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Published by Harmonia Norah, 2017-08-30 07:41:23

tatler man science of sleep



Sp or ts



Having helped bluechip footballers at
Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Real
Madrid to snooze better, Nick Littlehales is
seen as to the ‘go-to’ man for any self-respecting
athlete needing to brush up on their shut-eye,
writes Aaron Rogan. But what’s his secret?
And what advice can he give the sleep-shy?

Chris Hoy crosses the finish line to
win the gold medal for Great Britain
in the London 2012 Olympic Games



The tabloids have a name for someone who makes a career Inevitably, not everyone has time for Littlehales’ theories.
inside the bedroom of David Beckham and Ryan Giggs. In the Steve Kean dispensed with him when he succeeded Allardyce at
season before their treble triumph in 1999, news leaked out to Blackburn in December 2010, while his work with Chelsea ended
red top hacks that there was someone helping United’s young when then manager Carlo Ancelotti was sacked in May 2011.
millionaires between the sheets. The sleep coach’s tremendous track record, however, coupled
“They called me the sleep coach,” says Nick Littlehales, with the rave reviews of his clients – which include the Red Bull
a man who went from mattress salesman to sports stars’ Formula One team – would suggest that the former mattress
bedtime comforter through a bit of perseverance and a lot of salesman really knows his stuff.
good luck. His clients have included everyone from Chelsea’s
John Terry and Didier Drogba to Olympic cyclist Chris Hoy The science of sleep is now routinely monitored by club staff
and the entire Blackburn Rovers squad during the days of Sam across the sport, and players recognise that it’s an opportunity
Allardyce’s tenure as manager. to gain a potentially vital edge in their recovery. Several Premier
Playing on Manchester United’s then-manager Alex League clubs’ training grounds have optimal sleep chambers
Ferguson’s freakish control over his players, the leading sleep (indeed, Littlehales acted as a consultant to Manchester United
sports coach wrote the Scot a letter saying he could help them on a sleep room that was purpose-built at the club’s Carrington
– even when they weren’t awake. training ground to cater for players returning from overseas
Littlehales’ first job was to sort out United centre-back Gary games), while most, if not all, now acknowledge the huge impact
Pallister’s notoriously troublesome back, which was so bad he a good night’s kip can have on their players.
had to lie in a special bed on the coach back to Manchester
after matches. Southampton, for instance, is renowned for the attention to
Littlehales kitted him out with a mattress to suit his needs detail it places on ensuring its first-team squad enjoys quality
and advised him of specific sleeping positions which would shut-eye. Staff from the club are known to spend hours making
help him relieve, rather than exacerbate, his problems. Word sure that every hotel they stay in has the same conditions as the
quickly spread around the training ground and soon to the players’ own bedrooms. As a result, some hapless member of
journalists following Fergie’s men. the backroom team is employed to cart around mattress toppers,
“The media found out that Alex Ferguson and Manchester clean sheets and the players’ favourite pillows.
United had someone in talking about sleep: so they had a sleep
coach. They thought it was really funny because they thought More Princess and the Pea stuff from today’s over-indulged,
I was tucking Ryan Giggs and David Beckham into bed and pampered players, you might say, but a number of studies, and
reading them bed-time stories,” Littlehales recalls. a little common sense, show that quality of sleep is a huge factor
“But because of the respect that everybody has for Sir Alex on performance. Closer to home, Irish rugby players monitor
Ferguson, they stopped and went, ‘Hang on a minute, what’s their sleep almost fanatically, working on tweaks to their diet and
he up to?’ Then they started to be interested in what I was sleep habits to help them make any gain on their recovery.
talking about. That was it.”
Above: Facing page:
Ryan Giggs celebrates his second goal of Cian Healy of Ireland brushes aside
the match with David Beckham and Roy England’s Ben Youngs during the RBS Six
Keane during the FA Cup 4th Round match Nations match between Ireland and England
between Manchester United and West Ham at the Aviva Stadium on 1 March, 2015
at Old Trafford on 26 January, 2003



It’s perhaps a sign of the times that Then they’d come into the club and go,
‘This is fantastic I can’t believe we never
Leinster and Ireland prop Cian Healy has did it before.’”

recently become the ambassador for a Since the turn of the century, Littlehales
says the world has moved on in a way
range of mattresses from King Koil. that demands more of players and has
more ways to upset their sleep patterns.
“Sleep is a critical component of
“Technology has almost left us behind.
my training regime that is always being I didn’t ring Alex Ferguson on his mobile,
or text him on a smart device, I sent him
emphasised by coaching staff,” says a letter. That wasn’t that long ago.

Healy. “I have to report my sleep times “When you look at those changes and
look at sport now, athletes are hopping
every morning as a poor night’s sleep around the world as if they’re going down
the local shops. Agents have access
slows me down, affects my focus and to them 24 hours a day – text, email,
twitter and everything else. They’re part
prevents me giving my all in training. of 24-hours news and the pressures that
come with that. It never stops.”
“When I do enjoy seven hours’
Littlehales says this also plays into the
sleep, it’s a world of difference as I am idea that getting involved in a player’s
sleeping habits is another step into the
more alert and have more input into privacy of them.

everything. It’s just polar opposites, “Sleep is a process that is private
and personal,” he explains. “If a doctor,
really.” sport scientist or whoever wants to get
involved they go, ‘You can take a running
Healy’s level of awareness is a sign jump. This is my space, my time and
these are private things. Even if you are paying
that as much emphasis is now put on for the hotel room.’
“They found that by using me, they could
sleep as nutrition, stretching and other engage the group and then the people in the
group would come to me. Because no one
recovery but, as Littlehales confirms, had missed a game because they had a poor
night’s sleep they didn’t care. No one has ever
it wasn’t always that way, particularly not competed in the Olympics because they
had a poor night’s sleep.
during the initial stages of his work with SLEEP IS A “It’s about helping that athlete maximise
PROCESS THAT how they mentally and physically recover. So
Arsenal Football Club. IS PRIVATE AND when the sport suddenly says, ‘We’re going to
Littlehales recalls: “The club doctor PERSONAL play at 7:45 at night and then you hang around
at 10pm to do media, then get the coach back
would simply say to me, ‘In the course NICK LITTLEHALES to the hotel and drive home, see you at 9:30
of all of my academic life, we touched tomorrow for training’, the athlete can now see
what’s coming and what they need to do going
on sleep for an hour out of eight years.’ into that to cope with that process. The club

It’s something everyone does and we let

them get on with it. So, the attitude was just, Although Wenger’s Arsenal players had,

‘Get yourself eight hours if you can, Thierry.’” albeit with some initial reluctance, embraced

“Certain players would have been popping the Frenchman’s strict rules on diet and

sleeping tablets when they were under pressure nutrition, many treated Littlehales and his

but they stopped taking them which was a teachings with a degree of scepticism.

major factor. Everyone knows that sleeping “In the early days, it took a while to engage

tablets don’t help performance. them,” he admits. “All they wanted to do was

He continues: “Gary Lewin, the [then] physio bounce around on the samples I brought and

at Arsenal was also at England for the 1998 talk about sex and sleep. They didn’t want to

World Cup and saw what happened when the know about it.

[Manchester] United players saw the crappy “But what they did know was Arsene

blankets in the hotel and got me to send over a Wenger and Alex Ferguson were top of the

load of kit. tree, and if they thought this was an area that

“He got me in with Arsene Wenger, we had would improve your performance, you better

a first team workshop where everybody was listen. One or two players responded quicker

told to attend. We were talking about sleep than others and engaged me for personal

and it was a fascinating afternoon, as you can consultations to go to their homes and room

imagine.” environments, how to tweak it to help them.

England captain David Beckham lays on the IT’S ABOUT
ground during their European Nations HELPING THAT
Championship quarter-final football match ATHLETE
between Portugal and England at the MAXIMISE
Estadio da Luz on 24 June, 2004 HOW THEY


Arsenal’s Thierry Henry runs past
manager Arsene Wenger while
celebrating scoring the winning goal
against Manchester United at The
Emirates Stadium on 21 January,


will say this is important and pass it over to the advises thinking of it as a series of 90-minute encourage sleep, but there’s no chance of
individual so they can impact it.” cycles. Six cycles = nine hours, five cycles = drifting off as he explains his elaborate process
Seven-and-a-half hours, four cycles = six, and – it’s utterly riveting. If, however, a good night’s
Littlehales says that clubs invest millions so on. sleep is proving frustratingly elusive, his helpful
on players, from eight-figure transfer fees tips could prove manna from slumber heaven.
to personalised diets. They hire teams of These cycles are a natural rhythm in your
sports scientists and clubs doctors that have resting state, which go into a deep sleep in the BETTER SLEEP IN 5 STEPS
to know the benefits of sleep when it comes middle. At the end of the cycle is the optimal
to performance, energy, happiness and time to wake up as you are in the lightest sleep. 1. PLAN A 90-MINUTE UNWINDING SLOT
concentration. “But the first time many athletes BETWEEN 7.30PM AND 9PM. Take a gentle
think about it is when their head hits the pillow.” This, Littlehales mentions, is the key to 20-minute walk, or do some yoga, followed by
traversing the changes in your routine 15 minutes of sitting quietly. Allow your brain
Having worked with elite players in the throughout the week as it means you don’t need to ‘download’ your day and plan for tomorrow.
world’s biggest clubs, Littlehales says that it is to have a set bedtime to get a good night’s
no surprise that the best players are the ones sleep. If you are out later, you can simply push 2. TAKE A TECHNO BREAK from emails and
that care most about the little details. back your sleep time by a cycle and still wake texts and write a “to do” list. De-cluttering
up at an optimal time. your mind will boost deep sleep by 60%.
“Guys like Cristiano Ronaldo want to
improve every aspect of their game. Sports Of course, there are other factors such as 3. During cold weather, DON’T WARM UP
science guys will tell you that Ronaldo is off the diet and alcohol consumption that can hinder THE BED. Instead, ensure you are warmer
charts in terms of alertness, decision-making or interrupt these cycles, but as these should than the bed, bedroom and bedding – a warm
and peripheral vision and he is completely be rare enough in your overall routine they can shower can do this. A higher body temperature
committed to making himself a leading player be better accounted for when they do come up. released into your cooler bedding induces a
every minute of the day.” natural sleep state.
Littlehales says that lots of people don’t
So what can the average ITM reader do to close design their bedrooms for what they’re meant 4. At your optimum sleep time get into bed,
the gap between himself and Ronaldo? Littlehales for, either keeping them too hot or having too curl up into the FOETAL POSITION ON YOUR
says it requires a different engagement of sleep many distractions in them. This is exacerbated, NON-DOMINANT SIDE and let go.
as part of your daily routine. he explains, by people holding their phones or
tablets to their faces in the final moments 5. DON’T TAKE WATER TO BED – it’s a
“It’s what we call sleep hygiene but it should before they try to nod off. Apart from the trigger to your body to wake for a drink.
be called your sleep routine – the things you do mental stimulus this provides, it also has the Waking up thirsty shows you’re not hydrated
from waking until you go back to sleep again. physical factor of blasting light into your tied enough when you turn in or that you’re
Things that you need to be aware of happening eyes, like those old interrogation techniques. sleeping with your mouth open. ITM
so that they trigger other things in your brain
and the affect that they have on your body.” As a master of his craft, Littlehales makes
for a fascinating interview. He may put together
Rather than thinking of quality sleep as being a detailed prescription to facilitate and
dependent on a certain block of hours, Littlehales

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