The Edge Podcast: Sleeping Habits for the Modern-Day Sleeper and Athlete To Boost Your Daily Performance

The Edge Podcast: Sleeping Habits for the Modern-Day Sleeper and Athlete To Boost Your Daily Performance

As a professional athlete, you might know how crucial sleep is for recovery but you seek some guidance for better sleep. Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place.

In this episode on The Edge Podcast, James Swanwick and Elite Sport Sleep Coach, Nick Littlehales dive into the tools and techniques used by elite athletes to increase daily performance. It should come as no surprise that when you prioritize healthy sleep habits, you will naturally experience enhanced sleep quality, resulting in positive work outcomes, improved athletic performance, motivation, and wellbeing.

Recognized as a leading human recovery innovator and known as The Game Changer, Nick Littlehales brings his unique, passionate, and proven approach for better sleep to Swanwick’s listeners: The Human Recovery Performance Technique.

If you want to roll with high-achieving elite athletes, tune in below to discover Nick’s sleep tips to boost your performance by tenfold.



Connect with Nick:

Resources mentioned:

Key topics and timestamps:

00:02 - Introduction

02:36 - Nick helped the English National Team optimize their performance

08:45 - Lack of education and misunderstanding

11:37 - The revolution of meditation and yoga

15:11 - Questioning the role of alcohol

22:35 - How many hours of sleep should human beings get per evening?

25:16 - A common misconception about sleep

27:36 - The worst example of a professional athletes bedroom

34:22 - That sneaky laser beam going straight into your brain

36:20 - The danger of blue light

40:20 - How blue light blocking glasses work

46:31 - The calming effect of anti blue light bulbs

49:16 - The gold standard of sleep

Full audio transcript:

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James Swanwick: I am James Swanwick and today we are talking all things sleep. With one of the world's top sleep coaches, Nick Littlehales, who is the author of the best-selling book “Sleep”, published in 2016, and has now been translated into 15 different languages. And Littlehales is recognized as an Elite Sport Sleep Coach, and an expert in human recovery. He's worked with professional soccer clubs, including English Premier League clubs, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal, the England national team, and Real Madrid in Spain. Nick Littlehales, welcome. Great to reconnect with you.

Nick Littlehales: Proper introduction that was, wasn’t it? Well done, but nice to be with you.

James Swanwick: Well, my first question is my most important question. Why haven't you worked with my team Tottenham Hotspur, I'm outraged.

Nick Littlehales: Uhmm, I don't know... I think, you know, sports, in some areas of sport, it's, it's all about sharing knowledge, at certain levels with coaches, medics and sport science. But there's also, you know, a competitive edge to this, this thing called sport. So I think sometimes, whilst I have worked with a number of clubs, it's just a question of, you know, you can't work with everybody.

James Swanwick: Yeah, but...

Nick Littlehales: Strangely enough, there's always a lot of movements around in sports, whether it's managers, coaches or players. So indirectly, I do have some connections with, with inside of Tottenham, but not necessarily working with them fully as a club.

James Swanwick: Yeah.

Nick Littlehales: My apologies.

James Swanwick: Thank you, Nick. I wanted to kick things off. I was. I know you've probably shared the story a few times. But I was, I was curious about when you were working with the English National Team. At the European Championships in 2004. As I understand it, you went to a hotel in Lisbon, Portugal, where the English National Team was, was staying and you went there ahead of time, and you started putting in either new mattresses or new lighting or setting up the hotel rooms. So the English soccer players would then be able to have optimal sleep. Can you just walk us through what you did there and what the reaction was at the time?

Nick Littlehales: A long time ago now. I think it was a combination of a series of discussions, along with Manchester United into Arsenal Football Club, into the national squad, because the lead physio with Arsenal was also the lead physio for England. And it was just a development of conversations that I was having with these individuals and players. So when it came to go into Lisbon, there was a unique set of circumstances whether we’re going to be staying in one particular hotel, and just traveling out to games. Whereas normally they'd be moving around hotels. So there, it was a sort of unique opportunity to take full advantage of taking over this hotel in Lisbon. And so because I was in and around that particular environment at the time, and, you know, I was passing on all the things that that I thought could help, you know, human performance in these areas, that it was deemed that we could do something about raising the levels of particularly the environment at that hotel. So I went out, the manager at the time was Sven-Göran Eriksson, and he's chief doc was Leif Sward. And we went out as an advanced party to have, you know, for me to have a look at the hotel. And it was that particular time we started looking at the profiles of the individual players. We were looking at the positioning of the hotel rooms as far as sunrise and sunset, about trying to control temperature, how much we can control, things like blackout, creating darkness in the room. And obviously, hotels are very much set up just for anybody to come along. So we're talking about elite athletes. And we just looked at maybe we could change one or two things that were in that room- looking at light and dark and temperature, and all sorts of things, protocols to manage the rooms. But then we decided that the products that they had were not suitable. So that's when I was challenged to create some products that we could ship out that we're not just picking any old products. And we were looking for things that we could add to the current mattresses they had in there like toppers or old replace the whole unit. And we looked at the bedding and the pillows. And it all sorts, started that process. And I think it, it was really one of the, the early stages of, you know where I am today, as did it make a difference? I think everybody within the organization realized that there was an area that was being forgotten about. And it's not only about creating the right environment, maybe there's subtle things about recovery time, through little knocks and things in training, that that might speed up a little bit, or recover better. And right down to, you know, choosing a particular room very much about whether it was, you know, facing sunrise or facing sunset, but just picking rooms, not randomly, but actually, more specifically to individuals who might react to those things a little bit more. And next to... so the hotel at the time, thought it was absolutely crazy. The hotel manager thought we had all gone nuts. But it stimulated that little process. So it was a, it created a lot of media attention. I have to say, it wasn't all positive. It wasn't necessarily negative. But you know, these pampered football players have got a sleep coach, sending their own mattresses out to Lisbon and what was all that about, you know? But I was actually... I managed to get plenty of free tickets as part of my contract. And I was in the... in the stadium with my family when they played France, if anybody remembers it. And there was a certain moment in time when England were about to sort of beat France and then I think, if my memory doesn't escape me, I think some gentleman called (busines downwind ? )and stuck in a winner right at the last minute and ruined my sort of wonderful start to tour, where in they’d beat France, you know? But no, it's just a fascinating time. And, you know, when I do look back at it, it's it's so it's one of those moments that at the time, it didn't feel that significant. But I think when you move on to where we are today, and producing sleep kits and travel kits, and the technique and everything else, and the way the world is about sleep today, it was one of those little significant moments.

James Swanwick: Yeah, it's interesting, isn't it? Because that was 2004.

Nick Littlehales: Yeah.

James Swanwick: And it was considered crazy your suggestions, or your, your tactics, I guess, to optimize people's sleep, but fast forward to 2020, 2021- everything we now know about sleep, but which you knew in 2004, but everything that I would suggest that a lot more, that a lot more people in the general public now know... it's not crazy at all. Is it? Because we're talking about blocking lighting at night. Are people early risers or do they stay up late at night? And that affects you know, you know, sunlight in the morning, blacking out rooms, temperature, core body temperature, making sure we're in a cool environment. And of course, you know, today we're all addicted to our phones, aren't we? So when there's so much artificial light in our environments now at nighttime, that blocking that light is a vital importance. So I mean, my view is that you were a pioneer, and you would have been considered a pioneer back in 2004. And today, it's just, to me, at least, it seems, seems like just solid advice and solid, solid knowledge.

Nick Littlehales: Yeah, I think that's, that's why I think it's probably, you know, survival but then you mentioned the word seems like crazy. That means possibly, you're coming up with things that just don't make sense. So, but actually, it was simply just lack of education and mis... misunderstanding. That's all it was. So it appeared to be crazy, but there was always somebody whether it was the physio or the coach or the doctor. And when I went into Arsenal Football Club was because Arsène Wenger had just arrived at the club who would who was also considered crazy, you know, because he had a completely different approach to, to football players and how they manage their time. So it's kind of like, well, he's a bit crazy. You know, I might be a bit crazy, but the world is changing. So I think it was always about when I was mentioning these things. I think it was sort of, in the back of their minds, they sort of go well, that kind of makes sense. But we've never talked about it before. So it was only the more pioneering coaches and individuals In my particular job that kept this going, you know? If they weren't around because we were in pretty much isolation, I think every, every other football team in around 2004, were, were almost... did think we'd all gone crazy. But there was also a group of people, you know, there was, there was Gary Lewin, who was a very foresighted physio working for us and the England squad. He was also talking to people because a lot of the Manchester United players played for the England squad. And they were a, you know, you're a Tottenham fan. I'm a Villa fan. I think it's all about humans, and what they do rather than the sports or the club, and there was a, there was a, there was a different collection of players, then, you know? They weren't being dominated by social media, technology and everything else. They, they were very much a sort of unique breed, the class of 92, and David Beckham, and Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes and all those sort of kind of guys in there. So they were kind of a, they were a group of individuals who were very much more open to these types of things. And so, I think it's all about timing, you know, I mean, if you try to apply that maybe to another national team or another set of players, they’d probably would have thrown it out and go, I'm not doing this, I'm not doing that. But it was all that sort of uniqueness about that time.

James Swanwick: I think if Phil Jackson, the Chicago Bulls coach who won three titles in a row with the Chicago Bulls when Michael Jordan was a was a player there. And Phil Jackson brought in things like meditation and yoga, which was revolutionary for the time. And, you know, Michael Jordan, and all those title winning players all credit, you know, that kind of meditation and, and, and yoga to helping them win those titles. So what's initially considered crazy and revolutionary ends up being, you know,

Nick Littlehales: It's just things. I mean, when I first sort of, you know, fell into elite sports, without any sort of particular plan. There's all these little things going on, whilst I was working my own little journey, and thinking, I'll go and do something else next week or next month, because you know, nobody's interested, something would happen. And I think one of the interesting things about writing a book is when somebody asks you to sort of wonder back two decades, and start remembering everything you did, when I didn't have a phone with me to take pictures or make recordings or anything else, none of us were doing those sort of things and posting things everywhere. So you kind of have a lot of things happen, which were you sort of like, you have to really dig deep into your memory bank to go, there's a little moment, I'll tell you what, there was one. Manchester United changed  they're awakings to what was a very sort of gray overall kit. And when they were playing a game, and the players were sort of, they were looking at the stats. And it was like a lot of missed passes and things and all sorts of stuff. And then somebody who they brought in who was doing something else that what's happening is the colors of the kit, is mixing in with everything else. And so the players can't identify who's who match what the way you works, but then looked at it. So then suddenly, they realize that a number of players were a little colorblind. They also then started to see that some of the players have more peripheral vision than others, you know, and could see so so. Oh, that's why Paul Scholes can do what he does, because he can actually see behind himself, I exaggerate, you know what I mean? I sort of know, from one little moment where it was about the color of a kit, blending in that then started looking at vision, then started looking at that, and then suddenly these little tiny gains started to appear. So I think he kind of like you said, you know, the world's yoga around but putting yoga into a football team, come on, you know, asking them to do pilates and all that sort of stuff. Now. You know, you're still I mean, still, he’s quite apparent today. But you're still coming out of that area of you know, drinking smoking, just come train, play, you know, all that get on with it type of managerial approach in football. So some of these things with just absolutely crazy, but it was, it was certain people within that organization. And other managers who were starting to think that maybe longer term, these things are going to make a big difference. Hmm,

James Swanwick: I'm just writing my first book at the moment about alcohol, I coach people on how to change their relationship to alcohol. And that could mean reducing, or that can mean quitting entirely. And I have noticed a worldwide shift in consciousness about alcohol, further education. You know, COVID, permitting, obviously, alcohol consumption has gone up during COVID. All the studies show but before then, and generally speaking, more and more people are becoming, I guess the in phrase is sober, curious, where people are now starting to realize that you don't need alcohol in certain situations, and that just one glass of alcohol is enough to compromise your sleep quality, I'm sure you could speak to that. And, you know, all these detrimental effects. And so people are starting to really question the role of alcohol in their life. Just the way I guess, you know, 20 years ago, no one, hardly anyone really was questioning the role of alcohol in their life and not in the numbers that we are seeing now. Yeah, you got any views on, on on that, and maybe how it relates to sleep as well,

Nick Littlehales: I think the... you could probably, I think everybody would be aware that, you know, a, a social cold beer, a glass of wine, if that's part of your social experiences, is part of a sort of balanced approach. And when you start moving it into three, or four or five, then it's a different matter. It's also, you know, if it's, if it's doing it in a very sociable, human, you know, experience that we know a lot of countries adopt these things as part of their overall family and social experience. But I think in general terms, I think what I've seen, is you had, certainly, within football, other types of sports linked into that, like rugby, rugby union, rugby league, things like that, maybe other international, NFL maybe in other areas, is that it's so easy to bring in interventions that seem so natural, they don't seem to be, you know, seen as a bad thing. It's part of, but they easily become very addictive. And I think that's been the problem over the last couple of decades, and particularly the last decade, is that because we've got such a lot of access, easy access to so many things that quietly in the background and individual can, can start to use things to overcome fatigue, or to push them through boundaries, particularly they develop a capping, you know, in that particular area, you know, has been very dramatic. And I think the alcohol bit is just part of that little process. And I think you certainly see a lot more people using it to try and control anxieties, or depression, or trying to use it as a pick me up or something like that. And they don't really have the knowledge, or they don't have the medical supervision that suddenly it can so easily become dependent. It has an enormous impact on your ability to recover. And so eventually you find somebody, but in a lot of cases, I don't think there's there's a lot of testing that goes on these days, but sometimes it's not that easy to spot. And it almost has to get to quite a critical level before it gets spotted, either in personal performance or attitude or it starts showing up in all the tests that they do with everybody. But it's much better than it was before. But I think I think you know that 2020 is certainly exaggerated it. I think maybe there was a certain point in time for a percentage of the population that was sort of enjoying. You know, it's difficult because there's so much sadness and the so much, you know, that's gone on over this last year, but I certainly remember back to the first of the lockdown period from March, April time, it was very much about, I can't even see this virus, I don't know where it is, it's happening everywhere. And, you know, I'm now working from home. And it was like being with the family and all sorts of stuff and you're getting paid, and you're not working. And it was sort of like, you could see so many people on Zoom chats and they’re a little just trying to make it fun, because it was a horrible pitt. But that suddenly shifted. And you can certainly see the evidence that we certainly became far more addicted to that process, as we went through that first lockdown period. And I think that's why I love the way you described this. I think we're all now realizing that when you go through challenges, and you're faced with challenges, if you jump into these particular areas, they become very, very negative. And I think that's why we're all trying to be very conscious of moving forward, is that alcohol certainly needs to be either in your approach but very well managed, while you're doing it, when you're doing it, how you're applying it, or not at all. And there's, there's a lot more people. Now long answer your question, but I think the whole other side of, of our diets, our approach to foods, and plant based and all that sort of thing, and trying to look after our planet and everything else, I think this sort of mindset is to be a bit more conscious and caring.

James Swanwick: I'd like to move the conversation into some sleep related questions, if I may. And I'd like us to, I guess, finish after I asked you some questions with what is the gold standard of sleep in terms of when someone wakes in the morning? What should they do? What should they do late morning? What should they do at lunch? What should they do afternoon? What should they be doing early evening, late evening in order to have the best night's sleep? But first, I just want to do a quick fire. Three quick questions, and you can just give very short, brief answers. The first one is how many hours sleep should human beings get per evening?

Nick Littlehales: I think that question is always fascinating. But there's this simple, quick answer to is, I don't think there's any argument from everything that we know that we put a 24 hour to 24 hour and a bit clock on the circadian rhythms, the sun going around our planet, which creates the sort of biological timings, the circadian rhythms within that 24 hour process. When you look back at it, it's it's around 30 odd percent of that 24 hours that we need to be in some sort of recovery rejuvenating state called sleep. So there's recovery, where which is sort of active recovery. But then there's this, this process of the brain taking us into a place where it principally shuts you right down and starts to be able to rejuvenate, repair, replenish all the organs and everything that while you do it. And that's called sleep. So we always think around 30 odd percent of that is eight hours. That's where the eight hours comes from. And though I think that's the overall benchmark, and every time you see research, when they specifically focused on that, and you get less than eight hours, you can see consequences of it. But I would put the caveat on it. I've never met anybody who gets a solid eight hours, seven days a week 365 when you look at all the different occupations and everything else where we have to, you know, work night shifts work multi shifts, be athletes travel around a lot, get home at 3am in the morning, or have to start early and all this sort of stuff, is that it's sort of what we try to do is, is look at within any 24 hour rolling process, are we creating enough recovery moments? And are we trying to help the brain as much as we possibly can while we're in a wake state, that when we do present ourselves, the brain can take us into that sleep state and provide what we want. And I think that's just the challenge. So my answer is eight hours, but it doesn't necessarily have to be an all one block. And there are little differences between us all. So you have to put little things like occupation, your own personal drive and social behavior. You have to put those things in and around that because worrying about not getting your eight hours at night is its biggest disrupter.

James Swanwick: Next question, what is the biggest mistake that you see most people make with their sleep?

Nick Littlehales: I think I think there's sort of two little elements to that. One is the, if you're not talking about it in the school, and then parents are not passing it on, the fundamental principles of this health pillar just doesn't get talked about. So there's a very random approach, and everything else. So it's kind of you can't blame people. But their biggest one is, they think that when they by just allocating the time to go to sleep, that's what sleep is. So you sort of wake up in the morning, and you get round to a particular point and go, Oh, I've got to wake up in the morning, do it again, as long as you're allocating the time, then surely, the brain should just take over and when you sleep. And that's such a misconception. So when things start to get a little bit going wrong, and or they're just not feeling great? Or, like you pointed out, they start waking up too early, or in the middle of the night, or they can't get to sleep, or they struggle to sleep and they don't feel energized, what they tend to do is grab isolated interventions, you know, oh, I'm not sleeping well. So I'll buy a new pillow, oh, I'll get a new mask, or I'll get this supplement. Or I'll try that. And in isolation, it's just wrong. So I think that's their biggest mistake is- A. They don't know any different. And they try to resolve a fundamental natural recovery process by just trying to make isolated interventions.

James Swanwick: I'm gonna ask you for an anecdote, if I may for the next question. And then we'll get into the gold standard that the, what's the worst example of a professional athlete’s bedroom, that you have seen where the athlete probably thought that they were sleeping okay, and you went in, had a look and, and saw evidence to suggest otherwise? And maybe he or she shared with you what their pre-sleep habits were, and you were just mortified and just go, Oh, this is a disaster zone.

Nick Littlehales: Spill the beans. I think there was a point in time when I was doing a lot of work with a very high profile, prominent club. And coaches, we're always striving to get more and more time with the athletes to have more of an impact on but the one areas when they leave the training ground go home, then pretty much they've gone. So by my involvement, and they would sort of like go and see that player in their home. So I was sort of like almost like the the sleep detective or the home detective where I can go and spot things, you know, that normally they wouldn't see or anything else. And sometimes, sometimes the lead head of performance would come with me just because it's a top player, you know, they don’t just let  anybody in their home. And I just started chatting away. I bet you, I bet you they've got flat screen TVs almost like everywhere. I bet you it's probably 35 degrees ceiling in their home, because all the heat is on and everything else. When you go into their bedroom, there's probably no way of controlling lives. Yeah, because we've got some fancy blinds or curtains not properly fit, whatever it is unbelievable. When you when we look at the product, and it just will not be suited to that individual. You know, we too are bought it for some fancy shop and everything else. Then you sort of see your wonder into areas of the home. This is what's happening. And you go, oh my god, you know, it's so hot. It's so this. That's wrong, that's wrong. And then you start to spot as you're wandering around. There's three new coffee machines arrive because he started to make his own coffee with his own barista stuff. And so you’re going into that, you know, particularly cyclists in level, that type of stuff. And you see, I mean, how does he start his day? Well, probably 4 espressos, you know. And then you sort of see around the bedroom and under the bed, and you start seeing little things and you just go Oh, what's that under the bed? You know? So well. Well, I take two of those before I go to sleep. What? You  know, those sleeping tablets. You know, I used to like, what do you mean you’re taking sleeping tablets?  Oh, you know? Because I want to get a good night's sleep, I'll take two sleeping tablets, the sleeping tablets. That's what it says on the box. Where do you get this from? You know, when I get them online, because the doctor, who prescribed them, wouldn’t give me anymore so just get them online. Okay. And and then you just sort of, you know, you see lots of other little personal things sometimes that you shouldn't necessarily see. And I think the principles that even now, there was almost like, there was nothing in their environment that you could say, that equals recovering. It's all sorts of things. How many pillows is he got on his bed? 50 of them all different shapes and sizes. Yeah, all sorts of stuff. And you've got this little scented, you know, 70 kilogram x or more striker is basically lying on a product. It's so hard, you know, he spends most of his time. And then he's got this fantastic dude that his partner bought from some expensive shop, or whatever it was. That's absolutely cooking it. Yeah. And instead of, and then it just, you just see all the little areas like, he's got maybe a little room, off the bedroom and stuff and you spot in there. It's all set up with a gaming machine. And he's got, you know, this that and everything else. When do you go in there? If I wake up in the middle of the night, I just go on a gaming machine and play out. And so you've actually set a room up for waking up, and then it sounds really negative, and it didn't sound that sort of thing. But under the bed, there were 25, I exaggerate, 25 empty water bottles. I'm going- do to go to sleep in your waking place? I've got to take water bottles to bed, because I wake up all the time to go rehydrate and gosh. It's all about hydration, stuff like that. So I said why don't you get through a night, probably three or four of those bottles. So you're waking up to drink. And it's kind of like, so it's all sorts of fascinating little things. There are, I think the one that I think there was a most, it was nice, actually, to be honest, it was. But this, it was actually it wasn't necessarily an elite athlete, but he's certainly an elite performer, because they were a surgeon, and they have this enormous dog, some mountain, some burning things that's like the size of a small pony. And that dog would be on the bed, you know, sleeping sort of diagonally across the mattress. And the the surgeon would be curled up in the corner on sort of less than about 1% of it. Just hanging hanging onto the bed in the top corner. And there was this great dog dominating the whole bed. He said, Do you think that's okay, so I love my dog. And that's where he sleeps, you know? I mean, I sort of like to say it's kind of nice, isn't it? But it's kind of like are you not more important than your dog? Why don't you just get your dog a bed and put it in another room. He says I tried that. Just wants to come back in my bed. But the thing is, is they don't even at that level. They didn't see that as a problem. Right? What they would say is, I don’t sleep that well, Nick, you know, long hours as a surgeon on football, I don't sleep I always wake up a lot at night and everything else. And I think it's also the answer to your question, because of a lack of education, understanding that don't take it back to something like that could actually be wrong. So you can't blame them. But use it again. You need to get that out. You also need to stop taking him to the water buffalo you know, turn the heating down. You know, and all this stuff. So eventually you can you can change everything. But it's only because they don't know.

James Swanwick: I'm sure many of our listeners or viewers are probably sheepishly thinking, Oh, yeah, I take my dog to bed and no. Yeah,  I've got a video game room and oh, yeah, I've got a big screen that I'm watching from bed staring into the blue light without protecting my eyes.

Nick Littlehales: Hey, I mean, you guys, you guys lights and everything else and loads of the products that you do. It's really amazing. But you suddenly sort of go Oh God, here we go flat screens that we don't even have to get up to switch off. But as we just we just hit the button on the remote behind getting out of bed. Now we've got that standby light. I'll look where they're putting them now right on the wall and now they’re 50 inch now they’re 60 inch right here is just bright the Oh no, it's coming up from the bottom of the bed now. It's even in the foot end of the bed, and it just comes up in front of you. While you're there in bed it comes down again comes up again, we just go, Whoa, it just absolutely fascinating. But it's all like, Yeah, what's wrong with that? And I said, well, it's like a laser beam going straight into your brain going wake up, wake up, wake up. Is it? Well, yeah, it is. Oh, what should I do? Well, you know,

James Swanwick: For the uninitiated, maybe who? I'm sure most of our listeners and viewers understand what we're referring to with the danger of blue light. But may I ask you to maybe just explain in a crash course about why staring into blue light from a screen or phone or, or whatever at night without blocking blue light is so bad for you and maybe explain why you feel I'm wearing a pair of orange lens to blue light blocking glasses, and maybe just give a little bit of context on that.

Nick Littlehales: Makes you look like a rock star.

James Swanwick: I think so, Nick?

Nick Littlehales: Yeah, my particular knowledge of it is is is fairly limited within certain parameters. I think what we certainly look at is there's a blue energy wave in daylight. It's all about that circadian process that principally triggers your light receptors behind the eyes into a little gland called the pineal gland, that hold a hormone called serotonin, that serotonin triggers tells the brain it doesn't make the brain do it. But it informs the brain, to unsuppress everything. And it's not all about body functions, but it's also about mood, motivation, energy, happiness, all that sort of stuff comes from serotonin. So when you look at the first two phases of the day, from sunrise into midday, midday into sunset, that is when we're pretty much dominated by this, as you know, anybody else, you know, 80 to 100,000. Lux, which is the way to measure light with daylight, that's outside. And within that there's the energy wave. So those first two phases are all about serotonin, to make you active, take advantage of the daylight, when the sun disappears, you're basically moving into when you look back at history on this planet, you're moving into what's called melatonin land. And that's because it's Amber, light, red light, yellow light, gas, light, fire lights, all of those things haven't got the energy lighting, so you move into melatonin light. So you can still be active, you can still do stuff, you know, sing around the fire, cooking dinner, whatever. But you're moving towards phase four, which is midnight into sunrise again, and that is about the dark period. And that is about... you're just moving. And the Melatonin is just switched from the serotonin, which is telling the brain to now suppress it and moving towards shut down. So if you invent electric lights as we did, and that started hitting phase three, as well as during our day, when we shift the seasons, then you start bringing in technology. And there's ways to control the lights. And this thing is a combination of two things. One is excessive information overload, excessive technology, exposure. And within that, while you're still interacting with anything that's got blue light in it from devices, whatever, all you're doing is continuing to keep your serotonin levels higher than they want, they should be diminishing, instead, they're increasing. And when you then suddenly try to present yourself to sleep, because there's only so many hours to do it. You may well, you know, crash into a sleep state, if you're very tired, push the boundaries, whether the brain might just take over. But in many respects, you'll have a disturbed sleep because the brain is being told to unsuppress everything when you're actually trying to suppress everything. So I think that's the only way. And we certainly get it predominantly in the countries where we have daylight saving time, and we shift the clocks and in winter and spring. And so I think we've always tried to ensure that we understand the level of light that's around any individual, whether it's training grounds stadiums, in their homes, tried to get a much better understanding the level of light that were being exposed to through the 4 phases of the day to manage that process better and so you would use things like lamps and blue blockers and glasses and this. Everything you possibly could so you don't over expose or underexpose.

James Swanwick: Yeah, as I'm recording this with you now,

Nick Littlehales: Get away with that one talking to an expert in light.

James Swanwick: Well done, Nick. Yeah, as we're recording this at 7:42 at night in Brisbane, Australia. It's the morning where you are in the UK. So for those who are listening, but not seeing this particular interview, I am wearing a pair of orange lensed blue light blocking glasses from my company Swanwick. These blue light blocking glasses are referred to as Swannies. I put these on around about seven o'clock each night, and I don't remove them until I've switched off the final light on my bedside table. I don't remove them, and then go and brush my teeth in the bathroom light because then, of course, I'm exposing my eyes to the bathroom, like, I wear them. And then I get into bed. And only once I've switched off the light do I then remove the glasses in the dark and put them on my bedside table. Since I've been doing this since 2015, my sleep quality, not just sleep quantity, but my sleep quality has improved. Noticeably, both anecdotally, just as I'm feeling it. And also I've I've tracked it through the use of an aura ring and a couple of other devices as well. There have been nights where I haven't worn my glasses and nights that I haven't I've been able to see a very clear differential there. Yeah. Are there any other anecdotal examples you have of folks wearing blue light blocking glasses in general? And that being an improvement in their sleep quality, Nick?

Nick Littlehales: Yeah, I think there's I think there's always a, you know, I, I wear glasses and have done the majority of my, you know, adult life. So wearing glasses, for me is not unusual. You know? I think if you don't wear glasses, then you haven't got any description, then you can actually use them as a bit of a, you know, I don't want to undermine the power of it. But you know, you look like a rock star. So it's not bad, right. But it certainly. is like if you're going to suddenly then wear glasses in the evening like you are, because you're doing it for a very specific time. So if you're going to actually adapt what you do, and actually put them on and keep them on, right up until the point trying to protect yourself, so you get into melatonin light. That's okay. But for some people, they don't wear glasses, then wearing glasses at that point in the day, rather than sunglasses, when it's sunny outside, sort of it is a little bit of a complex sell. Put the glasses on when you're inside your home, and wear them from sort of 7:00 onwards until you switch the lights off as you described. But once they sort of go, why am I doing that? Whether I’ve got to use some other technique. Or you can actually live a normal evening, do exactly what you normally do, when you just wear those glasses. And, you know, you can get them in prescription and everything else, I think it's just, it's just putting it context that you either got to get rid of all the light in your home and wander around in the dark, you either get rid of all your technology, you've got to stop doing everything you want to do in in your third phase of the day. You got to not be able to sort of, you know, maybe you should write me a letter if we're going to do a podcast rather than being on this technology. And so I think he's just one of these things like everything that humans create, is if you're going to... if this is what you're doing, you've got to be able to protect yourself the human name. No, you can't forget that you're just a brain and bodily functions. The sun's going around the planet, it's all about light and darkness. It's all about those two hormones. So if you're going to invent things, that takes you further away from this lovely synchronized process because we don't live outside anymore, then if you want to do that, you need to do this. That's as simple as that. You can't do that if you don't do this. So I think you know your success is you find at least some product that's very versatile, as non intrusive as you possibly can and I'm sure that you know you'll develop other ways to as, as every year progresses, in ways that we can manage that whole. I think the bit what I like about your approach is when you're sort of like, yes, it's the blue lights. Yes, your man, I think the other factor is that you are generating a much more a higher balance of that melatonin. Melatonin is all about chilling out, it makes you feel calm, it makes you feel comfortable, maybe the whole way that you interact with your information on it. So you don't overreact to things that don't have as much impact on you. So I think the one bit about melatonin, and serotonin, serotonin, stops your sleeping, melatonin sort of help you sleep. It also is a hormone that creates calm. So I think what you're what you're experiencing is two things is by controlling that light exposure over a good period of time, you're creating a completely different phase. And I think, from my own experience, sleep is such a natural recovery process. You don't have to force it got to try and do. It will always reveal itself, if you've got a nice approach. I think that's the fundamental thing about what you're doing is you're creating an approach that your brain loves. And he just happens to be because you wear sunglasses that does that.

James Swanwick: Yeah, thank you. We're not to make this an advertorial. But we're also coming out with a...

Nick Littlehales: while what was coming up. I love these zoom meetings, something just appears like this orange thing starts coming up. And then I see it's a bulb, well done.

James Swanwick: Yeah, so this is a Better Night's Anti Blue Light Bulb, which has removed 99% of the artificial blue light. So when you plug this in, it creates a very calming effect. There's no blue light in it, that disrupts your melatonin production by stimulating your pituitary gland, gland, for example. So I have these on my bedside table on both sides of my bedside table in lamps. And it's a very, very soothing light, we switch off the overhead lights, we have these anti blue light bulbs. And even despite using these in my home, after seven o'clock at night, when that when the sun is down, I'm still wearing my blue light blocking glasses. Because I am as guilty as the next person. And I do glance at my phone on occasion, when the sun has gone down and check things like English Premier League schools, and various other other things on my phone.

Nick Littlehales: That's, that's my... I think the point, my daughter emphasized before is it's you can get screen protectors, you can get all the things you can. It's all about technology. If you own your technology, you've got this, the ability to keep your way. Yes, that's fine. But the difference is, is that just if you're protecting the blue light from your tech, maybe in another way, there's still all the other factors, what you're doing with the glasses, is whether you're using protectors, or you're using even specialists, large light bulbs, like you've got there, you're still wearing the glasses, because you're still moving around, and you're doing stuff and everything else is up. So it's that whole period of being with the glasses, that creates the result. It's not about just putting them on just because you're looking at Tech, and then you take them off again, and go into the kitchen or the bathroom. Like you said, I'm fascinated by that little thing you've mentioned, because I don't know how long ago it was, but it was just like, Yeah, well, you know, we have a common pre sleep routine, we put the candles on we have aromatherapy, we do a little bit of meditation, and we do a little bit this. And then we go along there. And then I, you know, I put my shorts on my t-shirt and get ready to go into the bathroom, just the lights on and brush my teeth. Anyway. Amazing. I think I just wanted to make that point is that we have got lots of ways we can, you know, control these and maybe even more widely. But I think the key factor for anybody listening to this is the reason why you see those positive results is because you've got them on all the time, in a particular phase of the day.

James Swanwick: Yeah, thank you. So let's just start to wrap this up now. And what I want to do, I did say earlier, I was going to ask you for the gold standard of sleep, but I want to flip it on its head. I'm going to share with you what I consider to be the gold standard of sleep. And I'm going to get you to critique it or give it a score out of 10 and maybe add something or delete or amend or polish. So here we go. When people wake up first thing in the morning, they should expose themselves to natural sunlight as soon as possible. Our skin has receptors on it and when the sunlight hits our skin, it triggers our circadian rhythm to say oh, this is daytime and so all of sudden our body floods with daytime hormones and the body therefore about 14 hours later is going to want to start to naturally turn on the melatonin faucet. Studies have shown that people who exercise in the morning tend to sleep a little better. They think it's because of two reasons. One, people who exercise in the morning tend to do it more regularly. And so therefore, they're healthier in general, which lends itself to good quality sleep. And two, they have found that sleeping sorry, exercising close to bedtime raises our core body temperature which compromises our sleep. No caffeine after 2pm, or within eight hours of wanting to sleep. Caffeine is a stimulant. And despite people saying that they can fall asleep just fine by having a late night cappuccino, the quality of their sleep will nevertheless be compromised. Studies have shown that avoiding eating food or drinking alcohol in the last three hours before going to sleep can improve sleep quality because alcohol and food... your, your liver is now working. It's not in a rejuvenating restorative state because your liver is now trying to break down the toxins and alcohol. And then the digestive system is also working because it's trying to break down the food that you've eaten. And both of those two activities is not putting your body in a restorative state. We touched on this before obviously, which is block as much artificial blue light at night. Of course I'm wearing my own product here, Swannies blue light blocking glasses, the orange lens blocks the blue light that can trigger our pituitary and pineal gland and suppress our melatonin production. So wear a pair of blue light blocking glasses at nighttime sleeping a cool temperature studies show 18 degrees Celsius or 65 to 69 degrees Fahrenheit is the optimal sleeping environment. Very dark black curtains so you can block out artificial or sorry block out natural sunlight that may wake you up earlier than needs be in the morning. And also it blocks out you know, street lights and traffic lights and things that might find its way into your into your room. And then trying to make ensure that you you wake up at the same time each day. So even if you're going to sleep time changes, trying to get into a very consistent wake up time has been shown to improve sleep quality. And then I would say rinse and repeat, which is wake up in the morning, expose yourself to natural sunlight as soon as possible and then carry on with with what I perceive to be a standard of sleep. But I'll let you the expert Nick Littlehales now critique that for me.

Nick Littlehales: I think I've just lost my job. Those who are pointing out before I think to do even listen to somebody else, rolling through those things, in my journey in here would just be you know, it's just amazing. You know, I feel very connected to that whole process, because all of the things you've just mentioned, were just never even talked about. We're not even joined up like that. So it's amazing. I think the the bit I would add to is that if I missed it, you can correct me. And but if you are having to use blackout to protect yourself from the changes in sunrise. If you go through those seasons and daylight saving time sometimes that you can't use the natural sunlight or your bedroom doesn't point in the right direction to do it. So I would think about the the lightweight tool. So rather than thinking that it can be a wake up, alarm goes off, you're in blackout, get outside do your exercise as quick as you can to get exposed to though I think some sort of light light dawn with simulation is something that can help with that process. Because it's it's not natural to wake in the dark. We need that light stimulus. So if you can't get it from outside, you got to kind of recreate it a little bit. And you do have those amer and pmers Don't you? those chronotypes those hours ought to who really, you know, us amers, we can be off jogging at 5:00 in the morning and 6:00 and on our bikes and taking the dog for a walk and all that. So all of those nice things that we hear about that it's really important, and it might even help you sleep. But I'm a pmer who can't get out of bed. So the little lamp might help get the power outside quicker, but the amer doesn't necessarily it can system wait time, fundamental, it's I know you've focused, we've focused on a bit of pre sleep. But the the whole thing about that little journey with the with the brain. And it may sound a little bit simplistic, but I coach all sorts of different types of people and in different spaces, whether it's clinical sports, or whether it's Sport Science, or whether it's just, you know, some young people on their journey, and you just sort of, look, if you have a good start, your day is consistent wait time doesn't mean you have to wake exactly at that time every day. It's just that's where your phases. So if I pick 630, then I'm going to wake some point 5:30, 5:45 6:00 5 past six, but it's always going to be before 630. But that's the start of my day. And if I just forget the fact that I wasn't in control of my sleep, my brain was. So whatever I got, however, it feels just crack on from that consistent wake time, loads of light, exercise, hydrate bowel and bladder mental challenges. Think about that light exposure in the first two phases of the day, understand that there is a need to point the brain in different directions every couple of minutes just to give it a little visualization, recovery break. You might even think that you could do a little 30 minute cycle late afternoon, or just little they could mindspace little thing you might actually might to sleep sometimes I can actually add that in and, and maybe think about your nocturnal sleep. And you can think about cycles, you can think about that. So very quickly, always go. Would you like a consistent wake time I'm talking to my brain? And my brain says Yes, please. Would you like all these things to happen at that first point? Light this bowel? bladder hydration exercise? Yeah. Because I'm pretty useless until you've got me out of that sleep phase and into an active world. Do you want a break? So we 90 minutes or something? Just point you in a different direction? Yeah, because I just processed stuff and helps you like a little late afternoon that we get? Well, if you're going to push me into phase three of the evening, and you've got lots to do, and you want to do this and you want to do that. Just give me a nice little break, you know, late afternoon and we sometimes I might put you to sleep sometimes I won't. Sometimes we'll do something else. That's absolutely fine. Would you like to? Yeah, just keep focused on this melatonin phase. Be active. Let's go and do stuff. But just keep that blue light out of the way. Cuz I love it here, but not there. And then fine. All ends take over give you the best recovery we can., I can't guarantee it all the time. But I'll give you the best recovery you can as long as you start your day every day. So it's only then do you actually think Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday? No, I don't, says your brain, I just think it's a rolling process starts with sunrise starts with any sunset, it's going through the phases, it just rolls and rolls and rolls and rolls and rolls got nothing to do the 24 hour clock or Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday says it just happens. I think when you get to the point, which you've made here, which was amazing. All of those little things, bit about worrying about sleep. If you get to that point where you can stop worrying about it. A lot of people ask me the question that, you know, you're an elite sport, sleep coach, and you know, lots of people, you must sleep brilliantly get your eight hours every night, all that sort of stuff. So they gave up thinking like that a long, long time ago. I just got a little technique in my back pocket, the things that you just mentioned. Yeah. Things that you just mentioned are in my back pocket, very subconscious. I'm not going oh, well, but they're just there. And as long as I let that roll, and sometimes I interact with it and adapt it because things change and things happen. As long as that rolls. I get my five cycles a day, four cycles at night, one late afternoon, and bang, bang, lots a little break down, okay, I'm not even bothered, I'm going to sleep on Saturday night. It'll be what it'll be. And I think as soon as you take that thing away. strange enough like wearing your glasses into that particular period. Like I said, the other little bit that comes in as soon as you stop worrying about it, and you feel like you've got some way of managing it. Strangely enough, your brain and your overall recovery starts to improve. can sort of happen more naturally. So you've smashed it. Well done..

James Swanwick: Nick Littlehales, thank you so much. I so appreciate you spending time with us here with your guidance and your expertise. My father is just trying to call me this is a very inopportune time as we're settling finishing up here. He just was phoning me on my FaceTime lucky I'm wearing my blue light blocking glasses. Before I answer the call. There we go is trying to call me Again, let's just see if I can decline him. There we go. Nick Littlehales, author of the book Sleep, which has now been translated into 15 different languages. And an international elite sport, sleep coach and founder of The R90 Human Recovery Performance Technique. Thank you so much for your time. So appreciate you sir.

Nick Littlehales: Thank you very much. Good chat!


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Celesté Polley


Celesté is a writer, creative photographer, bookworm, pianist, minimalist, environmentalist at heart, professional napper, and Earth wanderer from South Africa, operating in the wellness industry. She is obsessed with books, plants, the moon, and the misunderstood wild Baboon Spiders (a.k.a Tarantulas) of the arachnid world. Her curious nature has her on an unstoppable journey to work with like-minded humans, but also to help people overcome their health and mental struggles.

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