Free yourself from data and trust your feelings

Fernando arcos pexelsFernando Arcos - Pexels

What indicators do you base yourself on to assess your daily shape? What diagnosis do you base yourself on in order to know whether your next training session will be light, moderate or intense? In a previous post, I told you about the danger of being obsessively preoccupied by data. Personally, I trust the short moment of introspection which allows me to connect to myself rather than the link which is automatically produced by the latest cutting-edge application on my smartphone that promises to inform me about my shape… The visual analogic scale which is proposed by Laurent et al. (2011) invites you to estimate your perceived level of recovery. Using it before a training session is a practical way of assessing your recovery day after day and that way to estimate your performance level over the next session: 

Laurent 1One of the main features of our society is the omnipresence of data, a huge yearning for untreated data, and figures. Objective data is king, and leaves little room for the development of a critical mindset, self-awareness, and education. The sport’s world does not escape from this avalanche of data and reports. A systematic review of the literature was carried out in order to compare the relevance of objective markers assessed during off time and training (blood markers, heart rate) as opposed to subjective markers (e.g. mood, perceived stress) to follow up on the responses to training load variations in athletes. The main outcomes showed that subjective data reflects training load variations more accurately than objective data. Thus, depending on the authors and as part of the athlete’s daily follow-up, subjective markers should play a key role in assessing the athlete’s shape in response to the training load; and objective data, which displays a high level of scientific evidence, should only complete this assessment. This subjective data will be all the more reliable because the athlete will have been early accustomed to listening to him(her)self and taking decisions based on his(her) perception. Finally, as suggests James Williams, an ex-Googler who stepped down in order to become a philosopher: “On the short term, these tools (i.e. new technology) distract us from the things we should be doing. On the long term, they can distract us from the life we wish to lead… These technologies put our instincts before our intentions”. For every one of us, it means taking back control over our relationship with technology in order for it not to disrupt our precious path to self-awareness.

London calling…

What about you, are you a dreamer?

Nikita khandelwal

Nikita Khandelwal

In a previous post, I told you that the new and unprecedented lockdown period had led to three major types of sleep disruption. Consequently, some people told me about sleep disruption induced by a high level of anxiety related to the pandemic. These people admitted to more frequent, sometimes strange and at times even worrying, vivid dreams. Let me tell you about Laura’s dream, which recurred throughout the lockdown. In her dream, she is a passenger on a plane about to take off at night. Safely secured in her seat, the plane picks up speed at a normal rate and takes off. Suddenly, the pilot announces loudly through the loud-speakers that a technical problem has occurred on the plane, forcing it to land in emergency. Laura clutches her seat belt as if her life depended on it. The plane lands in a crash, shaking the passengers in every direction. She takes a look out of the window, and notices that the plane is speeding relentlessly through the streets of London and on the Thames, while the leader of The Clash starts singing London Calling… The world of dreams still has a lot of mysteries to offer, for Laura and for everybody else. This is indeed a particularly intense subject of research which enables us to learn more every day about the role of dreams. Thus, bad dreams such as Laura’s lockdown one are very typical in stressful situations, and validate one of the recent theories about the functions of dreaming: to virtually simulate a threat, in order to better face it during the day. Laura simulates a virtual lockdown - attached on the plane - to better face it during the day, all while trying to escape from this situation by projecting herself towards a future escape in a capital city. In other terms, dreams mainly have the function of emotional regulation. But that’s not it. Some high-level athletes I accompany shared with me their concern about dreaming less than during a normal training period. For a high-level athlete training between 30 to 35 hours per week, the stark reduction in diurnal activity during the lockdown may indeed have been problematic, and indirectly spilled over onto their ability to dream. The quantity of movement throughout the day influences the quality of your sleep. There is still a lot to discover but the vestibular system of the inner ear, which is particularly sensitive to gravitational stimulation, may have an influence on your sleep. It informs the brain about the daily amount of activity, quite like an actimeter which records your number of steps throughout the day. Indirectly, this could contribute to a higher or lesser amount of dreams. That way, astronauts in space have a reduction in rapid eye movement sleep duration. This sleep stage produces the most dreams, it is reduced in space due to the absence of terrestrial gravity. Thus, your night’s dreams are a valuable piece of information for the day ahead. And the quality of your day favours a tendency to dream. What if, starting tomorrow morning, you took the time to think about your dreams and why not even write them down in a dedicated notebook?   

Mathieu Nedelec, sport scientist in charge of research projects on sleep and recovery. I teach best practices to improve sleep and performance. I will read your answers carefully and let you know when my next posts will be published.

What is a good night’s sleep? Like a good meal: it depends…

What do you consider to be a good night’s sleep?

Daria shevtsova

Daria Shevtsova

What if a good night’s sleep for you were to fall asleep easily and remain in Morpheus’ arms until the gentle sound of your alarm-clock goes off? Or rather dream vividly and when you wake up get the answer to the question that has been gnawing at you for such a long time, in the easiest possible way? Or even wake up in the early morning, realise with pleasure that you still have the freedom of lying in bed, and put yourself in snooze mode for another few hours? To this easy-looking question, there are a multitude of possible answers. Answers that might be as diverse and different to the following one: for you, what is a good meal? I suggest we apply the analogy of a good night’s sleep to a good meal. Let’s consider for a moment the experience of a nice dinner. Surely, elements such as the quantity and quality of food contribute to feeling satisfied. If some of you enjoy an all-you-can-eat buffet, others focus more on the quality of the products. The sleep quantity (number of hours of sleep per night) as well as its quality also contribute to feeling satisfied by a good night’s sleep. But that is not everything. To enjoy a nice dinner, the presentation of the dish, the price or even the atmosphere are other elements to take into consideration. If some of you are looking for a restaurant dinner, others would prefer a home-cooked meal… In the same way, our sleeping environment contributes to good sleep quality. Finally, feeling satisfied by a night’s sleep cannot be reduced to the quantity and quality of your sleep. A good night’s sleep is the sum of multiple components: 1) its subjective quality; 2) sleep onset latency or the time required to fall asleep; 3) how long it lasts; 4) the efficiency of your sleep; 5) possible disruptions during the night; 6) possible medication intake; 7) difficulties encountered during wake time. Thanks to this questionnaire, you will be able to seriously assess your sleep and understand where you’re at. And then follow up on your progress, month after month. Defining a good night’s sleep is pretty complex, and the retained definition varies from person to person. These seven components are measured by a questionnaire called the “Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index” or PSQI which evaluates your sleeping patterns throughout the last month. In the meantime, for those of you who wish to control their sleep, a multitude of solutions and strategies exist which can help improve the quality of your sleep. And to stretch the analogy, the need or the act of napping does not say much about your overall satisfaction in relation to your nocturnal sleep, just as snacking after a meal does not necessarily mean that you did not enjoy it!                        

Mathieu Nedelec, sport scientist in charge of research projects on sleep and recovery. I teach best practices to improve sleep and performance. I will read your answers carefully and let you know when my next posts will be published.

Napping: sleepiness or sleepability?

What about you, are you a napping enthusiast?

Mateusz dach

Mateusz Dach

We are progressively coming out of lockdown. This unprecedented period will have upset a good deal of our habits. Let’s take the example of Axel, a young executive who found himself working from home overnight. But can we truly speak of remote working to qualify a similar work load which needs to be done in a productive and efficient time which is very condensed and requires to be carried out during two toddlers’ napping time? Indeed, Axel hasn’t had the time to nap since the beginning of the lockdown. Just after a mentally-exhausting morning, followed by a very quick lunch, the start of the kids’ napping time kicks off a period of work which he hopes to be as productive as possible. We can identify three types of naps, depending on the objective: preventing or prevailing against the diurnal sleepiness? Have you ever experienced that feeling of drowsiness that you usually come at the beginning of the afternoon and which can be a symptom of sleep debt?

A preventive nap is taken in anticipation of a future sleep restriction;

A compensatory nap is taken after a sleep restriction;

The “appetitive” nap is taken for comfort or pleasure. A study even showed that an “appetitive” nap, with an immediate sleep initiation, was associated to better nocturnal sleep quality, and was not linked to diurnal sleepiness. So, napping: sleepiness or sleepability? Another study which was carried out among elite athletes showed that they went to sleep faster compared to active subjects. This was the case for the first - which fits the challenge of sleeping in a new sleeping environment - and the second nap of the study. These results remained valid in mathematical models which controlled sleepiness and the amount of sleep gathered prior to the experiment. In other terms, the ability to fall asleep at one’s pleasure could be linked to a certain training, and not only to previous sleep restriction-induced pressure. As children are gradually allowed back at the nursery, Alex will make the most of this afternoon to give the “appetitive” nap a shot! Contrary to pre-conceived ideas, this could even help him enjoy a better night’s sleep tonight!                 

Mathieu Nedelec, sport scientist in charge of research projects on sleep and recovery. I teach best practices to improve sleep and performance. I will read your answers carefully and let you know when my next posts will be published.

Meditation: an ally for your sleep during lockdown

What about you, are you meditating during the lockdown?

Spencer selover

I told you in a recent post, that several people had been experiencing sleep disruption since the lockdown began. This unprecedented lockdown situation has actually led to three major types of sleep disruption, and sleep can notably be disrupted by a high level of anxiety linked to the pandemic. This adds to the problem considering a good quality of sleep can protect you from viruses. The studies held in China on the effects of the lockdown have unsurprisingly shown acute levels of anxiety, difficult emotional management and several cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when the lockdown exceeds a period of 10 days. The lockdown may lead to a type of boredom, a frenetic desire to keep up with the news, while isolation may hinder the sharing and expression of anxiety-inducing thoughts. A short daily session of mindfulness - a branch of meditation - may be a strategy to nurture your confined sleep! Mindfulness can be defined as total awareness, without judgement, rooted in the present; it has already shown its benefits to treat certain sleep pathologies. What about during this unprecedented period of lockdown? A study conducted in the Chinese province of Wuhan, which was the first to be hit by the virus, offered participants a 10-min meditation session every morning on a smartphone (lockdown rules!), during a period of 10 days. The control group was offered a 10-min session of relaxation. The meditative session invited participants to focus on the present moment, be aware of what’s happening at every second, and to accept it. First positive result: the meditators noticed a lower level of daily anxiety. The sleep of those who had only taken part in the relaxation session was impacted throughout the follow-up period: on average, they lost 40 minutes of sleep per every 1000 cases of Covid-19 announced by the media. The meditators’ sleep duration remained unchanged throughout the same period. So why don’t you give it a go as from tomorrow? A meditation session in the morning, maximum 30 minutes of exposure to the news per day, and avoid checking it right before bedtime. The current lockdown situation can also serve as a good opportunity to take a step back and focus on your inner self…

Mathieu Nedelec, sport scientist in charge of research projects on sleep and recovery. I teach best practices to improve sleep and performance. I will read your answers carefully and let you know when my next posts will be published.

How to stay active during the lockdown

What about you, how do you remain physically active during this unprecedented period?


Mathieu Nedelec, sport scientist in charge of research projects on sleep and recovery. I teach best practices to improve sleep and performance. I will read your answers carefully and let you know when my next posts will be published.

The lockdown is necessary to contain the spread of the coronavirus Covid-19, but it leads the overall population to be less physically active. Even if it is not clearly visible, this decrease is effective during this period. Let’s not be distracted by the visible part of active people, which is blown out of proportion through the magnifying mirror of social networks. Let’s rather consider the invisible part - much more important and quiet - represented by all those who have stopped exercising in their daily lives. The extended stay at home policy increases sedentary behaviours (excessive sitting or lying down time) and decreases energy expenditure; it also contributes to anxiety and depression. In Paris, individual physical activity is banned between 10:00am and 7:00pm. This is a way to toughen the measures to strive the coronavirus spread in France. But this is an additional constraint which will not favour “people programmed for laziness” to physically exercise, i.e. people who are not naturally inclined to physical activity and would rather lie on the sofa. In a different time, Nelson Mandela faced much stronger constraints, which did not prevent him to rigorously follow a training plan during his 27 years of captivity. Here are some lockdown tips or how Mandela managed to stay active in his tiny prison cell. A damp prison cell of 2m2 in which his daily routine started at 5:00am, from Monday to Thursday. In spite of daily and exhausting manual labour, he started by a 45-min run on the spot, followed by 100 push ups, 200 crunches, 50 lunges and calisthenics exercises, during one hour, aka the same duration as the one tolerated outside during the 2020 lockdown… Mandela stuck to this routine from Monday to Thursday, followed by a 3-day period of rest. As a training and recovery enthusiast, I can only be in awe of this opportune alternation between physical activity and recovery time. In addition to boosting your immune system, physical activity is a real moment of release: “Physical activity releases tensions, and tension is the enemy of serenity. I realised that I worked and thought more efficiently when I felt fit, and I consequently rigorously followed, throughout my life, the discipline of training” (Nelson Mandela). The World Health Organisation recommends 2:30 hours of moderately intense physical activity or 1:15 hours of vigorously intense physical activity, or a combination of both per week. These recommendations can still be applied at home, with no special equipment and in a restricted space. Just have fun with a skipping rope, the staircase in your building, weighted plastic bottles or a simple chair on which you can perform several strengthening exercises! Are you interested in another lesson to maintain your physical activity under strict constraints? I knew a soldier who was very fond of running and who spent several months at a time on an aircraft carrier. He told me that he was happy to have a hundred meters of tarmac to pursue his intermittent, back-and-forth training… So, I urge you, as from tonight or tomorrow morning, to make the most of running outside which is still an available option, for now! What’s more, physical activity in the evening paves the way for a good night’s sleep! Take your kids out in the pushchair, they will be delighted to breathe in some fresh air! The ban of any kind of individual physical practice in Paris between 10:00am and 7:00pm means that you can still do it between 7:00pm and 10:00am, which means a 15-hour leeway scope per 24-hour cycle… Once more, the lockdown period, as uncertain as it may be, can be overcome in good health and can be the opportunity to set some healthy habits that you will stick to when this crisis is over.

How to sleep well during the confinement?

What about you, how are you sleeping during the confinement?

Pixabay 3

In order to contain the spread of the coronavirus Covid-19, confinement has been imposed in major parts of the world. If confinement is urgently required to fight the virus, several side effects exist. During the last few weeks, a lot of people have told me about their sleeping disruptions. This new and unprecedented situation of confinement has led to three major categories of sleeping disruptions:

-your sleep is impaired because of a desynchronization of your sleep-wake rhythm. Your bedtimes and wake-up times are erratic, you often snack throughout the day and finally your sleep-wake rhythm is totally desynchronized from the biological patterns regulated by your biological clock. An overall sensation of fatigue is generally present;

-your sleep is impaired because of a high level of pandemic-induced anxiety. Recent studies on the effects of confinement in China have shown, unsurprisingly, very high levels of anxiety, a difficulty to regulate emotions and a lot of post-traumatic stress cases when confinement exceeds 10 days. You follow very carefully the spread of the virus, often relayed by the media in a very anxiety-provoking manner. You dream more regularly, you experience more vivid and strange dreams;

-you sleep more than usual and take the opportunity to have a good night’s sleep. Without the various professional constraints, this might be the manifestation of a sleep debt you have cumulated over time and that you are currently making up for.

Whatever the category you belong to, here are some sleep hygiene strategies in order to restore your sleep during this period of confinement:

-Regularity: be careful to adopt a regular bedtime and especially a regular wake-up time, whatever the sleep quality you experienced throughout the night. Get dressed as if it were a usual work day. During the weekend, avoid sleeping in and set an alarm maximum two hours after your usual wake-up alarm. In doing so, you will be active enough throughout the morning, and you might even enjoy a restorative nap (30 min maximum) in the afternoon. You will also cumulate enough sleep pressure throughout the day and you will fall asleep easily at night. Above all, you will maintain a regular sleep-wake pattern day after day, night after night… We actually do not know how long the confinement will last!

-Physical activity: for an elite athlete who trains up to 30-35 hours per week, such a drastic reduction of diurnal activity may be problematic. During the confinement, be careful to exercise daily at least one hour, whilst being exposed to the sunlight if possible. Such regular physical activity favours deep and restorative night sleep.

-Light is the most powerful zeitgeber ('time giver' in German) to set the biological clock and biological patterns. Just after getting up, and during breakfast, expose yourself to sunlight or by default to light therapy (white or blue). Continue the exposition when possible throughout the day: even confined, your biological clock must be aware this is day time!

-having regular meal times (breakfast, lunch, dinner) is also an important zeitgeber, whereas the meal composition may favour your sleep quantity and quality. Dinner should be consumed at least two hours before bedtime, with high-glycaemic index carbohydrates in the plate, as well as tryptophan-rich food (e.g. chicken, turkey, pumpkin seeds). Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, precursor of melatonin, which is the sleep hormone! Alcohol, coca cola, energy drinks should be prohibited whereas coffee consumption should be limited up to noon.             

-limit exposition to media coverage of the coronavirus Covid-19 to maximum 30 min per day, and avoid checking it just before bedtime. The use of technologies (smartphone, tablet, laptop, TV) should cease at least one hour before bedtime, and the earlier the better!

-use a relaxation technique (reading, meditation, self-hypnosis, sophrology, etc.) during the hour leading up to bedtime. A hot shower, a foot bath, or a hot bath (40-42°C) also favour a fast sleep onset latency and improve sleep quality throughout the night.

-the perfect sleep environment: as dark as possible, with a temperature between 18 and 20°C, and as quiet as possible. The Covid-19 pandemic-induced confinement limits our motorized trips. This is a big change from our noisy and busy society. You just have to open your windows to appreciate the silence and the sound of nature. Use this time to make the most of a restorative and continuous sleep! Learn how to leave your connected watches, sensors and all their data in their right place, i.e. outside your bedroom…

These tips should allow you to find restorative sleep during the period of confinement. This period, as uncertain as it may be, is without delay an opportunity to make up for a potential sleep debt, to take up good habits that you will then stick to, and finally to prepare yourself as best as you can to exit the confinement and recover from this crisis!             

Mathieu Nedelec, sport scientist in charge of research projects on sleep and recovery. I teach best practices to improve sleep and performance. I will read your answers carefully and let you know when my next posts will be published.

Your sleep can protect you against the virus!

What about you, how many hours of sleep have you got over the past couple of weeks?

Andrea piacquadio

Andrea Piacquadio

During this period of intense spreading and frequent transmission of the coronavirus Covid-19, you might be looking to put all the assets on your side to protect yourself from it. France’s Prime Minister, Mr Philippe, recently asked French people to “only leave the house for essential purchases, to exercise or to vote”. Regular physical activity boosts your immunity: a first asset! These new measures add to the “barrier gestures” which are now widespread: regularly washing your hands, coughing or sneezing into your elbow or into a handkerchief, using a single-use handkerchief, greeting each other without handshakes and avoiding hugs. Common hygienic gestures which are often recalled throughout an elite athlete’s season. They limit the risk of getting sick and allow the athlete to train better and more effectively than his opponents, for a final difference of 10 to 20 additional high-intensity training days per season. This is meaningful, and it may have an impact on whether being just a finalist or winning gold at the Olympic games.

But in preventing the coronavirus, sleep has not yet been mentioned. However, it does effectively boost your immune system in an acute and chronic way! A scientific study has indeed shown that people having slept less than 7 hours per night on average two weeks preceding exposition to a virus are three-times more likely to get infected than those having slept 8 hours or more. Remember the famous 7-hour threshold I mentioned in a previous post. Just one night of curtailed sleep can even make a difference. It has been shown that going to bed late (3:00 am), leading to a shorter night’s sleep induces an increased inflammatory response in the morning, as opposed to a complete night’s sleep. In other words, your sleep continuously participates in elaborating a real barrier against an actively-circulating virus. In order to have all the assets on your side, I urge you to consider the following three-part advice: physical activity, sleep, and nutrition which will be the subject of a following post. Here are some golden rules to pave the way to a virtuous circle of good habits…               

Mathieu Nedelec, sport scientist in charge of research projects on sleep and recovery. I teach best practices to improve sleep and performance. I will read your answers carefully and let you know when my next posts will be published.

Myths and beliefs surrounding sleep

What about your beliefs surrounding sleep?

Isabella mariana

Pixabay 2

In terms of health, many beliefs are transmitted in spite of low levels of scientific evidence. They can either promote or refrain from adopting healthy habits. Sleep does not escape this rule and several myths are hard to beat! It is important to identify these myths - which are shared by relatives, the media, press, forums and the Internet - and assess their scientific level of evidence. In a recent study (Robbins et al., 2019), a Delphi procedure was implemented with 11 experts in order to assess the falsehood and importance of some myths surrounding sleep on public health. Authors finally established a list of 20 myths classified into six categories: sleep quantity; sleep timing; nightly habits; daily habits and their impact on sleep; behaviour prior to bedtime; brain activity throughout the night. Among the identified myths, we can find that of “short sleeper” which stipulates that some adults need only 5 or less hours of sleep in order to be fit. Another one refers to a recurring question: if I don’t manage to sleep, should I stay in bed or get up? Another myth refers to snoring: apart from the nuisance it causes for the partner, in most cases it wrongly appears to be without danger for the sleeper. Better identifying and understanding myths and beliefs surrounding sleep is a first step towards: 1) promoting beliefs based on scientific evidence; and (2) proposing educational interventions on sleep.

Mathieu Nedelec, sport scientist in charge of research projects on sleep and recovery. I teach best practices to improve sleep and performance. I will read your answers carefully and let you know when my next posts will be published.