Who Needs Sleep Anyway?
Nick Littlehales Elite Sport Sleep Coach
Founder of the Game Changing R90 Technique
Author of Best Seller SLEEP [18 Languages worldwide]
Redefining Sleep and Sleeping Since 1998
Who needs sleep anyway?
After spending most of my formative career in the sleep industry, I was always aware of how important sleep is to everyone and yet fascinated by the fact it was taken for granted, not a performance criteria and had no definitive guidelines. Get your 8 hours, don’t eat too late and keep your bedroom around 16/18 degrees were pretty much the top tips.
Travelling around the globe, as a then international company director, it became clear to me that many of us, if not all of us, simply could not adopt the 8 hours just at night mantra and when combined with a lack of sleep education at all levels, adopted a random approach to sleep every day. I also became very aware that we have to, or choose to, sleep in so many different ways, environments and with many varied products.
Research has and continues to reveal that sleep deprivation and poor quality sleep has a major impact on mental performance and wellbeing. Actual or perceived low impact levels of recovery will affect how well our brain can process information, our emotional response to required tasks, mood, motivation, ability to learn new skills, decision making, reaction times, awareness, alertness, stamina and relationships.
Some two decades ago now I was encouraged to put everything I had studied, learnt and experienced, combined with my own personal take on sleep and sleeping and apply that in a professional sporting environment. As my journey developed as an elite sport sleep coach it became ever increasingly apparent that the best approach to develop a more effective sleep routine was to reveal the myths and misunderstandings. Effectively a catch up on the lack of education and awareness. Introduce practical, achievable, sustainable techniques and interventions that would reveal higher levels of sleep recovery for any individual and/or group.
As a coach I would look at changes to their sleeping environments, studying the effects of travel, late night events, an individual’s personal circadian rhythm and chronotype (sleep characteristic), multi shift patterns, as well as what they choose to sleep on (beds) and with (partners).
Neurogeneticists have proven that our genes really do determine whether we are PMers, 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 and this for me as a coach is one of the key factors to help kick start a more defined sleep approach and improve sleep quality more consistently.
Sleep influences everything from mood, motivation, decision making and resilience, understanding our optimum 24/7 approach should be the key health pillar priority.
Whether you sleep great sometimes, not great most of the time, can’t get into sleep or stay asleep, life doesn't make allowances. When you are triggered out of sleep or the alarm kicks in, you just crack on with your day, even though in your sleep-deprived state you're a shadow of your usual self, your personal best (PB). This can develop further in the short and longer term creating counterproductive behavioural changes, for many addictive, to dominant our every day.
Some believe that sleep is something to do when you have passed away, maybe even a waste of valuable time when you could be doing something more productive. Not a mindset I coach into elite athlete’s worldwide who want to reveal their personal best more often, if not every day.
Something else that has developed over the last decade or so, is our knowledge that sleep could be linked to an increased risk of obesity, heart disease, stroke and diabetes, as well as social isolation and addictive behaviours. You could say that sleep studies are still in their infancy when compared with other areas of science and medicine, but it's becoming increasingly clear that sleep plays a much bigger part in our overall physical health and performance than once thought.
As a coach in sport, managing change and ever-increasing challenges is our everyday. Adopting proven, practical behavioural techniques applies not only in sport but for anyone who sleeps (all of us). A student facing exams, new parents, nurses, surgeons, pilots, online service providers and even more common today simply keeping up with the ever-changing driving force of the 24/7 world around us.
Of course, focusing too much on the potential health impact of poor sleep quality may be in itself counter-productive; it's hardly likely to help you manage worrying about it or how to resolve it. Worrying about sleep is the key sleep disruptor.
What's important is to understand the value of sleep on performance and wellbeing, and take steps to improve the likelihood you'll sleep well. Adopt a 24/7 behavioural change approach focused on recovery activities, rather than just trying to get your 8 hours at night.
It’s not about what happens when you are asleep, it’s so much more about how you manage your waking hours. “Our brain is in control when we enter a sleep state, put it under pressure during your day and guess what, lower levels of sleep quality is what you get as a result.”
Sleeping is a natural human recovery process and that should be your focus to reveal more consistent, sustainable levels of overall recovery. The benefits can be life changing for everyone from decision making, mood, motivation, vitality, spirit, harmonising key body hormones, stamina, strength, resilience, consciousness, reflexes, anger management to just being more at peace with life.
The brain goes through cycles of light sleep and deep sleep (REM and non-REM), which is when physical and mental recovery takes place. When you start to enter a sleep state, your brain takes over and reveals whatever it can. The problem is, over the course of the day there are so many variables that affect your sleep both positively and negatively, from what you eat and drink, to exercise and mental challenges.
Crack on with your first period after wake, known as post sleep, and include key activities you complete to reach a fully human active wake state. Emptying your bladder is normally the easy first step in this process. Exposing yourself to the ideal levels of daylight maybe not so easy. Daylight triggers serotonin, your unsuppress bodily functions and get active hormone.
Your goal should be to adopt as much of an unrushed approach as you can, moving from dark to daylight, hydrate, time for appetite to kick in and fuel up, complete some mental challenges, grab some exercise and empty the bowel. However you feel on wake that morning, the key to overall sleep quality is what you do now, which sets you up to tackle your day with the confidence that you are in control of this natural process best you can be.
Stop taking sleep for granted, redefine your approach and reveal your full potential.
In Nick’s book SLEEP, you journey through the R90 Technique providing practical and achievable ways you can impact on your everyday straight away. You will also learn the secrets adopted by elite performers worldwide and why Nick is referred to as the leading human recovery coach in elite sport.
KSRI’s 7 KEY SLEEP RECOVERY INDICATORS
1. Circadian Rhythms
A circadian rhythm is a 24-hour internal cycle managed by our body clock. This clock of ours, deep within the brain, regulates our internal systems such as sleeping and eating patterns, hormone production, mood and digestion, in a 24-hour process.
Your chronotype describes your sleeping characteristic - whether you're a morning or evening person. But it doesn't just determine the time you get up and go to bed - it indicates the times that your body wants to perform the functions outlined in your circadian rhythms.
3. Sleeping In Cycles
You should be thinking of sleep in cycles, not hours. 90 minutes is the length of time it takes a person under clinical conditions to go through the stages of sleep that constitute a cycle. Our sleep cycles are composed of four (sometimes five) distinct stages.
4. Pre- and Post-Sleep Routines
What you do immediately before you go to bed has a direct consequence on the quality and duration of your sleep, while what you do after waking has significant consequences for the rest of your day (and the coming night).
5. Activity and Recovery Harmony
Recovery is a 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week commitment, and through using the daylight hours in addition to your nocturnal approach you will be able to give your mind and body the opportunity to continually reboot while dealing with the demands of modern life.
6. Sleeping Environment
Bring the natural outside inside: The environment you sleep in is just as important as the products you sleep with. Bedrooms should be a clutter free, calming environment, with no light sources during the night.
Sleeping products, as well as the position you sleep in, can all have an impact on your quality of sleep and level of recovery.
Author Nick Littlehales