it each and every day.

A lot of times I hear advice about surrounding yourself with positive people and “removing” negative people from your “circle”. Perhaps I’ve been lucky in life, but I’ve really never encountered a person who hasn’t made my life better in some small or big way. There are a few cases when I was put under a tremendous amount of stress, but even in those situations I’ve gained so much from the experience, and am forever grateful for that. Actually, more often than not, I feel like I’m not giving back enough to my friends who are incredibly patient with my occasional bullshit.

Anyway, time to embrace the grind. Back to work…

Putting a Bunny to Sleep: The Cycle of Life

The following video is not for the faint of heart. My best friend had a bunny (r.i.p. Button) for a long time, and loved her very much. The knowledge that we can build such a close relationship with another animal, and then watching that animal killed is powerful. I’ve seen pigs and chickens killed many times before, but I’ve never seen an animal in the wild killed by choking them to death. Watch for a few minutes starting at the 42:00 minute mark:

The reason I’m writing this note on a grappling-focused blog is because I’ve also never seen (in real life or on video) any living creature killed by choke. This is the same choke that I apply and get caught in many times in a training session. When the choke is in, a tap follows, and we start over. But if I don’t release the choke for a minute, my training partner would be as dead as that bunny. The same goes for me if I was being choked.

I know this is kind of obvious, but for some reason the reality of it didn’t quite hit me until I watched a bunny choked to death. It doesn’t take much time at all. It’s gruesome, but perhaps it’s one of the best ways you can go (considering the alternatives in nature). In fact, I hope that the way I pass away will be competing in 2072 IBJJF Worlds when I’m 89 years old, and refusing to tap to a rear naked choke.

Sorry for the dark imagery, but in a way, watching that bunny die, while tragic, also made me feel a little more at peace with the cycle of life. We are all a tiny part of nature, no more than little rain droplets crashing down in the Amazon rainforest.

Get Sleep Not Rest

Michael Arnstein is an ultrarunner (runs ultramarathons and longer distances) and like most ultrarunners is a facinating person to read, listen to, and learn from. Here is a good lecture from him on some details of why he runs, his diet, his motivation, his routine, etc:

There are a lot of things mentioned in this video that I’d like to comment on at a later time, but there is one thing he said that really struck me. Michael said that his main challenge in his running life and the most important part is getting enough sleep. He said that if he gets 10 hours of sleep the night before a run, he can run any distance without a problem.

He drew a distinction between rest and sleep. He said that a lot of runners tend to taper before a race. Tapering is reducing the training mileage as you approach the race, so your body is sufficiently recovered and well rested. He suggests that this is a crappy alternative for simply getting a full night’s sleep night after night, and most importantly the night before a race. You may agree or disagree with that idea, but one thing is for sure, most of us recreational athletes do not get enough sleep, and I would venture to guess that most professional athletes do not get enough sleep either, especially before a big competition.

That served as a reminder that I need to take sleep, not rest, more seriously. And also, if I know that I have to wake up at 6am for a tournament next weekend, I better be waking up at 6am for many consecutive days before then.

Anyway, I’m officially declaring to myself as a goal that I’m going to get at least 6 hours of sleep every night for the month of May, and shoot for 8 hours as often as possible. You should do the same.

Visualization Before a Tournament

One of the reason I compete as often as I do, and why I recommend that all people new to jiu jitsu and judo compete as often as possible, is that I slowly pick up all the little things needed for a fun, productive competition experience with every tournament I go to. That’s a long confusing sentence, but I’m not re-writing it because I have to go to bed. Why? Because I’m competing tomorrow. One of those little things you learn is that sleep is very important before a tournament, not so much because you need energy for the matches but because you need mental energy to sit on your a** all day waiting for your matches.

Alright, so lesson #1 of many is get enough sleep. I’ve learned this well. But am I actually going to do it? Probably not this time, but at least I’m aware of the fact that I will have to suffer the consequences of this failure. It will take many more tournament for to actually “learn” this sufficiently to do it.

Speaking of lessons I’ve learned and still don’t follow: visualize your matches. I’ve heard a lot of high-level competitors talk about the fact that they visualize their matches in the hours and days leading up to a competition. You visualize applying your game plan (including plan B and plan C) to the point of victory and defeat. Some people focus exclusively on positive outcomes, and some focus on difficult situations and negative outcomes. Both have their benefits. Both can build confidence depending on your personality.

Whenever I do this kind of visualization, it first stresses me out almost like a real competition match and then it relaxes me. In the end, it always boosts my confidence and focus me through the fog of nerves. So overall it’s a very positive and productive thing to do. However, much like the sleep thing, I don’t do it nearly as much as I plan to.

For example, I’m competing tomorrow, and I haven’t done any visualization. Part of the reason is because the tournament is not very important, and I’m just going there to learn and have fun. But that’s really no excuse. Again, it will take me many more tournaments to really “learn” this lesson so that I actually do it.

To summarize, two of the things you should do is (1) get enough sleep and (2) visualize your matches. I will do neither tonight, but at least I wrote a blog post about it, and that means I am a little more likely to do it next time.

Good luck to everyone competing tomorrow and Sunday at the Grapplers Quest in Wayne, NJ.


Polyphasic Sleep: A Look at Sleeping Patterns

sleep-stagesSleep is fundamentally a social phenomena in that when (and how long) you sleep is often determined by the social norms, personal responsibilities, and the people in your life. The more freedom you have in this regard, the more freedom you have to experiment with different sleeping patterns.

This is definitely the case for me. After graduating high school, and moving out of my parent’s house to go to college, I gained the freedom to sleep whenever. I very often pulled all-nighters in high school, but the criticism from my parents was always a disincentive. I remember frequent (as in non-stop) reminders from my mom that such sleeping patterns are “not normal”.

I viewed sleep as an adversary in the quest for productivity. Getting less sleep was a victory. I certainly don’t feel that way these days. I believe that there are more hours in a day than a body can handle in terms of exceptional productivity, and sleep should be used to get sufficient rest to be able to achieve the mental state required for such productivity.

That said, I have often read about and tried sleeping patterns that involve sleeping 2 or more times a day for short periods of time. This is referred to as polyphasic sleep. For it, the guiding medical idea (which seems to be widely accepted) is that the most “restful” stage of sleep is REM, which constitutes only a small fraction of the sleep cycle. The motivation of polyphasic sleep patterns is that you can train your body to achieve REM through short naps.

On average, it takes about 90 minutes to hit the first REM cycle and that only last for about 10 minutes. The idea of polyphasic sleep is that you can reduce that 90 down to single digits. I believe that it works, as I have experienced it myself, however I believe (and a lot of literature seems to agree) that you need to be (severely) sleep deprived in order to achieve this. Therefore, it is indeed possible to follow The Uberman pattern, but it seems that the mental clarity achievable in the waking state under that pattern is just not up to the same level as under the more traditional sleeping pattern.

Steve Pavlina experimented with the Uberman lifestyle for 6 months, but quit. His experience is not convincing to me, despite his mostly positive commentary.

I think the main lesson Steve and other takes away is that napping is a powerful way to re-energize yourself and to achieve the kind of mental state that leads to long periods of productive activity.

“Sleeping Half my Life”

In casually searching for information about sleep, coffee, and hard training, I came across a 2007 NY Times Article that mentions the following facts about two endurance athletes.

“Deena Kastor, who won the London Marathon last year and set an American record, said she sleeps 10 hours at night and takes a two-hour nap every afternoon. Steven Spence, a marathoner who won a bronze medal at the 1991 world championships in Tokyo, had the same sleep habits when he was training.”

That’s 12 hours of sleep a day! Of course, these are elite-level athletes, but still I began to wonder how much sleep I need. Given how much work I have and how much I train, sleep has often suffered. I’ll find myself often staying up till 3, 4 am and waking up at 8 am. I’ll take naps throughout the day when I feel especially exhausted, which my work allows me to do (whether I work from home or go into the lab and sneak off to a couch for a quick power nap).

The question I started asking myself is should I make sleep a bigger priority. In other words, should I plan my day around sleep? Should I force myself to finish the absolute most important tasks before a hard deadline of (say) midnight?

There are no good answers here, because a lack of sleep doesn’t have a well-defined immediate effect on performance for me. Does it for anyone? So it’s a long learning process, much like every other aspect of life.