Nick Littlehales is an elite sport sleep recovery coach/consultant. He is the founder of the game-changing R90 Recovery Technique and International best-selling author of Sleep. Nick’s R90 SleepKit products are designed to maximize mental and physical recovery.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I was born at home and grew up in the leafy suburbs of Sutton Coldfield part of the West Midlands in the UK. My early childhood was all about playing outside in an era when parents would be very happy for the local kids to escape off after breakfast and head off into a world of adventures only returning for dinner at sunset.
My mother was the event organiser for the local community families, always finding ways to bring everyone together and make the most of what we had or could do. Never a misspent moment if Mom had anything to do with it. My father was an engineer, always innovating, making stuff up, or fixing stuff and I remember many hours with him doing just that.
Late in my father’s career, he invented PI (petrol injection) a way of injecting fuel into a car engine’s piston which would create more power. He ended up travelling the world with what is now known as F1 (Formula One) with some of the greats of motorsport during the ’50s & ’60s.
From him, I learnt you can do or make anything work, you just need to be motivated to learn the required skills and or develop new skills to do something different.
In my teenage years, I just loved any sport and wanted to be a professional athlete or player. Whilst being somewhat successful in many sports that I truly liked more than anything else my journey started up as an assistant golf professional at Little Aston GC, a local but very exclusive members club ranked at one point in the top ten golf courses in the UK if not the world at that time. The members were all established professionals from CEOs, dentists, lawyers, doctors, surgeons, successful self-made businessmen to champions of industry, all very much older than me at just 17 years at that time, and from very different backgrounds.
I learnt how to coach the members, earn their respect, and, above all, that some occupations that can provide independence, doing something you actually like doing like being a professional in the sport, require a 24/7 commitment and patience, understanding that when you are about to give up is the time you are about to break through and shine.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
My father at the point of his retirement passed away suddenly. I was just seventeen and had not really been able to get involved with his life in motorsport other than when he was testing cars and engines at home and some of the great presents, he would bring back from races like the Monaco Grand Prix to the Le Mans 24 hours.
There are many experiences and memories from that period I could and should have drawn upon to help shape my life plan, but two I think about most often are, “you don’t have to follow the norm, you can be different and if you see it differently it probably is”. The other is that “life is much shorter than you think or imagine it will be, striving to be in control of everything provides a false sense of security”. As in my father’s case, his retirement plans and reward for a dedicated company man were taken from him and all of his family abruptly and without warning.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
In a performance, push hard to get the most out of every moment-driven world, people tend to forget about or ignore the importance of sleep and strategic recovery. In that context, the most frequent bad recommendations I hear haven’t really changed much over the past 25 years:
Snoozers are Losers
You have to get your 8 hours, no matter the circumstances sleep is not a human performance factor and should not be considered in the same mindset as other key health pillars as hydration, nutrition, and exercise.
It’s not that important if you sleep well or not, as long as you allocate enough hours every night. That’s the best you can do.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
Back in the late nineties, in my mid 40’s, I left my high-profile company directors’ job and set up my first retail store in Manchester called “Private Sanctuary”. Which was exactly what I had wanted to do for many years. After a number of years of success, I allowed myself to be influenced by others and expanded into something that was not aligned with my original vision. Eventually, I lost focus and ultimately also my business. It not only ended an amazing time in Manchester, but it felt like my whole world had just imploded overnight.
I reflected on the main reason for the failure which was not my original vision or how I managed it in the early years of the venture. So, I simply got on with shutting everything down positively to move on and restart what I had before, but now with more experience from the positive outcomes of failure. On reflection, I suppose my time as a golf professional taught me that you have to lose many times before you can win, and at the end of the day losing is just practicing to win.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
As long as you have ideas, know how to create them, understand how they develop, you will always be prepared for what’s unknown around the corner, prepared to go around the corner, and as importantly turn left when the obvious choice is to maybe go right.
What is your morning routine?
My consistent everyday wake time or more importantly the time I start my day is 06:30 am because I am a morning chronotype or lark to some and love to get an early start.
My most consistent sleep time is 11 pm or 23:00, which is 5 x 90-minute cycles (or 7.5 hours).
By redefining my approach, making sleep my main health & wellbeing pillar, I am able to optimize my recovery, which has a positive impact on the other health pillars (like nutrition and exercise). Key to this is an unrushed post-sleep routine focused on light, hydration, fueling up, mental challenges, a delayed tech start-up, and whenever possible, get outside in the first 90 minutes of my day whatever the weather.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
I, first of all, have to listen to myself before I can listen to others who may or have the ability to influence my life.
All my life I had made it a point to challenge existing solutions, standards, and norms, which is something I had learnt from my parents. I very often came up with completely new ways to do things, to the point of challenging and changing a whole industry. Back in the old days, the phrase I heard most frequently was: “Oh no, what is Nick up to again?” Some even said that I had become a rebel, a disruptor, in the world of sleep.
All of it culminated in my book called “SLEEP” “The Myth of 8 Hours the Power of Naps and the New Plan to Recharge Your Body and Mind” Published in 2016 and now in 16 languages around the world and counting.
I think it is OK to disrupt the norm, as long as you know why it needs to be disrupted and very conscious of what the consequences might be; the aim should be to make something better for all of us and sustainable not just for you.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
For me, it’s not about efficiency, productivity, time management, but how much impact can I have on my day. If I can kick start my every day with a technique that works every time knowing my day will be the best day ever on repeat. Not only will it have an impact on me It will have an impact on others.
Building person-to-person relationships is a human norm and key to living in harmony with others. Make your day great and by default, their day will be great. If you are going to disrupt the norm then make sure it works for everyone.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
Whilst there are many books that may well have influenced my life, I have been far more influenced by the people I have met. For me, it’s all about searching for and building relationships, striving to meet people who could influence my life, or me theirs. What you read for me cannot replace what you get from a person in person.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
My life is not influenced by anyone’s particular or collection of quotes. Of course, every once in a while, in context, a quote will make me reflect or be inspired. For me, it’s better to create your own quote, that means something to you personally. Mine is or a version of someone else’s is “at the time you feel like giving up, is when you are about to break through and shine”.