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Sleep Like a Champion

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

Let’s hope the Wimbledon Tennis finalists get a good night’s sleep this weekend. Sleeping well has become a vital tool for recovery and performance.

Djokovic, world number 1, says he likes a solid eight and a half hours sleep, whereas Federer, an 8-times Wimbledon champion, enjoys a whopping 10 hours. During Wimbledon, he would rent two houses and stay in a different one to his family. Good sleep can be challenging on the tour, as the players are dealing with different timezones, night matches and hours of press interviews and that’s before the warm-down, ice baths and massage. At the Australian Open this year, Andy Murray had a match that finished at 4:06am. It’s no wonder today’s top players employ professional sleep coaches to ensure that they have the best recovery and performance - and they also commit to what they’re advised to do.

Throughout the night, you cycle between REM and non-REM sleep. NREM sleep is made up of three stages - light sleep, deeper sleep where your temperature drops and heart rate slows, and finally deep sleep. In this deep sleep stage, your body spends time repairing and regenerating tissues, building bone and muscle and boosting your immune system. You then move into REM or dream sleep which is useful for procedural memory - learning new motor skills. Sleeping pills decrease NREM sleep without increasing REM.

Britons average just over six and a half hours’ sleep, and more than a third of the population gets by on only five to six hours. Reasons range from stress, to menopausal symptoms such as heat and restless legs, money worries, work and screen time in the evening, looking after ageing parents or being woken by young children. What affects your sleep?

It is so important to prioritise sleeping well. So many people manage on suboptimal levels because it’s not urgent to fix - until it is. Poor sleepers eat 300 more calories a day on average, typically sugary empty ones, and more seriously substantially increase their risk of Type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular and coronary disease by 20 per cent.

The best preparation for a good night’s sleep is how you manage your time in the day. Don’t expect to sleep well if you’re on the go all day, then go to the gym in the evening and come back for a late dinner and evening scroll. Our brains were not designed for this much doing, or this much technology. We have animal brains - can you imagine how immobile and feisty our dogs and cats would be if they didn’t move much and spent hours on their devices each day - the vet bills would be very expensive.

Our circadian rhythm, or body clock, see-saws between action and rest every 90 mins. (Our dominant nostril also alternates every 90 mins; left nostril breathing calms the nervous state, while right nostril breathing wakes us up). We are designed to be active and still in equal measures, however our culture is not supportive of our biology. What we can do is to influence our schedules to the best of our abilities; wake up, let the daylight in, and have breakfast between 8 and 9am when our intestinal motility is at its best and cortisol levels at their highest, make decisions in the morning during periods of greater alertness (10-12), pick quieter activities after lunch, get some strength and fitness straight after work (5-7pm) and go to bed as soon as your melatonin sleep hormone kicks in. Just as we can ignore our body’s signals to go to the loo, and hold on because we’re in the middle of something, the same goes for responding to our sleep hormone release. I advised a client to go to bed as soon as she had her first yawn; her husband joined in and would spot it and send her to bed! She soon recovered the regularity of bedtime, which set her on the road to sleeping better.

When we have very busy weeks, as we all do, I recommend you dial up the pockets of rest during those days, and to ensure you have a few quieter days to follow. You can also make an effort to eat healthy meals and avoid processed food to sustain you through the busyness. If you find yourself waking up during the period 1am-3am, it is a sign that the liver is overworked and has too much stress to process in addition to the daily detoxification process.

My Top Tips for Pockets of Rest

  1. Soften, gently inhale through the nose, sigh out through the mouth “haaaa” (5 secs)

  2. Relax, big inhale through the nose, long exhale through the nose x3. With or without arms (20 secs)

  3. Stop and listen to "An Ending, A Beginning" (2 mins 10 secs)

  4. Three minute breathing space - awareness of the breath moving in the body (3 mins)

  5. Lie down, self-guided body scan - be aware of the parts of the body in contact with the ground, relaxing each in turn (5 mins)

  6. Listen to a free yoga nidra audio from (20 mins)

  7. Do some gentle yoga/ yin yoga stretches / restorative yoga pose with cushions (5-15 mins)

  8. Put your feet up - FeetUp or Legs Up The Wall (5-15 mins)

  9. Self massage hands or feet (5-10 mins) or better still, ask a friend for a shoulder massage

  10. Don’t fight fatigue, take a nap (especially after lunch) or get some fresh air (20 mins)

If you don’t sleep well, I’d like you to know that it is absolutely possible to recover your ability to sleep “like a baby”. This is our natural state. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re struggling or have a bad night, (as this can exacerbate the problem), just reset every day and try not to check the time during the night or head to your devices.

If you’d like to have a chat about how I can help you to reset your sleep, simply book a discovery call and we’ll go from there. Day 1 starts here.

Nicky is a certified Sleep RecoveryTM teacher, therapeutic yoga specialist and Chinese Medicine Practitioner. Call 07754 080300.

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