By Mark Wood
aiming to hit 35 sleep cycles over a seven-day period can help you perform better in the gym and other daily tasks.
Sleep is one of those areas of our life that we enjoy but often take for granted. Yet as one of the most important tools for proper recovery especially for someone who exercises intensely, it’s more often than not sacrificed for a late TV show or movie.
Lack of sleep can have negative effects on our mental and physiological processes such as:
- Cardiovascular performance
- Information processing and memory
- Lowered Metabolism
- Muscle growth and recovery
- Increased perceived effort
These can be hugely counter-productive when we spend time working hard in other areas like training and nutrition.
A lot of the time you can feel relatively ok when you miss out on sleep. Often people say they feel they can perform well, but it’s not until they experience better sleep that the difference is noticeable.
According to Nick Littlehales (Sportsleepcoach) we need about 5 cycles of sleep to perform optimally each night. Of course this may vary person to person, but aiming to hit 35 sleep cycles over a seven-day period can help you perform better in the gym and other daily tasks.
A typical sleep cycle consists of 5 stages over 90 minutes:
The first 2 stages are light sleep where our breathing slows down, and the general activity of the body begins to calm down. There’s a slight reduction in body temperature and the occasional muscle twitch.
In stage 3 and 4 we begin the deep sleep cycle where our brains produce delta waves. These waves help us recover both physically and mentally and get your body back into sync. Human Growth Hormone is released in pulses during this time, and interruption of this stage can inhibit it’s secretion.
The last stage is where the shiny happy people hold hands. REM sleep is where our brain is stimulated by dreams. This stage of sleep is often seen more in the last few cycles before you wake.
The cycles repeat until you wake. Ideally we should wake in our lightest sleep so we feel alert and ready to attack the day. Alarms can often interrupt the deep sleep cycles, which is where apps on phones can come in handy as they sense your cycles through movement and adjust the alarm to wake you in light sleep.
PRIORITISING RECOVERY TIME
Nick suggests a pre-bed routine around 60-90 minutes before your scheduled bed time. So to get 5 x 90 min cycles (7.5 hours) you would aim to start sleeping by 10.30pm to wake by 6am. This means by 9-9.30pm you should begin your routine.
This could be time to get meditation/mindfullness in, read a book, tidy up your “area” and just be prepared for the next day. Most of us consider phones, TV’s and computers to be our relaxing time, but it is actually doing the complete opposite. The blue light emitted from the screens can interrupt melatonin secretion, essentially tricking your body into staying awake. This can make it more difficult to fall asleep.
Life get’s in the way meaning sometimes going out for dinner or a movie means you get home late. Nick encourages you to wait until your next sleep cycle would start before actually going to sleep. This keeps the body’s sleep patter regular. If you can get a nap/siesta in the following day you should. Even a 20 min nap can help.
It’s important to make the whole routine work for you. If you are a night owl, then let it happen but still aim for your 5 cycles. If work, kids and other things get in the way, you need to find the optimal sleep for you.
Remember, you don’t know how much lack of sleep affects you until you start getting good quality sleep.