Sleep may be the most important keystone in your quest to build a healthy lifestyle. The more we learn about the science of sleep the more we realize its importance. Last years research showed that sleep is like taking out the garbage and clearing the waste from our brain. Not sleeping and clearing out these wastes has been linked to neurological disease such as Alzheimer's. Sleep has been shown to physically have links to obesity and diabetes.
It is estimated that people are sleeping 1-2 hours less per night then the same population group in 1950. That is quite a lot of sleep. Perhaps it just isn't nutrition that is making us fat as a country, perhaps it is lack of sleep.
Sleep: The Myth of 8 Hours, the Power of Naps, and the New Plan to Recharge Your Body and Brain by Nick Littlehales, was one of the last books I read in 2016. It's a quick easy read with some solid practical points. Nick was one of the original sleep performance coaches who started helping Manchester United Football in the early 90's. Since then he has gone on to help teams like Team SKY that won the Tour De France recently. The following are some of the key take home points that I thought were worth sharing. He calls this his R90 program.
Think of sleep as 90min cycles. You want to accrue 90 min cycles. Learn what works for you. Most people will need a minimum of 4 cycles or 6 hours. I personally do best with 5 cycles or 7.5 hours. Now multiply this number by 7 (days in the week) So my perfect would be 35 cycles. So a great week according to R90 would be 30-35 cycles. Forget the I had a bad nights sleep mindset, think of it as a long term health mindset. I met my cyclic needs this week.
Now there are several categories of people that will struggle with this. Parents of young ones come to mind, first and foremost. In his book he outlines naps called controlled recovery periods. Done right a 20 min CRP can equal a cycle.
The Pre and Post bed routines are critical. Light plays an enormous roll in this time period. These are also 90 min. Try to get sunlight on your eyes as soon as you can. If you live in places that won't see the sun for like 3 months like me (lol) he suggests a blue light alarm that mimics a sunrise. Avoiding stressful email/computers/blue light before bed. He suggests mindless task of work that needs to get done anyway. Picking up your house. Folding clothes. Get things ready for the next day. It was interesting to note that for me I realized I had instinctively found 90 min to be the minimum time I wanted to have from wake up till I left the house for work or appointment.
Using some Psychology with this one, he thinks people sleep best with the non dominate arm down and in the fetal position facing out. So if your right handed you sleep on the left shoulder looking away from your partner or bed.
His ideal sleep environment was actually married couples sleep in separate beds. Probably not practical, but I remember my grandparents who were born in the 10's had this type of set up when I was very young. Perhaps another clue on why we sleep less today. The next best option is the biggest bed you can possibly make work for the bedroom. Spend money on the mattress not on the frame. You should be able to lay on your back without crossing your legs to determine if it's the right softness. You shouldn't need the use of a pillow but it's fine if you like one.
The room is completely black. No TV. No smart phone, it is kept in another room. Temperature around 68F.
Do everything in your power to figure sleep out without the use of sleeping pills. A 2012 study linked the use of sleeping pills to an increase mortality and cancer. Those verse a placebo gained only 22 minutes. Not worth it.
The science of sleep and how it affects our physiology is truly an amazing and important reality. It is indeed the cornerstone of health. Don't kid yourself on not needing it. Losing weight, gaining muscle, feeling better, thinking clearer, staying healthy both body and brain all rely on sleep, so if any of those were in your new years resolutions, pick sleep and perhaps you can achieve them all.