MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - A British sleep guru is teaching caveman techniques to international sports stars to wean them off unregulated sleeping pills and the use of stimulants.
Britain’s Olympic sleep coach, Nick Littlehales, said some sportsmen are turning to the internet to buy sleeping pills without a prescription, as they seek to hack their sleeping patterns in a bid to improve performance.
Others, notably in Scandinavia, are using a tobacco powder called Snus to pep them up when tired. But the answer to efficient sleep and recovery, Littlehales said, is far simpler - and much more healthy.
“Sleep in a foetal position, on your non-dominant side — that way you can relax, and know you can fight off any attackers if need be,” he smiled on the fringes of the SoccerEx Conference in Manchester on Monday.
“You are designed as a human being to sleep on the floor. We haven’t changed that much at all, if anything.
“Ten centimetres of foam, on the floor,” he said, “That’s really all you need, basically. When you are working with athletes, extreme sports, Ethiopian runners, they have not grown up on topper mattresses.”
Littlehales has been working with elite athletes for around 20 years, having got his break from former Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson.
Since then he has worked with numerous soccer clubs, national sides, Team Sky cyclists and the British Olympic squad.
Much of his work is devoted to eliminating anxiety from young sportsmen, he says.
“I’ll go to a club and a doctor will say ‘I can’t prescribe any more tablets. And I know the players get them online without prescription now. So I actually don’t know what they are doing ... and we don’t have any check for it’.
“And I will say, ‘you know he’s taking three of those a day?’ And the doctor says ‘he hasn’t had a prescription for 12 months’.
“How do you get them to stop taking tablets before a match to help them sleep, because they feel they have to sleep, because if they don’t get a good night’s sleep they won’t play well. But actually it is the complete opposite.
“I get clubs off tablets by saying ‘don’t sleep the night before a game’. So you don’t need the tablet then. Performances can be much better without sleep - it is about how you programme it.
“They start to use these things (drugs), but sleep is just a natural process. A really natural process. And once you understand a little bit about it, you can literally revolutionise somebody’s approach.
“Because instead of worrying about being awake between two and three o’clock in the morning — a common point — you realise it is perfectly natural to be awake then. You will naturally go into the deeper stages of sleep and you will naturally go out of them. If you have challenging conditions, sleep shorter and more often.”
Littlehales said plans for Team GB’s sleep at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February are already well advanced, where British athletes will once again be relying on 40 winks to give them the edge in their bid for gold.
Editing by Larry King