By: Jason Lake
No doubt you've heard this classic phrase, or something close to it: Nothing good happens after 10 PM. Sometimes it's midnight, sometimes it's 2 AM. The message itself is universal, though. Human beings turn into pumpkins at some point in the late evening. Bad decisions are made. Consequences are felt.
I can see some of you are nodding your heads and thinking about a poker session (or a life session) that went a little too long. Maybe you were up several buy-ins, only to tilt it all away at the end. Maybe you were already in the hole, and you dug yourself even deeper trying to get out. It's happened to every one of us, but you can make sure it never happens again. All it takes is a little science.
This Is Your Brain
Thanks to modern technology, we have a much better understanding these days about how the brain actually works. It's still a mystery box in many ways, but not too long ago, researchers found that the brain pumps out dopamine and other neurotransmitters on roughly a four-hour cycle. Within this four-hour window, there are two smaller cycles of about two hours each. For 90 minutes, you've got the brain juice you need to make sharp decisions, but then you run out of juice, and it takes 20 minutes or so to make some more.
This is your body's ultradian rhythm at work. It fits nicely over top of your 24-hour circadian rhythm, provided you don't mess it up by taxing your brain at the wrong times – or adding more dopamine where it doesn't belong. Sadly, we do these things to ourselves all the time. We get up too early in the morning, we work too long during the day, and we stay up too late, loading up on coffee and other drugs the whole time.
This is science, by the way. We're not talking about biorhythms here. Your brain is hard-wired to perform at its best in the mid-morning, in the mid-afternoon, and in the mid-evening. Anytime you have a task that requires direct attention, including poker, these are the best times of day to perform that task.
Think back to when you were in school. Way, way back in kindergarten. Maybe you had a 90-minute class, then recess. Another class, then lunch – and a glorious nap. One more class after that, and you'd go home. As it turns out, this is the way we should have kept doing things. If you play poker during the day, consider following a schedule similar to this. If you play at night, stick to two 90-minute sessions with a 20-minute break in between – and stop playing by 10 PM. Or midnight, or 2 AM if you're a night owl. Then turn off all your screens. All of them. Save that attention for tomorrow, when your brain is ready for it.