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Maximum vs marginal gains - Sleep

This is the first in my series of blogs looking at big win strategies that will give us maximum gains from our training.

If I told you that there was a magic pill that would not only improve your training and performance, but also make you feel better, make you more productive at work, probably even improve your relationships, and it is absolutely free, you’d jump at it. The only problem is it takes a bit of discipline to make it work.

Our bodies recover from training when we sleep. If we don’t sleep long enough or get enough quality (REM) sleep then our recovery is compromised. So if you do a really hard session, but then don’t get a good night’s sleep, you’ve reduced the benefits of that training session.

In general we need at least 8 hours sleep, and ideally in tune with the daylight so from around 10pm-6am (although obviously in the UK you won’t get daylight year round then!). Everyone is different but sleep scientists all agree on the fact that there’s very few people who function effectively on 5-6 hours or less (you might think you do, but when was the last time you consistently got more?)

Of course, we all have a million factors that stop us getting a good night sleep – work, kids, problems getting to sleep, neighbours, snoring partners etc, many of which we feel are beyond our control. But there’s usually at least a few things we can do to improve things. And even those of us who feel we do well in terms of the number of hours of sleep can probably improve the quality.

Sleep hygiene

  • Are you looking at your phone or a bright light in the few hours before bed?

  • Do you take your phone to bed?

  • Are you working or training or eating in the hours before bed?

  • Could you go to bed earlier?

  • Are you regularly drinking alcohol in the evening?

The more that you can do to prepare your body for sleep in the hours before bed, the sooner you’ll get to sleep and the more effective that sleep will be. We often think that we need that time in front of the tv with a glass of wine to decompress from the day before bedtime. But if we get in the habit of changing this for some chill out time in bed with a book and a subtle light we can improve the quality of our sleep and (overtime) feel less stressed and less in need of the tv and wine.

If we’re in the habit of scrolling through our phone before bed or if we wake in the night, the bright light and the mental stimulation (especially if looking at work emails) is giving our brain exactly the opposite signal to ‘relax and get ready to sleep’, and even if we do drift off, the sleep quality is reduced.

Think about your evening routine and see if there’s any changes you can make.

  • They don’t have to be drastic - 15 mins earlier each day is almost 2 hours over the course of the week.

  • Don’t aim for perfection - just something better than the current situation.

  • Give it time – changes wont happen overnight, it will take time for your body to get used to new habits and to start to feel the benefits.

  • Reset – if you have a late night one night, don’t give up and wait til next Monday to start again, just get going again when you can.

  • If you get thrown off, try not to drift into later morning wake ups. Of course this is useful if you’ve had a bad night’s sleep, but the more you do it, the more you’ll struggle to sleep that evening.

Napping isn’t just for cats.

It’s an incredibly powerful tool to use if you’re able. Lots of the top sports centres and City gyms are installing sleep pods so that clients can grab a quick 40 winks. It can feel lazy and like we don’t have time for it, but if you’re able a quick nap it can rejuvenate you and help you get far more out of the time you have left.

Ready for the next big win? Next up it's Consistency.


Want some help on putting these tips into practice? All of my training plans include regular coaching calls where we discuss issues such as improving your sleep routines, as well as ongoing support to make sure that you're cutting through the headlines and marketing hype to implement the changes that will most support your training. Find out more about my training plans.

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