Scientists tell us there are two types of people Owls and Larks (although scientists also tell us that Loreal hair shampoo can make us looks like Jennifer Aniston so I don’t really know what to think). These two types of people posses two very different circadian (daily) rhythms. The Larks have their energy peak early in the day; they spring out of bed, probably eat a bowl of roughage and go on a 7 mile run and are done by 8.30pm. The Owl crawl out of bed at 11am, hit their head on the door frame and don’t achieve anything until about 5pm in the evening.
I’m an ‘Owl’. I’ve been an Owl for as long as I can remember. The interesting thing about being an Owl in poker is that after a lifetime, in school, college and work, of feeling like I’m out of step with the world I’m surrounded by other ‘Owls’. There’s a decent chance that if your nose deep in a poker magazine you’re an Owl too. If your not one then as a side not could I respectfully ask you to shut the fuck up first thing in the morning when you meet me and my fellow Owls before 11am. We still like you but we’re not here right now – you won’t understand it but your voice is like nails down a blackboard and if you don’t quit there will be lashing out. Thanks.
The problem with the Owl energy cycle in poker is that it’s constantly reinforced and can be dangerously extended. Poker is designed for the dark. We all know poker is cool. That’s a proven fact. Part of what makes it cool is that it’s played at night in darkened rooms amidst quietly glimmering neon. Some would have you believe it has to be this way to hide the physical appearance of the players; but you and I know it’s because ..well…poker is cool.
On top of this prejudice towards the evening hours poker can take a long time which means it can go through the night. It’s also true that poker is played by non-pros either after work or at weekends where they don’t have to get up early or when they start late. This fact coupled with the reality that players play worse when they get tired means you can often….in theory at least…make more money late at night.
And so often as an ‘adult’ I’ve found myself in something beyond an Owl type sleep cycle. Actually my sleep cycle has often been comparable to a night worker. I’ve had periods of months where my earliest bed time was 4 am and later was pretty normal. If the games were good or if I just felt like it staying up all night hasn’t been as rare as it should be with the sun pouring through the window the only queue to go to bed.
The potential for this was always there. I have a deep psychological link between staying up late and pleasure. Allow me to sit on the couch for a bit and tell you about my childhood. First of all my Dad worked and would often not be back until late – so staying up equalled seeing him. Second there was a thing called ‘bedtime’. This was a rule and breaking rules and pushing boundaries has always been something fun. Heck being awake is something fun…what’s fun about being unconscious in bed? I remember bed time was 9 o clock for a while so I figured if I could be interested enough in the new that started at 9 I could watch that and be half an hour later. Then if I offered to make my parents a tea at the end of the news that was another 15 minutes. Before you knew it it was 10 o’clock and victory was mine. Looking back this was all laying the ground work for the car crash that has been my adult relationship with sleep.
It’s not an understatement to say my sleep patterns have been an ongoing car crash. I feel secure telling you this because I know a lot of you will relate to it. That’s part of why so many of us find ourselves in poker because we can rationalise things like lost money, emotional tilt, bad sleep patterns and so on with others who have ‘been there’. If those Larks among you have read this far with a growing sense of horror then I understand – oh and by the way you’re right.
The thing is no matter what the benefits of ‘better games’ or a later circadian rhythm I and people like me lie to ourselves about sleep. Humans just aren’t designed to be up in the small hours. It takes a ludicrous amount of energy to keep ourselves awake after 2 am as fatigue sets in and our body temperature plummets. Which is why you can get 8 or 9 hours of sleep but if you start at 4 am you’ll still be continually knackered!
The cold hard facts are that the games might be better very late at night but you are playing far worse than if you were fresh. Or rather I am. I’ll never do it for fear of contemplating the full horror of it but if I added up my profit and loss sheet after 2am in my poker lifetime it would not be a pretty site.
This year I’ve changed. I have a ‘bedtime routine’ and a ‘morning routine’ all born from a new found respect for sleep and a desire to get better results in poker and a lot of other things and I recommend it to any of you with the same problem – or you can keep lying to yourself as I did for a long time; it’s up to you.
One thing though I’m still an Owl and always will be. My new morning routine starts at 930 which is perfectly early enough thanks very much and the first hour and a half I still feel like I’ve been hit in the face by a spade and should not be allowed near complex machinery. Also if you need anything at around 130am I’ll still up and ready to help, full of far too much energy. But playing 8 tables as the sun comes up thinking I have an edge where really I’m the sucker is a thing of the past….well most nights anyway.