Do you want improved performance? Sleep more!

Did you know that that lack of sleep effects and damages the frontal lobe of the brain which has a negative effect on decision making,  sensitivity to risk taking, moral reasoning and inhibitions .

It struck a chord because there is mental ill health in my family - could lack of sleep be causing it? 

In recent years I have stopped sleeping well and have found no help forthcoming from the GP plus I am not keen on taking medication.  I am frightened of what the future may hold for me, but also I would like to have better concentration and energy now.

As a mental performance coach –  I am often asked about how to get better sleep.

As part of my further research during the Centre 10 course I read Nick Littlehales book called sleep and an 85 slide powerpoint by Chris Surel, performance and recovery expert.  

I have put together the points I found most interesting from both:

What do you need to know?

1.    One week of 4-5 hours sleep per night is the equivalent of 1% alchohol in your system

2.    Change your perception of sleep, it is nolonger something we have to do because we are so tired, see it as recovery – like plugging in your mobile phone – recharging so you have the power to perform

3.    Broaden your horizon for sleep – understand that we are not looking for 8 hours a night – we are looking for around 56 hours a week or 35 sleep cycles

4.    Each sleep cycle lasts 90 minutes – ideally we need 4 – 5 cycles (varies a little per individual) in a 24 hour period

5.    A 90 min sleep cycle allows for dozing off, light sleep (we could be woken at this point), deep sleep and after briefly coming back to light sleep we drop back down to REM (rapid eye movement)

6.    Each cycle during the night is different – earlier in the cycle deep sleep accounts for a higher proportion, REM accounts for a higher portion of sleep in later cycles

7.    Deep sleep is for physical restoration/REM is for mental restoration - both are essential to sleep quality

8.    Ideally we should take no more than 30 minutes to get to sleep and 20% needs to be deep sleep

9.    Foetal position on our weak side ensures the best night’s sleep

10.  Choose your matress according to your body type (ectomorph, endomorph, mesomorph). Lie on it in foetal position, the gap between your head and the matress should be no more than 6cm. 

Take a proactive approach to recovery/recharging:

1.    Sleep and napping are an essential part of staying fit and healthy see it as part of a trio of Nutrition/Exercise/Sleep. 

2.    High quality sleep is extremely important to be the best version of yourself and to be able to sustain growth and performance

3.    Naps help to recharge a tired brain during daylight hours, even as little as 5 minutes can help.  Here’s my acronym for NAP




NAPs need to be between 5 mins and 25 mins, 30 mins can cause a hangover or type of brain fog, there is no need to actually sleep just rest the brain and eyes.  If you haven’t reached your required amount of sleep cycles they can be caught up during daylight hours by entering one 90 minute sleep cycle preferably between 1pm and 3pm or 5pm and 7pm

How can we do our best to get high quality recovery sleep?

4 things optimise the recharge

·      Heart rate

·      Hormones 

·      Body temp

·      Priming your brain

Heart rate

·      Low impact exercise such as stretching or taking a stroll before bed, but avoid high impact workouts after 7pm 

·      Get ready to power down – write down priorities for the morning

·      Use nasal breathing to trigger the vagal nerve after lights out and slow the heart rate


·      Sleep enhancing strategies must focus on increasing melatonin levels. Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland deep in the centre of the brain and is closely linked with cicadian rhythm.  This is your body’s need to follow the rising and setting of the sun

·      Avoid blue light (omitted from TV, phones, laptops etc) in the 90 mins before recharge – stop using them, ban them from the bedroom or wear orange tinted glasses – our brain needs soft light to shut down – think setting sun 

·      Snack on ½ a banana and almond butter – bananas contain tryptophan, B vits, muscle relaxant, magnesium, potassium which will all help to aid sleep and recovery – almond butter keeps a stable sugar level

Body temp

·      Bedroom temp should be between 16oC and 19oC – work out what you need to maintain a constant body temp

·      Consider modern breathable fabrics for sleep wear and bedding

Priming your brain

·      Consider setting a trigger to start your bed time routine – prime your brain for sleep

·      Make sleep a main goal – 35 cycles a week 

·      Consider your chronotype – love early mornings?(AMer) Or stay up late?(PMer) Time your cycles and wake up times -PMers need to get up earlier before needing to perform to allow time to waken the brain, AMers, may need to nap in the day if required to perform later

How can athletes use this?

Record your recovery (sleep)on a timetable for one week.

Recognise sleep as a non-negotiable part of performance and recovery both at night and during the day, make it  part of your goal setting and devise a sleep program that works for you, both as a weekly time table and as a routine.  Answer the following questionnaire to begin to understand the part sleep plays in your life.

Rate your sleep out of 10, 1 being extremely poor and 10 being amazing.


Rate the importance of sleep in your life out of 10, 1 being not important at all and 10 being extremely important


What time do you go to bed ?


What time do you get up?


How many hours sleep a week do you get?


How close to your bed time do you eat and what do you eat?


How close to your bed time do you drink and what do you drink?


Do you ever nap during the day?


Do you sleep on your own or with a partner?


What size is your bed? (bed should be double for one person and king size for two)


Do know the correct mattress for your body shape? 


Do you have any screens in your bedroom: TV/laptop/phone


Do you have black out blinds?


Is your sleeping environment quiet?


Sleep recharges mind and body it is an essential part of the training routine. 


Neuro Accelerated Performance (NAP)
Debbie Hill