"You do not obtain things based on what you think or believe, but on what you do.”
- B S Christiansen, Danish special forces legend and mental coach for pro-footballers.
B S Christiansen (bschristiansen.dk) is one of the toughest human beings imaginable. He was in Special Operations globally for 28 years with Jægerkorpset, Denmark’s version of US Navy Seals. One of NATO’s best educated elite soldiers; BS is a legend in the Special Forces world.
Tough as nails but deceptively soft-spoken, he personifies the slogan of the Jægerkorpset (“Plus Esse Quam Simultatur”: Rather to be, than to seem), meaning that the soldier's capabilities do not have to be widely recognized or boasted—they are only more effective if unknown.
A renowned TV celebrity in Denmark; he has done many survival shows including ‘BS & Outsider’, where he led 10 physically handicapped people through 2200 kms of Africa’s wild and rugged nature.
He is also well known as a mental coach for elite athletes and has worked with top football clubs and cycling teams (including winners of Tour de France and Giro d'Italia).
Our paths crossed at FC Midtjylland (FCM), a top Danish club that became famous when they beat ManUtd in a Europa League match in 2016 in a remarkable David vs. Goliath contest.
But when I first met BS in 2011, FCM was 4th in the Danish league. A club with modest means, it relied heavily on home grown youth players to compete against richer clubs who bought famous stars. This was a challenge for FCM given that many young players lack the consistency that experience brings. BS was there as a mental coach to bridge this gap.
As fellow board advisors, we used to interact from time to time. With rich life experiences and a reflective personality, he often shared profound insights.
I used to presume that he focused on instilling military style toughness in the players: the “Do or Die” spirit. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
According to him, his biggest role as a mental coach was as a mentor cum confidant of the players. The person they turned to for advice on personal and professional matters. Things they couldn’t share with their teammates or coaches in the cutthroat world of pro-football. A world where showing any weakness to the wrong person can result in being ousted from the team and risking the career.
And in our first conversation he pointed out one of the most powerful but underrated performance tools in sport…SLEEP.
This was very counter-intuitive to my perception of an elite special force commando who should be advocating action, not rest. But there he was, busting a common myth and putting a huge emphasis on the quality of sleep for excelling in elite sport based on his vast experience.
And BS is not an exception. Many top football clubs including Real Madrid, Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea are investing millions in sleep improving devices and hiring “sleep coaches” to make their players sleep better and as a result perform better.
Sleep is now the next frontier in high performance sports science.
Here I show you why quality sleep is so important for performance and proven methods for your child to sleep well and excel.
Why Is Sleep So Important?
How Much Sleep Is Required?
How To Ensure Sound Sleep?
Why Is Sleep So Important?
The world’s top athletes known for longevity including Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs, Roger Federer, LeBron James, and Tom Brady credit sleep as a force-multiplier in enabling them to play well and prolong their careers.
Training without proper rest is wasted effort. When players sleep, their bodies recover and adapt, becoming faster and stronger.
Studies conclude that increase in total sleep time, and particularly deep sleep, is incredibly important for optimal recovery in athletes.
Sleep deprivation leads to anxiety, aching limbs, lack of energy, weight gain and loss of muscle mass. It also reduces a player's reaction time and focus. A single all-nighter, or a week spent getting just four hours of sleep a night, can reduce reaction time by nearly 70%.
Moreover sleep is also vital to ensure cognitive performance. Lack of sleep reduces cognitive functions that are important to play well such as attention, decision-making, learning and memory.
This is why clubs are investing heavily in devices like sleep kits, personalised mattresses, smartphone apps, and even "snoozeboxes" and "sleep pods" which players use to rest between training sessions.
How Much Sleep Is Required?
Sleep requirement varies from person to person. But each of us has a certain amount of sleep that is essential to perform well.
The most important factor for optimal benefit is Sleep consistency.
According to Liverpool's former head of sports medicine and sports science, Dr Peter Brukner, sleeping well every night is more important than pre-match sleep.
“Pre-match anxiety is fairly common and leads to reduced sleep. But as long as one is resting (even though not asleep), the resulting fatigue is mitigated. The game adrenaline will compensate for the mild tiredness due to improper sleep. So one needs to sleep well every night rather than just one night before the game,” says Dr Brukner.
How does sleep deprivation affect learning?
A good night’s sleep consists of 4 to 5 sleep cycles. Each cycle includes periods of deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, when we dream. The longer we sleep, the more cycles we complete, leading to more restoration.
The final quarter of an eight-hour night of sleep is when there are bursts of brain activity that play a role in forging new muscle memories from that day’s activities.
When sleep is cut short, testosterone levels don’t fully replenish, muscles don’t have as much time to build and recover, and the consolidation of new information into long-term memory is cut short.
So those players who get less number of sleeping hours compared to their requirement can’t commit new skills to long-term memory and in matches it might look like they never practiced those skills.
- Sleep quality is very important to improve performance: decision making, recovery, long-term learning and muscle memory.
- There are many good routines and habits including scheduling, environment, muscle-relaxing techniques and food & drinks that can aid sleep.
- There are also many avoidable habits that reduce sleep including using bright light devices like phones and taking sugary food & drinks close to bedtime.