Sleep expert Mr Nick Littlehales stumbled into his current career after writing to Sir Alex Ferguson, then the manager of Manchester United football club, to ask what kind of approach his players had to maximising the effects of their nightly shut-eye. It turned out that they didn’t – a circumstance that ultimately led Mr Littlehales, then working as sales and marketing director for sleepcare brand Slumberland, to rebrand himself as the world’s first sports sleep coach. In the process of working with Manchester United and other football teams, as well as elite athletes from disciplines as diverse as cycling, sailing, BMX and bobsleigh, Mr Littlehales perfected a sleep treatment program he calls “R90”, referring to the 90-minute cycles of which all human sleep is composed. According to this system, the principles of which Mr Littlehales outlines in his new book Sleep, what we should be looking for is not a good night’s sleep of eight hours (the average figure usually thrown about by statisticians) but a weekly allocation of 35 cycles, or five cycles per night on average.
Thinking of sleep in this way, says Mr Littlehales, allows us much more flexibility when it comes to getting enough rest, allowing for the inevitable nights when family and work commitments keep us up longer than we might want, as well as helping us to get the most out of it. Of course, the entire plan is a lot more complicated than that – in the course of Sleep, Mr Littlehales outlines various other means by which we can sleep (and wake) better, from clearing clutter and distraction from our sleeping spaces, to spending more time getting ready for bed and planning sleep cycles to match our own personal circadian rhythms. As a taster, we offer the three following tips for better sleep, all drawn from the book. Some of them might surprise you.