|Cyclist Bradley Wiggins of Britain, who Littlehales worked with, won the Tour de France 2012 as well as the gold in the Men’s Individual Time Trial Road Cycling on August 1
How do sports stars like Bradley Wiggins, Victoria Pendleton and other members of the British cycling team ensure they wake up refreshed when their big day dawns?
Sports sleep expert Nick Littlehales created personalised pillows and layered memory-foam mattresses, covered by hypo-allergenic sheets and had them set up at the Olympic Village last month. The sleep coach tells you how to sleep to win.
1 Check your mattress, pillow and bedding
Are they lending you the right support? “Your mattress should take your body shape and weight easily — almost as if you don’t need a pillow,” says Littlehales. “Get someone to analyse you lying on the bare mattress, in a foetal position on your non-dominant side (so if you’re right-handed, lie on your left side).
|Sports sleep expert Nick Littlehales
This is the natural sleeping position. If there is a clear gap of five centimetres or more between your head and mattress, or you feel your head dropping on to the mattress, it could be too firm. Head raised out of line? The mattress may be too soft.”
2 Think of sleep in terms of 90-minute cycles
During each cycle, the body goes through five stages essential to overall recovery. These include ‘light sleep’, ‘deep sleep’ and ‘REM sleep’ (when we dream). Plan to wake at the end of a cycle, rather than mid-cycle. Work backwards from the time you need to wake up to find your optimum ‘turning in’ time.
So, if you need to wake at 6.30 am, your optimum turning-in time is 11 pm. This includes 15 minutes to fall asleep and 15 minutes to wake — and five 90-minute
cycles of refreshing sleep.
3 Zone out mid-afternoon
Between 1 pm and 4 pm, find a quiet place to sit or lie. Once relaxed and comfortable, set an alarm to go off 20 minutes later, close your eyes, drift and let go. Even if you don’t fall asleep you’ll still reap the benefits.
4 Don’t get exhausted
Don’t allow yourself to get so tired that you fall asleep the moment your head hits the pillow. “This is counter-productive — you are skipping stages and going straight into deep sleep,” Littlehales says.
5 Chill after every 90 minutes of work
Like an athlete, make sure your day contains a balance of activity and recovery with “round-the-clock” 90-minute cycles.
Ensure each cycle contains a five or 10 minute break. So for every one-and-half hour at your desk, get up and walk around the office or grab some fresh air. These breaks will allow you to process your thoughts and stop worry affecting sleep time later.
6 Unwind in the evening
Plan a 90-minute unwinding slot between 7.30 pm and 9 pm if possible. Take a gentle 20-minute walk, or do some yoga, followed by 15 minutes of sitting quietly. Allow your brain to ‘download’ your day and plan for tomorrow.
7 Dine early
Eat your final meal three to four hours before turning in, and any bedtime snacks at least 90 minutes before you hit the bed, so that you don’t go to sleep on a full bowel or bladder.
8 Take a techno break
Detach from emails and texts and write a “to do” list. De-cluttering your mind will boost deep sleep by 60 per cent.
9 From 9 pm to 10.30pm prepare for sleep
On some days, pamper, relax, unwind at this time. Candlelight triggers the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Ease stress and muscle tension with light stretches.
10 Don’t take water to bed
It’s a trigger to your body to wake for a drink. Waking up thirsty shows you’re not hydrated enough when you turn in or that you’re sleeping with your mouth open, so you’re not comfortable.
11 Avoid using alarm on phone or computer
They are communication tools. Stick to a functional alarm clock.
12 Keep bedroom cool
In warm weather, focus on keeping the bedroom cool during the day. Drawing the curtains will help, too. Keep the windows open at night to let in fresh air.
13 Make it dark and cosy
Fit blackout blinds to ensure total darkness.
14 Sleep like a foetus
At your optimum sleep time, get into bed, curl up into the foetal position on your non-dominant side and let go.
• Detach from emails and texts... De-cluttering your mind will boost deep sleep by 60 per cent