This is a critical week for many NFL hopefuls as the first of two cuts to preseason 90 man rosters will take place after the weekend’s action. Then the following week the starters will all but “sit” for the final preseason game and the remaining half dozen roster spots will be determined.
For many young players it will be the start of their professional football careers and for many others the end of the long road towards their elusive dream. Even for some veteran players this will be a difficult few days to maneuver. As time begins to creep up on their physical skills, they’ll be searching for every edge they can find to convince NFL front offices that they’re still too valuable to be relinquished to the waiver wire.
The Football Educator has tried to hammer home one of the easiest steps for maximizing performance throughout the preseason – SLEEP. Here’s one last reminder from Christine J. Jones of the hazards and pitfalls that poor sleep cycles wreak on professional athletes.
The Football Educator
Tired and Tense? Avoid the Cycle of Poor Sleep and Anxiety
State of mind is a notably important factor in performance on the field. A mental focus that does not fatigue combined with a composed attitude is ideal. While some pre-game nerves and excitement can help boost adrenaline, fully developed anxiety is counterproductive. Studies show that tired individuals are more likely to have higher anticipatory anxiety than their relaxed teammates. Athletes lose the ability to focus, and their normal emotional and physical response degrades. Prolonged anxiety, tension, and stress trigger a series of changes in the body. These changes include an increased production of a hormone called cortisol which can decrease muscle tissue and bone density, lower immunity, increase abdominal fat, cause a blood sugar imbalance, and impair cognitive functioning. All of these effects can be devastating for athletes.
Ripple effects of anxiety
The downside of prolonged anxiety does not end there. Anxiety frequently goes hand in hand with sleep issues. Worrying about an upcoming game raises adrenaline levels and transitions the body into ‘fight or flight’ mode, which does not promote sleep onset. The resulting problem is that these extra nerves lead to insomnia. Insomnia can be classified as either acute or chronic, depending on how long this trouble sleeping persists.
Once the athlete falls asleep, anxiety is not done with its negative consequences. Anxiety affects an individual’s quality and quantity of sleep in many ways. The most commonly reported problems are delayed sleep onset and poor sleep maintenance. These are endlessly extolled as “I just could not fall asleep and I tossed and turned all night!” Those suffering from anxiety also often wake earlier and report feeling unrested in the morning. Studies show that the amount of deep and dream sleep (stage N3 and REM) decrease in an anxious individual’s sleep. In the aftermath, the body and mind suffer a series of negative health consequences related to this change in sleep architecture.
Wreaking havoc on performance
Once anxiety and poor sleep are recognized, it is time to look at how much these problems are damaging daily performance. While a single night of poor sleep due to worry can be expected occasionally, chronic insomnia and the resulting fatigue is debilitating. The cycle of anxiety and poor sleep is often born at this point. Stressing about poor sleep and even stressing about experiencing anxiety makes both of the problems worse. Research has found that sleep deprivation and anxiety are linked and that both impair cognitive functioning as well as some psychomotor skills.
Manage the problem
The good news is that anxiety and the resulting insomnia can be managed. Turn off electronics and bright lights. Make the room as dark as possible and keep the temperature cool. Temper anxious thoughts with mindful stretching and meditation. Remember that a single night of poor sleep will not end the world, but be aware if the problem becomes chronic it is time to seek medical advice. It is important to note that successful athletes have managed both of these issues effectively. Our research has found that the most successful football athletes go to bed earlier and sleep longer. Find better sleep with the awareness of how anxiety and insomnia interact.
Christine J. Jones
(2013-present) Research Staff
Graduate of James Madison University with degrees in Psychology and Health Science. Her previous research experience focused on sport psychology, performance as a function of sleep, and circadian rhythms. She is currently training as a polysomnographic technologist and has interests in nutrition and sleep hygiene education.