6 ways to hack your sleeping pattern to get a better night’s rest

5th July 2019

Sleep Pattern

In his book, Sleep, Nick Littlehales promises to teach us how to hack our sleeping patterns.

In his book, Sleep, Nick Littlehales promises to teach us how to hack our sleeping patterns. Littlehales calls himself an “elite sports sleep coach”, a role he “managed to fashion for myself” after transforming the sleep – and thus performance – of everyone from Sir Bradley Wiggins to the Manchester United team. Now he is using his skills to help us mere mortals feel perkier, without an espresso in sight.

While there are only so many hours in the day, if you use them right you can squeeze more than enough sleep out of your busy schedule. From flossing by candlelight to chucking out your bed frame, here’s how to hack your zzzzs and become a podium-topping sleeping pro.

Cycle science

The heart of Sleep is Littlehales’s R90 Sleep Recovery Program. R90 means recovery in 90 minutes, an hour and a half being the length of time it takes a person under clinical conditions to go through the stages of sleep that constitute a cycle.

The idea that we need eight hours of sleep a night can be damaging: given that the average Londoner gets just over 6.5 hours, the one-size-fits-all approach ends up sending us on an exhausted guilt trip as we fail, night after night, to hit the magic eight.

Rather than take a nightly approach we should be looking at our sleep on a weekly basis. Littlehales suggests that the average person needs around 35 cycles of sleep a week – which works out as five lots of 90 minutes a night. But you don’t have to feel guilty for one bad night’s kip – you can just make up for it another day.

A nap by any other name

Napping in the middle of the afternoon has long been held as the key to success by politicos from Margaret Thatcher to Bill Clinton and Winston Churchill. But Littlehales is redefining the nap. “Napping as you know it is part of the old-school approach to sleep,” he says. For pro-sleepers, it’s all about controlled recovery periods (CRP).

Thirty minutes is the most practical option for most of us, either at midday or early evening. Your ideal pre-CRP fluid? Coffee, believe it or not. It takes 20 minutes for a shot of espresso to kick in, so down it as you hit the pillow for maximum benefits when you wake from wherever you choose – Littlehales insists that “we can nap anywhere”.

Most importantly, for those who insist with a mixture of jealousy and pride that they simply can’t nap during the day, Littlehales insists “it does not matter if you don’t actually enter a sleep state — catching that place on the verge of sleep” is just as refreshing.

Just not your type

Littlehales identifies two “chronotypes”: morning people (AMers) and night owls (PMers). But because of our lifestyles there’s also an inadvertent third chronotype, the “inbetweener” – not awkward, terminally uncool teenagers but those who mask their true chronotype, whether they’re an AMer wanting a nightcap with an old pal or a PMer in Zone 6 who has to be at work for 7am.

Work with your type – and make sure your partner does too. If you’re an AMer and they’re a PMer, compromise on a mid-point to wake up and go to sleep together, rather than disturb each other by rustling around in the dark each morning and evening.

Get your head in the game

Wiggo or not, sleep preparation isn’t dissimilar to athletic training. For starters there’s the warm up and cool down to consider – Littlehales sees “pre – and post-sleep periods as being just as important as the time spent actually asleep”.

Blue light at night, for example, is the opposite of an insomniac’s delight – Littlehales suggests switching to bulbs or smartphone background lights with a yellow or red tone to increase drowsiness. Or get all Victorian and light a candle – brushing your teeth by candlelight, thus avoiding harsh bathroom lights and adding a certain blackout romance to your dental routine.

Post-sleep, Littlehales’s top tip is “don’t drunk tweet – we’re not quite with it when we wake”. By avoiding your phone first thing “the first part of your day doesn’t have to be a stressful one”.

Double or quit

No matter how well you’ve psyched yourself for a kip it’s useless if you feel like you’re snoozing on a bed of nails. Your mattress really matters, says Littlehales.

He points out that most so-called double beds are nothing of the sort. If a three-foot-wide single bed accommodates one person, only a super-kingsize bed — six feet across – is suitable if you’re regularly sleeping a deux. If you can’t afford the right size frame don’t use one and stick your mattress on the floor.

A mental and physical recovery space of one’s own

Just like “nap”, “bedroom” is part of the knackered old sleeping vocab. Where you rest your head at night should instead be your “mental and physical recovery room”. It might not send the most seductive of come-hither vibes to your latest conquest but Littlehales insists that separating your bedroom from the rest of your stress-ridden life is vital for a good night’s kip.

This entails turning it into an “empty shell”: white walls with no pictures, blackout blinds on the windows and a cooler temperature than the rest of your house. If that all sounds a bit prison-cell, don’t worry. Whatever it is that you need to give a sense of security, he says, is “a welcome addition to the room” – including your teddy bear.

Follow Frankie McCoy on Twitter: @franklymccoy