Sleep – Why & How to Maximise it

Sleep. We all do it. Some love it, some struggle with it, most feel they could probably do with more and some just don’t feel it’s needed. This post will beg to differ that view, offer some expert views and suggest a couple of moves that could be made to improve it.


So, is it that important? Hell to the damn yeah it is. Sleep guru Mathew Walker, whose done a pretty awesome podcast on the Joe Rogan Experience, highlights that lack of sleep correlates with all cause mortality. In fact the very act of being awake is causing low level brain damage, which sleep mitigates against. Walker states that the lack of sleep correlates to both altzimers disease and cancer.

Ryan Munsey, host of the Better Human Project podcast and writer of F**k Your Feelings, highlights that a lack of sleep makes the imigula – the part of brain that makes you act impulsively – more active by up to 60%. This has clear implications on motivation and all kinds of decision making processes.

So we can fairly say, which those with young children can surely attest to, that lack of sleep does have a negative impact on overall health.

There are some differences of opinion regarding how to find these extra hours sleep which many will loose in our 24 hour all systems go society. Many will point to the weekend lie in to find the extra hours back. Dr Rhonda Patrick, another perennial Joe Rogan guest, echoes this view. She has stated research suggests that long weekend sleep may compensate for short weekday sleep. Adding that short weekday sleep was not a risk factor for increased early mortality if it was combined with medium to long weekend sleep.

Sleep & Exercise

A leading light in the field of sleep is Nick Littlehales. He was sleep consultant to Alex Ferguson’s Manchester Utd and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid, and is the author of the super practical book Sleep. Nick warns against the lie in however if you’re looking to improve overall sleep, advocating a consistent get up time. This is especially if viewing sleep through the lens of exercise and recovery.

Exercise and sleep do come hand in hand to a degree with the side effects of a heavy gym session, run, etc, often being perfect for setting you up nicely to hit the hey. Couple of points to consider though.

Ben Greenfield, bio hacker kingpin and previous personal trainer of the year, states if you exercise any closer than 3 hours to the end of your day, it elevates core temperature to the point it can effect deep sleep cycles.

Ben proposes a cold shower as it decreases your core temperature following strenuous exercise and could result in better sleep. Be aware though as it may decrease the efficacy of the work out, especially if you have been doing resistance training. This is as the cold will reduce inflammation, which although generally positive, it’s also what’s wanted for adaptations to get stronger/faster. If you want a little more info regarding cold exposure, check out my previous post:

Anyways, let’s crack on with some practical tips as to how you can improve your sleep. I’m going to present a bunch of suggestions, but first, I want to introduce you to a little game changer..

Measuring Sleep

Right, this strategy was presented by Nick Littlehales and it had a pretty big impact for me. Nick points out that the “8 hours sleep” mentality is essentially just an arbitrary number, not the most effective for recovery and not actually based on the cycles we sleep in. A full cycle, he states, is 90 minutes. Nick argues a more productive way to think about sleep is in these 90 minute cycles spread throughout the course of a week as opposed to just one night.

These are his key points:

– First, aim for 35 full cycles of 90 minutes in a 7 day week

– Get up at the same consecutive time each morning

– Aim with 5 cycles a night, however play with 4 and 6 cycles, different people will have different needs

– If you miss your usual bed time, wait until the next 90 minute cycle to come round

(example – missing 11pm for usual 6:30am get up, go to bed at the next cycle, 12:30am). This can be tough if tired but try doing some light exercise for example.

– Missed cycles can be added in over the course of the week if needed. Just keep to the same get up time and work back 90 minutes each time.

– Try to avoid 3 conservative nights of less than 5 cycles unless you’ve already determined you only need 4 cycles a night to perform optimally

– Aim for 4 nights of 5 90 minute cycles a week minimum. Again, unless you really can perform optimally on less and are having trouble getting off to sleep and waking up long before the alarm.

– In the midst of working your weeks out to incorporate your different sleep cycles, look where possible to incorporate 30 / 90 min CRP controlled recovery periods, (CRP), in the middle of the day between 12 – 2pm. I can appreciate this is an indulgence many won’t have so even try a 30 minute CRP around 5pm.

Nodding Off

So what about getting off to sleep? That is often the biggy for many. Well firstly, a non active digestive system will greatly help. Try to leave 3 hours after your last meal before bed or at least 90 mins following a light snack before bed.

Coming back to the sleep cycles. Nick Littlehales highlights some people can just operate on less sleep so firstly do play with the 90 minute cycles and extend them to going to bed later.

A good supplement combination is magnesium citrate and potassium citrate. Try 200 mg of magnesium citrate an hour before bed. If this isn’t enough try stacking with 400/500mg potassium citrate.

If you have any reservations in taking supplements (and those recommended are all natural mineral based), then there are other strategies to incorporate.

Ryan Munsey recommends gratitude journaling before bed. Keep this to only 3 things to avoid any negativity creeping in at a struggle to find many. Gratitude helps with shifting the mindset away from anxiety and into a more relaxed mode for sleep. Read more on my previous post to learn about the benefits of having a gratitude practice:

A hot bath can raise your body temperature to that of when it usually shuts down to sleep. However, keep your room cool and avoid socks or excessive layers. This helps to regulate blood flow and keep it circulating around your core. Another little tip, according to Nick Littlehales, the ideal sleeping position is the fetal position on your non dominant side. This is something to do with the phycology of you covering your heart with your strongest side which helps gives an internal subliminal calming message.


So the next big tip to clean up your sleep is ensuring you’re nose breathing. The importance of this concept in sleep was introduced to me by breath work guru Patrick Mckeown. Patrick enmphasies nose breathing for both athletic performance and overall health and well-being.

Nose breathing when sleeping acts to ensure a deep good quality sleep by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, (rest and digest). Mouth breathing activates the sympathetic nervous system, (fight or flight) which stimulates homones connected to a heightened state.

If you’re a snorer or are waking up with a dry mouth, you’re mouth breathing in your sleep. Now Patrick advises taping your mouth closed with breathable tape but I have great results using a nostril dilater. This simple little tool you can stick up your nose and will cost about £2:50 (including postage!) from eBay.

Where the Magic Happens

Other considerations are how your room is set up. Firstly, is it serene, minimal and calming, or rather a shrine to Apple technology and abstract art? Essentially the less stimulating factors, whether it be art, photos, electronics or general clutter, the better. Electronics can particularly have a negative effect with excessive screen time (phone/laptops) emitting blue light which will serve to stimulate you. Most phones have a night mode so try to ensure it’s on, or better still, stick it on airplane mode outside of the room.

If you are looking to spruce up your sleeping space however, and more importantly help improve your sleep, think about getting more plants. Shaun Stevenson (sleep messiah) recommends NASA’s top recommended air filtering plant – English Ivy – it’s nocturnal and releases oxygen during the night rather than the day, helping to improve your air quality.

Lastly, a couple more tips via Nick Littlehales on the all important sleep kit AKA bed & bedding. Super king size is the minimum size for mattress for a couple. The frame is effectively a decorative item so spend your money in the mattress as a priority. Try to buy hypo-allergenic bed clothes or minimum 300 thread count. Clean regularly.


Ok, I’m going to leave you with this little analogy via Nick Littlehales. I want you to picture a scene. You’re on a deserted desert island. The sun has gone down and its pitch dark aside from the stars in the sky. You have no electronics just you and your tent. You’ve got a log fire going and it’s burning down. Once it’s out, you’ll pick yourself up and head to bed. Now this is exactly what the ideal wind down bedtime routine would look like when considering how we evolved. Everything and anything that can be put in place to get a step closer to this image is a step in the right direction of better sleep. Till next time.

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