Sleep like a Champ! What I learned from Elite Sports Sleep Coach reading “Sleep: the myth of 8 hours”
Did you know that there is nothing scientific or magical about 8 hours of sleep?!
The number is actually not aligned with our biological clock and the way our body functions.
The whole well-known well-established sleeping practice is based on nothing more than widely accepted habit — we’ve always done it that way.
Sleeping 8 hours — at some point somebody noticed that healthy people tend to need that amount of sleep on average, they probably rounded up the number to make it whole and convenient and the question was closed.
What science has known for a while now, we don’t sleep in one block, our sleep is not an 8-hour block, even during our longest night sleep we sleep in phases, in cycles of 90 minutes, when we go through different sleep stages repairing our physical body, cells and tissues, consolidating memories and our lessons, dreaming — dozing off (stage 1), light (stage 2) and deep sleep (stage 3 and 4), Rapid Eye Movement stage (REM) — when the cycle is over we go back to the beginning, waking up but not really aware of it, and then we repeat the cycle again.
For most people, the normal amount of cycles per night to fully restore all the systems is 5, that gives us 7.5 hours — and that’s where 8 hours come from.
The thing about it is, if you wake up in the middle of the cycle, especially in a deep sleep, stage (stage 3 and 4) — you will feel groggy and under-rested and cranky, even if you sleep just half an hour less or MORE!, 7 or 8 hours!
The thing about it is, the thing, that nobody talks about is that as long as we get 35 90-minute cycles per week (28 being the ultimate minimum for healthy and full restoration) — we are OK! We don’t have to look at every night as the ONLY way to get our 35 cycles a week in one go every night, 5 cycles per night — we can, for example, when the circumstances require, sleep one night 4 or even 3 cycles, and then add additional cycle or two somewhere in the afternoon.
The best time for a longer 90-minute-full-cycle nap is between 1 and 3 PM — that’s the best time to squeeze in the “missing” cycles. We can also get a partly restorative and refreshing rest, a 30-minute nap, somewhere in the afternoon between the hours of 1–3 PM, or in the next best window between the hours of 5 and 7 PM (not a good time for a 90-minute cycle though to avoid sleep disturbances during the night), maybe drinking a cup of coffee right before that short 30-minute nap (but not 90-minute nap, since caffeine takes 30 minutes to work in our system and a longer cycle will be disturbed) for increased performance and productivity and extra boost of alertness and focus, when we need it, and when we can’t afford a full 90-minute rest cycle.
The thing about it is, that ideally yes, one block of time, same time, every night is the best option. But these days it’s almost impossible to imagine that our schedule can be that solid and constant ALL the time — work, meetings, social gatherings, flights, conferences, overload of work and projects, professional and personal — so many things can get in the way of our sleep schedule… schedule… another one?
So Elite Sports Sleep Coach Nick Littlehales recommends:
Set up regular waking up time, that you can commit to at least 4–5 mornings — leave enough time after your waking time (90 minutes ideally) to get ready for the day, spend some quiet time with yourself, maybe using the bathroom.
Figure out where you can squeeze in most of 35 cycles — the more regular your schedule is, the better of course. Look at a 24-hour daily window as at one big chunk of time, where you can schedule your sleep cycles.
For example right now, I’m seriously experimenting with 4-cycle sleep during the night 9.30–3.30 and a longer nap in the middle of the day between the hours of 11 and 2 PM. That way I’m pretty happy with my work and social and personal life, with the quality of work I put out, with my health and performance, with my schedule — I really love waking up at 3.30 (3.33 actually), there is something magical for me there. And I can’t comfortably go to bed earlier than 9.30 PM — otherwise I’ll never see another human being outside work!
I practice, what they call in science polyphasic sleep — and it turns out humans are quite naturally polyphasic sleepers, getting most sleep at night but also having naps here and there to get brain boost and refresh all the systems, to help systems of our body to restore and to function better during the day — they followed some hunter-gathers tribes, who still live close to our natural cycles, and as it turns out polyphasic sleep is practices often and regularly among them, they tend to take multiple naps and not necessarily sleep all that much during the night.
So now, understanding a bit better the nature of restorative sleep, that allows you to function better as a human being during your waking hours, you can have a more flexible sleeping schedule too, instead of constantly worrying about not getting the same amount of sleep as one solid block every night, just that worrying alone can rob you of your energy and health — you are not alone there by the way, at least 80% of urban population has the same problem with all the commuting, work load, social jet lag and family/personal commitments.
Other things to keep in mind for a better quality, more effective sleep routine:
- Sleep in a cooler room, 18 C being ideal
- Sleep in a completely dark room, use black out curtains or anything to block ALL the outside light. (At the very least invest in a good sleeping mask!). And don’t forget all the blinking and shining devices in your room! Either cover them, remove them or turn them off!
- Sleep in a quiet room or invest in good quality ear plugs.
- Turn your phone off or put it in a flight mode.
- Don’t look at blue-light screens of your computer, tablet, smartphone — that will prevent your body from producing normally neurotransmitters that make you fall asleep, at least an hour before, at the very least use special apps to turn on “night mode”, that makes all the lights orange-tinted (I use Twilight for Android).
- Stop all Social media, texting, work activity 90 minutes before sleep on most nights.
- Stop major meals 3 hours before bed, light snacks are allowed 90 minutes before sleep time.
There is a whole chapter on sleeping gear — mattress or its imitations for proper sleep, proper sleeping posture, materials of your sleeping gear — all that and more about sleep routines, sleep practices of elite athletes (They even travel with their own portable sleeping gear for the best performance!) you can find in the book, more about sleep disorders and what to do about them, how to deal with insomnia and more!
We sleep somewhere around third of our life — we might as well learn how to do it the right way in the era of Homo Connected.
Sweet dreams… zzz…