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Science behind how Sleep Impacts Your Poker Abilities

Posted on by RTR Dennis

When it comes to dominating the felt, nothing is more crucial than your actual poker abilities. But if you want to unlock your personal A-game, then one of the most-important and overlooked elements is sleep. That said, let’s discuss the scientific aspects of sleep that combine to boost your poker abilities.

Study Shows that Sleep Helps You Forget Negative Events

Want to forget about those bad beats and focus on doing what you need to play good poker? Sleep is crucial if you want to put negative events behind you.

Robert Stickgold, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, conducted a study in 2006 that focused on a group that was sleep-deprived for 36 straight hours. Both this group and the placebo were asked to rate words from an emotional standpoint, using positive, negative, and calm. The test and control groups were then given two nights of sleep and asked to recall their memories regarding each word.

Not surprisingly, the sleep-deprived group had trouble remembering the words they rated. Beyond this, they lost 50% of the words they rated as positive or neutral, but only 20% of the words they rated as negative.

“This result suggests the rather horrifying possibility that when you are sleep-deprived, you effectively form twice as many memories of negative events in your life as of positive events,” Stickgold states, “producing a biased, and potentially depressing, memory of your day.”

Again, if you want to forget about your bad beats and misplayed hands – rather than obsessing over them – then being well-rested is a crucial part of this.

Sleep Is Crucial to Improving in Poker

When you learn new concepts and techniques, sleep is important with regard to helping you remember and retain what you’ve picked up.

“The past two decades have seen an explosion of discoveries showing that sleep participates in memory processing,” Stickgold notes. “Sleep after learning leads to the selective stabilization, strengthening, integration and analysis of new memories. In doing so, it controls what we remember and how we remember it.”

He adds, “Anything you think is important will be selectively retained while you are asleep.”

In essence, Stickgold’s findings reinforce what many experts believe in that modern human memories have evolved to help improve your future skills. But if you don’t get sleep, then what you’ve learned will soon be forgotten, thus hampering your improvement. Assuming you’re within your first two years of playing online poker and studying the game, you’ll definitely want to avoid missing quality sleep.

Sleep Helps You Process Complex Subjects

One more thing that Stickgold has discussed includes tests where people had to define complex relationships between pictures and their meanings. When the test subjects were tested twice in the same day, they didn’t improve upon their performance. But when they were tested at night, then again the following morning, their performance improved by 10%.

Stickgold writes, “Somehow, the sleeping brain was actually able to improve participants’ understanding of the relation” between the pictures and their meanings.

Relating this All to Poker

Many times I’ve seen poker pros like Daniel Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth rant on about their sleep and preparation. And while we all know this is important from a general perspective, the true impact of how sleep can boost your poker abilities has sometimes escaped me.

But thanks to modern science, we know the exact mechanisms behind what sleep does with regard to performance and memory. To recap, sleep will help you:

  • Move past the negative emotions that you experience during a cash game or tournament.
  • Remember what you’ve learned during a study session or game.
  • Process complex subjects, which is especially important when figuring out how to handle a good player.

Everybody is different with regard to how much sleep they need, but general guidelines suggest that you get 7-8 hours per night. And this gains even more significance if you’re a poker player who’s trying to get better and be at the top of their game.

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