Preventicum speaks to Nick Littlehales, Elite Sport Sleep Coach and International author of ‘Sleep’.
Can a good nights’ sleep make a difference for the elite athlete or the elite businessperson? We are all aware of factors and influences that help us to work well during the day, but do we pay enough attention to our down time and sleep at night?
Why do we sleep?
Humans spend nearly a third of our lives asleep. Although it feels as though our bodies completely shut down during sleep, it is an active period where important processing, restoration and strengthening take place. Exactly how and why our bodies are programmed for such long periods of slumber is still a mystery, however scientists and medics agree that sleep is vital for optimal health and wellbeing.
Why is a lack of sleep bad for you?
At Preventicum, we have looked at many studies on sleep in the past and we now know that getting less than 6 hours per night increases your risk of an early death by 12%. The risk of stroke, obesity, diabetes, memory loss, osteoporosis, cardiac disease, accidents, and a reduced resilience to stress are all increased. It really should not come as any surprise, with centuries, decades and generations of no sleep education, that we still adopt a human mantra of ‘take it for granted’.
Sleep Recover Well = Eat Well = Exercise Well
Our ability to recover both mentally and physically is under new ever-increasing pressures.; behavioural changes driven by technology and the 24/7 world we are immersed in. So, it’s never been a better time to raise our awareness, redefine our approach on why, when and how we sleep.
Over the past two decades, Elite Sport Sleep Coach Nick Littlehales has been redefining sleep in world sport. His Game Changing R90 Technique is proven tried and tested by elite athletes, players, coaches and organisations, looking to achieve the highest levels of human recovery performance. The R90 Technique is a simple, logical journey of education, awareness, practical steps and achievable everyday interventions that anyone can adopt.
His clients range from leading football clubs, Manchester City FC, Real Madrid C.F, Liverpool FC, Norwich City FC and RB Leipzig, to the NBA, NHL, NFL, Olympic sports teams around the world and now International corporate, medical organisations, universities and public-sector service providers. Sleep coaches work with organisations as a whole and with individual players and athletes to look into their sleeping habits. This may mean making changes to their sleeping environment, studying the effects of travel, late night playing, and the individuals own circadian clock.
Night Owl or Morning Lark?
The circadian rhythm/clock is present in most living things and tracks the physical, mental and behavioural changes that follow a 24-hour cycle between day and night. Neurogeneticists have proven that our genes really do determine whether we are PMer’s – night owls (we have more energy in the evenings) or AMers – morning larks (we have more energy in the mornings). Referred to as the human chronotype, sleep coaches look at each individual’s type to redefine their everyday recovery/activity approach.
So too, this should now equate to business, if you are travelling frequently, sleeping in different environments often and your work hours are long and possibly require you working early in the morning or late at night, a review of your sleeping habits could put you ahead of the game.
Money can’t buy you sleep
As humans we are designed to sleep, anywhere, anytime, in anyway with or on anything. Simply looking at how humans approach sleep around our globe confirms that, so getting caught up with expensive feature and benefit claims when it comes to products in store or online, can result in disappointment when it comes to improving sleep quality in isolation.
To maximise sleep recovery quality Nick recommends:
Redefining your everyday recovery approach, starts with understanding that as humans we should be synchronised with the Circadian Rhythms. This sunrise, sunset, light, dark and temperature process, is key to optimising human functionality. If we combine this, with the knowledge that pre-electric light, humans adopted a multiphasic sleep wake cycle, not just one nocturnal block (Monophasic) we have the answers to why daytime fatigue reveals itself and when.
7 Key sleep recovery indicators
- Circadian Rhythm
A circadian rhythm is a 24-hour internal cycle managed by our body clock deep within the brain. Regulating our internal systems such as sleeping, eating patterns, hormone production, mood and motivation. Tap it into your browser and raise your awareness.
A Chronotype is your genetic sleeping characteristic – A ‘lark’ morning or ‘owl’ evening person. It determines your ideal sleep wake timings and when, ideally to perform high and low intensity mental and physical activities. It is easy to check your Chronotype and can be a sleep game changer.
- Sleep Cycles
Rethink sleep as 90-minute cycles not hours, the length of time it takes a human under clinical conditions to go through the five key recovery stages and phases. Start with your most consistent wake time to break your 24 hours up into 16 stages and timings. 5 a day = 7.5 hours – 35 in 7 days.
- Pre and Post
With a consistent wake time in place, the post sleep 90-minute period is key to performance throughout the day and into the next sleep period. Create time to expose yourself to light inside or outside, season dependent, to trigger all of your natural, hormones, bodily functions and kick start the day.
Being recovery active is key to personal performance, short and longer-term success. Recovery redefined, reveals higher levels of productivity, prevents wasting valuable time sleeping without benefits and protects you from adopting negative behavioural steps to overcome fatigue.
Humans are designed to sleep anytime, on and with anything. The environment you choose to sleep in or have to sleep in wants to reflect our natural relationship with sensory familiarisation, light to dark, warm to cool.
When it comes to choosing products to sleep on and with its simple. You just need to layer up to promote an ideal sleeping position of foetal on the opposite side to your dominant side, very shallow pillow or no pillow, easy care allergenic bedding and ignore exaggerated unrealistic marketing claims.
- Bedroom temperature that’s just slightly cooler than you
- Lightweight easy care allergenic bedding
- A neutral décor, non-stimulating visuals, low or no tech, calm quiet and dark
- Foetal position on your non-dominant side (right-handers on their left and vice versa)
- Mattress built up in layers for full body profile release
- One shallow pillow or no pillow to actually sleep with
- Begin a post routine 90 minutes from wake and pre-routine 90 minutes into the targeted sleep time
- Raise body temperature, light exercise quick shower rinse pre-sleep triggers a sleep state
- Avoid rich, fatty or sugary meals/snacks pre-sleep they take longer to digest and raise the body temperature
Littlehales also explains to his clients that key sleep stages are revealed in 90-minute cycles, so we need to redefine our everyday approach away from thinking in hours.
Step one is to identify your most consistent everyday wake time and break the 24 hour clock up into 16 phases and timings of 90-minute cycles.
Five 90-minute cycles reveal seven and half hours considered to be an optimum period for a healthy adult (8 hours).
- Wake time 6.30am – 9.30pm in sleep = 6 cycles and 9 hours
- Wake time 6.30am – 11pm in sleep = 5 cycles and 7.5 hours
- Wake time 6.30am – 12.30am in sleep = 4 cycles and 6 hours
Daytime slumps are simply natural human recovery periods revealing themselves (midday siestas for example). Daytime fatigue develops because we try to grab all our recovery in one block and ignore the fact, we are designed to recover in shorter periods more often. Twice (Biphasic) three times (Triphasic) in any 24 hours. This redefined approach will really help reveal more consistent levels of mental and physical recovery and more sustainable levels of personal performance, mood and motivation.
Nap it Out…
‘Snoozes are for losers’ is definitely an outdated phrase. Recovery should take place in cycles, rather than Monoblock hours, taking short distractive breaks every 90 minutes, factoring in a 30/20/15-minute CRP (Controlled Recovery Period) midday, or late afternoon, early evening. Some vacant mind space creates a mindset of not having to worry about, try and/or force sleep. Get in sync, help your brain and your brain will take care of your sleep recovery.
When you enter a sleep state your brain is in control not you, so what you do from the point of wake determines what level of sleep quality will be realised, irrespective of how long you allocate, eight, nine, ten hours or just one 90-minute cycle.
Don’t think about napping, think about your key human recovery periods (cycles). Redefine your approach, it’s a vacant mind space, you’re not actually trying to sleep. If your brain wants to grab a microsleep it will if you open the space.
Controlled Recovery Period Tip:
Stay at your desk, go somewhere more private inside/outside, a walk, a bench, the car and use familiar sensory tools, sound and or visuals to make that moment happen for YOU. Don’t try and sleep during these periods your brain will microsleep if it needs to.
Elite Sport Sleep Coach Since 1998
Over two decades redefining sleep in elite sport worldwide
International author of SLEEP published in 14 languages
Proven and Endorsed by Elite Athletes and Organisations Worldwide