How to Coach Sleep

The “Sleep, Eat, Move, Manage” model is easy to program and deliver. It creates a lot of extra value without a lot of extra work.

We know that “sleep debt” is real, and affects metabolism and endocrine function in the body. If you don’t sleep, it’s hard to lose weight; hard to produce hormones; and hard to stay calm.

But how do you coach the “Sleep” portion of SEMM?

While research on sleep quantity and quality is improving, the science is still in its infancy. But new sleep-tracking devices and apps create a mountain of useful feedback for coaches.

First, here are the basic goals for all of your clients:

  1. Fulfill basic sleep quantity – Get 6-8 hours of sleep consistently
  2. Feel full of energy upon waking – you don’t feel like you need/want another hour of sleep
  3. Wake up pain-free
  4. Optimally recover from the day’s stress (physical and mental).

These are the purpose of sleep.

In the old days, your clients had to attend a “sleep lab” to have their sleep assessed. Doctors and nurses would watch them sleep for a night and assess their sleep quality. This worked in extreme circumstances: when a patient suffered from sleep apnea, for instance. But now you can use new tools to help your clients optimize sleep even without a chronic condition.

Two popular options are “sleep tracking” apps and Whoop.

This is a free app called “Sleep Cycle” (paid version available, but I don’t use it.) You activate the app on your phone and leave it turned on beside your bed when you sleep.
I’m not sure exactly how this measures “In bed” vs “asleep”–I fall asleep almost immediately, even when I’m trying to read–but have a bad habit of checking my phone in the morning before I get up.

The beauty of Sleep Cycle (besides the cost) is that it doesn’t pretend to know more than it does. While I can’t attest to the “deep sleep” measures, I definitely got up at 2am this morning (my last espresso was too late last night.) I checked the clock when I did, and Sleep Cycle was right on.
You, as the coach, can take this screen shot from a client and make recommendations. The app doesn’t try to make recommendations for you; it’s just a snapshot.

On the other hand: Whoop.

Whoop is the opposite of a snapshot. Whoop is prescriptive.

Whoop is a wrist strap that you wear all the time (you don’t even take it off to charge it.) Whoop measures “day strain”–the cumulative effect of your workouts and stress–and your “recovery”–the cumulative effect of your naps and sleep. Then it tells you whether you should train hard, or take an easier day:

Whoop is immensely popular among clients and coaches now, so your clients might have it. And if they do, they’re probably raving about it: the Whoop Teams bring a social element to their training and recovery, and the graphics look really science-y.
The key to using Whoop as a coach, though, is to interpret the results for your client. You can have them send you a screen shot in the morning, or just text your their Recovery or Day Strain scores. Be the person with the prescription, and alter the prescription based on the Whoop scores.
The potential hiccup with Whoop is that the app wants to be the coach. It’s prescriptive:

“Your body is primed to adapt to high Strain”…maybe that’s true, but maybe it isn’t. Whoop doesn’t measure what I’ve eaten, for example. I could have performed a 24-hour fast yesterday and received the same advice from the Whoop app today. It also sometimes spits out little tidbits of knowledge like this: “High-intensity work with heart rate over 90% of max builds fast-twitch muscle fibers…” – um, no it doesn’t.

It’s not a far reach to imagine a case where Whoop starts selling “Optimal” workouts to your clients. But that hasn’t happened yet.

The key to using these apps, just like any app, is to translate the results for your client instead of allowing the app to replace you. Your job, as coach, is to place the data into your client’s context for them.

Some tips to help your clients:

  1. Have a consistent sleep/wake schedule – go to bed and wake up at the same time
  2. Keep your sleep room temperature less than or equal to 68 degrees Fahrenheit
  3. Don’t promote sleep disruption – No alcohol within 2 hours, and no caffeine with 6 hours, of going to bed.

The SEMM model gives coaches a way to prescribe more than just exercise. It gives coaches the power to improve the entire organism. Like the other elements (Eat, Move and Manage), there are free versions and apps that can help–or provide free alternatives to coaching. It’s up to the coach to provide the broader context, take charge of the prescription, and actually lead the client to fitness.

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