Sleep is finally starting to get the respect it deserves.
Being that it is one of the three main pillars of health (exercise, nutrition, and sleep), it is about time we start to take it more seriously. Especially when more than a third of American adults do not get sufficient sleep on a regular basis. This is a major issue.
Luckily, we have experts like Nick Littlehales who have worked with some of the premier athletes and organizations across the globe and can tell us what really works.
What I love about Littlehales is that he provides simple and straightforward answers about what needs to be done.
I also love that his work is almost entirely based on our primal biology, the evolutionary reasons that make us the way we are today. I find this to consistently be the best way to solve our modern health concerns.
His work has been so influential on me that I’ve actually already written another post inspired by him, called Forget Sleeping 8 Hours a Night.
Here are 3 tips, inspired by Nick Littlehales, that can be quite impactful on sleep quality:
Understand Your Chronotype and Work with It, Not Against It
Are you a morning lark or a night owl?
Do you prefer the mornings or the nights?
When are you the most interested in eating a large meal?
These are all important things to know when building your sleep strategy. For me, these are glaringly obvious answers. For some of my peers, I’ve heard them be much more indecisive.
I am a night owl, no doubt about it. I like to go to bed late and wake up late. I am very slow to get up and get moving in any meaningful way. I am not hungry in the slightest during the mornings. I actually don’t even eat a “breakfast” at all, with my first meal being small and coming sometime after 12pm. I don’t like to talk or interact with anyone in the morning either.
When I try to fight this routine by waking up early in the morning and eating early, I will feel physically uncomfortable and sometimes even a bit sick from it.
In the nighttime, however, I am the exact opposite. I’m very much awake and cognizant, getting some of my best physical and mental work done during that time. I eat my biggest meal at night and I’d say more than half the food I consume daily is very late at night. This is what’s comfortable for me.
Understanding whether you are a morning or night person will allow you to plan your day in a much more effective way.
For example, with my nocturnal tendencies, I’m not going to plan anything strenuous in the morning for myself. I can do quiet activities like writing, planning, and working on my website early on.
During the afternoon and night is when I will plan all physical activity, social interactions, errands I have to run, and so on. When I reverse this schedule I sleep poorly and perform like garbage.
Over this past year, I’ve started building my life to suit this lifestyle. I work on blogging in the mornings, exercise in the afternoon or night, and work a job at night so I don’t have to wake up early for anything.
This is why you want to establish this: optimizing for your sleep period will allow you to have peak performance during the day because it’s cyclical and they feed into each other. You can schedule your most important tasks for when you are most alert.
Stop Sleeping-In on Off-Days
As great as it can feel, this is repeatedly throwing off your body clock.
For most people, they work hard to establish a constant time they wake up for work during the week. But if you let it all go on the weekends, you’re essentially throwing away that progress.
Your body wants a constant wake time because it functions best that way. This is because the body thrives off of established routines.
When you give it a consistent routine, it starts to do a lot of the work for you, like waking you up at your chosen time without you having to hear an alarm clock blaring beside you.
The routine should also allow you to sleep easier and wake up feeling more rested as your body becomes more accustomed to that block of time you’ve chosen.
Of course, it’s natural to have the odd day that you needed some extra sleep or you had to get up earlier than usual. This should not be the norm though.
Schedule sleep like you would schedule your day. Your best off establishing a non-negotiable wake time which will by default, set a sleep time for you too.
Embrace the Power of Napping
Napping is unfortunately viewed as something you do when you’re “behind” on sleep as a means to “catch up.”
This is the wrong attitude. Naps are optimal recovery periods. They are excellent breaks from a busy day as a way to recover your body and mind.
This is especially true for people who regularly have their nightly sleep interrupted.
People who live on noisy streets, parents with small children, or workers with irregular hours would all benefit greatly from a period in the day where they completely detached and got a 30-minute to 1-hour nap in. Even people who struggle to stay asleep through the entire night or who have a hard time achieving deep sleep would benefit from this.
Nick Littlehales, encourages everyone to consider adopting a “sleep cycle” approach rather than an “hours slept” approach. The reason why is because so many of us have trouble getting a full 8 hours of sleep each night.
So if you only average about 6 hours of sleep at night, try carving out a 90-minute period to recover yourself fully.
With many people’s working schedules, this can be hard to do. Multiple naps could be the answer to this.
A 30-minute nap at your lunch break and a 30-minute nap upon getting home from work could be the difference between feeling exhausted and feeling alert throughout your day.
This is very much the approach Littlehales uses with his professional athlete clients. He wants them to be recovering from their activities as often as possible. To do this, he adapts their sleep schedules for cycles instead of hours.
Some people may sleep for four 90-minute cycles at night with one more 90-minute during the day (total of 7.5 hours) while others may opt for three 90-minute cycles at night with one more in the early afternoon and another in the early evening (7.5 hours again). It doesn’t really matter as long as you achieve your needed amount of rest.
Nick Littlehales talks much more in depth about how these strategies and more can be applied to your life in his book, Sleep. I found this book to be an incredible perspective-enhancer on the subjects of not only sleep, but also performance and recovery.