[Transcript] – The Problem With Sleeping On Your Side, How To Sleep On Your Back, Little-Known Sleep Enhancement Tricks & Much More!

Affiliate Disclosure


Podcast from: https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/podcast/sleep-podcasts/how-to-sleep-on-your-back/

[0:00:00] Introduction

[0:01:15] Podcast Sponsors

[0:03:54] About This Podcast and Guest

[0:05:40] How “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” inspired Dr. Martone's invention

[0:09:20] Side Sleeping Concerns

[0:15:11] Tossing and Turning

[0:18:05] Advantages and Training Oneself to Sleep on Your Back

[0:25:12] Neck Nest

[0:28:51] Podcast Sponsors

[0:31:18] Other Sleeping Devices

[0:32:47] “Remembering”

[0:37:00] Core Temperature and Sleep

[0:45:31] Other Little-Known Sleep Tips

[0:51:53] More About the Neck Nest and Dr. Martone's New Sleep Quest

[0:55:41] Closing the Podcast

[0:56:30] End of Podcast

Peter:  I found that I needed to be in control of something. Because we're all control freaks, it's very difficult for us to shut it down, especially if you're like me. You could put a coin on my shoulder, and I will wake up, and that coin will still be on my shoulder. I don't toss and turn all night at all. Now, we're doing that post x-rays on them. It's ridiculous as I'm taking people off of care three or four months earlier. And when I tell people, I said, “You know, you don't have a problem in your lower back. You have a problem in your neck.”

Ben:  I have a master's degree in physiology, biomechanics, and human nutrition. I've spent the past two decades competing in some of the most masochistic events on the planet from SEALFit Kokoro, Spartan Agoge, and the world's toughest mudder, the 13 Ironman triathlons, brutal bow hunts, adventure races, spearfishing, plant foraging, free diving, bodybuilding and beyond. I combine this intense time in the trenches with a blend of ancestral wisdom and modern science, search the globe for the world's top experts in performance, fat loss, recovery, hormones, brain, beauty, and brawn to deliver you this podcast. Everything you need to know to live an adventurous, joyful, and fulfilling life. My name is Ben Greenfield. Enjoy the ride.

Oh well, howdy, howdy, ho. Today's podcast is a little funky. It's with my friend, Peter Martone. He's not like a world-renowned sleep expert, but the dude knows some kind of fringe under-the-radar stuff about sleep I haven't talked about before on the show, so I thought it was high time. I got him on. Don't fall asleep. Don't operate heavy machinery during today's show, please, which is brought to you by Kion. Did you know that I actually made an energy bar? It's like a chocolate, coconut energy bar. Super gut-friendly, frigging delicious.

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Hey folks, my guest on today's show is actually one of my buddies. He and I have ripped up the dance floor at an '80s party together. And more importantly, spent plenty of time at health conferences, geeking out on the very topic we're going to talk about on today's show. Sleep. And more specifically, sleeping positions. His name is Dr. Peter Martone. He is a chiropractic physician. He's probably one of the smartest guys I've ever talked to when it comes to outside the box thinking regarding sleep. Meaning, all about stuff like sleep cycles. If you're listening in, you've probably no doubt heard interviews with people like Matthew Walker or Nick Littlehales or Michael Breus.

But Peter has a very different approach. He kind of approaches sleep from a very biomechanical standpoint, which is quite interesting. He also has some other tricks too that I'm hoping we have time to get into, stuff I haven't heard of before when it comes to sleep enhancement. So, I'm going to take a sip here. I've got a little cinnamon chaga tea I'm chugging on. We're recording in the evening. This is around 2:00. We tried to connect this morning. That didn't work so well, Peter.

Peter:  No, it didn't.

Ben:  Yeah. Our times are all mixed up. I think Peter came running out of the forest from a workout. We tried. But we're making it happen now. We're making it happen right now. And mainly, one of the things that I should tell you is that you may recognize Peter in his voice because he was on a Facebook video with me a year ago, where we were talking about probably where we're going to jump into right now. Sleeping on your back and why it's so good for you, and the problem with side sleeping. And for me, as a side sleeper, this is something I find intriguing. So, Peter, I believe that if I remember properly, your story begins with watching that old martial arts movie, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Am I correct?

Peter:  You are correct. I did a story for a friend of us, Dr. Joe Mercola, and I laid it out. I am having ADD, like you Ben.

Ben:  Hey.

Peter:  I know, I'm sorry. Having ADD, I love puzzles and I love to put things together, and some of the stuff that we're going to go over. The reason why the audience hasn't heard it before is it's just the way that I'm an exercise physiologist, a chiropractor, a nutritionist, and I just put things together because I see patterns. I was watching “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon,” and I think it was set in like the 1500s. And when the two characters came out of the room, I remember very, very vividly seeing a block of wood for their head for a pillow. And I'm like, “What the heck is the block of wood doing as a pillow?” I think that would be so uncomfortable.

Ben:  Well, I don't know if these are the same people who train their limbs against blocks of wood to make their bone stronger.

Peter:  That's true, but it wasn't for their head, it was for their neck. And that really sent me down this whole entire thought process of changing, because I was a side sleeper. And I had shoulder problems, and I always blamed it on rock climbing. I rock climbed all over the world. I thought it was rock climbing. I thought it was impingement syndrome, and I fought those forever.

Ben:  Weren't you like a semi-pro mountain biker or something like that, too?

Peter:  That was actually coming out of the woods when I got your text, “Oh, yeah. I'm ready in five minutes.” I was in the middle of the woods, and I bolted all the way to my house. On the phone with my wife said, “Hon, you got to pick up the kids from school,” with one hand flying down the trail. It never worked out, but that's fine. We're on it today.

Ben:  Good man. You're the one guy I'd want texting and cycling at the same time. So, you saw the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon movie. These casts are sleeping with their necks on a wooden block. And where did your mind go?

Peter:  I said, “Well, it kind of makes sense, right?” Because if you look at–

Ben:  No, it doesn't.

Peter:  It does. Because one time, I was camping, right? I did a lot of winter camping and lived out of a backpack for a while. But anyways, I was camping, and I remember I forgot I had this little camping pillow. And instead of a pillow, I used my shoe. And I put my shoe under the base of my neck. I was so surprised because I slept all night long with a shoe under my neck and I woke up and I was well-rested. It didn't make sense to me because–

Ben:  That is interesting because I would've chosen a coat or like a rolled-up pair of socks.

Peter:  Yeah. For some reason, I don't know. At that time, it worked. Maybe I put something over it, but the shoe worked good. I had two shoes together. My head kind of nestled into it and I slept good. And then I started sleeping on my back from there, and then my shoulder issues, which I had double impingement syndromes, ended up going away. And I'm like, “Wow. There's something to this.” Wait 'til I get into some of the stuff that I found. I just did a review on a thousand x-rays, and it was staggering to me what I found.

Ben:  Geez. Okay, cool. Where do you want to jump in with what's wrong with the side sleeping position, in the first place, because I don't know, I mean I thought that was intriguing. I figured before we teach people how to sleep on their backs or how one could do it. I mean, I'm curious. I've heard you talk to me a little about it before, but can you just like take a deep dive into the issues with side sleeping?

Peter:  All right. After looking and really reviewing these x-rays, I would like to start there. I would say 90%, and this is regardless of age, 90% of all of my patients have some sort of damage to the cervical spine. So, what is critical in human development, in human structure is that you have a curve in your neck, right? You're familiar with that. You have a nice cervical curve in your neck. And when you lose that cervical curve in your neck, this is due to texting. I mean, we are on computers all day long. We're texting all day long. We're driving. And we're sleeping on our side. What ends up happening is we have all of these forward head posture activities during the day and we have nothing to reverse that damaging effect at night.

What ends up happening is people are losing the cervical curves in their spine. And with this review of x-rays, what I found is 98% of people that lose the cervical curve in their spine pick up a curve in their lower back and a scoliosis. Basically, their hips get thrown out of alignment.

Ben:  Wait. Is the curvature in the upper spine like a front to back curvature or a side-to-side curvature? Like a scoliotic curvature higher up causing a scoliotic curvature farther down?

Peter:  Exactly. So, you're losing the normal cervical curve, so in the lateral plane. Basically, picture your head moving forward, right? That's loss of curve. In the lateral plane, you're losing the cervical curve. It's called the lordosis. And in the lower back, you're picking up a scoliosis in the A to P plane.

Ben:  Okay. All right. So, you're sleeping on your side and it's creating a scoliotic curvature of the lower back.

Peter:  The first thing that happens is you lose the cervical curve in your neck, which is causing a scoliosis in your lower back.

Ben:  Okay. So, is that the main issue with side sleeping then? It's just that loss of hip function?

Peter:  No. When you lose the curve in your neck, something very specific happens. There's a portion in your brain called your vermis.

Ben:  Your vermis?

Peter:  Vermis, yeah.

Ben:  Is that an acronym for something?

Peter:  No. It's an actual part of your brain. All right. So, there's a specific part of your brain in the cerebellum that its major function is to control proprioception, okay? So, your balance, your awareness in space. And when you lose the cervical curve in your spine–and in your spine, 80% of all the proprioception into the brain comes from your spinal cord itself, I mean, your spine itself. So, when you lose that cervical curve, what happens is you break down proprioception which atrophies the vermis. And the vermis' one other function is to build the prefrontal cortex. So, what ends up happening, the prefrontal cortex is your executive functioning. You lose your executive functioning, and you lose focus, and you lose the tension. You get irritable. It's a very, very, very interesting connection.

Ben:  This thing with the vermis, has this actually been studied before?

Peter:  Yeah.

Ben:  So, you could atrophy a part of the cerebellum from sleeping on your side long-term?

Peter:  No. You get atrophy in a portion of cerebellum from loss of proprioception. And when you break down the biomechanics of the spine, that decreases proprioceptive signals into the brain. So, I'm theorizing that because when you degenerate the spine, you atrophy your vermis. So, when you lose the cervical curve, that's basically degeneration of the spine.

Ben:  Now, what about this idea because we, in the past few years, have seen the emergence of the knowledge of glymphatic drainage that occurs during a night of sleep. It's when the brain kind of cleans up cellular garbage, and it's very similar to the lymph drainage that occurs for the rest of the body. But it's my understanding that that occurs most favorably in a side sleeping position. So, wouldn't you be limiting the amount of lymphatic drainage?

Peter:  Then I would ask. The question is so that lymphatic drainage happens around the neural tissue itself. So, if you decrease the curve in the spine, you're going to severely block off that lymphatic drainage when you reverse that cervical curve in the spine. So, if you take a normal individual and you reverse the cervical curve in their spine, you're going to inhibit what's called the Atlas access upper cervical area where right around the top portion of the spine, you're going to block off cerebral spinal fluid at that point.

Ben:  Okay. So, you're arguing that the disruption in cervical curvature that would occur from long-term side sleeping and the loss of glymphatic drainage that would occur as a result of that is actually greater than any inhibition of glymphatic drainage that would occur if you were sleeping on your back instead.

Peter:  Without a doubt, 110% yes.

Ben:  Well, what else with side sleeping? Are there any other issues with side sleeping besides this atrophy of the vermis, loss of proprioception and a scoliotic curve of the hips?

Peter:  Sure. Let's look at why we toss and turn all night long, right? Your pain centers and your sleep centers are very close together, and that happens for a reason. Because when you're in pain, your body wants to wake up and turn, correct? I tell my patients–

Ben:  I get that a lot in my left hip, by the way. I can't sleep on my left side. I'm kind of like half side half belly.

Peter:  What I would tell you to do is go on your right side, right, and try to watch a movie in that position for two hours and stay in one position. It can't be done because your body–

Ben:  Unless, it's a good movie. If it's “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” I could do it.

Peter:  Exactly. But you're going to be in pain. So, my point is that when you fall asleep on your side, you're only in control of that position for a short period of time. When you check out, your body's going to toss and turn you all night long because of the fact that your body's not in, which we'll talk about in a second, a neutral sleeping position. So, that's why people toss and turn. They toss and turn, because they're in pain because they're in an improper sleeping position. The next thing I would say on that would be, let's say somebody has alcohol and alcohol puts you into a deep comatose sleep, and it inhibits your pain sensors. So, if you go to sleep on your side–this happened to me many times back in the day–and you have alcohol, and then you wake up on your arm, you're going to pull your neck, you're going to wake up tight, you're going to hurt your arm, because you stay in that position three to four times longer. And you actually can do damage to a joint by side sleeping like that.

Ben:  Now, what about actual research or insight into things like cognitive function or executive function or a lot of things that we rely upon, proper REM and non-REM cycles for? Has any of this ever been tested in sleep labs? Have you ever done any internal research or anything like that?

Peter:  I haven't done research on back sleeping in any of that type of stuff. Recently, I have an Oura ring, and I've really been geeking out on that thing, really understanding when I get my best deep sleep time of the week. I get my best deep sleep, and then my sleep cycles, how much I toss and turn, and things like that. So, you could put a coin on my shoulder, and I will wake up and that coin will still be on my shoulder. I don't toss and turn all night at all. I don't move.

Ben:  Interesting. Okay. So, the problem here is that even if people would be convinced that there's some kind of link between injuries or cognitive function and an entire night spent on your side, what I run into is I just can't freaking train myself how to sleep on my back. And furthermore, I'm curious, besides this hip scoliosis thing, if there are actual advantages to sleeping on your back instead versus let's just say we fix this issue by sleeping on the stomach, for example. Can you walk me through that?

Peter:  Walk you through how to get somebody to sleep on their back?

Ben:  You know what, before we do that, what would be the advantages of sleeping on your back? Is there any advantage besides getting rid of some of the issues that we just talked about?

Peter:  Yeah. So, if you use a pillow–we have one specifically designed–not for your head, but use it for your neck, what you will actually do is you'll actually restore the cervical curve in your neck, which also helps decrease the lumbar tension. So, you'll decrease lower back pain, and you'll decrease neck pain by sleeping on your back.

Ben:  Okay. So, I guess the million-dollar question here is, somebody listening in, they want to train themselves how to sleep on their back. I've tried. My issues are I get pretty comfortable. I can actually take a whole nap on my back, just for 40 to 60 minutes. And I'll often put a pillow under my knees and pillow under my head. Even then, I wake up with a little bit of sinus congestion. I kind of wake up like that when I'm sleeping on my back. And I also find if I'm doing that for a full night of sleep, I'll get about an hour into a full night of sleep, and I wake up and find myself shifting to my side. So, how do you actually train yourself to sleep on your back?

Peter:  So, the way that I teach my patients is I say all you have to do is start on your back. You don't have to stay in your back all night long. You start on your back and you sleep on your back for one to two hours a night. That is going to be enough to be able to stretch that neck back and help reverse the damage of texting and forward head posture all day long. In another technique that I have them use is you can buy like a, if you don't have a bed that elevates, you can buy these sleep wedges online. You can sleep at a 5 to 10-degree angle and that will help you also sleep on your back.

Ben:  Is that the same as one of these gravity beds that actually kind of tilts you back as you're sleeping?

Peter:  No. It's basically like a hospital bed where it elevates your legs slightly and elevates your back slightly. So, I sleep at about five to eight degrees.

Ben:  Okay, got you. I did a whole podcast on those gravity beds before at one point. They're called zero-gravity beds. Have you seen these things before?

Peter:  No, I haven't.

Ben:  Okay. So, the zero-gravity bed is–let me see if I can describe the shape of it to you. It can go down to flat, but it's basically elevated, so your back is at an incline, and then it kind of dips down under your lumbar spine and then dips back up under your knees then levels out. You could probably, or if anybody's listening in, you could google it and see a picture of what it looks like. So, it tilts your upper body up and your lower body up, so you're almost kind of sleeping in a V-shape on your back with your knees elevated. Is that different than a sleep wedge?

Peter:  Well, yes. That's the best way to do it to be able to sleep like that. But a sleep wedge is a $49 investment online. And it also is a small triangle. Basically, it's seven-inch elevation.

Ben:  Okay, got you. Yeah, these gravity beds are usually like a couple of thousand bucks. I did a whole podcast on them. I'll try and hunt it down and link to it in the show notes, which by the way, are at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/necknest. That's BenGreenfieldFitness.com/necknest. So, you start off by sleeping for an hour on your back. And where are you putting the wedge?

Peter:  The wedge is long enough where it–so the pillow is at the top of the wedge, and then the wedge goes all the way down to the base of your spine, so basically, at your belt line.

Ben:  Okay. And the wedge is, I assume, with the tapered end of the wedge pointed down towards the bottom of your spine?

Peter:  Correct. Yes.

Ben:  Okay. All right. I have one of those sex pillows. I forget–they're called the wedge. That's that same shape, huh?

Peter:  Yeah. You're going to do fine with that. That's going to be great for you.

Ben:  Yeah, I do fine with that, brother. Trust me.

Peter:  I know. I know.

Ben:  Okay. So, you need like a pillow wedge, and you want to just do it for like an hour a night. And will your body eventually get to the point doing that where you can sleep an entire night on your back?

Peter:  It will because the issue is if you have that reverse cervical curve, which is also picked up in the lumbar by a pelvic misalignment, and your ribs also have scar tissue in them from side sleeping and you can't take a deep breath, what ends up happening when you first start lying on your back, you can't stay on your back because your body is in pain because your lower back is going to bother you, your ribs are going to bother you, and your neck is going to bother you. So, by making a lifestyle habit of starting an hour to a night, some nights, you'll be there three or four hours, some nights you'll only be there one or two, but if you do that all the time, eventually your spine will change. It takes about two to three months.

Ben:  What about this trick of using, I think it's called a 650-down pillow? I don't know. What does the 650 stand for?

Peter:  Well, it's a fill. So, what we ended up designing is I was trying to get people to use down pillow back in the day and stuff it under their necks. And what ended up happening is the pillow–

Ben:  That's important. Sorry to interrupt. You said under the neck, not under the head, which was weird to me at first. So, basically, your head is tilted back just slightly.

Peter:  Exactly, yeah. And then we ended up designing–we actually used a down fill in it. We designed a pillow for your neck, not your head. It's a totally different design because if you're going to support the head, then you use a regular pillow, which is going to destroy your cervical spine. But if you support your neck, it's similar to like the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” It's not a block of wood, but we made something that would work similar.

Ben:  So, you saw the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and a wooden block on your neck, you did it with a shoe when you were camping, then you tried the 650-down pillow, and then you said, “Screw it. I'm just going to make a pillow that can actually go underneath the neck.”

Peter:  Yeah. So, we launched the pillow back in December. Now, we're doing that post-x-rays on them and it's ridiculous.

Ben:  How do you x-ray a pillow?

Peter:  No, I am x-raying the person.

Ben:  Yeah, I'm just kidding, man.

Peter:  Yeah. It's ridiculous. I'm taking people off of care three or four months earlier because they sleep in the right positions.

Ben:  Interesting. So, do you have a pillow? You've got this pillow. This is the one you call the Neck Nest, right?

Peter:  Correct, yeah.

Ben:  Okay. So, you have this pillow. It's underneath your neck. Are there any other pillows underneath it or is the head just kind of supported in a slightly tilted back position with this thing underneath the neck?

Peter:  Yeah. There's nothing else that you use under it. You put it directly on the bed. And then the way that I've been using it now is, because it has two-custom zippers on it, you can add fill, you can take fill out, which is something that people fought me on, but I wanted that anyways. But I have very little fill in my pillow. My head rests almost right on the bed, and I just stuffed that pillow right under my neck. It's such a comfortable position.

Ben:  Do you usually start with more down and then work your way down?

Peter:  That's exactly what you do. Yeah. And so, my body is in a neutral position. So, when you think about it, your surface area is greatest on your back and your weight needs to be distributed over the greatest surface area. So, when you sleep on your back, it's called the neutral sleeping position, you're actually distributing your surface area over the greatest amount of space. And then once your body gets used to it, it'll stay in that position all night long.

Ben:  Okay. So, when you're taking this down out, is that the little zipper on the side of the pillow?

Peter:  Yes. Yeah.

Ben:  Okay. I haven't actually taken any down out of mine. You sent me one, but I didn't mess around with that at all. What's the down made out of it?

Peter:  It's duck and down. They take all the little pokey things that are coming down that poke in your neck. They take all that stuff out, and that's why it's a concentrated down.

Ben:  Yeah. I think those are called quills. I'm not sure.

Peter:  Quills.

Ben:  I think I'm making that up.

Peter:  No. I think you're good.

Ben:  Okay. So, you basically get this pillow. You put it underneath your neck. You do this for say an hour when you sleep on your back at night. Do you put a pillow under your knees at all?

Peter:  No, I don't. At the beginning, you can because, like I said, when your back goes into extension–so your back naturally when you lie, your back goes into hyperextension. And when it goes into hyperextension, you don't need a support under it. You're not going to lose the curve in your lower back. But what happens is if you're not comfortable, if you're not used to sleeping in that position, your lower back will get painful. Sometimes you need the pillow under the legs.

Ben:  Okay. So, back up to these x-rays that you did with your patients when they were doing this, what exactly did you see?

Peter:  So, I have a patient with a reverse cervical curve, right, and when you reverse the cervical curve in your neck, remember your hips go out of alignment. So, everybody looks at the hips being out of alignment. And what I tell people is, I said, “You don't have a problem in your lower back. You have a sleeping position issue. You have a problem in your neck.” So, we look at the neck and there's a reversed cervical curve. So, we are now taking post-x-rays where we're restoring the cervical curve, and then we take pictures of the lower back, and we're pulling out the scoliosis in the lower back.

Ben:  Interesting. How many patients do you have using this thing right now?

Peter:  Well, since December, we've sold a thousand pillows. So, we have a lot of people using them.

Ben:  Congratulations. That's pretty good.

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Okay. Back to today's show.

When you're on your back like this, I like this idea too because there are some devices I don't use because I can't sleep on my back. There's this headband called the Dreem headband for monitoring ECG signals while you're asleep. There's like noise blocking headphones that work really well, but if you're in a side sleeping position, you can't use it that well. It's something that's high up on my priority list. And I'm still toying around with the pillow that you sent to me, and I'm now doing, of course, like I mentioned all my napping in a back position.

I just got back from a camping trip where when you're inside of a sleeping bag, you're pretty much really good at sleeping on your back. And I actually stuff some clothing, not my shoe, but some clothing underneath my neck and then a little bit underneath my head just so it wasn't straight flat on the ground. And it worked pretty well. So, I'm kind of coming along and I like the idea. I imagine some people have some questions about how to do this, and if you have questions, I have some other sleep things I want to ask Peter about. But if you have questions about this, just go to the show notes at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/necknest. I'll link to these Neck Nest pillows. It's just one size fits all, and you take the down in and out as you want.

Peter:  Yeah. You customize it. My kids use it, too. So, you can have a small neck, a small size, and you can take enough fill-out where it works for your kids too.

Ben:  All right. Cool. For all of you using that Iron Neck training device, you might need a lot of down. Peter might need to send you extra down. Okay. So, the other thing I wanted to talk to you about was you have all these other little-known sleep tips, like your trick about remembering stuff. And you have some interesting thoughts on core temperature and even using pressure on your head to sleep. I would love to pick your brain for a little bit on some of these lesser-known sleep tips that you have. Let's start with this thing about remembering. Can you fill me in on how this works?

Peter:  Yes. In my past, I had a lot of anxiety and I had a difficult time sleeping because I would think. I always think about things to do. I think about my to-do list and what I had to do at the office. I was a thinker. I was a big thinker because I lived in my head. And I was unable to get a good night's sleep. And the more I was thinking, I'd wake up all night long. So, then I talked to some people. They said count sheep and count and count and count. So, I would count, and count would help, but it wasn't great for me because I'd start counting and then I'd start thinking, right?

So, I found that I needed to be in control of something, because we're all control freaks. It's very difficult for us to shut it down, especially if you're like me. I remember I was giving up a talk once, and I was giving a talk in my office, there were about 23 people in the audience. And I remember that night, instead of counting the number of people, I counted each person and remembered each seat that they sat in. And I just visualized each person in each seat, and then I went right to sleep. And I did that over and over and over again. From the same talk, I memorized where each person was sitting. And I found that the more I memorized the same event and the further I got from it, the quicker I went to sleep, and I stayed asleep all night long.

So, I could focus on something, but I wasn't thinking. It was very important for me because I looked at kind of some of the science on this. What I was doing was I was remembering. What I think I mentioned to you one time is you can't think yourself to sleep. You have to remember yourself to sleep.

Ben:  And so, what do you think is going on there from a cognitive standpoint?

Peter:  Because I looked it up. It does exist, anyway. So, what I believe is happening is when you dream, right–listen to Walker and some of the other people out there–dreams are a way that your body categorizes your memories or your day's events. And what I found is if I, let's say, go mountain biking today, I can't remember the trail I took today, I have to sleep on it and then it will put me to sleep if I happened yesterday. Does that make any sense?

Ben:  Yeah, it makes sense. I mean, I've messed around with this and it actually works oddly enough. I didn't believe you and then I started to remember, and the further back I can remember, like I'll think about what I had for dinner last Friday, like five days ago, and it actually works. But I'm trying to figure out if it just distracts you from the other racing thoughts that you might be having or if it's actually causing you to tap into the memory banks, you'd tap into during some of your REM sleep.

Peter:  Yeah. That's what I'm theorizing. I don't know. What I find is if I think about something back in my childhood, I'm out. So, the further I go back–

Ben:  You go far back.

Peter:  I do, yeah, and I love it. I go back to the same exact time, the same exact walk. I walk around the block when I was a kid. It's fun and I'm out.

Ben:  That's a very interesting tip. I recommend that people try it if you haven't heard of this before, because for me, it actually works. You also have some interesting thoughts on core temperature and sleep. And I think your thoughts are interesting because I've always kept the room cool, tried to not exercise too hard close to bedtime. I often do sauna in cold or a hot cold contrast shower prior to bed, and also sleep with socks on. With the theory being, and there's a little bit of research on this, if you keep the feet warm, there's more blood available to be shunted to the core. And you have different thoughts. Can you outline your thoughts on core temperature sleep and things like socks?

Peter:  Oh my god. I'm so glad you brought this up, because it is something I'm really, really, really passionate about because one of my core beliefs, right–have you ever heard of the term allostatic load?

Ben:  Mm-hmm.

Peter:  Right.

Ben:  You might want to describe it for our listeners though.

Peter:  So, basically, to make it simple, and I told my mom I wouldn't use complex terms. To make it simple is your body has a hierarchy on things that of importance, like vital organs. Your body cares more about keeping your heart beating than it does growing your fingernail, right? So, there are survival systems that take–like your body core temperature is one of them. So, your body cares way more about your core temperature than it does even your immune system. It cares more about your core temperature than it does keeping blood in your feet. So, when you think about allostatic load, you got to think about, okay, why do we get sick? And we get sick because our body only has so much energy that it can distribute throughout the whole entire body.

And if you're running from a tiger all day long because that's a survival system, you've got to get away from that tiger, it's going to suppress three very important systems–your immune system, your digestive system and your reproductive system. Those systems are all lower on the totem pole than getting away from that tiger. Does that make sense?

Ben:  Yeah.

Peter:  That's allostatic load. Your body has a hierarchy of things that it needs to maintain, and then if it has extra leftover energy, that will boost your immune system, then it will boost your reproductive system and your digestive system. That is why people always have issues in three areas. You can have a digestion issue, an immune system issue, and sometimes a sex issue. So, they're all connected. Now, let's go back to sleep and let's go back to temperature. Well, one of the most fundamental high on the allostatic load things is body core temperature. When you drop, you're correct. You get sleepy. But it has to be so tightly regulated within one or two degrees that it requires an enormous amount of resources to be able to maintain a core temperature at 98 degrees in a 60-degree room. So, when you're sleeping, to me, I keep my core as warm as possible.

Ben:  As warm as possible.

Peter:  As warm as possible with the osmotic coppers on myself, and then I use my hands, my feet and my head as the radiator. Because the body cares so much less about your hands and your feet, it will make them really cold. So, you're doing the opposite of what I teach all my patients.

Ben:  Couldn't you just not keep your core warm and also keep the other areas exposed if you're using them as radiators and get the core temperature even cooler? Or are you saying that that would increase the allostatic load too much?

Peter:  It'll increase the allostatic load on maintaining a core body temperature at 98 degrees, and it will suppress your immune system healing at night. That is a theory, but I'm going with it. Because remember, at night, if you take–the way that I explain to my patients again–if I take a glass of water and I need to maintain the temperature of that water at 98 degrees and I put a little energy meter in there, if there's no barrier around it, if the temperature of the room cools, it takes more energy to keep the heat, to keep that water at 98 degrees. But if I insulate it with a little koozie, it takes less energy giving the body more healing energy.

So, my thing is keep your core warm like the Ayurvedic writings. Let your hands, arms and feet out. Sometimes I only put the covers from my waist up to my neck and I'm done because I use my hands and my feet as my radiator.

Ben:  Did you track your sleep at all? Do you use the Oura ring or anything like that?

Peter:  Absolutely. Yeah, yeah.

Ben:  That's the only thing you use?

Peter:  Yeah. So, last night my sleep score was a 97–96 or 97, I think, 96.

Ben:  Holy cow. Geez. I might have to try this. We're using that tip that you just talked about, keeping the core warm, and the hands and the feet exposed.

Peter:  Yeah.

Ben:  Which I guess is easier to do if you sleep on your back, huh?

Peter:  It is. Yes, way easier. And you won't toss and turn. Ben, I'm telling you, you're going to love it. Take it before and after x-ray, because also too, I mean not to talk personal stuff, but if you have spastic iliopsoas, right, which are muscles through your stomach, they attach directly to the spine. I believe that they're in spasm because of a breakdown in the curve in the neck or improper sleeping position.

Ben:  How are you keeping your core warm? Are you just doubling up your blankets around your stomach and back area?

Peter:  No. I just use one down blanket. That's it.

Ben:  One down blanket, but you make sure it's over the core with the feet and the hands exposed?

Peter:  Yeah. For your listeners, if they go to that necknest\bengreenfield that we'll talk about, I'm going to have pictures there. And I have pictures of myself doing this. I have pictures of myself, my kids in the head garage, which we'll talk about in a second, and I'll post it all to that site.

Ben:  Okay. Great. The other part is the head. You talked about actually getting a weight on the head, am I correct?

Peter:  Yeah. Again, my theory why people like to sleep in the side position is like the ostrich that stick in their head in the ground. It's because they're curled up in a ball and they feel protected.

Ben:  Yeah, I do that. If I'm sleeping on my side, I even have like one pillow under my head and one pillow over it.

Peter:  Yeah. And that's where the whole weighted blanket idea came from, right? Because when you have pressure against your chest, when your arms are closed and they're tucked into you, you feel protected. So, when you sleep on your back, you feel so exposed to the world, right? Because your arms are out, your chest is out there, your head is out there. What I do is, like I said, I use those blankets up on my chest which feels really good and sometimes I'll put a pillow on my chest, but I also put a pillow over my head and I call that the head garage, where I put a pillow up to my eyes, basically sits right on my nose above my nose so I can still breathe. But I like that pressure.

Ben:  I own all these things. I have a weighted blanket. I have your Neck Nest and I have a pillow, so you're saying I would sleep on my back, hands and feet exposed, down blanket over the core, my neck is on your Neck Nest, the top pillow is over my eyes then I've got a weighted blanket over my chest?

Peter:  Come sleep over one time. We'll have a good time.

Ben:  No. It's not going to happen, bro. But that's very, very interesting. Okay. And I will try this. I want to try it and I'll track my sleep. Okay. Very cool. The head garage, I dig the name. You should like invent some kind of a contraption that just does all this at once.

Peter:  I'm in the works.

Ben:  I saw a thousand of those, too. All right. So, do you have any other kind of little-known sleep tips that people might not know about? Because I know you just love to geek out on this stuff. You're more obsessed with sleep than most people I know.

Peter:  Yeah. I do. I love sleep. A few other things that I think is really important. When somebody is going to sleep, right, one of the problems is that you are–have you ever tried to go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep and then you can think about everything, right? You're actually smarter in the morning when you wake up for the first two hours than any other part of the day, because it's the only time when your brain can tap into your thought part of your brain and your memory part of your brain, and blood is going to both areas of the brain. So, it's a very addictive time to think. So, at night, when you're sleeping, it's very addictive because you can tap into different areas of your brain because you're in a different state. And Thomas Edison got into this state, and what he would do is he would hold these balls in his hands.

Ben:  Oh, I know this story.

Peter:  Oh man, this one blew me away when I heard this because I do really some similar stuff because you can do it through meditation, too. But he would hold these balls in his hands, and he put these thimbles on the ground, and when he had this problem that he couldn't solve, he would go into this basically sleep state and he'd start thinking. And it almost feels like you can walk around your brain when you're doing it. And then, all of a sudden, right before you go into sleep, your body releases all muscle constriction. And he would drop the balls, and it would hit the thimbles and it would wake him up and he'd come out of that state, and he'd be able to write down a solution to his problem.

So, when you go into that type of state, the problem with people if they don't monitor their thoughts and they have a lot on their mind, they're going to think all night long. And then what happens when you sleep, you're going to forget about everything. So, just understand the thing, when you wake up in the middle of the night or you're trying to go to sleep, and there's a lot on your mind, and you think you're going to figure it all out, you can't remember it when you wake up. You can't do it. So, write it down, have a journal right next to your bed. Write things down. It's better to wake up for a minute, write things down, get it out of your head and then go to sleep.

Ben:  Yeah. I have one of these Pilot pens. I think it was Tim Ferriss who I found this out from, and it lights up just a little bit at night. It's still kind of a blue light, but you don't have to flip on the lights, and you can write on like a regular piece of paper. The last thing I do is pull my phone to take notes on the phone because your brain just goes in a phone mode at that point. But I think it's called a Pilot pen, I believe. It's some kind of a lit pen. I'll find it and link to it in the show notes. But I agree, you have to write it down. The problem is just don't write it down–oh, it's called The Pilot's Pen, by the way. Not the Pilot pen, The Pilot's Pen. I'll put a link to in the show notes. And in terms of that journal, you just wake up and then transcribe it or put it into your computer, your phone?

Peter:  Yeah. Well, what I do now is I don't need to do that anymore because I meditate in the middle of the day and I get my thoughts out during the middle of the day. I organize them and then I journal them. And then I have a journal right next to my bed. I go to bed so quickly now. I mean, I go to sleep so quickly and stay asleep that if I'm thinking at all, I'll write all my thoughts down and then clear my mind. One of the things which puts me to sleep even quicker now than remembering myself to sleep, I've been trying this new technique, is I think about thinking about nothing. So, I try to clear my brain of all thoughts, any thought that comes into my brain. And so, I try to go to sleep with a clear slate and think about nothing. So, that's my new technique. I'm still working on it.

Ben:  You need to be a proficient meditator to be able to do that. Do you take any supplements before bed?

Peter:  The only supplement that I do take during the day is magnesium. But recently, I've been messing with CBD oil because the one portion of my sleep that was kicking me in the A-S-S was my deep sleep. So, I track things, right? And I believe that sleep is significantly tied into weight because it's tied into my weight. I'm heaviest on a Monday after a weekend. And then on Monday night, I won't get a deep sleep. I'll bike on Tuesday. Tuesday night, my deep sleep will only be about 20 minutes. And then Wednesday, when I get a great night's sleep, my weight is low and that's when I get my deepest sleep is on Wednesday night after I work out on Tuesday.

So, I started to then take CBD oil. I've been only doing this for about three weeks. I've been taking CBD oil about 25 milligrams, which is 12 milliliters of CBD. Oh, no.

Ben:  Well, 25 is not bad. That's one of the few supplements I take before bed. I'm like closer up around 60. I'm a sucker for CBD before bed. It just helps me sleep so well, but that's pretty much the only one you take, huh?

Peter:  Yeah. That's the only one I take. I don't like taking a supplement that is a hormone-like melatonin, unless you're trying to, let's say, change your circadian clock.

Ben:  Yeah, if you're traveling, particularly west to east, it works pretty well.

Peter:  Yup, it does.

Ben:  Okay. Interesting. So, this Neck Nest that I wanted to make sure we point people in the right direction, so they can just go–all the link in the show notes, but it's necknest.com. But you gave me a URL, necknest.com/greenfield because you have like some extra goodies you're throwing if people want to buy one of these Neck Nests. Can you fill me in on what they get if they do that?

Peter:  Yes. So, I have this new sleep quest. My acronym now is Dr. Sleep Right. And so, I have this 30-day sleep quest, which we're launching May 1st. I'm breaking down and I'm diving into all of these topics, plus more foods to eat, how food affects you, a lot of my tips that I give my patients. You'll see all the before and after x-rays and different things. So, we dive in a little bit more, and that's a $99 value. People are going through it for $99, but if somebody buys a Neck Nest, they're going to get the 30-day sleep quest for free, and then they'll also get a free pillowcase with it. And if they buy two, they get free shipping.

Ben:  What kind of stuff is in that sleep program?

Peter:  So, the sleep program is 30 days. Every day for 30 days, they'll get an email, they'll get a video from me, and they'll get basically my notes of the topic. Like one topic is sleep position, how to use a pillow. We talk about caffeine. Caffeine is a huge one because the half-life of caffeine is five hours. So, if you're looking at drinking like a Starbucks and like a big Starbucks could have 300 milligrams of caffeine in it. If you do that even let's say by noon, five hours later which is five o'clock, you still have 150 milligrams of caffeine.

Ben:  And more than that if you're a slow caffeine metabolizer, genetically.

Peter:  Right. And it's crazy. People don't realize how food affects them, how the room setup affects them, how the placement of your bed affects you. So, we're breaking all of this stuff down. So, I'm teaching people how to master sleep in 30 days.

Ben:  How long does it take to do each day if you're doing 30 days?

Peter:  It's about a 15-minute a day investment.

Ben:  Great. Just bring your laptop to bed and watch it in bed, right? Fifteen minutes every night.

Peter:  Yeah, there you go. Yup. It would be a good time during the day. Nice.

Ben:  Cool. Well, I'll link to that, too. So, if they get the pillow like they can also get that sleep quest along with the pillow. I know you're throwing in a custom pillowcase for free, too. So, you got a bunch of goodies people get over at necknest.com/greenfield. I also recently did a really big article. I didn't do it. One of my buddies who's a physician wrote a really big article. I don't know if you saw it on how to increase your deep sleep percentages. And we got into a whole bunch of stuff in that article too, like–

Peter:  It was a great article.

Ben: –vibration therapy, a lot of stuff. So, that's another one. That's interesting. And I'll link to that in the show notes as well. It's like a 10,000-word article, but only is it good. But I found total random thought. I found out that this app called Pocket, if you save articles that you find in the web for later, not only will it save them in your little Pocket archive, but it will read them to you. So, if you have some big long article that you don't have time to read, you guys should use this app. I think it's getpocket.com, and I didn't even realize that it could read it to me until I opened it on my phone. I'm like, “Holy cow.” I can just like go on a walk when I don't have time to read an article and this thing will just dish it out to me. So, little random tip for folks. It's called Pocket.

Anyways though, Peter your wealth and knowledge, thanks for taking time out of your day, and I guess in this case your night to come on the show and share all this stuff with us. I'm sure you're jonesing to get to bed and take off your clothes and put the weighted blanket on and make your garage and the thing under your knees and all that jazz. So, I'll leave you to that and I have my own little tricks I'm going to be trying this week as well. So, I'll report back. And if you're listening and you have questions, just go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com/necknest. Leave them there. I'll link to Peter's pillow over there too, and you can rock and roll. Thanks for coming on the show, Peter.

Peter:  Hey, thanks a lot for having me.

Ben:  All right, folks. Until next time. I'm Ben Greenfield along with Dr. Peter Martone based out of Boston, if you couldn't tell, signing out from BenGreenfieldFitness.com. Have an amazing week.

Well, thanks for listening to today's show. You can grab all the shownotes, the resources, pretty much everything that I mentioned over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com, along with plenty of other goodies from me, including the highly helpful “Ben Recommends” page, which is a list of pretty much everything that I've ever recommended for hormone, sleep, digestion, fat loss, performance, and plenty more. Please, also, know that all the links, all the promo codes, that I mentioned during this and every episode, helped to make this podcast happen and to generate income that enables me to keep bringing you this content every single week. When you listen in, be sure to use the links in the shownotes, use the promo codes that I generate, because that helps to float this thing and keep it coming to you each and every week.

Over the past 20 years, my guest on today's show, Dr. Peter Martone, has been trying to recommend pillows for his patients that would put their head in the correct position so that they could get a great night's sleep and wake up rested. He could not find one, and he would have patients purchase soft down pillows and stuff them under their necks. He found that a conventional pillow would lose its shape and end up on the floor. The problem is that a pillow is for your head and you can not support your head to get a great night sleep.

But one day he was watching the movie “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” in 2000 and the two actors came out of the room after “cuddling” all night. The camera gave a quick glimpse of the room they came out of. It showed what the two actors slept on, and to his amazement, it was just a thin pad for their body and a block of wood in lieu of a pillow for their head. 

In that lightbulb moment, Dr. Martone invented the exact sleeping tool we discuss on today's podcast. He's one of the smartest guys I've ever talked to when it comes to sleep, so prepare to optimize your rest and recovery biomechanics like never before!

During our discussion, you'll discover:

-How Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon inspired Dr. Martone's invention…

  • One of the props was a piece of wood, not as a pillow, but for their neck
  • Peter had shoulder issues, couldn't identify the cause
  • While camping, he used a shoe under his neck for sleeping; woke up well rested
  • Used a shoe, and other odd objects for sleeping; shoulder and other health issues were resolved

-Surprising problems caused by sleeping on one's side…

  • 90% of Peter's patients have some type of damage to their cervical curve in the neck
  • We lose the curve doing day to day activities, and there's nothing to repair it at night
  • 98% of patients who lose the curve in their neck develop an unnatural curve in their lower back
  • This eventually leads to scoliosis in the lower back
  • The vermisportion of the brain: main function is to control the body's proprioception
    • 80% of proprioception into the brain comes from the spinal cord
    • The vermis atrophies due to loss of proprioception
    • It affects the pre-frontal cortex (executive functioning)
  • Decreasing the curve in the spine severely limits glymphatic drainage
  • Why we toss and turn at night:
    • Pain centers and nerve centers are very close together
    • When you fall asleep on your side, you can only stay in that position for a short period of time
    • Body should be in a “neutral sleeping position”
    • Alcohol inhibits pain sensors. You stay in the same position longer and wake up in pain
  • OURA ring
  • If you didn't get all that, get this:Loss of the cervical curve = degeneration of the spine. It also causes the vermis to atrophy, which negatively affects the pre-frontal cortex. Side sleeping causes pain and discomfort, which in turn affects the quality of our sleep.
  • The advantages of sleeping on the back versus the side or stomach…
    • Use a pillow for the neck rather than the head
    • Restore the cervical curve and decrease lumbar tension

-How to train yourself to sleep on your back…

-The little-known hack called “Remembering” that may help with sleep problems…

  • Peter struggled to sleep due to numerous things he was thinking about
  • Needed to be “in control” of something
  • Visualized people sitting in a specific seat after giving a talk; he went right to sleep
  • Focus on something, but don't think about it
  • You can't think yourself to sleep; you have to remember yourself to sleep
  • Dreams are how the mind categorizes the day's events
  • The further back in time you can remember, the more efficacious this technique will be

-Ways to control your core temperature while sleeping…

  • Allostatic load:
    • Hierarchy of needs in bodily functions (heart pumping vs. growing fingernails)
    • Your body cares more about your core temperature than even the immune system
    • We get sick because there's a finite amount of energy our body can distribute
  • Maintaining the body's core temperature maintains the allostatic load in our entire body
  • Keep your core as warm as possible; keep hands, feet, and head exposed
  • People like to sleep on their side so they can curl up, feel protected
  • “Head garage” Place a pillow over your head, just above the nose

-More little-known sleep hacks…

  • First 2 hours of the day are the most productive and alert
  • The story of Edison's balls…
  • Write things down, then go to sleep. You won't remember when you wake up
  • The Pilot's Pen
  • Think about “thinking about nothing”
  • CBD Oil

-And Much More…

Resources from this episode:

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon movie

–The Neck Nest: use code GREENFIELD2019 to get a FREE custom pillowcase and Dr. Sleep Right's “30 Day Sleep Quest” program

-My Facebook Live with Peter Martone: How & Why To Sleep On Your Back 

Gravity beds on Amazon

Sleep wedge pillow

650 down pillow

DREEM headband for monitoring sleep

The OURA ring

Weighted blanket

Pilot's Pen (lit pen for nighttime writing)


Thorne Hemp Oil

Deep Sleep Decoded: Everything You Need To Know To Increase Your Deep Sleep Percentages.

GetPocket app

The Pilot's Pen

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Ask Ben a Podcast Question

One thought on “[Transcript] – The Problem With Sleeping On Your Side, How To Sleep On Your Back, Little-Known Sleep Enhancement Tricks & Much More!

  1. Karyn H. says:

    This was a very interesting podcast. I spent 3 years in West Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer and slept on the ground. When I came back, it was very difficult to adjust to using a pillow and it felt uncomfortable and unnatural. Although I did sleep on my side some, I mostly slept on my back and, as a pillow, I used the same one yard piece of cloth that I wrapped around me as a skirt during the day (like a feather pillow, it was easy to mold and mush however you needed it to be). Also, I know many people who get “hot feet” and want their feet sticking out from the bed sheets which is consistent with this gentleman’s view. Some of the modern sleep practices being prescribed definitely are coming from first-world folks (sleep in 62 degrees each night? WHAT? I’d freeze my butt off. And there are folks all over the world sleeping great in conditions much warmer). Thanks for a great podcast!

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