Interview by Ally Gilbert
Dr. Sian Allen lives and breathes athletic performance, which extends not only to her role as a Research Manager at Lululemon but into her life as well.
From her beginnings in the English Women's Premier League as a teen, she found herself studying sports science, championing a position as physiologist to British Olympic athletes, and pursuing a PhD in statistical modeling of athlete performance data in New Zealand.
After using analytics to create performance strategies for the NZ Olympic and Paralympic teams at the Rio 2016 games, she decided to scale her data-driven approach to sports science for a more general audience.
"I joined Lululemon's innovation team where I've worked on projects like powering a virtual reality biofeedback meditation experience using wearable tech data, to help make recovery practices like mindfulness more accessible and engaging to the general population."
It's a continuation of her mission to make sports science as accessible to the general public as it is to professional athletes.
What kickstarted your interest and journey to improve your sleep?
Dr. Sian reflects on her work as a physiologist for elite athletes:
"I noticed how much attention is devoted to training and getting things like intervals, intensity, and movement mechanics precisely right to support adaptation. Monitoring the biometrics of the athletes I worked with on a daily basis made it abundantly clear to me that it's also what athletes do in the other 20+ hours of their day when they're not training, and that it's absolutely critical to their success and progression over time."
Dr. Sian came to the conclusion that focusing on recovery is imperative to success during any activity.
"The best athletes I've worked with are almost religious in their commitment to optimizing their recovery as well as their training. From these observations, there's a mantra that has always stuck with me and still I advocate it today far beyond the athlete audience: If you want to maximize the return on your training or any investment you're making in learning new skills to develop yourself, the science suggests sleep should be an absolute priority!"
The research, of course, echoes Dr. Sian's narrative that the essential factors affecting performance in elite athletes are sleep, nutrition, and physical conditioning. You can read more about this here.
It's all well and good knowing the importance of sleep and recovery, but how can we make performance more actionable?
What's your tried-and-true stack for improving sleep
Before we jump into her health stack, she has a framework to decide whether the new intervention will be useful to her or not.
The internal 2x2 matrix is what she uses to evaluate whether or not she'll stick with any new piece of tech. It's based on how much value it brings to her life versus friction:
What made it through the matrix? For sleep, Dr. Sian uses Oura to track HRV and illness.
"I loved the Dreem headset from an accuracy perspective since I think EEG adds another level to sleep measurement, but wearing something chunky on my head to sleep each night and having to charge it everyday made it unsustainable over the long-term."
To support her sleep wind-down, Dr. Sian uses the HRV4Biofeedback app.
"Deep breathing for at least 5 minutes each day really helped me switch my brain off and power down before bed. The app is super simple to use and you only need your phone camera to record data, so it's very accessible for anyone, with powerful results!"
The rest of Dr. Sian's health stack for exercise and performance
The Polar H10 chest strap is what Dr. Sian uses for tracking exercise.
"Although the chest strap provides a bit of friction to my life based on my 2x2 matrix, it's 100% worth it for the accuracy and real-time data you can use to adjust your effort. For general activity and movement throughout the day, I like Apple Watch and the gentle but positive reinforcement that the Oura ring provides."
Dr. Sian's recommendations to support their health are things that are simple, but not necessarily easy. Most importantly:
"The best type of exercise is the one you'll actually do because it's fun to you and you'll enjoy it! Maybe that's gardening, or maybe it's an ultra-marathon. And don't overthink things, and/or feel like you need technology or anything else to get started."
What optimal sleep health means to Dr. Sian, and what it'll help her achieve
"I heard this quote recently that I loved: 'What's done in the dark comes out in the light.' To me, that represents how easy it is to see someone thriving, but not see all the little things they do well every day to get there."
She speaks about the benefits of investing in sleep health: "Investing in behaviors that support my sleep that may seem small or like a sacrifice is actually an investment in my long-term health, happiness, and growth."
She strikes a chord with us at Crescent because we know that consistency is key— especially when building the habits that allow us to achieve the results that we want from our lives — but it's not always easy.
Challenge has been a theme in Dr. Sian's life, the most recent life change was when her son was born.
"I've been figuring out how to get the sleep I need to have the right kind of energy to look after my son properly. Having optimal sleep health means being able to properly recharge myself so I can show up as strongly as possible for the people I care about in my life."
Dr. Sian's advice for anyone looking to improve their sleep
Her advice is to focus on the controllable and start simple: "You can't get a better night's sleep by trying harder, but you can control the time you go to bed, for example. Pick one positive behavior related to sleep hygiene and start there."