Some of the greatest athletes athletes in the world have altered their way of sleeping in order to get greater recovery as well as enhance their performance when competing. They have abandoned the traditional way sleeping in one big chunk at night and instead divided it to more than once, and there are some pretty interesting reasons as to why. So in this video I’ll explain polyphasic sleeping and how it can benefit you.
So polyphasic sleep is in the simplest terms sleeping in more than one phase opposed to monophasic sleep, which is what most people do – sleep in one big phase at night. And sleeping more than once a day might seem to be a weird new idea but in fact polyphasic sleep is as old as it gets and many animals do it naturally as well as humans, at least at first. Newborn babies are generally polyphasic before being trained to sleep all in one at night.
But one person who brought the concept of polyphasic sleeping into the world of sport was Nick Littlehales as he was convinced it would improve and optimize athletes performances and ability to recover from their intense and tight schedules. He claims that eight hours of continuous sleep isn’t suited to many people as it creates unnatural rhythms and leaves workers at their most tired between 1 and 3 pm during the day. Nick suggests to listen to the body’s internal clock and break the sleep up into two or more phases rather than one big one.
Nick has studied and improved the concept of polyphasic sleeping over the years and started working with Manchester United back in the 1990s, and helped players such as David Beckham early in his career. He also worked with Olympic athletes, British cycling team Sky as they had success in tour de france, NFL team Miami Dolphins amongst others.
Once Real Madrid saw the results Nick Littlehales brought to the athletes who implemented his concept, they invited him to share his sleeping philosophy to the team. And this was also the first time he linked up 4x Ballon D’or winner Cristiano Ronaldo. And since then, Ronaldo has become a polyphasic sleeper and has divided up his sleeping to more than one part of the day.
But to understand how polyphasic sleeping works we have to first be familiar with circadian rhythm, which is sort of an internal 24 hour clock that’s operating constantly deep within the brain. It’s responsible for regulating our internal systems such as sleep, hormone production, eating habits, temperature etc, and it has evolved to work in harmony with the earth’s rotation. And unsurprisingly during night time we reach the optimal sleeping period which has shown to be around 2-3 am. Maybe more surprisingly is that this period is also mirrored and if you ever feel sluggish or tired around 2pm, that’s because your body adjust for sleep by lowering the body’s temperature amongst other things. Some people in european countries have adapted to this by taking siestas and you’ll see most shops and restaurants closed during these hours on the day because the majority of people are taking their mid day nap, with the hot weather also being a factor here.
And Nick’s successful concept of polyphasic sleeping called R90 or recovery 90 is based around cycles of sleep per week, rather than hours of sleep per night. He counts 90 min cycles where you should preferably get five 90 min cycles of sleep per day which in perfect conditions equals to 35 cycles per week, but no less than 28.
And there are three preferable slots during the day to get these cycles in for optimal sleep and recovery that aligns with the circadian rhythm. The first and most effective one is not surprisingly at night time and more specifically to be at deep sleep at 2-3 am. The second is the mirrored one at 2-3 pm, and the third one is late afternoon around 5-7 pm.
I have yet to confirm Ronaldo’s exact sleeping schedule but he’s rumoured to go for a lie-down 5 times a day according to British newspaper the sun. However it doesn’t seem likely considering his tight training and games schedule and I would presume that he has 2 or 3 lie downs. So a normal day in Cristiano Ronaldo’s life could look something like this: He goes to bed at midnight to get three cycles in and wakes up at 4:30. He’s then up until around 1 pm and gets another cycle in to wake up at 2:30 pm. And after that he gets his last 90 min rest from 6 pm to 7:30 pm. Now again these are not actual numbers but just me speculating.
Now obviously for us normal people it’s not as simple as just writing numbers and following them, as most of us have hurdles that prevents us from sleeping during these times. However the athletes Nick works with have pretty flexible schedules and are able to slot these sleep cycles in without worrying about a boss catching them sleeping on the job. And most of them still get the majority of their sleep at night. So his guidelines for optimal sleep looks as follows:
- Go outside more to experience more natural daylight rather than artificial light. Avoid blue light such as phones and other screens in the evening and especially 90 minutes before sleep.
- Wake up the same time every day, 90 minutes before your duties. This is not the same thing as going to bed the same time every day, even though that would be ideal. If you are unable to get back to bed in time for your regular cycles, stay up for the duration of that 90 minute cycle and instead insert that cycle later on the day or week.
- Try to establish a pre and post sleep routine that stays the same and is easy enough to stick with for the long term. Pre-sleep should be about shutting down, breathing with your nose and downloading the day to avoid overthinking about it once you try to sleep. Post-sleep should get you started up without rushing anything. Stretching, walking, and/or reading are examples here.
- When it comes to your bed and more importantly the mattress, Nick suggests that thick expensive mattresses costs more than they deliver, and the best mattress should be no more than 10 cm or 4 inches thick.
- The only sleeping position you should master is the good ol fetal position, but on your non-dominant side. So if you’re naturally right handed, you should sleep on your left side. You should also do so on a fresh sheet as often as you can.
- The temperature is another factor that is important to consider and a cooler environment is dramatically more suitable than a hot one. He advises that the room should be no warmer than 60-65 degrees fahrenheit or 15-18 degrees celsius
- The bedroom should not be another extension of your living room. Remove unnecessary items that will stimulate your mind and instead keep it very plain and simple. A tv doesn’t belong in the bedroom, but if you have one, turn it off on the evening to eliminate any standby lights.
Now of course we all aren’t super athletes with flexible schedules and as a monophasic sleeper you would shove all five of the 90 minutes cycles into one phase and get 7.5 hours of sleep in one go, and then power through the day without any naps. However even though you, like most people might be working during the day, there are tips you can follow to avoid the sluggishness that surely will ruin performance mid day. Nick recommends to just take a break to disconnect and zone out for 30 minutes around 2 pm. And the same goes for the later one at around 5pm. To avoid getting too much rest before sleeping at night, try to aim for no more than 30 minutes here as well.
So there you have it guys, pretty fascinating stuff right. The majority of the information in this video comes from Nick Littlehales book Sleep which I highly recommend. You can also get it as an audiobook for free if you sign up to audible using my link. It’s a 30 day free trail and you’ll be able to get any 2 books for free. You can cancel the membership any time and still keep the books. So I’ll leave that link for that below along with Nick’s book and other references.
Nick’s book on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2G1oNAo