The Truth About Sleep

For Niche, February saw the return of our favourite couple of hours of the month. Function Jigsaw came to present the sixth ‘Truth About’ course on sleep. After a busy Christmas and New Year, staying up late and letting ourselves have long lie-ins, we all struggled to get back into our routines so this was a well-timed talk.

But first, we need to introduce you to the new Fit for Industry speaker Caroline Gordon (43). She’s a personal trainer, coach, and nutrition adviser. It was only after her 40th birthday when she’d had enough of being unfit and unhealthy. Caroline has spent the last couple of years working in a private facility with large number clients that have a wide variety of goals, needs and health issues.

Sharing aspects of her personal life with us in relation to the topics within the talk, we discovered that while re-training and setting up a new path in her life, that Caroline was also a single mother of two. Many of us in the office found her an inspiration as her openness allowed us to relate to her in our own personal way.

So, to start, Caroline asked us a simple question: “How did you sleep?” This of course opened a whole can of worms. She made sure that all areas of sleep were covered as we shared our experiences and sleep behaviours and shared the science behind them.

Caroline’s hints and tips we reveal here can apply to anyone, so if you’re struggling with sleep, losing weight, or concentration at work they’re worth a read.

The sleep less, eat more theory

While we sleep we produce leptin. Leptin regulates appetite and, in turn, affects how we store energy. Leptin levels increase while we’re asleep so that our brain knows we have enough energy so that it doesn’t tell us we’re hungry in the night. So, if you don’t get enough sleep, you will have less leptin in your body. Less leptin eventually means that your brain will think it doesn’t have enough energy and so tells your body that it’s hungry even when you really don’t need any food then and there.

Our bodies also produce ghrelin. This hormone tells you when to put burning calories on hold, when to store energy, and when you need food. As we don’t need as much energy while we’re asleep, our bodies produce less ghrelin. You end up with too much ghrelin in your body if you don’t get enough sleep. With heightened ghrelin levels your body will think it’s hungrier and cease burning some of those calories because your body doesn’t know that there’s a easily accessible food all around you – essentially, it has a bit of a panic that there’s no food and starts storing fat.

The power nap

Caroline advised the more sleep deprived among us to take a 20 minute power nap to increase productivity and alertness. Whether you take this in your work break or as soon as you get home, it will help set you up for the tasks ahead of you. She also explained the theory that you should drink coffee just before a nap. It’s because coffee takes about 20 minutes to kick in, a bit like pain killers do. A 20 minute nap is long enough to boost your energy whilst being just short of entering REM (rapid eye movement, linked with deep sleep and dreaming). Because 20 minutes into sleeping is the lightest stage of non-REM sleep, it’s easier to wake up and go without that horrible groggy feeling. After about 30 minutes your brain waves begin to slow, which is the cause for the grogginess if you wake up during this stage of sleep.

The 90 minute sleep hack

The complete cycle of sleep is said to take place in 90 minutes. So, this is another great amount of time to nap for if you’re wanting a bit longer without the grog. This nap time will increase memory and creativity. If you have a set bed time and set time your alarm goes off every morning, and you’re are used to feeling like you’ve got the symptoms of a hangover, it could be that you’re waking up in the middle of deep sleep – not cool. Caroline says to start from the time you want to wake up – let’s say 7am – and work backwards in 90 minutes time frames. Apparently, it takes the average human 15 minutes to fall asleep. So if you want to wake up feeling refreshed at 7am, you’d need to be asleep by either 9:45pm, 11:15pm or 12:45pm.

For help calculating when you should go to sleep and wake up, go to

Here’s what the Niche team thought of the sleep topic in the Fit for Industry programme:

"I thought the talk was very interesting and factual and I’m really interested in sleep anyway so this was great for me. I thought Caroline was great and she got us all engaged and speaking about our own personal experiences and we all got involved as a team."

"I always look forward to having Function Jigsaw back in the office every month. It's like having a counselor, doctor, dietitian and fitness expert all rolled into one who really listens and cares about fixing the things that negatively affect your life, which also affect how productive you are at work. It helps that Caroline is so open about her own life. It means we can all relate to her and feel comfortable sharing our own experiences. The massages really help as I sit at a desk all day. The girls have explained why I get upper back pain and have given lots of advice on how to improve my posture and sitting position.”

"I look forward to the massages. They've been really helpful, especially for the problem I had in my arm and helping with the aftermath of having fractured my wrist. They've given some good advice on physio and it's made a big difference in my day to day life, which in turn has made a difference to how I work.”