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The Sleep Lab

The Sleep Lab is the room that used to be my bedroom.

I know what you’re thinking: how did I convince my girlfriend to turn our bedroom into a pitch black, temperature controlled room, devoid of all sensory stimuli and optimized for recovery?

The key selling point was calling the room “The Love Lab.” 

For all intents and purposes, this said room will be referred to as the Sleep Lab. Its inspiration came in many forms, with the greatest being my ever growing fascination with sleep; the one single activity that we spend 1/3 of our lives doing.

My findings on sleep & recovery are distilled into THREE sections, with much of the content either taken from or inspired by the book Sleep by Nick Littlehales, an incredibly enlightening read.

I. What’s Your Chronotype?

II. The Myth of 8 Hours

III. Build Your own Sleep (Love) Lab

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I. What’s Your Chronotype?

First of all, what is a chronotype?

A person’s chronotype is the propensity for the individual to sleep at a particular time during a 24-hour period.

In plain English: it determines your most energetic (and productive) time of day. There are morning people, there are night people and there are in betweeners. In Littlehales’ book, he cites chronotype being so important that Real Madrid had their players take the test and would factor it in when it came to penalty kicks and who they would choose, depending on whether it was a morning, afternoon, or evening match. Wild.

Unfortunately the leading quiz, the Munich Chronotype Questionnaire (MCTQ) is being moved by its creators on the web, so the other two I recommend are:

Chronotype Quiz by Michael Breus: What’s Your Chronotype

Additional info on your sleep-wake cycle: Horne-Ostberg Morning-Eveningness Questionnaire

I took both, but you really only need the first one for your chronotype. It asks for an e-mail and provides a video at the end, the following are the “animals” or chronotypes, which make characterization easy. Most people are “Bears,” fittingly I was too.

Taken from Breus’ website:

Which sleep chronotype describes you?

Bear

Most people fall into the bear chronotype category. Bears’ sleep-wake patterns follow the sun, and they have no difficulty sleeping. Bears are most ready for intense tasks smack in the middle of the morning, and they feel a dip in the mid-afternoon.
Overall, bears have steady energy and get things done. They can maintain productivity all day as long as they don’t try to push past the mid-afternoon recharge period. Bears tend to be friendly people-people.

Lion

Lions wake up early. These are the go-getters, the leaders, the type-A movers and shakers. They might not reach for a cup of coffee until a little before lunch, and their most productive hours have already passed by that time. Because of their action-packed mornings, they tend to fizzle out in the evening and turn in early.

Wolf

Wolves are on the nocturnal end of the spectrum. They get a later start to their day and ride the productivity wave while the rest of the world winds down. Interestingly, wolves have two peak periods: from noon to 2 pm and again just as most of the working world is clocking out.
Wolves tend to be makers — writers, artists, coders. The creative areas of the wolf’s brain light up when the sun goes down. More often than not, wolf types tend toward introversion and crave their alone time.
The wolf chronotype schedules later meetings and invites you to dinner just past the restaurant’s dinner rush.

Dolphin

Dolphins may or may not have a regular sleep routine. As light sleepers, they frequently wake throughout the night and often do not sleep enough. Dolphins struggle to fall asleep, ruminating over the day’s failures.
Dolphins’ extreme intelligence and tendency toward perfectionism probably explain why they spend so much time chewing over the day. They do their best work from mid-morning through early afternoon.

 

In summary, knowing how your body is wired will allow you to work with it, instead of against it. I try and get all my hard tasks done when I’m at my best; mid morning from 8am until 11am. I use afternoons for meetings and planning.

 

II. The Myth of 8 Hours

This was perhaps the single biggest takeaway for me from Littlehales’ book.

According the Littlehales, we do NOT sleep in a full 8 hour shift, but rather, 90 minute cycles. The question should not be how many hours did I sleep, but rather, how many cycles did I get last night?

Here is an example of an athlete with a 7:30am wake time:

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There are a few key elements to this:

  1. Your wake time is the anchor

    You can vary the time you go to bed, but try as hard as you can to keep the wake time constant. There are studies behind this, your body prepares itself for wakeup by secreting hormones, but only if you keep it consistent. This is why when you’re in a good routine you don’t even need an alarm clock, you’re up at the same time feeling relatively alert, even on weekends. Which, by the way, you should be doing on weekends, even if it’s a late night, more on that later.

  2. 5 cycles is ideal, 4 cycles is sufficient 

    Simple. Get to bed at midnight for 5 cycles, if something pushes your evening back, then wind down and go to sleep at 1:30am, to ensure you don’t wake up mid-cycle when you arise at 7:30am.

  3. 90 minutes Pre-Sleep is essential to the quality of your sleep

    I cannot express the importance of this enough. I used to try and rush to sleep to get my 8 hours, sometimes it would result in anxiety and often poor quality sleep as I tossed and turned feeling guilty every time I woke up. Since I wake at 6am, my sleep time is 10:30pm. That means at 9:00pm I’m winding down. Electronics away (yes, phones), usually doing some reading or something relaxing. The best part? This provides flexibility for real life. I play a lot of evening sports, often not getting home until past 10pm. Instead of rushing to bed, I just move my sleep time back a cycle, accept that I’ll only be getting 4 cycles with a midnight bed time, sip tea and decompress. It’s changed my life, no joke.

  4. 90 minutes Post-Sleep is essential to the performance of your day

    I am not a morning person, which is actually why I wake up earlier than needed and dedicate 90 minutes to a relaxing morning ritual. Much to the dismay of my partner, my (our) alarm goes off at 6am; providing a full 90 minutes to meditate, journal, read, shower, and have a breakfast shake. All of this before heading out the door for my 8am start time at the office.

  5. Think Big Picture

    It’s important to strive for a weekly total of 35 cycles a week (5 cycles per night for 7 nights). If you get 30, that’s still pretty good, life happens. There are ways to hack this, they are called naps. Yes, the things you did as a toddler are actually incredibly effective. Littlehales’ strongly advocates waking at the same time on weekends and incorporating a mid-day 90 minute nap; “It’s far better to do this than to try and go back to sleep in the morning. You’ll be in a better place for starting the week again.”

III. Build Your own Sleep (Love) Lab

So how do you construct your own recovery room?

It’s actually not as complicated as you think.

1. Darkness

Total darkness, like a cave. Blackout blinds are ideal, however I currently use a sleep mask. I’ve tried out several different models, this is by far the best (100% worth the price, even if just for travel): Manta Sleep Mask.

2. Remove Stimuli

No computers, no tvs, and especially no phones. My partner and I charge our phones in the living room and use a Phillips Daylight Alarm Clock, which emulates the rising sun and gradually wakes you with light and some radio music. I also moved my bookshelf into the living room and our desk into another room.

3. Temperature

The ideal temperature is between 15-20 degrees celsius; some experts peg it as an exact 18.5 degrees celsius. Decently cold, if you have a/c and a thermostat, I’d recommend it. If you don’t, just open the window in the cooler months a few hours before bed time.

 

Resources

Sleep by Nick Littlehales

Manta Sleep Mask

Phillips Daylight Alarm Clock

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/better/lifestyle/how-to-perfect-your-sleep-cycle-so-you-get-a-good-nights-sleep/

https://blog.bulletproof.com/sleep-chronotype-circadian-rhythm/