My friend Nic Healey recently shifted his training to include split sleep (sometimes called biphasic sleep). This is where you break your typical night’s sleep into two segments. For example, you wake up early in the morning, carry out some activity and then go back to bed for the rest of your sleep.
For example, say you go to bed at 11:00PM. A typical split sleep cycle might have you wake at 3:30 AM, carry out some activity and then return to bed at 4:00AM for another three or four hours.
The result is that you get about the same amount of sleep that you did before but you break it up.
We asked Nic how this has been working for him and where it’s helped him with his progress.
1. What’s the focus of your exercise program? Strength? Endurance? Whatever?
Currently I’m focussed on strength. Specifically, I’m doing Wendler 531 which really concentrates on four main lifts/presses: Squat, Bench, Dead and Military.
2. What prompted you to try split sleep?
Bizarrely, it was one of the “did you know” hints that pop up on the Jawbone UP app. It talked about the idea that people used to have split sleeps rather consistently — it reminded me of some of the research I’d seen about a year earlier and piqued my interest.
I can be a bit of a poor sleeper — I was averaging just over 6 hours a night according to my UP24 — so I thought “why not just have a crack at this?”
3. How does it impact your usual work day? Eg – what time do you generally go to bed, wake up, etc?
I’m going to be a bit earlier that usual — my goal is 11pm, but I’m often in bed by half 10. I get up at 3am and walk to the 24 hour gym around the corner. Then I do half an hour of light cardio with maybe a little core training after.
Then it’s back in bed by 4am and (hopefully) asleep by 4.30 for a 7.30am wake up.
4. What’s a typical training day look like?
At the moment for my 3am slot, I’m doing treadmill work — I crank the incline to 10, the speed to 4.5 and start march (with no holding on!) I keep cranking that up until my final 5 minutes should be around 5.5 speed at 13 incline. Then a five minute cool down. I do that Monday morning to Saturday morning, having the Sat night/Sunday AM as a free day.
I’ll usually add a lunch or evening weights workout to that: 30-35 minutes. Wendler works well for that because it’s low rep work sets with heavier weights. That’s four days a week.
On Mondays I have a strength training bootcamp thanks to my gym and I try and do two dedicated core sessions a week. (Note, I said try…)
5. Have you seen any improvement in your energy levels, ability to concentrate at work, etc?
I’m definitely getting more sleep. Significantly more actually — my average is up around 6 hours 50 minutes now. My first week was a little sketchy as my brain adjusted. I also found food a bit weird: I was very hungry but I filled up super quickly.
That’s all gone and I feel broadly a little better than I have in a while. I can’t say whether that’s the split sleep, the increased cardio or the fact that my earlier bed time means I’m drinking a little less and eating a bit better, but overall… well, let me put it this way: I’d initially decided to try this for two weeks and I’m into my third week and not planning on stopping.
6. Has there been a positive or negative impact on your training?
At first I’d worried that I was actually a little weaker when it came to lifts, but bizarrely, the numbers don’t match that: I’m still improving week to week in line with what I’d been hoping for. I’d say it’s been positive for me overall — extra cardio that doesn’t interfere with my regular weights work is never a bad thing. And being up at 4am has certainly improved my relationship with my cat. He loves that I’m awake to scratch his ears at a new and unexpected time.