Insufficient, disturbed, or poor-quality sleep is a major issue that afflicts many of us in the modern world—athletes, coaches, and Joe Public alike. Those of us working in sports performance know that the real challenge is not what we can get our athletes to do in our limited contact hours with them. What is vitally more important is how we can impact their behaviors in the many more hours that we are not guiding and coaching them.
The modern world and its lifestyles are not helpful for promoting sufficient and high-quality sleep. If you pick yourself up a copy of Sleep: The Myth of 8 Hours, the Power of Naps… and the New Plan to Recharge Your Body and Mind by Nick Littlehales, you will read how the advent of the light bulb, modern work patterns and pressures, and smartphones have all combined to massively compromise our sleeping habits and the amount and quality of rest we get. More and more frequently, we trade sleep for social engagements or squeeze in extra work or technology-fueled entertainment.
When Sleep Testing and Interventions Lead to Stress
If, like me, you work in sports coaching, then you most likely work with a young population. These are athletes who have grown up with smartphones, laptops, tablets, and more. The bedroom of today’s young athlete, instead of epitomizing the clean, quiet, tranquil, and relaxing environment that facilitates extended and effective sleep, often resembles a cluttered, highly advanced, technology-crammed control room. It acts as an extension of the active living spaces of the home and not the rest-promoting retreat it should be.The modern world and its lifestyles are not helpful for promoting sufficient, high-quality sleep. Click To Tweet
Perhaps you do not live in a sedate and peaceful neighborhood, with the neighbors’ homes at a reasonable and comfortable distance from your property. City living may mean the glare of lighting from neighboring apartments or commercial businesses, and noisy inhabitants or passersby on a lively street with sound blowing up from below.
Awareness of all these problems and ongoing wellness monitoring with my athletes led me to seek interventions to put in place for some of my athletes. Our monitoring flagged issues and concerns regarding recovery and sleep, but how best to tackle them? With a specific athlete in mind, we tried all kinds of measures.
I secured an opportunity to test Fatigue Science’s Readibands, which provided greater insight into the underlying issues. I assumed the athlete’s young family had led to their disturbed sleep and being awoken in the middle of the night. The Readibands proved that this was not the case. In fact, the athlete was simply not going to bed early enough.
Going to sleep after midnight meant they weren’t getting the gold standard of eight hours a night—they got seven at best. We had discussions and educated the athlete on the importance of sleep and recovery. In truth, they didn’t need this education. As a mature and professional athlete, they were aware of the importance of recovering every bit as hard as they trained.
And so, we began with simple interventions. If you can get to sleep 15 minutes earlier each night, that’s nearly two hours a week and eight hours a month of additional sleep. My thinking was that if we could shift this athlete’s bedtime by an initial 15 minutes and then solidify that behavior, we could then shift it another 15 minutes. Before long, they would have an extra half hour of sleep a night. Eventually, we could achieve the full hour of additional sleep “required” each night and get the athlete up to the idealized eight hours a night. Simple, right? Easy? Yes, but not effective!
All we achieved in the end was stressing out the athlete if they missed the scheduled bedtime. Perhaps the athlete’s young child couldn’t sleep, or their partner who hadn’t seen them all day because of training wanted to enjoy some social activities. Perhaps they just weren’t tired. But this necessity to sleep by a certain time created additional stress. We didn’t achieve the desired boost to sleep and recovery. In fact, we instigated quite the opposite effect.
Helpful New Perspectives on Sleep and Recovery
With a new season on the horizon and a new opportunity to tackle existing opportunities, I did more research. I wanted the athlete to speak to a “sleep expert,” thinking that maybe the same message from a different voice or presented in a different way would have more effect. I became aware of Nick Littlehales through research, and contacted him to see if he had any colleagues or peers in our locality that he could recommend. While Nick was not able to put me in contact with anyone, discussions with him enabled me to see things from a new perspective and led to some additional education of my own.
I had already purchased Nick’s book, Sleep: The Myth of 8 Hours, the Power of Naps… and the New Plan to Recharge Your Body and Mind. After conversations with Nick, his book helped provide greater insight and support for what we discussed.
It turned out that, while my efforts with my athlete’s recovery were well-intentioned, my methods were ineffective. I was aware of chronotypes before (essentially, whether somebody is a morning person or an evening person), but I had neglected to fully understand this particular athlete’s chronotype.
Because they were always at training on time—even earlier than most—being professional, dedicated, and going through all the additional warm-up and prehab routines, I assumed that the athlete was a “lark” and not an “owl.” Typically, people are neither wholly one nor the other; they lie on a spectrum. After talking with Nick, reading Sleep, and having some discussions with the athlete, it quickly became apparent they were not a morning person. An intervention based around trying to get the athlete to sleep earlier was doomed to fail.
It was this experience, though, that largely led me to Nick Littlehales and Sleep. Before contacting Nick, I did further research on him by checking out the book and Google. He has worked with Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo, Arsenal Football Club, Real Madrid, Team Sky, British Cycling, Sir Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins, and Dave Brailsford for enhanced recovery and sleep, and can certainly be considered a preeminent expert in this area and someone worth listening to.
You will likely gain a new perspective on sleep and recovery by reading this book. Nick challenges existing and fiercely held preconceptions, such as the requirement for eight hours of sleep and the need to sleep in one continuous block of time. Nick delves into real-life examples of the way he has revolutionized athletes’ approaches to sleep, their homes and bedrooms, their routines and schedules, and the training ground or overseas competition environments of some of the world’s greatest and most successful sporting institutions.This book challenges sleep preconceptions, such as the alleged importance of getting eight hours. Click To Tweet
Sleep has an excellent narrative style that is enjoyable to read. At the same time, it is informative and really makes you think about what you know and believe regarding the science of sleep and recovery. Nick further enhances this by illustrating the science and the “boring stuff” with real-life stories, such as highlighting the impact of sleep upon a multimillion-dollar professional soccer player or a multiple Olympic medal-winning athlete. If the advice and guidelines in this book are enough to convince and benefit these athletes and their clubs or institutions, then you should seriously consider applying the ideas and knowledge to your own situation.
Nick reveals his strategies around weekly sleep cycles rather than the mythical eight hours a night, and discusses the use of CRPs (power naps, although Nick shies away from that phrase and its negative connotations) and anchoring your day with a regular wake time. If you want to understand Nick’s processes and philosophies and his R90 system in greater detail, make time to read Sleep.