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Cannot sleep before competition? Tips for athlete to overcome insomnia.

One of the major issues with athletes before big competition is the pressure and how it affects their sleep. Quite a number of athletes could not sleep well before comp. They often worried, overthink about what is going to happen and then miss their sleep.

To overcome this, there are 3 main issues that needs to be fixed:

1. Change our environment

2. Change our behaviour

3. Change our way of thinking before and when you go to sleep.

athlete can't sleep before big tournament

In order to reflect on your current habit related of sleep, please complete the below self-assessment of sleep-related habits.

SECTION 1: Health Habits Related to Sleep:

adjust eating habit to sleep better for footballer

Exercise habit to improve sleep quality swimmer

Section II: Habits to Develop and Maintain a Sleep Routine

Section III: Habits to Manage Difficulty Falling Asleep or unwanted Awakenings

Tim Ferris, in his famous book – the 4-hour body suggests a few tricks to turn off the busy mind:

1. Sleeping in your bed room with the temperature of around 19-21 degree Celsius.

2. Eat a large fat-and protein-dominated meal within three hours of bedtime

3. Use light cues- the Philips goLITE

4. Tax the nervous system with iso-lateral movements

5. Take a cold bath one hour prior to bed

6. Use an ultrasonic humidifier

7. Use a nightwave pulse light

8. Resort to the half military crawl position

Item 2,4,5,8 are easy to do. All other items require some investments from your end. Therefore, I would not go further into details on these. Feel free to read Tim's book for more specific information.

After you have made the necessary change on your environment and behavior, now is the time to deal with your busy mind:

1. Before major tournaments, your thought tends to be about whether you would perform well, what would happen on the day/ game. Write everything down non-stop would help clear your mind. After having the full list, start to separate them into 2 categories: controllable vs. uncontrollable factors. Decide to only focus on controllable factors. Any uncontrollable factors are out of your control so you should not spend time worrying about them. For example, how strong the opponent is, whether the crowd will like or boo you.

2. Take your time to visualize specific scenarios that are likely to happen during the next day based on your controllable factors. Example, if you have a good/ not good warm up, how would you cope… Set aside time everyday to do 3 or 4 scenarios. Do not overwhelm your mind all at once.

3. After you have visualized these scenarios, and know what you would do during the next game, imagine keeping all the thoughts you wrote down in the notebook and put in a place safe. You will come back to it after you wake up. Let’s go to bed.

Importance of sleep to athletes

4. While in bed, don’t TRY too hard to sleep if you can’t. The harder you try, the more performance anxiety and frustration kick in and the harder it is for you to actually fall asleep. Instead, learn to observe and accept these struggles, using mindfulness strategies.

5. Distract yourself with meaningless mental lists.

a. You could repeat a word at a rate that makes thinking about any other thought difficult (about 3,4 times a second). For example, choose the word “the” or a nonsense syllable (Pah, oop, vee…). The word needs to have no emotional significance to you.

b. Do a counting backward from 1000 in certain gap jump (such as 7) like: 1000, 993, 986…

6. If 20 minutes has gone by and your mind is still unable to relax back to sleep, then get out of bed. Without looking at your phone or any other screen devices, take out your notebook and write down all the thoughts that are keeping you awake.

7. If you are still struggle to fall asleep, start using deep breathing and relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation or listening to hypnosis mp3 file to continue to relax yourself. Your job now is not to force your body to fall asleep, but to allow your whole body and muscle to relax and rejuvenate as much as possible. When you are able to relax your body, your mind tends to relax as well and you will likely fall asleep naturally.

In the next post, I will discuss more about Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) as a possible exercise to relax when your mind doesn't shut off.


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