Sleep your way to victory – Dale Edwin Murray ()Sleep your way to victory – Dale Edwin Murray () © Copyright

How to nap your way to success

Good news, people – sleep expert Nick Littlehales says a nap can raise your game

In all levels of sport, it’s time to redefine the approach to sleep. Simply put, the demands on our bodies have changed significantly since the early ’90s, and will continue to as each year passes, so it’s time for us to regroup and rethink how we should be resting. These days, we take sleep for granted – it’s something we can do anywhere, anytime, on anything – but it’s not actually considered to be a performance criterion.

So the first step in redefining your approach to sleep is to actually scrap that term, and think of it as a period of mental and physical recovery.

There are seven Key Sleep Recovery Indicators (KSRIs), and within each KSRI, there are seven key steps that each person applying them to their routine needs to use as a benchmark to figure out their best sleep patterns.

Break down your sleep

One of the KSRIs is thinking of sleep in 90-minute cycles rather than hours, which helps refocus and unlock control over this core recovery function for humans under pressure. The key to doing so is to break sleep down into multiple periods throughout the day – also called a polyphasic approach – rather than one nocturnal block of sleep, also known as a monophasic period of sleep.

Why? Well, as humans, we have three natural sleep recovery periods in any 24-hour circadian period, but over time, we have generally shifted to just sleeping at night. Alternatively, other cultures such as the Spanish still use two recovery periods – they use the midday siesta as a booster to help the body to adapt to shorter nocturnal sleep cycles.

To shift towards multiple/polyphasic recovery periods, we should look at utilising the nap. You can start by sleeping in shorter cycles at night, and then napping twice throughout the day. The second sleep period between say 1pm and 3pm, and third between 5pm and 7pm, with either a 90- or a 30-minute nap.

Map your naps

Naps shouldn’t just be thought of as quick snoozes in the afternoon, though – think of them as controlled recovery periods (CRPs). These recovery periods allow us to cope with the scheduled demands in our daily lives, and particularly in sport.

They allow elite-level athletes to boost and balance recovery without affecting their main nocturnal sleep period. They also help to maintain harmony with the body’s natural circadian rhythm, and stop us going to sleep early, or laying in to catch up.

CRPs provide athletes with a coping mechanism for whatever is being asked of them in their sport and in their personal lives. Chronotypes are genetic sleep characteristics that pre-determine whether you are an owl or a lark – a PMer or AMer. Identifying which one you are is critical to achieving decent levels of recovery.

If you’re an athlete or not, recovery is key to performance, so plan main recovery periods and shorter CRPs around your schedule for that year, quarter, month and then week by week. Planning ahead provides structure, control and goals, but also allows you to adjust to unforeseen circumstances with confidence.

Nap time for everyone

CRPs can be used before and after participation in sport to boost and balance the body during increased periods of activity. Furthermore, they are – and should be – incorporated into everyone’s daily life. We can nap on a train if necessary, so there’s little excuse.

CRPs are not just something concocted for elite athletes – they can apply to everyone, and the benefits are the same. Sleeping (unlocking mental and physical recovery) twice a day (not just once) is a sure-fire method for anyone coping with today’s physical exertion or tomorrow’s heightened levels of stress.

Today, the side effects of poor recovery are now very clear in all age groups. CRPs can be poo-pooed as a weakness, or something for the elderly, but in the modern world, the key to success is unlocking marginal gains, and that can mean not wasting valuable time by sleeping too little or too much.

The Expert – Nick Littlehales

Nick is a world-leading sleep and recovery expert, with more than 30 years’ experience.


T: @sportsleepcoach


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