We tend to underestimate the importance of sleep on our life and achievements. Most of us continually run on too little sleep, occasionally allowing ourselves the “luxury” of sleeping in and getting that often prescribed perfect 8 hours. Those who place more importance on plentiful rest usually rely on 8 hours being the magic number when it comes to the ideal sleeping routine. However, Nick Littlehales, the renowned sleep expert who authored the book “Sleep”, is telling a different story. What’s weird is that it seems to be working. Just ask the army of professional athletes who use his sleep coaching services. So, what exactly is Littlehales’ sleep program? Let’s find out.
Who is Nick Littlehales?
You might be wondering who exactly this Littlehales guy is, and why you should listen to him. Littlehales started out selling mattresses and pillows, but nowadays he is best known as the guy who taught Christiano Ronaldo how to sleep. He started out by simply offering his services to his local football club, which just happened to be Manchester United. The club’s manager knew that Littlehales was onto something when he helped defender Gary Pallister recover from debilitating back pain. Today, some 20 years later, Littlehales’ client list includes elite athletes from the NBA, NFL, the Rugby Football League, the Premier League, the Sky Pro-Cycling Team, and even some Olympic champions.
The 8-hour myth
When it comes to sleeping the mythical 8 hours, Littlehales says that things are not so simple. What he suggests is that our body and mind actually rest in 90 minute increments. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we should be taking naps and waking up every hour and half. Rather, the body flows through these cycles, and for a perfect night’s rest, it needs five of them, which equals 7.5 hours. The natural starting point, he suggests is either 9.30 or 11 pm. The reasoning is that around the 9.30 mark, our body starts preparing for sleep, by lowering the levels of serotonin and increasing melatonin, as well as suppressing bowel movement. If you miss either of these starting points, the next ones come in 90 minute increments. Regardless of bedtime on a particular night, the wake time should always remain constant. 35 cycles a week is the target you should be aiming for according to his R90 Sleep Program.
Preparation is vital
Jumping into bed straight from an activity just because it’s bedtime is apparently a bad idea. Proper preparation is critical to ensure a restful night. You should impose a screen embargo upon yourself at least an hour and a half before bedtime. This period is used to unwind and get yourself in sleep mode. Have a snack and hydrate if you feel you need to. Empty your bowels and bladder if possible. Don’t eschew this routine just because your bedtime slot is coming up shortly. Littlehales actually claims it is far more beneficial to catch the next slot, and make it up by taking a daytime nap – 30 minutes for every cycle you miss.
The ideal sleeping conditions
In terms of specific conditions to support healthful sleep, Littlehales is pretty specific. Our body is genetically in tune with the natural light and dark cycles, so we should be going to bed when it’s dark and waking up to bright natural light. Since that is hard to achieve today, he suggests black-out curtains, and timed artificial dawn simulators for wake-up. In nature, the temperature drops with sun-down, so our sleeping environment – both the room and the bed – needs to be cooler than our body so that they can support its natural night temperature cycles. The optimal room temperature is around 18°C.
Littlehales stresses that there is no magical mattress that fits everyone. The best way to test a mattress is to lie down in fetal position, and assess the gap that forms between your head and the surface of the mattress. In time, this gap transforms into pain in the shoulder and hip. Ideally, this gap should be no bigger than a couple of centimeters, so that the shoulder and hip sink in, the body is perfectly balanced, and your vertebrae are in perfect line without a pillow. If possible, always choose foam or latex mattresses as they are hypoallergenic, and their durability is better when it comes to comfort. If you feel you need to sleep with a pillow, get one as thin as possible. As far as the sleeping position is concerned, in order to be able to dive into the paralyzed state of deepest slumber, we need to feel safe. The position which gives us this feeling of security is the fetal position, on our non-dominant side. This leaves our dominant side free for defense in case of danger.
Understanding our sleep patterns and treating them as something that we can control could help us completely transform our mental and physical performance during our waking hours. According to Littlehales, it can be done. Just ask Ronaldo!
Give this sleep program a try and let us know your thoughts.