May 4, 2016
[2:18] Kimera Koffee
[3:26] Casper Mastresses
[7:41] All about Shawn Stevenson
[9:45] The reason why Shawn wrote the book about sleep
[16:18] How Shawn and Ben differ in the ways they quantify and track sleep
[20:03] Are there healthy substitutes for sunlight?
[32:13] The difference between blue-light boxes, in-ear photo therapy, and intranasal
[34:15] How to measure your UVA vs. UVB exposure
[34:55] What does it exactly mean to be a fast vs. slow caffeine metabolizer?
[39:40] How many sleep cycles we should get each night
[46:43] How Theanine can combat the effects of caffeine
[49:35] The best type of alarm to use to optimize sleep cycles
[56:13] Shawn’s top tips for people who have to work graveyard or night shifts
[1:07] The surprising link between gut bacteria and sleep
[1:15:58] What’s the ideal sleeping position?
[1:24:45] Dr. J. Pillow
[1:25:23] Shawn’s take on napping
[1:30:05] Is morning or evening exercise best for sleep?
1:34:01] Shawn’s take on trampoline
[1:40:11] End of Podcast
Ben: Hey, it's Ben Greenfield, and I hope you're ready to geek out on sleep because today's episode is a doozy and when it comes to sleep, I think that may be the first time I've ever said the word doozy on a show before.
I wanted to tell you about a couple of things. You probably heard me talk about digestive enzymes before, and there are a lot of interesting facts about digestive enzymes. For example, if you use like a vegan protein, like hemp or pea or rice, and you combine a digestive enzyme with it, it actually causes that protein to become just as bioavailable as the type of protein you'd find in like whey or steak. Here's another cool fact for you: when you age, your digestive enzymes production drops and in many cases that can lead to the heartburn that we often associated with too much acid in the stomach or maybe eating too much of grandma's tomato sauce when all just comes out of digestive enzymes.
So there are these digestive enzymes called masszymes, masszymes, and they have the highest amount of protein digesting enzymes per capsule on the market anywhere. So anytime you combine these with any type of protein source, or just any meal in general, you're going to experience a significant improvement in digestion and you also get more amino acid availability. So they're giving all of our listeners a 23% discount on the stuff and here's how you get it: you go to bioptimizers.com/ben, that's bioptimizers, and optimizers is spelled with a Z, because that's cool these days. bioptimizers.com/ben for a 23% discount. They offer a 60 day money back guarantee, which means you could theoretically send back an unused bottle and get your money back if you don't experience significant changes in your digestion. So check 'em out, masszymes, and by the way, they have probiotics and those qualify for the discount too. Their probiotics are pretty awesome. I've used 'em. I cycle my probiotics throughout the year and that's one of the ones I cycle in. So bioptimizers.com/ben for a 23% discount on their masszymes.
This podcast is also brought to you by my favorite coffee on the face of the planet. This stuff is grown in the Dominican Republic, about five thousand feet high, sourced from a single estate coffee plantation, but they didn't want to settle for just that, just that goodness, just that flavor, just that single state type of stuff. No, no, no. They decided to add nootropics to this stuff and call it Kimera coffee because it turns you into a Kimera, which I believe is some kind of Greek legendary DNA mutated beast. Anyways, it's got alpha GPC, taurine, L-theanine, and DMAE in it. These are all things that turbo-charge your brain and they shoved 725 milligrams into every single cup. So how can you at least taste this stuff? You least have to try it. Add this to your bucket list. Go to kimerakoffee.com, that's K-I-M-E-R-A-K-O-F-F-E-E dot com, and discount code Ben gives you 10% off on this stuff. Really tasty.
And finally this podcast is brought to you, quite appropriately because we'll be talking about sleep, something you sleep on. These mattresses that are a combination of springy latex and a memory foam, and they've actually got an award-winning sleep surface. They were voted by a Time Magazine as one of the best inventions of 2015, and the most awarded mattress of the decade. I didn't even know mattresses could win awards, but apparently they can. Apparently they all put on their cocktail dresses and their tuxedos, all these mattresses, and they go out to awards night and this company won.
It's called Casper. They ship for free, free shipping and free returns actually, to U.S. and Canada, not that you're gonna want to return it because, honestly, these mattresses rock and you can try 'em for 100 days, completely risk free. If you don't like it, they just pick it up and they refund you everything. They're really, really fantastic mattresses. So how do you get one and get 50 bucks off? You go to casper.com/ben. That's casper.com/ben, and use promo code Ben. And you'll find that when you order this from casper.com/ben with promo code Ben, it arrives to your house in this cool, sexy, little box, not an enormous thing that you gotta drag up and down your stairs. So check it out and if you want to sleep really well on it, keep listening because Shawn Stevenson is my guest and we geek out on sleep.
In this episode of The Ben Greenfield Fitness Show, “As your neurons are firing, you're producing more adenosine. The more that you're producing, it's starting to nudge your body to go to sleep or to take rest, so all these processes that you're doing, it's that byproduct that says once it builds up your system, you need to get some sleep.” “Your entire system, your nervous system, your endocrine system can link up with light exposure outside, completely outside, of what's coming through your eyes.” “A lot of your audience is already going to be up to speed on the fact that upwards of 95% of your body serotonin is located in your gut”.
He’s an expert in human performance and nutrition, voted America’s top personal trainer and one of the globe’s most influential people in health and fitness. His show provides you with everything you need to optimize physical and mental performance. He is Ben Greenfield. “Power, speed, mobility, balance – whatever it is for you that’s the natural movement, get out there! When you’re look at all the studies done… studies that have shown the greatest efficacy…” All the information you need in one place, right here, right now, on the Ben Greenfield Fitness podcast.
Ben: Hey, folks. It's Ben Greenfield here and as we all know, sleep can be kinda confusing, and I get lots of questions about sleep that I haven't really addressed too much on the show before. Things like, are there substitutes for sunlight, right? We all hear that you're supposed to get lots of sunlight, but are there, are there biohacks, are there ways to get your sunlight without being in the sun? Or what is it mean to be, say, like a fast caffeine metabolizer versus being a slow caffeine metabolizer, and how does that affect sleep? What's the ideal nap length, right? Are you supposed to sleep for 20 minutes? Is 90 minutes gonna kill you if you sleep that long in the afternoon for your siesta? What if you're, you work graveyard shifts, you're a night shift worker, right? Like how can you limit the damage from something like that? What's the ideal position to be sleeping in? Side, back, stomach? Should you use an alarm? And if you use an alarm, what kind of alarm should you use, right? Like one of these fancy, sunrise alarm clocks or some kind of self-qualification device that wakes you up at the right time, there's so many things we can dive into when it comes to sleep, so I figured why not dive into it? And I wanted to get a guy on the show who actually just wrote one of the best books on sleep that I've ever read, it's called “Sleep Smarter: 21 Proven Tips to Sleep Your Way to A Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success” and the author of that book is a guy that I had the pleasure of hanging out with and meeting in Austin, Texas last year, and actually, he's the host of a very popular podcast as well.
His name is Shawn Stevenson, Shawn Stevenson, and Shawn is the host of The Model Health Show on iTunes. The Model Health Show, if you haven't seen it, is this show on iTunes where Shawn is on the cover art for the podcast, showing off his six-pack abs. So, guy obviously knows what he's talking about. We all know that that's, that's an immediate sign of credibility, but Shawn does not just have six-pack abs. He's been in Entrepreneur Magazine, Men's Health Magazine, ESPN, Fox News, all over the media. He's got a degree in business biology and kinesiology from the University of Missouri, and now what he does in addition to podcasting, in addition to writing, is he founded the Advanced Integrative Health Alliance, which is a company that provides wellness services for individuals and organizations around the world and, of course, most importantly, in addition to the six pack, he just wrote this really good book. So Shawn, welcome to the show, man.
Shawn: Man, thank you so much for having me. I'm cracking up over here because of the icon image because when we met, you were like, “Oh! You're the guy with your chesticles out!”
Ben: Yeah. That's right.
Shawn: What do you know? Then you turned around and you changed your podcast image like a couple weeks after that to where you were bare, barebacked, and I was like, “You see? It works.”
Ben: Shawn, you show me up. Apparently you gotta be shirtless on your podcast art.
Shawn: That's mandatory.
Ben: We live in an era of Snapchat where bathroom selfies and shirtless, shirtless cover art is what it takes to be successful. So what made you want to write a book about sleep, man? Why sleep?
Shawn: Well, this really, it really began with my own experimentation, you know. we might have, I think we did talk a little bit about this when we spoke before, but you know, just a really quick snapshot, I've been diagnosed at 20 years old with degenerative spinal disease and degenerative bone disease. And so basically, my first physician, he told me that my spine was the spine of an 80 year old person when I was 20 and there was no cure, get ready young man because it's going to be a long ride and it's something you're gonna have to deal with. And fast forward two and a half years later, 50 pound weight gain, chronic pain, a lot of medication, wearing a back brace, you know, all while trying to, to go to school, you know, trying to get my degree and it was a really, really tough time, and things didn't really start to turn around until I improve my sleep.
And here's why this matters is that I did eventually, that two and a half year mark, I decided I'm gonna really take this into my own hands and do something about it, so I changed the way that I was eating, I started to embark on a lot more exercise and movement even though they were saying to be careful, don't do this, don't do that, bed rest, bed rest. Your body doesn't heal unless it has a reason to, you know, so your body requires movement in order to heal itself, so that's part one. But the assimilation of nutrients, the regeneration of your tissues, the vast majority of that takes place when you're at rest, specifically while you're sleep and sleep is known as the, quote, the anabolic state for humans, ‘cause being awake is catabolic, you know. We could argue that during certain phases of meditation, we can get into more of an anabolic state, but just being awake for the average person is very catabolic and it's just the way it is, so we need that sleep and recovery.
So once I was able to start to change some of the things in my daily ritual, all of a sudden I start to sleep better and, mind you, I was helping to keep Tylenol PM in business, man. At that time, like I was popping those pills every single night just to get what I thought was a couple of extra hours of sleep. You know, one to two hours of additional sleep because the pain would wake me up and, but I didn't understand that I was really sacrificing my sleep quality and also lead into some really weird side effects that I didn't know, until years later, were attributed to taking, you know, the prescription medication as well as the over-the-counter stuff, like restless leg syndrome, you know. This is before it had a sexy pill to go along with the name, so I'm just laying there in bed trying to go to sleep and my legs are like active, you know. I'm just like, “Go to sleep, legs!” You know, and it just, it was so weird, and nobody really gave me an answer, you know, when I talk with my physician about what it was it didn't have a, quote, diagnosis yet.
And so, you know, long story short, once I started to change my sleeping habits, everything, it's like the floodgates open and everything started to improve so fast to the degree that I lost about 28 pounds in the next six weeks. The pain that I've been experiencing for the past two and a half years, was virtually gone and the people who know my story, you know, eventually, fast forward, the good, happy ending, when nine months later, when I got a scan done of my spine, I was able to regenerate, some tissue actually grew half an inch when I had lost about three fourths of an inch of my height and, you know, my physician was just like, “Whatever you're doing, keep doing it.” And that was the birthing of my career and so, that was the first part for me, but when i started my clinical practice which I ran for over a decade, I saw about, at the five year mark, all of these amazing success stories. You know, we had around, uh, right around 89%, our reversal rate for people with type II diabetes, you know. So essentially helping them to get off the metformins, insulin, things like that. But there was always this category, this class of people who wouldn't get the results everyone else was getting, and it wasn't a lack of trying because that's the first thing as a trainer, you would think, and also as a practitioner, you know, in health is that the person isn't doing the thing. You know, you're not following the program, but a lot of times that's not the case, you know. Sometimes that's the case. You know, there are people who are like sneaking honey buns under their shirt, you know, and, and doing stuff behind closed doors, but for the most part people are honestly trying to do their best and get the result.
And so, I finally remembered like, I did, I'm not thinking about sleep problems because I'm sleeping so well and I'm healthy. Let me ask these people about their sleep, and it blew my mind. I could not, it was just like automatic. Everybody that I talked to who weren't getting the results, well, we'll just say 99%. There was like a handful of people who were sleeping, to what I thought at the time well, but people getting less than four hours of sleep, they were waking up habitually multiple times during the night to go pee or they're, they've got a snoring partner or they have sleep apnea, and all these things that people weren't telling me in the initial forms that they were supposed to fill out.
And so, that set me on a quest to find out how to help these people to improve their sleep quality immediately and, again, man, once we did that, it really locked in some of these strategies we're gonna be talking about today. It's as if the floodgates would open, man, and sometimes they would get results faster than people who didn't have sleep issues, you know, or so quickly changed the things that were going on from their insulin sensitivity, to weight loss, to improving their cardiac function, just so many things changed. And once that happened, man, I had to tell the world about it. So that kind of birthed a couple episodes in my show when I saw I got a bunch of downloads, so I was like, “People want to know about this.” So that's when I first wrote the book and, you know, here we are today.
Ben: Yeah, and I failed to mention this in the introduction, but you and I had a really fascinating discussion a few months ago on the Ben Greenfield Fitness Show about how you essentially simulated stem cell injections without actually getting stem cells injected through the use of some of these things like aloe vera gel and colostrum, and chlorella and different things that you used to regenerate your spine and that's, that's obviously a whole different rabbit hole, but for those of you listening in who want to hear about that part of Shawn's journey, just go to the show notes for this episode at bengreenfieldfitness.com/sleepsmart. That's bengreenfieldfitness.com/sleepsmart because, hand-in-hand, what Shawn and I are about to talk about when it comes to sleep, I'd recommend you go and listen to that. That episode that we did which is entitled “Lightning Speed Healing Hack or Overpriced Fad: What You Need To Know About Stem Cells.” So go listen to that if, if you would like, but in the meantime, Shawn, first question that I have for you about sleep is whether, with all these different like hacks and modalities and the things you write about in the book, are you tracking sleep or quantifying sleep at all? Do you use any of these devices?
Shawn: This is why I really love talking with you, you know, I've done so many different interviews especially in the past year, two years actually, on this topic and, you know, because I know that you're somebody who is tracking this stuff and a lot of different ways, a lot of different experimentations, for myself, I err on the side of the old faithful which is just paying attention to my body, you know. And specifically how I look, feel, and perform and I know myself very well, you know. I'm one of those people especially being in this field, and I know you're the same way, I know I'm very in touch with my body and how sensitive things are, you know, so if I take a certain supplement, I'll notice a difference. you know, when most people might not notice, especially right off the bat. So I'll notice a little bit of, if I don't sleep well a little bit of cognitive impairment, you know, so I'm not as sharp. The energy levels are low obviously and, you know, simple things like, and also I'll just, I'll put it like this: emotional inconsistency.
Ben: Uhm, yeah, yeah.
Shawn: So I'll notice that I'm a little bit more irritated by traffic, by my kids, by requests from my wife which are ongoing anyway. So it's like why would I get an attitude about it, you know? So I would, I'd start to catch myself and see that I'm just, I'm not really on my game, and so those are some of the big ones. Also, you know, I notice because I do some type of training every day and my balance will be noticeably impaired, you know. I kind of do a little bit of a test every day before I start training and just, you know, foolin' around on the stability ball or something like that and I'll notice the days that I don't get high quality sleep which is very, very rare that I'm not able to keep my balance as efficiently. So I err on the side of that because, you know, for myself personally, which I want to definitely hear what you're doing on this front and what you've found to be effective, but for me I'm like gadget-free when I'm in that, in that bed.
Ben: Yeah. I am too, gadget free for a very long time and then I'd, even though I shoo constantly being plugged into something because I want to stay away from like Bluetooth signals and WiFi signals while sleeping, I now am quantifying sleep. So before, what I did was I would wake up and I would take my heart rate variability, or my HRV measurement because what I found was that even though, like you mentioned, when I'm just listening to my body, I can tell when, you know, a poor night of sleep is gonna lead to me getting injured or ill, right. Like you just feel those things building up especially like consecutive poor nights of sleep.
What I found was that I could predict two to three days in advance not just neuromuscular lack of recovery that could lead to poor sleep, but also a greater risk for injury or illness when my heart rate variability would begin to dip low in the morning, days in advance of me actually getting injured or ill, and what I'd find is if I'd push through low heart rate variability, a low heart rate variability morning score, that even if I felt good for a few days pushing through it, if I ignored that score and just listen to my body right without paying attention to that score for some reason, it's so, so easy to stay tuned to our muscular skeletal system, right? Like am I sore? Do my joints a little bit? Do I need a recovery day off? But sometimes you don't realize when your neuromuscular system isn't quite as recovered and so, that's, that's what I was doing for a long time.
But now, I use a device that I just discovered and I've got no financial affiliation or anything with this company, but there's this ring called an Oura Ring, and it measures like your temperature, your respiration, your heart rate, your heart rate variability, your steps. You know, it's like a Fitbit on steroids, basically. But the cool thing is it has a computer built into it which means that you can put it in airplane mode while you are asleep, and not get exposed to any type of Bluetooth radiation or anything like that and in the morning, you simply open up your phone and you sync it to your phone and it shows you sleep latency, rapid eye movement sleep, you know, non-rapid eye movement sleep, sleep cycle, sleep efficiency, at what point during the night your heart rate dropped the lowest, which I never realized is actually, that is supposed to be consistent. And if your heart rate drops its lowest later on in the night, like at say 4:00 AM or 5:00 AM and you're usually dropping your lowest at like 1:30 or 2:00 AM, it's actually a sign of poor recovery or a poor night of sleep.
So, now I am kinda geeking out on sleep cycles and I recently wrote a whole article on it, I'll link to it in the show notes for this podcast that you and I are doing, but yeah, I've kinda gone past the unplugging stage, and I am now quantifying and tracking, I kinda like that concept of the combination, right, of listening to your body and then, and better living through science.
Shawn: Yeah. I love it, man. And that speaks, it speaks to something really important too because it was a sleep expert, his name was Phil Gurmin, Dr. Phil Gurmin, and he basically found over the years that, and compiled studies showing that over time, people who are basically getting less sleep than it's optimal, you know, say getting six hours sleep at night instead of eight or whatever it is, and by the way, at no point in time in Sleep Smarter do I say, you need to get blank hours of sleep because it's really not about the hours which we'll come back to, but he said that people begin to feel like they've adapted to the sleep deprivation across the board and they, essentially we get used to it and I know that I've done that throughout my lifetime as well, but if you look at how we actually do on tests of mental alertness and performance, specifically they start to go downhill and also our biomarkers, you know. So even though you feel like everything is normal, those things do start to go downhill and then again, this is why I love talking with you because it's like having that balance of both.
Shawn: So, yeah, man.
Ben: Yeah. Interesting. Now, speaking of science, you talk about sunlight. You have a whole chapter on light during the day. You talk about getting more sunlight during the day, and I like how you go into how that helps normalize your circadian rhythm, how that exposure to blue light during the day can help you to sleep better at night. Interestingly, did you see the recent study that just came out that showed that even that exposure to blue light or sunlight during the day actually diminishes your sensitivity to things like Kindles and e-readers and phones and stuff like that at night? Like it decreases how damaging they can be?
Shawn: Wow. No. I have not seen that one yet, man. You gotta forward me that.
Ben: Yeah, I will. It's very interesting, but basically it goes into the fact that you get less of the melatonin suppressing effect that phones and Kindles, and stuff can have if, you get a bunch of sunlight or blue light during the day. So it's all about, you know, like not just absence of blue light at night, but presence of blue light during the day, and I know you get into sunlight in the book, but I'm curious if you've done much experimentation or if you looked into like blue light boxes or like in-ear phototherapy, or like any of these like glasses that produce high amounts of blue light or any ways to kinda like simulate sun light?
Shawn: Yes. Yeah, definitely. I've experimented with quite a few things, but I want to point out really quickly why this matters. You know, and I know you talk a lot about this stuff too, but exposure to sunlight, so this is one of things that in essence it, “can help” reset your cortisol rhythm. Right, so your circadian clock a little bit and so, you know, humans do evolutionary biology. We've had a very predictable light and dark pattern, and obviously today we can essentially simulate a second daytime by coming home and just blasting every single light, we don't even think about it, you know, and it's just a part of our culture, and so your body really starts to get out of sync with what's real natural, what your genes expect you to do.
And so exposure to sunlight does a couple of things or even some of these hacks we're gonna talk about, but one of things that it does is it increases your body's production of serotonin which, serotonin is like the opening act for melatonin, right? So it's a precursor that, it should be produced more abundantly at a certain time of the day and it sets the tone for melatonin production later on. If you're not getting that sun exposure, you're not getting that adequate serotonin, and often times, we, when we hear about serotonin, we tend to think about depression because, you know, serotonin reuptake inhibitors are some of the popular anti-depressant drugs, and so that's focusing on this kind of feel good neurotransmitter. So sunlight does that, number one.
Also sunlight, strangely enough, increases your production of cortisol, right, and it might sound like a bad thing, but cortisol's not a bad, it's not a bad guy, right? He's getting drug through the mud and media, it's just when it's out of balance. You need cortisol. It helps you do a lot of stuff, but what's been so interesting in what I cited in Sleep Smarter was this, there was a study and it was published in Innovations In Clinical Neuroscience, they found that individuals who're exposed to sunlight in the early part of the day decreased, they found that they had decreased levels of cortisol later in the evening as compared to when they didn't get adequate sunlight. So it literally helps your cortisol levels to drop in the evening.
So again, it's resetting that circadian clock slash your cortisol rhythm because cortisol is really, if there's one of our hormones out of the 50+ that we know about so far, that is disruptive to sleep, it's cortisol, right. We want cortisol to be peaked in the morning and, you know, according to research we're talking around between 6:00 and 8:00 AM to be at its peak and then it gradually drops as the day goes on. But if it's high at night, it's, what's so interesting is that they have, it has like an inverse relationship with melatonin. So if cortisol is elevated, melatonin is suppressed and vice versa.
So this is why the light therapy, specifically sunlight therapy is so important, but what do we do when that's not viable. And one of the examples that we talk about in the book, and this was done on office workers and they found, which was so crazy, man, ‘cause you know a lot of people are living like in cubicle dungeons now with work and, you know, they don't have, and I remember when I was in college and working like in a call center or whatever it was, and they found that, and so they did this study and they, in the study they found that the office workers who didn't have access to natural light through windows, about 173% less exposure to natural light on average and on average, those office workers slept for 46 minutes less each night, and they had more reported physical ailments, more depression, things that you would probably expect. And so, that really speaks to the importance of just even, it doesn't have to be directly on your skin but just having it in your room [0:27:45] ______. And so my office, you know, I've got a bunch of windows here, plenty of natural light. So even when it's cold outside, I'm getting some access, you know, even through my photoreceptors, but you've got to be careful with getting sunlight through the window directly on your skin, right.
Ben: So you get much, it's primarily UVA that you get through glass, right?
Shawn: Exactly. So UVA can cut through glass, whereas UVB isn't really able to penetrate. But even this depends on the time of year, if UVB is even making its way to you. And so there's like a chart or it's a website you kind of plug in and see, you know, like how far you are from the equator, the time of year, all the stuff. It will tell you specifically, is UVB even getting to you because UVA is associated more with cancer and the photo aging of the skin. UVB is the one that's responsible for the, you know, essentially this is what the research says but I know that there's more pieces to this, but responsible for the conversion of your cholesterol into Vitamin D, right. So that's what we want more of, and we want the balanced spectrum. So if you're getting sunlight through your skin to, onto your skin through glass, then hmm, you might want to be careful about that. I mean a little bit would probably be okay, but that's something we don't necessarily want to do. So what do we do? We can employ some of these really cool things and the coolest thing that I found and what I found to be most effective for myself, I actually learned in our conversation. You mentioned it to me and I was like, “Man, that's like super interesting.” And I went to start to research it. This was back when we were when we had dinner together with Aubrey, with Aubrey Marcus and, you know, so he's the founder CEO of Onnit.
Shawn: Amazing, amazing guy. We had a great time.
Ben: Kind of a loser.
Shawn: Yeah. He's a big, big L. Throw out the L for him, but you mentioned the buds, the ear buds.
Ben: Oh, yeah. The in-ear phototherapy. The human charger.
Shawn: Yeah, the human charger. Yeah. And so I, it probably took me in that, during that time, I just agreed to my book deal with Rodeo, and so, I was looking for little small things that I can add to the mix because the book was probably pretty much done already. And so, I start to experiment with those and, just recently on the first part of my book tour, you know, I did coast to coast, man. So I went from St. Louis to the West Coast. So L.A. and San Diego, and then went all the way to New York City and this was during the time change as well. So it's just like, wow this is gonna suck, but everything worked out great by employing the strategies in the book, but also doing that light therapy, especially during the days and even the days before I would get on an airplane.
And when I got to New York City, crazy enough, I got the best sleep of the entire trip which was just mind blowing, and then one of the things that, from that study, or one of the studies, and I think you mentioned it before too is that there was a Finnish. They found that light exposure in the ears and they tracked using an FMRI, like literally looking at the brain and they had, I think was like 50 people, maybe it was 100, but I think it was 50 people in the study and they split them in half and part, part of the one group got the ear buds with the light and the other one had the ear buds without. And they discovered there was significantly increased activation of the sensory motor areas of the brain and the visual areas of the brain for the people who had the light in the ear buds as compared to the placebo group who didn't have any activation. So that's proof positive that your brain and your entire system, your nervous system, your endocrine system can link up with light exposure outside, completely outside of what's coming through your eyes. Super powerful.
Ben: Yeah. Yeah, it's really interesting. It's the same reason like your skin has photoreceptors and if some, if there's even like a little bit of light in the bedroom, it can disrupt your circadian rhythm. That's why when I'm at like a hotel, my bedroom is already pretty good, but when I'm at a hotel, I unplug the TV and I unplug the alarm clock, and I just limit as much light as possible because they've shown that even something as small as a pen light on like the back of your knee can stimulate the photoreceptors on the skin and disrupt sleep, and it's specifically artificial light, right.
Like if you're sleeping, you know, people ask me this. They're like “What did our ancestors do with stars,” right? The moon. Most of those are pretty absent of blue light, of artificial light. So that's the difference is that star lights are different than say, like the little bright little light that comes off the TV, you know, power button in the hotel room.
So, the other thing that's interesting, you know, I know that a lot of night shift workers, for example they're using these blue light boxes and there's a difference between the ear and the eye when it comes to like the intense blue light therapy. They've shown that you can actually create what's called photooxidative stress or free radicals from blue light that can damage the rods and cones like in the retina from these blue light wavelengths produced by these super-duper light, like blue light boxes that a lot of night shift workers or office workers will use now. And that's another advantage of using something like in-ear light therapy or another one that they have now.
I interviewed these folks a few months back, but it's intranasal light therapy, and they'll use this a lot of times for like Alzheimers. It's actual LED or laser lights. It's very, very attractive look, of course, but it's up your nose. I don't know if you've seen those before, but that is, it's a cognitive performance hack, meaning it induces like wakefulness and an increase in alpha brain wave production, but it's also something that has been shown to increase blood flow in the case of like traumatic brain injury, concussion, Alzheimer, stuff like that. It's really interesting. It's literally like a light that you stick up your nostril.
Shawn: Cray-zee, man. And it's also, you know, that's not as inconspicuous as the ear buds though, you know.
Ben: Oh yeah. The ear buds just looks like you're listening to music, like you're rockin' out to your tunes. The, the nose thing, that's a little bit harder to…
Shawn: If I walk by and see somebody doing that, I'm gonna question their reality, you know.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. But the, but I mean like these people are talking about using it like as, like a pre-workout hack and, you know, for before you like step on stage to speak, you know, things like that. It's called low level light therapy or intranasal light therapy. Truly interesting. I'll link to the podcast that did with these folks in the show notes over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/sleepsmart, but super interesting stuff and by the way, Shawn, you mentioned the apps that can measure like the UV index, like the amount of UVA versus UBV, or UVB exposure you're getting. For those you listening in, I know there's a bunch of phone apps out there and before I publish this episode, I'll go and find some of them for you and put them in the show notes.
Shawn, I wanted to also ask you, well I want to ask you a lot of stuff, but one of the things I that wanted to ask you was you talk about caffeine in the book, and you mention avoiding coffee or caffeine for six hours before bed time, based on the research that coffee can disrupt circadian rhythms or induce wakefulness at night. Do you have any thoughts on genetics because a lot of people now will test their metabolism and you can through like 23andme, for example, do a test, you can find out whether you're a fast caffeine metabolizer or a slow caffeine metabolizer, do you have any thoughts about like whether that would influence this recommendation?
Shawn: Oh, yeah. Definitely, definitely. And this is so difficult to make, I really can't stand it, the cookie cutter recommendations, you know, even of getting eight hours of sleep like that's supposed to solve the problem, and, you know, just speak to that really quickly, it's a lot like what's going on with our understanding of the calorie today. And there was, what's so crazy is that this was a nutrition professor who did the Twinkie diet. You know, he did in fact lose weight by eating 1200 calories of Twinkies, but I love to see if he eats that way, what happens with him in a couple of years, you know, with his, you know, with his biomarkers and whether or not he makes it, you know.
Ben: ‘Cause it's not just about your weight on the scale, right.
Shawn: Exactly. Exactly. I mean, what's contained in that calorie? What is it going to do to your blood sugar? What is it doing to inflammatory cytokines that might get activating your body? What is it doing to your brain? You know, there are so many different factors…
Ben: Uh no, I can tell you my brain would be pretty happy if I was eating Twinkies. Remember the little like the, I think it was the red ones with the white filling? Those keep me happy for, yeah, you're right, for a couple minutes.
Shawn: What about the chocodile? Remember that?
Ben: Yeah, yeah. I used to go to the bakery when, there was this like this bakery. I remember it was like halfway between me and tennis practice. And so on the way to tennis practice, I would always pull in, this is all through college, and I grab, I pull in a McDonald's get the BigMac and supersized it. I'd take about thirty minutes to digest and then just head off and just smash the tennis courts for like three or four hours. And then on the way back from tennis, I'd always stop off at this bakery in Lewiston, Idaho and I'd get a Twinkie. And I'd go back and forth between like the white ones with the flakes on them, and the red ones with the cream filling, yeah, the little brown ones.
Shawn: I'm pretty sure there's still a part of your liver right now that's made of a Twinkie. I'm pretty sure.
Ben: Yeah, probably.
Shawn: Yeah, man. It's so crazy because, you know, our obsession with the calorie is really put us in a bad way, but we know today, especially, and it's really starting to hit the mainstream that it's the quality of those calories that are, it's actually more important than the calorie itself. The calorie does matter, just like the hours of sleep you get definitely matters, but the quality of those hours matters so much more and so there are people who are, you know, sleeping smarter for six hours who are doing phenomenally better than people who are getting eight or nine hours of sleep who're waking up feeling like, you know, a Piñata after the party, you know, because their sleep quality so compromised.
So one of those really interesting things is what's going on with caffeine and caffeine is such a storied thing in our history, you know, there's been a long relationship with humans and caffeine, and it's not going anywhere. And my job is not to try to take that away. I'm a fan of caffeine, right, but it's really in how we utilize it for sleep, and there's definitely a variance here depending on your metabolism for caffeine. So what's going on with caffeine? Well, in Sleep Smarter, I cited a study and this was published in The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, right, and so they had participants to consume caffeine literally right before bed, three hours before bed and six hours before bed, and what they discovered was that, what they discovered was even at six hours out, there was a measurable objective loss of one hour of sleep shown via a sleep monitor. And so they tracked objective and subjective. So subjective, the people thought, “Hey, I got my regular eight hours sleep,” or whatever it was, but in fact the sleep monitor showed that they lost an hour of sleep by consuming caffeine six hours before bed. Why is that? Well, caffeine has this really interesting thing, it's called a half life. It has a half life of about eight hours for the average person. So what that means is if you consume a two hundred milligram cup of coffee, eight hours later, one hundred milligrams still active in your system, and then eight hours after that fifty is still active in your system. And caffeine is a very powerful nervous system stimulant, and this is part of the reason that it can disrupt your sleep quality. Is that if your nervous system is lit up, then you're not going to, you're not going to go into your natural sleep cycles the right way, and so this is what we really need to focus on, by the way, gonna throw this in parentheses here, is a focus on getting quality sleep cycles and not eight hours of sleep.
So, for our sleep cycles approximately like 90 minutes for the average person again, and so I recommend a minimum of four complete sleep cycle. So this is REM sleep and non-REM sleep, so more anabolic sleep in all the stages in between.
Ben: So four, four of those, and those sleep cycles last, like, we did a podcast with a guy who works with like professional soccer teams for sleep. I believe he said 75 to 90 minutes is about right along each of those cycles from like rapid eye movement to non-rapid eye movement sleep, and then back up take place. So you're recommending four per night?
Shawn: Four minimum, man.
Ben: Okay, four minimum.
Shawn: Four minimum. Yeah.
Ben: ‘Cause I think what he said, he said like five of those sleep cycles per 24 hours, and he said he didn't care. He was like, “Well, yeah. If you get three at night, then that means you're going to take a big long nap in the afternoon to squeeze in is as much of those other two that you missed during the night.” And he said he'll even step back and look at it for like traveling athletes who have some days that are just crap days, where they're not going to get much sleep. And he'll add up, like he'll take a full week and he'll just say, “Okay, get 35 cycles over the course of seven days.” And that's what's more important than, say like X number per day. He had some really interesting thoughts on this.
Shawn: I love him, man. Precisely and I'm definitely in the same boat with that because, with that, when I'm saying a minimum of four, I'm looking at the higher end so that 90 minute versus that 75, so that's somewhere around six hours of sleep as a minimum. But depending on your lifestyle, depending on your activity level, you know, then we're going to look at getting in an additional one, additional sleep cycle which is going to take you up around the seven to seven and a half hour mark, and that's where a lot of adults are going to fit into that spectrum.
So, and here's one of the crazy things, and why I'm even mentioning this is that you can still feel groggy in the morning. If you're waking up and you've got adequate rest but it's in between, your alarm goes off, and we're going to talk about this later, your alarm goes off in between one of your sleep cycles, you know. And so that can make you feel still tired and groggy, trying to get up and go turn off your alarm clock. So we want, if we can time things up a little bit better, it's going to make us feel better when we get up in the morning.
So with the half life, so we already covered that, but also understanding, so what is caffeine doing? So we already mention it's a powerful nervous system stimulant, but also there is this compound, and it's called adenosine. So all day, while you're awake, all day, every day you're awake and your neurons in your brain are firing and there's a lot of stuff going on, obviously. Like we're talking about trillions of things like every second, and there's a neurotransmitter byproduct, and that's what adenosine is. And so for a long time in science, it was just kind of like, “Oh, it's just a byproduct. It's a waste product.” Until more recently, they discovered that this is really important in regulating your sleep cycles because as the, your neurons are firing, you're producing more adenosine, the more that you're producing, it's starting to nudge your body to go to sleep or to take rest. So all these processes that you're doing, it's that byproduct that says once it builds up your system, you need to get some sleep and it fits into a certain receptor site that starts to make you sleepy.
Now, caffeine has this very interesting ability, it looks so similar to adenosine. It can fit into adenosine receptor sites. So you can just start to build up and accumulate all of these byproducts and, even though you should be getting sleepy because those receptor sites are filled with caffeine, you don't really notice. So you're tired, but you don't know it, you know. And so that's what's really going on, but kind of, in a little bit of a deeper level with what caffeine is doing to our body. So can we kind of find a way around this or better yet, just talk about the original question, what about people who have a different caffeine metabolism? Absolutely. You know my kind of blanket recommendation is to consume your caffeine in the early part of the day. So I recommend before noon, but for some people who have a very fast caffeine metabolism, they can take it a little bit later into the afternoon. But for those, a lot of people have a slower metabolism for caffeine and they might need to take it out overall, period, you know. Because it's one of those things that's really screwing up their energy and their sleep, thus is causing problems with their health, you know, be it their, you know, ability to lose weight, or what's going on with their heart, or whatever the case may be, because of caffeine and they don't even know it.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. And what I've found with caffeine, I'm a fast caffeine metabolizer, as is I think the whole country of Italy who all do espresso at night with dinner. And they're just wired differently over there, they also do copious amounts of wine each night with dinner and they sleep like babies, but basically what I found for myself is that I can do coffee and I've experimented with my sleep cycles. I can do it as late as 4:00 PM and I'm generally about a 9:30 to 10:00 PM sleeper, and once I go past about 4:00 PM, even though I'm a fast caffeine metabolizer, it affects me pretty drastically. So that would kind of agree with that six hour time frame that you talk about, but I've noticed with people, ‘cause I have some clients who have done this genetic testing and they're slow caffeine metabolizer, if they do anything past, you know, like that morning cup of coffee, right. Like they do anything with lunch, which is technically like freakin’ like you know 10 hours before bedtime for most people, their sleep cycles are affected.
So I think that even, in my personal experience, even if you've done genetic testing, and you show that you're a fast caffeine metabolizer, that six hour range is still somewhat accurate when it comes to, again, like you mentioned, Shawn, you might go to sleep, but you might notice that you spend, if you're quantifying, say 10% of the night in deep sleep, whereas you're supposed to get like 18 to 22% of the night in deep sleep. So, so yeah. It's definitely, plays a key role. Now, are you familiar with the use of theanine to combat the effects of caffeine if you do have caffeine at night? Have you come across this?
Shawn: Yes. Yes, and, you know, it just, again it depends on the person, of how effective it's gonna be, but I want to mention something really quick so I don't forget, is that what used to get me, because I would definitely, you know, first part of the day, that's when I do my caffeine and I'm more of a tea drinker so the pu-erh or, you know, the yerba mate, or the green tea, but, and I didn't know what was going on, this was you know probably, I don't know, three or four years ago, but every now and then in the evening, I have some kombucha and I didn't tie it together. It took me like a month to realize whenever I would have one in the evening, it would screw up my sleep and I thought maybe it was something in the food that I ate, I just couldn't put my finger on it. They've got to remember that those are caffeinated as well, you know. So watch out for the kombuchas as well. So anything with caffeine, if you're sensitive to it, it can cause issues with your sleep cycles.
Ben: Yeah, ‘cause it was made from tea. Yeah, it's a good point. A lot of people don't realize that, but you have theanine, it's interesting because that, there is a variety of studies that have shown that if you do have caffeine late at night, maybe you have that “Oh crap” moment where you realize that Starbucks handed you the caffeinated rather than the decaf, you can use theanine to combat the effects. You could actually take theanine in like a capsule form or in a supplement form to combat the effects of caffeine.
The other thing when it comes to the adenosine that you talked about, and this is something that I do, I dunno if you've, if you've experimented much with this, Shawn, is I'll do what I call an adenosine reboot where I can decaf coffee, like really clean, Swiss water process, you know, chemical free decaf coffee around, and for every month that I drink coffee, like caffeinated coffee, I switch to decaf for a week, right. So I still get all the flavor, I get all the anti-oxidants, I get all like that anti-Alzheimers, anti-diabetes effects of coffee. But what happens is when you quit taking it for, like the caffeinated coffee, for about 7 to 10 days, you rebuild your sensitivity to adenosine. So it's really interesting that you can actually kinda, kinda drink coffee all year long, but maintain pretty good sensitivity to caffeine and also not, not F up your adenosine receptors.
Shawn: Exactly, and a lot of people know that experience of, you know, when you first have coffee and it's just like this amazing Jedi moment. You know, like this exists and you can do anything, and then as you start to abuse it a little bit or consistently use it, it's not as effective. You don't get that same feeling. It's not that same, you know, when we first met it was like this and now it's like…
Ben: Yeah, exactly.
Shawn: You know, and it's because, so it goes from that one cup does it, to now I need two, to now I need four. And I've worked with people over the years, man, there's a guy that I worked with, he was knocking down 13 cups a day, and I'm just like, “How are you, how are you even walking?” You know, and it's really important for us to understand that this is, again this is a very powerful nervous system stimulant, and to kind of put it in his proper place because I think we can all utilize it and take advantage of it, but cycling it is really a valuable thing, whether it's even in a supplement, a lot of supplements, pre-workouts. You know to go supplement-free or pre-workout free or switch to something else for a time period, I mean you could do many periods, so in the book I recommend different ways. So you could do like during the week, maybe you're on for four days and off for three. Or you do like, and that's what I tend to do as well, Ben, is I'll be on for maybe a month and I'll take a week off, you know. So either way cycling it is gonna get you a lot more bang for your buck and that good feeling, so your body doesn't start to lose its sensitivity to the caffeine.
Ben: Yeah, cool. Alright, so I got some other things I want to talk to you about. You actually mentioned the alarm, so I figured we could just jump into this right now, ‘cause I wanna make sure we get a chance to talk about this, and the type of alarm to use. So there are of course these alarms now that will wake you up when you're in your optimal sleep cycle, and then there is the idea that you might keep your windows open so the sun wakes you up, and then there's the, you know, there's another type of alarm clock called the Sunrise Alarm Clock that just like gradually glows, you know, in the morning and gradually wakes you up. What's your take on alarm clocks? What are your recommendations? What do you use, if you use one? And are you a fan of these ones that wake you up during what they claim is your ideal part of the sleep cycle in the morning?
Shawn: Yeah. Good question, man. So just to talk about, so what I do, many years ago, I got, and this is more so for the other side of the equation, not the morning time but the evening time of not having that glaring light coming from your alarm clock, making ugly faces at you, you know, that all of us know from our own lives, in popular culture, and so it has a complete dimmer shut-off. So they don't even make this alarm clock anymore, it's from Sony, but, and you could still find some, it's just a little bit more investigation to find with the complete dimmer shut-off. So I do have an alarm clock, one of the important things is it's across the room, so I actually have to get up and go turn it off instead of that constant, you know, but here's the thing, probably once every two to three weeks will it even go off because my body is in sync with, with everything, you know.
Ben: You wake up before it even goes off, basically.
Shawn: The early, I mean the latest that I have, it was actually yesterday. My alarm was set for 5:45 and I got over the clock, it was 5:44, you know, but generally it's probably 10, 15 minutes before the alarm glows, goes off that I'm up. And so I think we want to get to a place where we don't need the alarm clock, but I think they're brilliant ideas, especially with the kind of Sunrise Alarm Clock, especially if you're following the strategies of blacking your room out. I think it's really, really essential actually.
Ben: Yeah. Yeah.
Shawn: And so this is the thing, and you mentioned this earlier, actually, about, “What about the sunlight? I mean the stars and the moon and yeah.”
Ben: Our ancestors had, what about the caveman?
Shawn: Forever! Well, of course you're gonna throw those things in there, but these are things we, it's not about, so, now it's called…
Ben: Cavemen, cavemen didn't have an iPhone.
Shawn: True. True.
Ben: I'm saying like, like that's my take on it is like cavemen didn't have an iPhone, he didn't have street lights outside his room at night. He didn't have, you know, cars driving by, you know, all these issues that could potentially create a need for blackout curtains. I don't think that if you're living in a completely ancestral environment, you need blackout curtains, right. When I go camping, I don't take blackout curtains because I'm not getting exposed to a bunch of artificial light when I'm out there, and so I don't need to like shift forward that morning cycle, right. Like ensure that I'm not getting exposed to light quite so early in the morning, but, man, if you live in modern society, like 99% of people in my opinion should use blackout curtains or like a blackout sleep mask or both because you get exposed to artificial light at night, right?
Shawn: Absolutely. You mentioned earlier about, and there was a, it was a study done by Cornell University, actually. And so, the room that the participant in the study slept in was dark. It was a dark room, except they put a fiber optic cable behind their knee, it was just the size of a quarter, and that light was enough. Okay, otherwise dark room, that light shining onto their skin was enough to change their core body temperature, and to also impact their melatonin as well, right. So they literally were able to impact their melatonin secretion by putting a light onto their skin and same thing for all of us.
Our skin as photo receptors that pick that information up, so if you’ve got your neighbor's porch light, those LED street lamps outside of your house and, recently, so we moved probably maybe six or seven months ago and so now there were no street lights around, and I just kinda pointed my intention on doing that. I'm not one of those guys that go and, you know, hide out totally. We're like twenty minutes from the mall, you know, it's still not that bad, but, you know, I literally live in an area where we only have moonlight and the light from the stars, and it just depends on the evening, as well. And I don't have blackout curtains anymore, but in my old house, when we lived in the suburbs, we definitely had blackout curtains and I noticed that, everything that I talk about and that I share and all the clinical data to back it up, the thing I noticed, this really myself, immediately is when I got those blackout curtains, I slept so good, you know, and so, I definitely recommend people do that and if you do have the blackout curtains, yeah, and definitely look into having that alarm clock that gradually has the light come on. You know, it's a little bit of a cue for you to just start to wake up. I think that's really important.
Ben: Yeah. I'm now using the alarm that wakes you up like it during your optimal sleep cycle, but the way that you do it is you set a time frame, right. So I'll know, “Hey, I'm going to bed at X time tonight, so I want…” Let's say I'm going to bed at 10:00, right? So I want to wake up sometime between 5:30 and 6:30, right. I want to get, let's say seven and a half to eight and a half hours of sleep, and so I'll say, “Okay, so at some point between 5:30 and 6:30, wake me up, but ensure that I'm up around like my rapid eye movement sleep, or up around my light sleep cycle when you wake me up.” And that generally keeps you from being drowsy at all when you wake up.
And then, see, have we have chickens, we have roosters and the roosters don't know if I've gone to bed at 9:00, or if I've gone to bed at 11:30 PM, right? And that's the thing that sucks about roosters is they're gettin' up at, you know, 4:30 or 5:00 regardless of what you did the night before. So I use, dude, I use binaural beats, right? So I've got this app called a Sleep Stream app that blocks out all ambient noise and that kinda like lulls your body through the normal sleep cycles during the night, and then I've got blackout curtains, and I've got the sleep mask, and then I've got that alarm that gradually wakes you up, and that's just the way that I roll and, you know, it works pretty well for me versus doing that alarm. But I agree with you, getting to the point where your body just naturally wakes up when it should wake up works pretty well too, unless you have a flight to catch, if you have a flight to catch, that sucks.
So a few other questions for you about sleep. A lot of people work graveyard shifts or night shifts and, of course, you know, it's no secret that that's not good for you. We've talked before like on my podcast about how it creates fluctuations in everything from like blood sugar, to high cortisol, to decreased melatonin. Like I don't think we need to get into the fact that graveyard shifts and night shifts are bad for you ‘cause a lot of people know that already, but as far as mitigating the damage, do you have tips for people who work graveyard or night shift as far as like fighting against some of the potential damage that can cause?
Shawn: Yes. Definitely, man. You know, I can't do an interview or a podcast or, you know, any type of social media stuff, even a post, without somebody asking about it, you know. And I mean, specifically, not by the host, but in the comment section, you know. “What about people who work shift work?” You know, because this is what I have to do, you know, I've got to support my family, I've got to, this is just what my job is giving me, and so I'm just going to be straight up about this: if your number one focus in your life is your health, then you need to get a new job. You know, there's really, that's the ultimate way to combat this and to find a way around this. And I'm not saying this without having a place of compassion. I actually specifically, it was difficult even writing this chapter because and I mean, it really hit me a lot.
I've been able to work, you know, working at a university for so many years, with a lot of nurses and a lot of pre-med students and seeing them before and after, you know, or their friends, you know, what doing the clinicals and working the shift work does to their body. And it's just so sad, man. It's so, so hard to see, but this was a long time ago before I really again dove into understanding about sleep. And now today even, but also for the last few years, I'll ask any nurse that I come across or that I've worked with in last few years, “So, at your hospital or in your office or on your floor, out of every 10 nurses how many are fit?” And usually the answer is one or zero, right. The most I've ever heard is two.
Ben: Depends on the type of hospital too or the type of medical setting, right? You go to like a plastic surgery facility, they're all hot, they're all gorgeous.
Shawn: That's totally different. Nip/tuck is a totally different ball game.
Ben: I agree. Like, not to offend any of our listeners who are nurses, and again it's tough because we need night shift workers, right? Like it's like somebody got be there at night, but, yes, what can people do?
Shawn: Yes, and so this is, to my point which is if your life is dedicated to service and you're doing this because you love it, and you're doing this because you want to help people and you want to be there in those situations, in the E.R. or whatever the case may be, you know. Our firefighters, our police officers, our physicians, our nurses, and a lot of other public safety workers who are operating at night, it's a very tough situation and even I talk about in the book that, even if you're doing it a couple days a week and then you're getting back on a normal schedule, it's basically the same as far as the results of stuff you've already talked about on the show. Same level of cancer, diabetes, you name it. And I don't know if you talked about this before, I just wanna throw this one statistic out though really quickly before we talk about some solutions, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified shift work as a Class 2a carcinogen, right. So this means it's lumped in with lead exposure and UVA radiation as a cancer causing agent. So this is serious business. So what can we do to combat this?
Well, I mention, number one, if this is not about service and your passion, get a new job. We've got to stop lying to ourselves that this is the only thing that I can do in my life and there's not another way. I promise you, there's another way. You know, when I was in college for one phase I was literally working at 3:00, I had to be at work at 3:00 in the morning. So this means I'm up at 2:00 in the morning and, working at a casino actually when I first went to this particular school and, man, I just told myself this is the only work that I can get right now and I, because I was so exhausted from my life and from school and from this, it was very difficult to get out and find another job, but it's putting your locus of focus on, stop telling yourself or making excuses that this is the only thing you could do. You could do something about it, so, but if this is about service, bottom line is this: you've got to do everything else right. I've got to just make that clear. So following all the different strategies that we talk about. Definitely employing some phototherapy, definitely blacking out your room, that is a must. If you're sleeping during the day, you absolutely must black your room out to the degree that you can barely even see your hand.
Ben: So that means like even if you come home during the day, right, you're totally blackin’ out the room?
Shawn: Yes. Yes, you've got to make it as dark as possible because your body's not producing melatonin unless it's dark.
Ben: And so do you take melatonin too? Or do you recommend that for shift workers that get home during the day to take melatonin?
Shawn: I wouldn't take that consistently. Definitely not. I mean there's a lot of other supplements I'd turn to first, but with melatonin, so what they found, and you know right off the bat we'd think that, “Oh well maybe if we take it too much, your body might start to lose its ability to use it.” No. Actually, we've, we found that it's not that your body won't be able to produce it, it's the fact that your receptor sites start to down regulate for melatonin if you take the supplement too often, right. So we don't want that to happen.
So melatonin is something that would be in a spot treatment case, so if it was travel, if it was every now and then. Instead, let's use precursors, you know. So the 5-HTP, the L-tryptophan, or we can go with the herbal things. So chamomile tea is something really gentle, valerian is pretty strong for some people, you know, so things like that as another supplement, but bottom line: produce melatonin naturally. You need to get it as dark as possible in your bedroom. Another thing would be to just follow the other basic stuff. So make sure that you're sleeping in a cooler environment. Make sure that, you know, you're optimizing your nutrition as much as you can.
You know, we do a whole chapter and I think we're going to talk about this today, dedicated to essentially fixing your gut to fix your sleep and to try to do everything you can to support your microbiome because that's going to have a huge impact on your sleep quality. So we can just go on and on and on there's so many different things that you definitely need to do that you don't have the wiggle room other people have because you're not living a normal life or what your genes are expecting you to live.
Ben: Yeah. Two thoughts I have on, or, well three I have on the night shift thing that I recommend a few of the folks I work with on night shift. First of all, we mention the light therapy and, like I mentioned, I'm not a fan of the blue light boxes, but for people who work night shift, like during the night when you're working, trying to fool your body into thinking that it's the day is really important, and that's not necessarily something that you want to do during the entire night shift, right. As you're getting close to the end of the night shift, you would want to do things like take out the blue light blocking glasses, right, to limit your exposure to artificial light and begin to use, you know, some of the things you just talked about, Shawn. Like chamomile and valerian, but they’re almost like fooling your body towards the end of your night shift into thinking that, that the sun is setting and that it's time to go to sleep.
And then the other thing that I recommend in addition using blue light blocking glasses, and in addition to using blue light producing devices like early on in the night shift, and this kind of disagrees with what you just mentioned, but I actually like the concept of micro dosing with melatonin. I spoke with Dr. Kirk Parsley who developed this supplement called Sleep Cocktail, and we talked about some of these issues with melatonin and how it, how you, you actually don't want to, like you mentioned, Shawn, make your receptors for melatonin less sensitive to melatonin. And he seems to have come to the conclusion that micro dosing, right, like a lot of melatonin supplements are 3, 5, 10, milligrams, he's got like 0.3 milligrams in his supplement and he says that that's, that's basically, based on research, not enough to desensitize you to melatonin, but still enough to kinda like gently lull your body into the deeper sleep phases that you might not get in the absence of melatonin.
Shawn: Yeah. I'm right on the same page with you. I specifically mention that too, is that it's also the amount, you know. So a lot of supplements are like sometimes like 100 times more melatonin than what your body would be producing itself, you know. It's totally, it's just mind blowing and so, yeah, definitely having a smaller amount, yeah, I think that that's actually a viable thing.
Ben: Gotcha. Okay, cool. So night shift, do everything right and get a new job, if you have to, but that being said, I wanna put this out there, I appreciate all the nurses, all the doctors out there that go outta their way, but I'm I mean, if anything, you know, try and try and have some your life where you're working night shifts and some your life where you're not, if possible.
Shawn: Really quick, man. I got to throw this out there too. This is super, you know, because this is such an important topic, man. You feel the same way that I do that we really need to have more, I think that our society has failed, it's failed our, the people who are taking care of us, you know, who're working these night shifts and just ignore the fact that they're devastating their health, think of you know, trying to serve us.
And so I recommend a strategy which, this would take a massive makeover of our culture for this to happen, but instead of having seniority run the table as far as like, if you're going to work night shift for the next ten years, it should be, especially if it's about service, where people are maybe two months on the overnight shift and 10 months off, you know. Because your body does an amazing, it's so resilient and it can do such an amazing job of cleaning house if it has a nice chunk of time to do it. Three days off isn't going to do it and the research shows that, so if we can maybe restructure things, you know, with our police officers, with our firefighters, with our emergency care technicians to where they're getting a solid part of the year, where they can be a normal human being and their genes can do, they can do what their genes are expected to do, I think is going to result in a big, big shift in all of the negative things that you've talked about in your show before.
Ben: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Restructuring culture to allow for night shift workers to get some day shifts too, a lot of day shifts.
Okay, so another thing that you alluded to just a little bit ago was the link between gut bacteria and sleep. I found this section of the book fascinating. I think everybody knows that if your gut is messed up, it's gonna mess up many areas of your life, but I'd like to specifically hear you expound a little bit on what you found regarding the actual bacterial profile of the gut and its effect on sleep.
Shawn: Aw, man. This was, so this was probably the most fun that I had writing the book, and a lot of the stuff that I talk about in this chapter I personally didn't even know about for, until about maybe two years ago, and a lot of your audience is already gonna be up to speed on the fact that upwards of 95% of your body serotonin is located in your gut, right, and serotonin is actually produced by the enterochromaffin cells that are in the intestinal mucosa in your belly, right.
And we talked about earlier how it's a precursor to melatonin. So serotonin's function in your body and the ability of these cells produce it is really, really important in order, what was also so interesting, and you mentioned this already, and there was, there were researchers from, it was Caltech, and they discovered that certain bacteria in your gut play an important role in the production of serotonin that we've already been talking about.
So the bacteria in your gut are literally communicating with the cells that produce your serotonin. So that's part one. Part two is like a game changer. Everybody needs to understand this from this day forward and it really changed my thinking just tremendously when I found this out. So a big part of the sleep equation, and what we've been talking about is melatonin. So melatonin is the quote, sleep hormone, but it's really more like a get-good-sleep hormone. It helps your body by regulating your sleep cycles and supporting healthy sleep.
So when we think about it, we oftentimes think about the pineal gland because this is what we're told in popular culture, your pineal gland is producing your melatonin. Well, this is the big news flash, is that it's been discovered that your gut has been found to contain at least 400 times more melatonin than your pineal gland, right.
Ben: Holy cow.
Shawn: And you can actually get pinealectomy, you know, have your pineal gland removed, which I don't, I don't recommend that, you know. Might not be a good day if you have that done, but what was found is that even if the gland is removed, your body still maintains about the same level of melatonin in your gut, right. So we've got to change our whole equation around when we're talking about melatonin, you know, right off the bat.
And so, again, research has found that our bacteria in our gut are communicating with the cells that maintain and produce these important sleep-related hormones and also, one other quick part I'm going to throw in here before we talk about the bacteria specifically, is that UCLA researchers, they actually found that there is this really interesting connection between your gut and your brain, right.
So, and specifically it's linked up via your vagus nerve, and the vagus nerve connects your belly to your brain, but there's other organs along that path and what UCLA researchers found, and this is shocking, is that 90% of those fibers from your vagus nerve is carrying information from your gut to your brain and not the other way around. So your gut is largely sending information to your brain, and it's gonna automatically be determining processes.
Ben: Really, I didn't know that it was that skewed towards the gut sending information to the brain versus the brain to the gut. So it really is 90% gut.
Shawn: Exactly, exactly and this is why it's called the second brain. It's often referred to as a second brain and it's, but the technical name is the enteric nervous system, and your enteric nervous system has more neurotransmitters and brain related hormones than like your peripheral nervous system. Like it's crazy how much, quote, brain tissue in a way is located in your belly. So what do we do to support this?
Well, we already talked about how the, the bacteria is communicating with those cells that produce these things and we have to understand this overarching thing which is, number one, we have ten times more bacteria that live in and on our body than we have human cells. So you're mostly bacteria, which is weird, super weird, but we wanna make sure that in our microbiomes, so in our gut, that the friendly flora that have the greatest synergy with human tissues are running your ship, right, because the unfriendly bacteria that are, often times they're called the opportunistic bacteria, can cause a lot of damage to your cells and it's, but I also want to say this too because I used to really be caught up on unfriendly bacterium. Like why is it even there? Why do we have E. coli in there, you know? You actually need a little bit of that it's a, but it's about balance, you know. So I refer to it, I give the example of these, quote, unfriendly bacteria being kinda like the Incredible Hulk in the Avengers, you know. He's needed, you know, he's necessary to take down, you know, to take down Loki, but if they were all Hulks there, we'd, everything would be messed up, like it would go to hell in a hand-basket super fast.
So we want to have the right balance, so we want to support our bacteria. This is basic stuff that, I know Ben has just drilled down on so many different times, avoiding agricultural chemicals. Simple. You know, pesticides, herbicides, fungucides, processed foods with the, you know, excessive sugars, processed sugars that are gonna feed bacteria, chemical additives, things like that. They just have no business being in our food. Repeated antibiotic use, chlorinated water, these basic things are going to, avoiding them is going to help support that healthy microbiome. But then we can of course get into a conversation of what do we do outside of avoiding the problem. What can we do to support them so they're doing the job as opposed to do?
Ben: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely and, you know, when it comes to the microbiome and, especially the gut, you know, I'm all about testing. I'm a huge, huge fan of everybody at least once a year getting like a stool panel, right. Like a three day poop panel where, and I do this once a year, look at bacteria, yeast, fungus, parasites.
I recently also sent in a little Q-tip swab of my fecal matter to the American Gut Project which actually looks at how would the balance of, what are called like firmicutes and bacteroides, and all these different bacteria in your gut, compare to the general population, and that's more of just, you know, there's not a lot of value to it at this point other than just seeing how you compare, but they're building up a database to be able to see like how people eat actually affects their gut bacteria, and whether certain people of genetic, you know, ancestry have a different microbiome than other folks, but yeah, I think in my opinion, anybody who's not sleeping well, who has insomnia and doesn't quite know why it's happening, I think they need to get a gut test cause it's, like I had parasites before.
I dunno if you've ever had parasites, Shawn, but they hatch like every two weeks, they hatch and they hatch based on moon cycles. It's just, it's creepy and every time they hatch, you get insomnia. You're up all night and you kind of know, like not to gross people out, but like your butthole itches a little bit and like, it's really weird. You almost feel as though something is living inside of you and it's crazy, but for me it was just because I did so much travel to Asia for a while, like doing triathlons, swimming in water, you know, swallowing amoebas and parasites and stuff like that, and I had to do a full on, a really, really nasty tasting Chinese herbal cleanse and then I had to rebuild my bacteria, you know. I did probiotics in the mouth and also probiotic enemas, right, where you literally, you make a probiotic enema, put a probiotics, you ferment them in coconut water on the kitchen counter for like six hours, and then you shove them up your butt and you go and hang from an inversion table, right, for like 20 minutes and that was how I repopulated myself after killing off the parasites.
But, that might sound excessive to a lot of folks listening in, but I mean like, like you just said, Shawn, I mean when it comes like serotonin, melatonin, sleep, gut bacteria is super important.
Shawn: Nah, this isn't, this is The Ben Greenfield Podcast, man. They know, they already know what's going down here, man. Like I didn't know that.
Ben: And you get into all sorts of other stuff in the book about like, you know, fecal transplants and some of the other stuff when it comes to gut bacteria and sleep, but I'll leave that to folks to discover when they read the book because there's a couple of other things I want to ask you. You're being really generous with your time, so I'm gonna take every advantage of it here.
So a couple other things, Shawn. First of all, the ideal sleeping position, does it exist? Like is there, is there an ideal sleeping position that they found to be the best for most folks?
Shawn: Man, well first and foremost, kinda weird but it's just like you just lay down and go to sleep. Why does it matter? It actually matters, actually matters a lot because your sleeping position can impact, obviously the thing that we know about pretty, it's very on the surface level, is the stability of our spine, but also it impacts the blood flow to our brain. It impacts our hormone production, it impacts our joint integrity, our ligament integrity. It impacts our heart function and blood pressure, our digestion is impacted, our oxygen supply and efficient breathing is impacted. All these different things are impacted by the way that we're laying down, you know.
So we do want to mind our sleeping position and, you know, in the book, in this specific chapter, this is called “Play Your Position.” And so instead of telling people what to do, I try to focus on what to do to make it better. And most experts are gonna say sleeping on your back is the ideal way to go about it because of the spinal integrity and, especially for people with snoring and sleep apnea things like that, it's actually worsened by laying on your back.
Ben: Oh, yeah.
Shawn: Right? And so I've seen this also, my wife which, I talked about this on my show, so it's legal for me to mention this guys, I'm not throwing her out there. She's a petite woman, but she could snore like a straight up bear. Like a grizzly. It’s grizzly and it’s…
Ben: It's amazing the sounds that, that hot, small women can make when they're sleeping. They fart, they snore. It's crazy everything, everything becomes ugly once the hot woman falls asleep.
Shawn: Exactly. It's like, “Who are you?” You know, look over at ‘em but…
Ben: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Shawn: Exactly, and this is what I call meeting your partner's sleep alter ego, you know. That's a whole interesting thing that happens when you guys get together, but, so as far as laying on your back, it's great for a couple of things. Number one is like cosmetic issues, another thing is like your skin health for, you know, when I was younger, like just smashing my pillow into my face, I was prone to breakouts on the side that I slept on, you know, the most which was so crazy, but I never pieced it together. So cosmetic stuff, so not accelerating wrinkles and allowing your skin to breathe, that kind of stuff, and avoiding breakouts. But the deeper things are things like acid reflux is helped a lot by sleeping on your back, but what the issue is is that laying on your back is not comfortable for a lot of us at all, and some of the strategies on making that a little bit better is, number one, we want to make sure that we're not using a huge pillow, right, where your spinal integrity is gonna be thrown off. So you're laying on your back, and your heads propped up, and if you just even put your head like as we're standing or sitting right now, and then you just pretend you've got a pillow behind your head, automatically your tucking your chin down a little bit and if you were to walk around in that position all day, you're probably gonna have some problems with your spine, specifically with your cervical spine.
So we've got to make sure that our pillows are supporting that little space in between our neck in our head and not over extending or pushing our head down towards our body too much. So that's one thing and, well, I mean that's pretty, laying on your back is pretty simple and to the point. So, but the other thing though…
Ben: They make a, I don't know if you've seen this, they actually make special pillows now that allow your neck to be in the optimal position if you are a back sleeper.
Shawn: Yes. Yup.
Ben: They're, what are they called, they're like Doctor somebody's pillows. I think they're doctor, not Dr. Schulz, I'll find him and put a link to him because I have a couple, they sent me to review and I'm not a back sleeper, so for me it was kinda like, meh, but apparently a regular pillow puts your neck in a flexion position when you're sleeping and these allow you to be in a position that does not compress spinal nerves while you're asleep, if you're a back sleeper. Really interesting pillow. I'll find a link to it and put in the show notes for folks.
Ben: Now, the, I'm a side sleeper, right. Like I sleep on my side, pillow tucked between my knees. I feel like a million bucks when I sleep in that position, but I did an interview with that guy I mentioned, Dr. Littlehales, and he works with a lot of athletes who are like pitchers and tennis players and throwing athletes. He's a big, big fan of, if you are an athlete who uses one specific arm predominantly, you sleep on your non-dominant side, right. You sleep on your non-dominant side which apparently puts less pressure on that arm that you would be using during competition, leaves a little bit less compressed and he swears by that, by like training your body, if you're an athlete, to sleep on the specific side, that's the opposite side of what you'd be using during competition and training.
Shawn: Yeah, but here's the, that's gonna be virtually impossible to maintain that position, you know, because your body will definitely, you're gonna cut off blood flow and you're going to, potentially if you are able to stay in that position for eight hours, you're probably gonna…
Ben: Yeah, I've tried it. Even though I'm a side sleeper, I gotta shift, like left side, right side throughout the night.
Shawn: Yeah, that's what's normal, you know, and so, his recommendation is a tough one, but I get it. This is what the problem can be with sleeping on your side, and there's a way to do it better, like you mentioned throwing the pillow in between your knees instead of focusing on having a huge pillow under your head, which you can, again there's pillows for side sleepers as well, but what's so good about sleeping on your side, it's also clinically proven to help with digestive issues like acid reflux and heartburn, but this is, for a lot of people, it kinda simulates our template, you know. We're kind of curled up in the fetal position, and what I love about is that it's a quick fix for snoring, right. So just changing over and sleeping on your side can be a very, very quick fix for people with low to moderate levels of snoring.
You know some there's some chronic issues that might be something with, you know the breathing pathway or some obstruction or something like that, but generally simply getting your, and I've heard this before, you know, just working in this field for so many years, there's a woman and she, she started to, has always been a side sleeper, but when she started sleeping on her back when she got pregnant, and she just couldn't sleep any other way because of how the baby tend to lay in her body. And after she had a baby, she just continued to sleep on her back and her husband was complaining, she sent me a message about it, that her husband kept complaining about her snoring. She's like I've just trained myself to sleep on my back I don't know what else to do.
And it was so simple, like train yourself to sleep on your side again, you know, there's no reason to not work on it and it's largely a matter of just, oh, there's the old tennis ball trick where you can basically stitch up a pocket on the back of your t-shirt or put a t-shirt with a pocket on it backwards and stick a tennis ball in there and every time you try to tip over on your back, it's not gonna allow you to do that, you know. So you could train yourself to do that.
For most people, we don't need to do that, we don't need to do little doggie tricks, but just training yourself by getting in the optimum position, if you wake up, you know, as you're shifting positions at night, just get yourself back into the optimum position that you want to be in and find ways to make it more comfortable. And, lastly, the other side is sleeping on your belly. A lot of people just, that's just how they feel best, I talk about how to do it better. It's not the best place to sleep, especially if you have issues with, digestive issues, heartburn, things like that, but what you wanna understand about laying on your belly is that if you're laying down on your interior side, on your belly and you've got your head cocked to one side, smashed into a pillow, and again just walk around like that for a couple of hours, you're gonna have neck problems, you know.
So you gotta find a way to make it a little bit more advantageous and so I recommend just simply shifting your body a little bit and bringing it, raising one knee up to also take some pressure up your spine, because if you're laying straight as an arrow with your pace, face smashed into a pillow, you're definitely gonna be hyperextending your lower back as well. So lift your knee up on either side and, or you can stick a pillow under your hips, you know. There's so many different things you can do to make that position better. So instead of telling people which way to sleep, more so how can you make it a little bit better.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. And by the way, the name of that pillow is the Dr. J Pillow, Dr. J pillow. I'll link to in the show notes for those of you who want to check it out, but, you know, that's another reason I'm a big fan of tracking your sleep cycles, like seeing how long you spent in deep sleep, REM sleep, you know, non-REM sleep, light sleep, how long you spent awake, because if you do experiment with your sleep positions, I think a little bit of quantification can be helpful, you know. And that, you know, for everything from supplements to sleeping positions, you know, I think, yet another reason I got to get you on the techno geek bandwagon here at some point, Shawn.
Anyways though, I've got a couple other quick questions. Number one, are you on board with this idea that if you take a nap for longer than 60 minutes you're screwing yourself over and you're messing up your sleep cycles versus taking like quick 20 to 30 minute naps that don't allow you to get into non rapid eye movement sleep? Like what's your take on napping?
Shawn: Yeah, no. I'm definitely not in that camp, I think that your body really, it's just listening to your body again, and if you need a longer nap, then do that. And so from my perspective, I'm more of the “sleep-until-you-feel-good-enough-to-wake-up”, you know, versus trying to “I'm just gonna get this, I'm gonna set my alarm,” and that kind of thing, but also we've got to understand the first thing is, chances are, when we require a nap, like we cannot operate normally without taking a nap, chances are your sleep quality sucks, you know, especially the night before, if you're tired the next day and you feel like taking a nap, but every now and then…
Ben: Your sleep quality sucks or you're an athlete. Like I know so many athletes who just need that extra recovery. They need that extra sleep cycle. I'm one of them. I sleep seven to eight hours a night, and I have to, you know, unless I sleep more than eight hours a night, I have to get that post-lunch sleep cycle in. I just have to or else my performance sucks.
Shawn: Yes. So that was what I was, exactly what I was about to say because of the fact that a good nap is just a good nap, if you are, especially if you're more active, if you've got a lot of other stuff going on, even, even mental performance can require you to need more sleep, you know. And so even if you're taking in a lot of information, you're studying, you're maybe working on a book which will make you, extremely energized but also very tired because your brain processes all of that stuff while you're sleeping, you know. This is one of the most important things is this, it's called memory processing, actually, where even as everybody's listening right now, when you sleep tonight, this is where it's gonna get converted into your short term memory and if you're lacking, especially specifically during REM sleep, if you're lacking in getting adequate REM sleep, this is what happens when you drink alcohol, our REM sleep, it's called a REM rebound effect, and to the degree, and we all know like if you drink too much, you might not remember exactly what happened the night before.
Ben: That happened to me last night, actually. I had, like I'll be straightforward, I had weed and whiskey last night. Like I just, I just did.
Ben: I smoked up and I had like a shot of whiskey and a glass of kombucha, and my REM sleep was at 8% this morning, which is like nothing, right, in my little quantification app told me, “Hey, your REM sleep sucked. You're going to need to make an adjustment and get extra sleep tonight, etcetera.” I know what it was from, right, like, and I was in bed for eight and a half hours, right. So I was sleeping and I wouldn't really necessarily known this, like I can tell I'm a little bit more fatigued than I should be today, but yeah, I mean that's a really good point that if your REM sleep sucks, you may find that you have to take longer naps, and it's not necessarily because you need like more recovery from athletic performance or something like that. It's because you're not optimizing your sleep cycles because of, like you mentioned, Shawn, too much alcohol before bed, for example.
Shawn: Yeah, it's like the movie The Hangover, you know. Everybody did a little somethin' and they did not remember what happened. And so, it just depends on the level there, you know, it's not that alcohol is intrinsically bad for us, it's just what it can do to your sleep cycle and this interesting thing with this REM rebound effect that happens, but, you know, so we want to mind all of these small things, but also understanding, if you require more sleep, then you've got to give your body that extra sleep. Whether it's at night or if you get that power nap which, again my recommendation, if your body requires that sleep because you are performing outside of your norm, then you need to sleep until you're not sleepy anymore, and that's my two cents on the matter.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. I completely agree. I've always gritted my teeth against that recommendation to never sleep longer than 20, 30 minutes for a nap. I get in bed for a nap, I crawl up, I use a bio mat, produces like infrared rays, and it grounds you, and earths you, which I know you talk all about grounding and earthing in the book, but, man, I curl up on that thing and I just sleep as long as I need to sleep after lunch, and I typically will automatically wake up after like 45 to 60 minutes, feel like a million bucks. I don't care. Give, give a finger to the people who say that it’s too drowsy afternoon ‘cause I swear by it.
Last question for you. Morning exercise versus evening exercise, any effect on sleep cycles or sleep? What's your take on that? What did you find when writing the book? ‘Cause a lot of people who are listening in, they're exercise enthusiasts.
Shawn: Yes, yes, yes. So great study was done by Appalachian State University and they had exercise and training at three different times. So, part one, they trained at 7:00 AM in the morning. Part two, 1:00 PM. Part three, 7:00 PM. And these were exclusive times when they were training specifically at those times over the phases of the study. And what they discovered at the end of study was that when the morning exercisers, when they were exclusively working out in the morning, they were able to have more efficient sleep cycles. They slept longer, they tended to sleep longer, and they had about a 25% drop in their blood pressure at night as compared to the other times and that is, it's sort of an indication of an activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. And so, which is the, quote, rest and digest system.
So training in the morning equates to sleeping better at night, and this is one of things that I'm really working to push into popular culture, is that a great night of sleep starts the moment that you wake up in the morning. And…
Ben: So do you think that's the absence of the evening exercise or the presence of the morning exercise?
Shawn: It's the presence. I love that question, man. That's why I love talking to you, man, but it's the presence of the morning exercise because one of those things that helps to reset and click up that cortisol rhythm that we talked earlier about.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. Just like you should get sunlight exposure in the morning, which makes sense ‘cause I swear by morning exercise, but I also, I'm a two-a-dayer. Like I personally do like, so you're probably familiar with this, Shawn, that like your parasympathetic nervous system kind of predominates in the morning, right. Your pooping system, your rest and digest system, even though you get that little dump in cortisol. I'm a big fan of what Mark Sisson, who I had on the podcast, he calls it easing into your day, right. Like he'll do like an easy paddle board or a walk in the sunshine with the dog. I like to do like a little bit of yoga or, you know, like deep breathing, or like a really easy swim, or something like that and then later on in the evening, I'll smash it. Not in the evening, like 4:00 to 6:00 PM or so, and I think, from what I've seen, and you might know this, you may have even talked about it in the book, I think it's something like two or three hours before bed is when you would want like a super hyper, cortisolic sympathetic nervous system stimulating type of workout to have ended in order for it to not disrupt sleep.
Shawn: Exactly, exactly. And, you know, there's so much in there and I actually did an experiment. This experiment ended about three months ago, but I had to find out for myself. So for an entire year I trained in the afternoon, and I've been a morning exerciser since, I don't know, over 10 years easy, And I wanted to find out, of course, I wanted to look at this the strength gains, the increased reaction time, and I saw that stuff training in the afternoon versus the morning which was pretty amazing, but I wanted to make sure that this wouldn't influence my results, you know, my ability to accomplish my goals as far as my training and the strength gains, and all that stuff consistently if I worked out in the morning and afternoon by just to get a little kick in that cortisol, that encouragement in the morning.
And so 5 to 10 minutes of exercise in the morning is what I did for the past year and, matter of fact, it seemed to make everything better when I trained in the afternoon. So this would be 5 to 10 minutes of some bodyweight exercises, or jumping on, the thing I did the most was jumping on this rebounder, you know, this mini trampoline that I have here my office which, you know, NASA, these are literal rocket scientists.
Ben: My grandma has one of those, I jump on when I go to her house. Like I don't have one in my house, but she has one and when I visit her, and I feel kind of dumb when I do it, but at the same time, like it gets stuff moving in the morning. It's kinda cool.
Shawn: Dude, NASA has said that rebounding is the best exercise for human beings. These are literal rocket scientists. It's, what it's doing, of course, it's really great for working lymphatic system and in a strange way, it's making your cells, all the cells in your body, kind of do little push-ups because you're so much more of your weight is pushing down when you're in contact with, with the rebounder, and then when you come up off the rebounder and your feet are off of it you're essentially weightless. And so it's this G Force that gets created and it's just incredible, man. It's a really, really great form exercise. But anyway, so I'll do that for 5 to 10 minutes, you know. Throw in a podcast.
Ben: And that's in the morning?
Shawn: Yeah, every, and I did this for an entire year, whereas I would have normally went to the gym in the morning or worked out at home. And so, or like I said bodyweight exercises, tabata, or something a little bit more parasympathetic in a way, so I go for like a power walk for 10, 20 minutes. What else would I do? There's so many different options you can throw in here but get some form of physical activity in in the morning, and that's gonna translate to better sleep at night, even if you train in the afternoon.
Ben: Got it.
Shawn: The other issue though is with training in the afternoon/early evening, and not making it too late. And so there are gonna be people listening right now, their jujitsu class is like at 8:00 PM and it's just what it is, and they're finding that I'm not as recovered, like I'm doing something that I love, but I'm tired, I'm needing more supplements, my body fat is not the place where I want it to be, chances are you might be having some issues with your sleep because of the time that you're training.
And so what it is, number one, there's a process called thermal regulation. Your body has a natural drop in its core body temperature in the evening to help to facilitate better sleep. So there are certain things that your body does certain processes that kick on when it starts to get a little cooler in the evening. So, you don't want to have your core body temperature be too elevated, and there's a lot of things that you can do to bring it back down after working out, which that can be, and I know Ben has talked about this stuff, about playing around with your body temperature, but, so we want to make sure that that's one of the things we are minding, is that core body temperature elevation, but also that increase in cortisol too late. And again, it's the antithesis of melatonin, so we don't want our cortisol to be high at 10:00 at night and you're planning on getting to bed at 11:00. It's not gonna happen because you can physiologically pass out, you can be physiologically laying down and unconscious, but that doesn't mean you're getting your normal sleep cycles because melatonin can be suppressed for, you know, an hour or two later after you falling asleep. So that's what we gotta mind.
Ben: That's one problem. My worst nights of sleep are Wednesday nights, when I have men's tennis ‘cause not only does tennis go until about 9:30 PM, but they're super-duper bright LED lights on the tennis courts, and it’s just, you know that, I treat that like night shift night. Like I'll get in and, and when I'm driving home, I'll do like melatonin, I'll typically take like CBD, and this sleep cocktail when I get home and just like do everything I can to shut down all that cortisol that built up from that evening exercise, but that's really interesting. So it comes down to, ideally, get in a morning exercise session, and then, if you want that good one-two combo, avoid like hyper cortisolic sympathetic nervous system-based exercise within about two to three hours prior to bedtime.
Shawn: Exactly. You wanna be finished two to three hours before bedtime.
Ben: Yeah. Makes sense.
Dude, we covered a lot and you cover even more in this book. So folks I've been taking notes furiously as Shawn, as I have been talking and I'm going to link to all this stuff over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/sleepsmart. That's bengreenfieldfitness.com/sleepsmart. Shawn's book is called Sleep Smarter: 21 Proven Tips to Sleep Your Way to a Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success. He obviously knows what he's talking about, he put a lot of work into this book and it's a good thing. So, Shawn, thanks for coming on the show, man, and sharing all this stuff with us.
Shawn: Hey, man, it's totally my pleasure. Anytime and, of course, guys you gotta check out Ben's appearance on my show. I gotta have you back on, man. There's some things I want to talk to you about seriously about the CBD…
Ben: Let's do it, man. Anytime.
Shawn: So I'm gonna start an experiment with that and guys, so you can check, check me out at themodelhealthshow.com, and you can find Sleep Smarter at anywhere you buy books, and we're at sleepsmarterbook.com as well, or Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the usual places, and, Ben, it's always a pleasure, and this is probably one of my favorite interviews because of the fact that you are truly a pioneer and somebody's doing great work in this field, man. I just appreciate you, so thank you.
Ben: I'm not a pioneer, just a nerd. Just a nerd.
Shawn: You're a nerd pioneer, bro.
Ben: Alright, cool. Well, folks, thanks for listening in. Again bengreenfieldfitness.com/sleepsmart to grab the show notes, and until next time, I'm Ben Greenfield with Shawn Stevenson signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com. Have a healthy week.
You’ve been listening to the Ben Greenfield fitness podcast. Go to bengreenfieldfitness.com for even more cutting-edge fitness and performance advice.
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