14 March 2019
By Nick Littlehales
The 7 Key Sleep Recovery Indicators (KSRIs) are the building blocks of the R90 Technique, they are the 7 steps to take to improve your sleep. Adopting even just one of them could go a long way to improving your life, sleep and recovery.
A circadian rhythm is a 24-hour internal cycle managed by our body clock. This clock of ours, deep within the brain, regulates our internal systems such as sleeping and eating patterns, hormone production, temperature, alertness, mood and digestion, in a 24-hour process evolved to work in harmony with the Earth's rotation. Our body clocks are set by internal cues, chief among them being daylight, as well as things like temperature and eating times. It is vital to understand that these rhythms are ingrained within us; they are the product of millions of years of evolution. A typical circadian rhythm describes what our body wants to do naturally at various points throughout the day. So, use your natural rhythms to aid your recovery by getting plenty of daylight during the day, understand at which times your body wants you to sleep and avoid blue light in the evenings.
Your chronotype describes your sleeping characteristic - whether you're a morning or evening person. But it doesn't just determine the time you get up and go to bed - it indicates the times that your body wants to perform the functions outlined in your circadian rhythms. If you're an AMer (morning person), your body clock is a bit fast, while if you're a PMer (evening person) your clock's running slow. Chronotypes are a genetic trait and are usually easy to spot. Do you like staying up and going to bed late? Do you need an alarm to get you up for work in the morning? Are you partial to a nap in the daytime? Do you often sleep in on your days off? Then it's likely that you're a PMer. AMers wake naturally, enjoy their breakfast and love the mornings. They tend not to need an alarm to wake them, they're less likely to feel fatigued during the day and they go to bed reasonably early.
Now you know your chronotype, you can begin to manage it to become more productive. For the PMer, daylight in the morning is vital if you want to set your body clock to play catch-up with the AMers. Get a dawn-wake stimulator, open the curtains and go outside. PMers should also cut out the lie-ins at the weekend, if you spend all week adjusting your body clock to the demands of your job, then let it all go at the weekend, your clock will drift back to its natural, slower state. AMers should utilise daylight during the afternoon when they begin to struggle, a daylight lamp at your desk is a good investment. It is useful to note that AMers are more alert during the mornings so try to schedule important meetings, work or sports performances during the mornings and during the afternoon for PMers. The most important thing for either chronotype to find is some harmony with their environment.
The R90 Technique simple means recovery in 90 minutes. 90 minutes is the length of time it takes a person under clinical conditions to go through the stages of sleep that constitute a cycle. Our sleep cycles are composed of four (sometimes five) distinct stages, it's easy to think about our passage through a cycle as being like a journey down a flight of stairs. When we turn the lights off and get into bed at night, we’re at the top of the stairs. Down at the bottom of the stairs is deep sleep, which is where we want to get to. I talk about sleep in cycles per week, not hours per night. All of a sudden, one bad night out of seven doesn’t seem too bad. We immediately take the pressure off, because it isn’t an all-or-nothing 8 hours per night. Everything isn’t riding on tonight. Instead, someone who needs 5 cycles a night is aiming for 35 per week. You should try to avoid 3 consecutive nights of fewer than 5 cycles. Instead, look to follow a night or two of this with the ideal routine. If we can get at least four nights in a week of an ideal sleep routine in our schedules, then we’re doing OK. Most importantly, we’re aware of how much sleep we’re getting. It is empowering for anyone to take control of their sleep like this, and it is possible to start manipulating cycles in the short term to free up more time for a specific event or period in our lives as part of a controlled regime change.
‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ is a phrase that could have been written with pre- and post-sleep recovery in mind. What you do immediately before you go to bed has a direct consequence on the quality and duration of your sleep, while what you do after waking has significant consequences for the rest of your day (and the coming night). In the R90 Technique, we look at these pre- and post-sleep periods as being just as important as the time actually spent asleep. In fact, they’re more important, because you can exercise some direct control over them. It is here that we start looking at ninety minutes not just as segments of the time you spend asleep, but as portions of your waking day. Ideally, you would have a 90-minute period for pre-sleep and the same amount for post-sleep.
Your pre-sleep routine is the preparation to make sure you are in a state ready to go to sleep. It’s the work you do to put yourself in a position where you can start your first cycle and then move seamlessly through the subsequent cycles during the night, getting as much of the light, deep sleep and REM as you need. A pre-sleep routine could include a technology shutdown, moving from a warm to a cool environment and light to dark environment, getting things ready for the following day and downloading your day by making notes.
If your pre-sleep routine is everything you do to prepare yourself to get the best quality of sleep, then your post-sleep is your routine to make sure all of that work and the subsequent hours spent asleep have not been wasted. A good post-sleep routine will help you move from a sleep state to a fully awake state, so that you can manage your day positively, and it will even set you up in the best way possible for when you go to bed that night. During your post-sleep routine you should avoid technology for as long as possible, eat a decent, healthy breakfast, do some exercise and stimulate your brain through a gentle mental challenge.
Recovery is a 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week commitment, and through using the daylight hours in addition to your nocturnal approach you will be able to give your mind and body the opportunity to continually reboot while dealing with the demands of modern life. The power of the nap cannot be ignored, they are a significant personal performance enhancer for athletes, and can have the same benefits for anyone. If you find you are struggling throughout the day, add in a 30 – 90 minute Controlled Recovery Period (CRP), otherwise known as a nap, between 1 and 3 p.m. or 5 and 7 p.m.
You should also be taking regular mind breaks, ideally every 90-minutes, to improve performance and reduce stress levels, and they will accumulate during the course of the day to stop you feeling quite so tired in the afternoon and early evening. No time for a break? Then make time. You’re going to be more efficient for having one, with refreshed levels of concentration to bring to bear. It doesn’t have to be a major break. Go and make a cup of tea, go to the toilet, pop outside for a couple of minutes, get up and talk to a colleague or make a phone call. It doesn’t really matter – the point is that you’re moving away from the environment and mental state you work in to give your mind a little recovery window.
There is no acknowledgement of body profiles in the mattress industry, but it makes clear sense that even two people of the same height but of different body profiles are going to have different requirements in a sleeping surface. Their mattresses are going to need to give to different degrees to provide the requisite level of comfort. That’s why the R90 Mattress is available in 3 different body profiles.
Not only is your mattress important, but so is the position you sleep in. Sleeping on your side is the only sleeping position I recommend – but it might not be the side you currently sleep on. You should be sleeping in the foetal position on your non-dominant side, because this side is the less used and therefore the less sensitive side. The foetal position involves a gentle bend at the knees and your arms out in front of you, gently folded. You should have a smooth, straight postural line through the neck, spine and bottom. You want to remain in this position for as long as possible during the night.
Your sleep kit covers should ideally be hypoallergenic; in fact, all your bedding should, whether you suffer from allergies or not. Allergens can affect breathing during the night, making it difficult to breathe through the nose, resulting in the mouth-breathing complications – snoring, sleep apnoea, dry mouth – that can potentially pull someone out of a sleep cycle.
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Our bedrooms must become a sleep sanctuary – a mental and physical recovery room – if we’re to get the maximum benefit from the R90 Technique. My first bit advice is to paint your bedroom white and put nothing on the walls. We don’t want any potential stimulus in the room that a loud colour scheme or pictures on the walls might provide, just a very simple, clean and neutral décor. Then we look at controlling one of the key bedroom prompts for our circadian rhythms – light – with our curtains or blinds. We produce melatonin in darkness, so we need our recovery rooms to be free of ambient light such as street lights. Total blackout is the most effective method, which can be achieved by using blackout roller blinds or even taping your curtains shut. We need daylight in the morning, so once you wake up it’s essential to get the blinds or curtains open immediately and flick that internal switch to get you producing serotonin.
Temperature is, after the move from light to dark, the next most important factor to get right so that we can best work with our circadian rhythms and fall into a sleep state. Our bodies want to move into a cooler, not cold, environment, so keeping the room at an optimal 16 to 18 degrees centigrade will allow this natural process to occur.
You should only have the essentials in your bedroom and if you’re a home worker who has their desk in the bedroom, try to work at the kitchen table or out of the room if possible, so your mind doesn’t make the associations between the recovery room and work. Try to avoid having technology in your room and keep your room free from clutter.
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