Dr. Michael Breus fills us in on all things sleep and identifies the optimal time of day for each and every thing we do.
- How to tell what your chronotype is – and how it determines the best time to do everything
- The optimal time to send emails, brainstorm, drink coffee, have meetings, and more
- How to make the most of your power nap
Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., is a Clinical Psychologist and both a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine. With a specialty in Sleep Disorders, Dr. Breus is one of only 163 psychologists in the world with his credentials and distinction. Among his numerous national media appearances, Dr. Breus has been interviewed on CNN, Oprah, The View, Anderson, and The Doctors. He also appears regularly on The Dr. OZ Show and Sirius XM Radio. Dr Breus is dedicated to raising awareness of both medically diagnosed sleep disorders and the importance of quality sleep for all. He has become a widely recognized leader in the ever-evolving field of sleep medicine.
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Michael, thanks so much for being here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.
Well, thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Well, I’m excited to talk about so much of the stuff here with regards to Power of When and sleep, it’s so funny, your publicist said, “Oh, hey! You should have Dr. Breus on your show.” Okay, that sounds like a great topic. That’s interesting. I got his book years ago, Beauty Sleep. And you got a whole lot more good solid research since then.
I do. I got all kinds of cool stuff. And stuff that’s not just sleep related but also life related. So, all about how to be more productive at work, to be more productive at life and even how to be more productive at your sleep.
Well, I like all those things. Can you open us up then? You talk about your upcoming book here. I guess it will be already out soon by the time it will be releases, September 13. The Power of When what is the story there? You say there’s an ideal time to do just about everything.
There is. You know, most self-help books tell you what to do or they tell you how to do it, but they don’t tell you when to do it. So, the book is called The Power of When and it’s all based on something called your chronotype. Are you familiar with what a chronotype is?
Well, I am because I just took your assessment.
But prior to that, had you ever heard of the term chronotype?
I’d heard of it but I thought it sounded a little fancy. I didn’t know it was a real thing.
Yeah. So, first of all, it is. Actually most people actually know what some types of chronotypes are. Like an early bird, or a night owl, those are actually chronotypes.
But it turns out to that there’s more than two. So, let me tell you how I sort of discovered all of this. So, I am an actively practicing sleep doctor. I take care of people’s sleep problems – apnea, narcolepsy, insomnia, all that kind of stuff. I have a tendency to specialize in insomnia because of my background as a clinical psychologist.
I was working with patients and I have been working with patients for a long time. But, probably within the last 2-3 years, I started working with patients. I started to notice that with some patients, my techniques weren’t working.
Now these are evidence-based techniques. These are the things I’ve used in my toolkit for 10-15 years. They always work. I really help people break out of that insomnia mode and get into healthier sleep. And it just wasn’t working. And so, it was kind of curious to me.
So, I started to interview my patients even further.
And I said, “well, help me understand what’s going on.” And they said “Dr. Breus I am not worried about my sleep; I just sleep at the wrong time.” And I said, “what do you mean by that?” Usually people who tell me they sleep at the wrong time they’re either shift workers, or they’re in the military or fire department or police, something where their job requires them to work at night and they have to sleep during the day.
I am used to that kind of stuff. That’s called shift work sleep disorder and there’s some protocols to treat that. But this was something different.
And one of my patients said to me, “Dr. Breus, I can go to bed, I can fall asleep and I can wake up. It just doesn’t happen to be when my family and my boss wants me to.” I’m like, “Aha! This is something different.”
So, I started looking around trying to understand it and it turned out that she was a night owl. She was somebody who enjoyed staying up until midnight and sleeping until 8. That didn’t go over well with the boss. It certainly didn’t go over well with children who were up at 6:30 or her husband wasn’t too thrilled about that either. I said, “okay, lets run an experiment.” So I called her boss, and we talked with her family.
Doctor calls, that’s awesome.
Yeah. Usually, they’re really powerful. Exactly. I said I want to run an experiment with my patient for the next 2 weeks. I want to allow her to go to bed late and get up late. I’d like to see at work, what her productivity looks like and at home, if she’s easier to get along with. And everybody was like “you mean those can be affected?”
I’m like, “I really don’t know but I have a feeling that they might.” They said, “Sure let’s give it a shot.”
What we discovered was is that by allowing her to sleep when her chrono rhythm dictated, which is by the way genetically predetermined, this isn’t something that you choose, it’s in your genes, we discovered that not only was she more productive at work, but she got along better with her kids and her husband and everything was really doing quite well.
So I said, “Okay, I need to learn more about this because I wonder what other activities a person could do at a particular time of day that they could do better than they normally do.”
So I started digging through the research and in the last 15 years, there’s literally been an explosion of research in what we call circadian rhythms. So our circadian rhythm is our internal biological clock. It tells us when they eat, when they sleep. Actually when you do a lot of things, because it controls our hormones. Hormones like cortisol and neuro chemicals like serotonin, norepinephrine, epinephrine and all these different things that make our bodies do certain things, they all actually work on an internal biological clock.
By the way, not all the clocks are the same and so, that’s where the chrono rhythm comes in. And so I said, “Okay. It turns out that there are actually more than two.” There’s not just kind of early bird, night owl type of deal, there’s people who are in between, and then, there are people who aren’t such great sleepers.
So, I decided to create an assessment, which you just took and it’s available for people, it’s completely free. It’s thepowerofwhenquiz.com and you can take this quiz. It takes about a minute and you fall into one of four categories.
So, early birds are actually what I call lions.
These are people who get up 5:30, 6 o’clock in the morning and these are go, go, go types of people. A lot of times, they are COO’s, they are great at operations, they are great at getting stuff done. They are not the most creative thinkers but they can creatively solve problems as long as it goes from A to B to C to D. They are highly motivated, these are get-it-done kind of people.
My in between people are my bears. So my bears are the glue for society. This is the fabric of everything. My bears are my most fun. They enjoy relaxing but they also enjoy working. They have a great time at a party but also have a great time at work. These are the people that you love to hang out with, that you love to do different things with in order to have a great time but also to get some stuff done.
My wolves are my night owls. Wolves are really interesting people as well because these are little bit on the introverted side. These are my super creative people. These are my artists, my authors, my actors. These are people who aren’t necessarily the life of a party but, once you got them talking, it’s kind of hard to shut them up. These are the people that are really interesting, have a lot of great ideas. Often times, my visionaries, my entrepreneurs have the tendency to be my wolves. While I do have some that are lions, the majority of them have the tendency to be wolves.
But then, there’s a group of people that don’t do so great. They are my problem sleepers. I call them my dolphins. Most people don’t know but, dolphins actually sleep unihemispherically, so half of their brain sleeps while the other half is awake, looking for predators. I know it’s bizarre right?
I thought they were a great representation of somebody who never quite gets to sleep. My dolphins are super intelligent but they also are a little bit on the obsessive-compulsive side. They have a tendency to work really hard but not be as productive as they want to be. They have a tendency to get caught up in a minutia of the world. The itty bitty details even have a tendency to slow them down.
So, once I figured out what the four chronotypes were, then I said well, if they all run on different sleep schedules then they all must have different hormone schedules. And I know that certain hormones and certain neurochemicals are necessary to do stuff during the day. So, what if I match them up and try to figure out could there actually be a best time of day to do certain things.
Lo and behold there are over 200 studies that I’ve quoted in my book that actually show that that is the case. I can figure out when is the best time to have sex, eat a cheeseburger, run a mile or ask your boss for a raise.
I’ve got 50 different activities as kind of the initial onslaught of the book, for The Power of When. It’s a lot of fun. People take the quiz, they figure out what they are, and they kind of just get going.
Wow. There’s so much there. Now, when it comes to the chronotypes, what’s interesting is you layered in there, sort of more than just when they like to sleep or how they sleep. But also the kind of personality type stuff, as well as gifts, strengths, talents type stuff. And so, I guess I am curious to hear is there a fundamental kind of validating source of study or, how did you link all of that together?
I actually looked through all the literature and so when I was creating the assessment tool, I actually used bits and pieces from other assessment tools that I’ve used.
Historically, we’ve only really tried to identify the lions and the wolves. The early morning people and the night time people.
But I felt like that fell short for two reasons. One is it didn’t take personality into account, it only took scheduling into account, like when do you like to be up and when do you like to go to bed.
And the other thing it didn’t take into account was the genetic proponent of sleep drive. So there’s a gene called the PER3 Gene, and the length of that gene actually determines how strong or how weak of a sleep drive you have.
Because I have people who like, I just told you, my patient who she comes in and she thought she had insomnia, and she didn’t. She actually was a wolf and she was just trying to go to bed at the wrong time.
We have validation from a couple of different areas. One of the things that I am actually going to be doing next, is I am actually going to be doing melatonin testing with different chronotypes.
So, I am working on now developing a saliva test where you can actually hand in your saliva sample and I can actually very accurately tell you when your melatonin is high and low which is another way to tell what your chronotype is.
Well, that’s new. So now, I am curious and will not make this just about me, but at the same time, we need an example, so let’s use me.
You’re a bear, correct? So, 55 percent of my patients are bears. 55 percent of people are actually bears. So, you actually fall into the biggest category.
So the bears’ story is… we’re the glue, we’re kind of holding together, we have a number of traits. So within this majority population of folks, you are saying that we can also see this in our very genes, as well as our blood, cortisol, etc. and other hormonal patterns.
So maybe walk us through a little bit, when for bears, majority of people – and go to thepowerofwhenquiz.com to see if you fall into the bear category or elsewhere – what would be the best time to wake up, to eat, to exercise, etc.?
So here’s what cool about being a bear – most of the society is a bear, so most of your social world is actually right on cue. Bears are the ones who have tendency to wake up when the sun rises and then start to mellow out when the sun sets.
Bears have the tendency to wake up between 6:45 and 7:30 on average and they are going to bed around between 10:30 and 10:45 on average.
What’s interesting is that the world runs around bears because there’s so many of them. Their sleep patterns are ones that work well with the work day. But there’s a lot of things that bears can do better if they knew what time of the day they did them.
So, as an example, brainstorming, right? We all know that brainstorming is an important part of problem solving whatever the industry is that happen you happen to be in, whether you are an advertiser, or a manufacturer, you got to figure stuff out.
Believe it or not, there are certain times of day that are better for that, depending upon your chronotype than others.
For a bear, what we would look at was we’d take a look at their morning and I’d have them waking up somewhere around 6:45, 7:30, somewhere in between there, then I would actually give them a fairly specific morning routine which is: number one when you wake up, you are dehydrated – that is across with every chronotype by the way – because you actually breathe out almost a liter of water while you sleep every night. The first thing you do is not put a cup of coffee in your body because coffee is a diuretic. Even though it does have a lot of liquid in it, it’s not going to be particularly refreshing or hydrating.
What I ask all my chronotypes to do is, during their wake up time which for you, like I said is between 6:45 and 7:30, would be have a glass of water on the bedside table; drink that water, as the first thing that you do, standing in front of a window and getting direct sunlight.
One of the nice parts about being a bear is your melatonin faucet has already begun to shut off right as you waking up. But if you want to clamp it off and make sure you don’t get that of morning fog, sunlight when it hits your optic nerve and the cells in your eye called melanopsin cells, actually stop melatonin production. Most people don’t know but melatonin is the vampire hormone that only comes out in darkness.
On the light piece, is it only sunlight that is going to get do the job done? So, looking at a light bulb won’t do it for me?
looking at the light bulb is not going to work nearly as well. However, you can buy commercially available light boxes. Get them on Amazon, like if you live in the northeast, and it’s winter and it’s pretty dreary out. Or, you live in Denmark and you don’t get a whole lot of sunlight during certain periods of the year then, light boxes will actually do the same thing.
A general lightbulb probably won’t, although it does have a significant amount of blue light in it. I’d rather see people use the lightboxes or sunlight.
So, once you’ve kind of got there, you’re up and you’ve drank your water, then the next question becomes: what am I supposed to do now? Getting ready, getting dressed, and getting ready for work, things like that are all things that you’re going to do, get your kids ready for school, what have you.
Eating breakfast turns out to be a super important thing. For my wolves, or my night owls, they hate breakfast. They rarely eat breakfast because they are not hungry, because they are not even supposed to be awake when they are getting up in the morning. But my bears are great. They eat a nice, healthy breakfast and usually, what I am looking for for breakfast for them is a higher protein and fat mixture and a lower carbohydrate mixture.
There’s a lot of data to now show that carbohydrates make people feel sleepy. And so, what ends up happening is sometimes people would just eat a big bowl of cereal which is high carbohydrates and then they start to feel sleepy. So what do they do? They drink a cup of coffee.
Believe it or not, cortisol levels rise in order to help wake you up. Your cortisol should be fairly high in the morning time. Adding a stimulant like coffee to your cortisol, all it does is give you the jitters. I’d rather you wait until your cortisol level begins to drop which for bears is about 90-120 minutes after they wake up. So, if you are waking up at 7:00, then you shouldn’t even consider having a cup of coffee before 8:30-9:00 o’clock.
What’s so fascinating as you speak through this bear business, it’s like there’s a lot of genuine validity because I am self-employed, I have some flexibility to do what works best for me, and it’s like I just sort of progressively, through trial and error and curiosity, landed upon some of these very same conclusions about the water, about the lights, about the caffeine a little later, about the breakfast having high protein, high fat. It’s interesting, I guess I assumed rightly, or incorrectly, that these are just kind of great things that everybody needs to do. But you are saying some of them are universal like the water and others of them very much differ by the chronotype.
Exactly. So, as an example if I have a lion chronotype, there’s somebody who’s getting up at 5:30-6:00 o’clock. I’m going to have them doing some very different things. Well, they are still going to drink water, they actually don’t need to get the sunlight because their chronotype are up firing on all cylinders and ready to roll.
Whereas my wolves or my night owls, they are getting up much later. They are getting up at 7:30, quarter to 8:00. They have to get in front of the window because their melatonin faucet is still on full stream because their body doesn’t want to be awake. As you can tell, it gets a little with different kinds of folks.
My wolves, I’ve tried to keep them. They are super caffeinated. They drink caffeine all day long to try to stay on earth. When in fact some of the things they could be doing could get a little bit better.
But let’s walk through your day just a little bit more. So, let’s just say you’ve got a podcast that you have to set and you want to do research on your podcast guest. Hence, Dr. Breus. So, what’s the best time of day for you to do something like that?
Well if you’re going to be reading or editing or looking, you’re going to want to be at the time when you are at your sharpest. So, you tell me what are some of the times Pete, to be the most sharp?
It’s interesting because I have been thinking about this a lot with how sharp is a little different than creative. But they’re both like assets that I want.
Absolutely. So, first of all, you are super progressive for understanding those two different things. Okay, so creativity is what I call groggy greatness.
So when you’re point on and you can balance your checkbook and do research and things like that, you are not being creative. You are being analytical. You are consuming data, you are making associations and then you are pushing it back out in whatever the work product it is that you need to do.
But brainstorming like we were mentioning before, is when you get creative. Believe it or not, brainstorming is best when you are a little sleepy, or when you are a little distracted, right? Like when you are kind of in that afternoon dip between 1:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon, you probably get some of your most creative ideas or very early in the morning.
As an example, I wake up sometimes and because I’ve just had REM sleep – most people don’t know but REM sleep is usually one of the last stages of sleep that you’re in and you have the most REM sleep in the last section of sleep or cycle of sleep.
That’s when you’re making all the mental associations, moving information from your short term memory to your long term memory. Categorizing information inside your brain for recall later. So what’s interesting about that is you get great creative ideas right as you’re getting out of bed.
So, a lot of my patients, specifically, my wolves and my bears, I have them keep a notepad by their bed to write down ideas as they get out of bed because they’ll be surprised about their creativity.
Then, once I have them have that breakfast before the coffee, I have them do their analytical work. And so, when you’re doing your research, my guess is if you try do it somewhere between 8:30 and 9:30, somewhere in that kind of range, you’re going to find yourself to be spot on. You will have a little fuel in you from your food, your melatonin faucet is off, your guns are pointed in the right direction, you’re going to actually plow through stuff a lot quicker than you normally would if you try to do it at 10:30, 11:00 or even in the afternoon.
Okay. That’s good and handy. So now I am wondering about email. I think in many ways, the email challenge is that, your kind of like rapid switching. You know most of my emails I dispatch in the 20 seconds or less in terms of deletes or “sounds good, thanks” or “how’s next Friday?”… and then there’s few, star that and then spend a royal 6 minutes, you know, artfully crafting the response. So, what kind of brain function, hormonal balance, timing is optimal for that?
Okay. So my question to you first is this: writing an email where you’re going to need some creativity or is it responding and going through your emails?
It is more responding and making decisions like David Allen episode 15, getting it done style, like what’s the next action, where do I park this? How do we kind of process through these?
So, let me just ask you a couple more questions. When you are going through your emails, and you see one that’s important, do you stop there and spend some thoughtful time or do you click, push that down over here, I am going to get to that later, I just want to drill through, and just get the crap out of my inbox.
You know, I star that and tend to do it may toward the end of the email session or at a scheduled time.
So, you are actually following several of the rules already. There’s a lot of interesting things about email. Now, my last question to you is, are you concerned about the person who is receiving the email in terms of when are you sending that email? Or is it mostly, I’ve got my thoughts together and I’m going to send this email now because there are actually times where open rates are higher for emails than there are during other times of the day just by the very nature of people’s chronotype actually.
Oh sure. Well if I’m playing the email open rate game, I’m usually using the send later plug-in for Apple mail, so usually it’s just like, hey, I am sending it when I am sending it and there is actually no need for delay.
So I am not really thinking at all about the timing it lands, except for the gold nugget for the mailing list that usually comes out about 3 a.m. Central Time. So, it’s sort of there for people ready in the morning which may not be optimal, that’s another conversation. So, that’s where that stands.
Okay. So, let’s say it’s today, it’s a weekday, and you are going through your emails. So, first of all, you should know that bears and dolphins have the best inboxes out of all of the chronotypes.
They have the tendency to get through stuff, they are able to push stuff to the side and answer the quick thing and then, star if you will – very similar actually to your technique – and then try to do a thoughtful email.
So when you’re looking at timing in specific, I am actually referring to a specific time in my book. So 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. turns out to be your window of opportunity for emails.
And then again, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. has a greater tendency to be “oh, something happened during the day” or there’s a social factor in there. “Let’s go meet for happy hour” or somebody saying “hey, let’s go have dinner, a movie,” or something like that.
So, your 10-2 and your 4-6 is what works for you for bears. And there’s a couple of reasons why.
So we know that cortisol has a tendency to wax and wane throughout the day.
And so that’s the period of time where you’re coming off of a cortisol high, which is where you’d have the most analytic power. And you are starting to move down into a little bit more of that kind of groggy greatness, so you start to get through things and you can kind of be creative in terms of the emails that you are constructing.
Okay. So I think in many ways, I guess if we were to summarize a bit and sort of like, groggy greatness is associated with It’s like I am not going to be too hard on myself about my creative brain storming. I am just going to put it out there. You know what? Whatever, I am just going to write a bunch of stuff, and that’s helpful because I’m less inhibited. I’m uninhibited.
As opposed to when I am highly alert. That’s sort of less ideal for the brainstorming but more ideal for precision, detailed data things.
That reminds me of some great stuff we had with David Kadavy back in episode 52 it’s all coming together a little bit.
So, then the groggy greatness creative side and then there’s the sharp alert side, is there another dimension by which I should be thinking about my timings or what?
From an email perspective, I would say no. I would say those two would cover exactly what you’re looking for other than when is the best time to send it.
We know that people have the tendency to open more emails on the weekends than they do during the week. We know that depending upon what you put in the subject line, if it is work related, Monday and Tuesday, people have a tendency to open up those emails because it’s the beginning of the week. They want to kind of figure out what’s going to have to happen throughout the week in order to get themselves by.
Whereas, from a social perspective, you’re going to look at Thursday, Friday emails are going to be much greater in terms of social interaction. But I think you kind of got it nailed.
Well, that’s fun to hear. So, let’s talk about when I am not good from much of anything. Like if I were to schedule my lowest priority meetings or stuff. What times should I be aiming for there?
So, late, late at night is not good for you. Anytime really passed like 11-ish is you’re just kind of checked out. You had your day, you’ve done your thing, that’s not the time to talk major social issues like relationships issues, that’s not the time of day to be trying to get somebody to invest in your company, things like that.
The same holds true with early, early morning. You are not an early, early morning person. Breakfast meetings would be okay if you are only playing a support role, but if you are going to lead the conversation, I would stay away from a breakfast meeting for you. I would say you have a far greater likelihood of having a 10 o’clock coffee meeting. That would be much better off for you than an early morning breakfast meeting.
Okay. So then, what about ideal times for, let’s see, we covered the eating, emails, creativity… how about sort of different dimensions of using yourself like exercise or prayer meditation, I think like those are totally different categories.
Yeah. Exercise, I broke it down by 4 different types of exercise. There’s cardio-vascular, go for a run. There’s yoga and stretching. There’s playing a team sport and there’s training for strength.
I am more of a cardio-runner type of person, cycler. So, I always have the tendency to talk more about that kind of stuff. When you are looking at that, there are a couple of things that you would want to think about.
As a bear, you actually have the most flexibility in terms of when you can exercise and be at your peak of level of performance. You would be fine to exercise in the mornings but not too early. I wouldn’t want you getting up earlier than your 6:45-7:30 range.
If you have time in the morning to exercise that would actually probably be a good time for you because the endorphins that will be produced will set your day off on a nice, smooth trajectory.
Assuming that day that you don’t have major meetings or something stressful. It’s just kind of like the run of the mill days, where you’re just kind of getting stuff done and plodding along, exercise for you in the morning would be great.
Exercise, cardiovascular exercise in particular, right around lunch time is also another good time for you. Most people don’t know, but exercise is actually an appetite depressant. So if somebody is trying to lose weight, one of the best things they can do for their lunch hour is to spend 30 minutes and walk and then have 30 minutes to eat. And preferably that food choice is going to be more along the lines of a protein and a roughage like a grilled chicken salad, or salmon salad or something along those lines.
Even a sandwich is fine as long as it’s not monster amounts of bread or what have you. Because not from a carbohydrate weight standpoint, but from a “slow you down” standpoint, having protein and fat during that lunch time period is actually going to give you more energy to help you work throughout the day, as opposed to that 3 o’clock “oh my god, I need to get a Snickers bar and a cup of coffee” type of routine.
Evening exercise is fine for you but you don’t want to go late into the evening. You would be best to exercise right after work as opposed to waiting an hour or two and catching class at the gym.
You would be better to go straight from work to 4-5 o’clock straight to the gym because that’s when you’re also going to have another higher cortisol peak time for you to be not only visually acuity so you can actually see where you’re going, and be able to make sure you don’t roll your ankle, things like that.
Also your pain tolerance hasn’t quite kicked in at its highest level. For my wolves, actually this is a problem because of their pain tolerance, they hate exercise and one of the reasons is because their body’s pain tolerance is significantly lower, so they actually feel pain more than my bears and my lions, when they exercise. So they have the tendency to be a little bit more overweight on occasion. Simply because they hate to exercise.
Okay. This is so fun. Now I’m curious. Let’s talk about that dip in terms of 2-3pm, so one, when is the ideal time to take a nap and how long should it be?
Okay. So the dip is actually a biologically-driven event. So between 1 and 3 in the afternoon everybody, doesn’t matter what your chronotype is, maybe a little bit earlier, a little bit later, has a small core body temperature drop of about a quarter of a degree centigrade.
The reason that happens, we don’t know, but we know that when it does happen, it’s a trigger for your brain to release melatonin, and so what ends up happening is between 1 and 3 in the afternoon, core body temperature drops, brain says, “Oh! It’s sleep time.” And it releases melatonin, and that’s what’s making you sleepy.
That, if you pile that on with a big sandwich you know, a lot of bread for a lot of carbohydrates, it can make you super sleepy. But it actually turns out to be a great time for a nap. So if you’re a napper, and I recommend naps for people who, well first of all, dolphins should never nap because they’re not great sleepers to begin with, so napping all that’s going to do is mess up your sleep even worse.
For my wolves, I actually have them napping in a little bit earlier in the day because they are so tired and they’re having such rain fog of waking up earlier than they really wanted to.
Sometimes, I’m having them nap as early as 11 o’clock. But the perfect time of day for a nap is between 1 and 3 in the afternoon. And there’s really two types of naps. You can either do a power nap for about 25 minutes or less or a full cycle sleep nap which it would be about 90 minutes. The average individual takes approximately 90 minutes to go through a sleep cycle, and if you take a nap around 1 o’clock you could probably pull one off.
Well, I’m anxious to try. Try my hand at it. That’s interesting. With the 1 to 3 then, I want to see if you can even kind of plan for it, schedule it.
Yeah. Your want to dial that in even more, but I would say for you, if you’re a bear, I would say that right around 1:45-2:00, go into your place where you’ve got a nice calm, quiet area. Obviously safety is always a concern when people are sleeping so make sure they are in a safe sleeping environment. Throw on some eyeshades, set your phone alarm, and put it you know next to you, and have it run for 25 minutes and close your eyes.
You will wake up and you will have received enough stage one and stage two sleep so that it will reduce that level of adenosine which is the thing that’s making you sleepy as well as the melatonin, and you’ll be good for quite a while.
That’s so handy. Do you see that with bears it’s pretty reliable in terms of the 5, 10, 15 minute window when – temperature dropping, sleepy time is here like regardless of what time you wake up, if it’s like 8 hours after the wake-up or, how do we think about that?
It’s roughly 5 and a half to 6 hours afterwards. So my bears are getting up at 7 and they’re getting sleepy at 1, that should be 6 hours, right? So that’s kind of where we start to see that melatonin drop and by the way, that’s something that’s been around for hundreds of years, that melatonin drop and actually there are lots of people that still take advantage of it.
If you go to Latin American countries it’s called a siesta. And that’s one of the reasons why people fall asleep then.
But for you, I would take a 25 minute nap and if you really wanted to super charge your nap, you could do what I call a “nap-a-latte.”
So here are what you do, I know you’re intrigued. So what I have people do is get a cup of drip coffee, but three ice cubes in it to cool it down and drink the entire cup of coffee, about 6 ounces, and then take your 25 minute power nap.
You’ll get enough stage 1 or stage 2 sleep to reduce that adenosine, the caffeine kicks in within 25 minutes, you’re good for 4 hours guaranteed.
I see. So, that’s not too late for caffeine to impact my evening sleep?
Right. I’d like people to stop caffeine or have their last caffeine around 2pm because caffeine has a half life of between 6 and 8 hours depending upon if you’re a quick metabolizer or not, and so that way it won’t impact your ability to fall asleep at night.
Okay. So this is so handy thank you. Now, I’d like to zoom out a little bit. We talked about chronotypes, the best time for different things to occur.
Generally speaking, these circadian/ultradian rhythms, I’ve read before they tend to last 90-ish minutes, and you mention the sleep cycle of 90-ish minutes, and then powerful engagement and other resources might recommend that you take a rest or break of some sort and that you really shouldn’t try to power past that because your human person isn’t kind of built to push it like that to focus intensely for more than 90 minutes or so. What’s your take on breaks in general and how do we kind of optimally strategize those given a 90-ish minute cycle?
So what I would argue is that while 90-minute cycles are kind of an interesting concept, I would argue that they’re shorter, especially for attention span. I try not to do lectures longer than 45 minutes to an hour because people just can’t concentrate, even if it’s the most interesting subject in the universe, there are so many people that are sleep deprived out there. I think that people have a really difficult time concentrating for longer than that.
Also I try to stay away from those intense times during 1 to 3 in the afternoon because so many people are tired during that period of time. So I kind of pull back that way and that’s when I start to schedule things that would require that a little bit more attention.
I think breaks are great. The best thing to do when you’re going to be taking a break from whatever activity it is, is to get up, walk outside and get direct sunlight. If you don’t want to take a nap between 1 and 3, but you feel like you’re getting tired, the easiest thing to do is to get direct sunlight because that stops melatonin production in its tracks.
Okay. So, thinking about sunlight is also making me think about Vitamin D, so I’ll just ask, what do we think about supplementation? I’m thinking of melatonin or rhodiola rosea, calcium, sleeping pills – pros/cons?
Okay, let’s take them all one at a time.
So let’s talk first about Vitamin D and supplementation. So there is an epidemic of Vitamin D problems in the United States, there’s a tremendous number of people that have a deficiency in Vitamin D. Me, personally, I recommend to almost all of my patients morning administration of between 1 and 2 thousand international units of Vitamin D, it’s not going to hurt you, it’s only going to help you. And I think that it comes partially from our diets where we get very little Vitamin D, but also, most of us stay out of the sun because we’re fearful of harmful sun rays or we have sunblock on and that prevents it.
15 minutes of sunlight every single morning is not going to hurt you, as well as taking a Vitamin D supplement. I think that’s going to be a good idea.
If you’re looking at something like melatonin, that’s a whole different ball game. So melatonin is not a sleep initiator, it’s a sleep regulator. So, melatonin actually helps change your circadian clock and there are some very good uses for melatonin. My shift workers, I use it all the time. People who are police officers, firemen, military who are asleep during the day, and awake at night, they need something to shift their body clock, that’s very, very important. Melatonin actually does a good job of doing that.
Jetlag is another scenario melatonin could be very helpful for. There’s a couple things you need to know about melatonin. So number 1, the appropriate dose for the average adult is between a half and 1 milligram. Almost 95% of the melatonin that is sold in the United States today is in an overdosage format. So, most people are taking too much melatonin.
Number 2, because it’s not an initiator but rather a regulator, it takes almost 90 minutes for it to reach plasma concentration levels for it to be effective. So, if you’re taking it right before you go to sleep, it isn’t going to work. It’s going to have a much greater effect if you take it 90 minutes before going to sleep, so that it’s reaching its peak, then you can close your eyes, then it will start to work.
Point number 3 is, it’s not regulated by the FDA because it’s considered a supplement. And so I can make it in my garage and it can have as much rat poop in it, you know my garage, hopefully my garage doesn’t have any rat poop in it. And it’s legal for me to sell it, so knowing the quality of the products that you are putting into your body is going to be very, very important.
Two side notes that most people don’t know is melatonin is by prescription only in Europe and at very large dosages, it’s a contraceptive.
Yes. This is why I tell people under no circumstances should you give melatonin to children, none. The only time I have actually seen melatonin working well for children has been in some children who are on the spectrum so on the autism spectrum, and for some children with ADD, I have actually seen that it’s very effective. The dosages are pretty high like 3, 5, and 10 milligrams. Those are very special situations but I can’t think of anything worse than introducing a contraceptive into a young female developing body that we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. You know, I might be too conservative, but I am going on record, I would never give it to my daughter, let’s put it that way.
There. We learned something, thank you. So I’m also curious, we talked about cortisol. Are you familiar with – almost no one seems to have heard of this, but you’re the doctor – and I’ve seen some cool research on rhodiola rosea.
Examine.com very much impressed me with all of the research and benefits associated with that. So I’m curious in the grand scheme of sleep and cortisol and fatigue, how will you view this supplement?
I have had a small amount of experience with it. I’ve got one patient actually who takes it fairly religiously and they find that it absolutely helps them calm down. You know, one of my biggest problems with my dolphins is that their cortisol actually high at night, which makes it difficult for them to fall asleep and my read on the literature, limited as it may be – I’m not an herbal expert – was that this actually helps curb cortisol production in the evenings and so that was my understanding of the mechanisms behind why it works for some people.
I think for some people I can actually be quite effective. Before you take any supplement, you’ve got to check with your physician, make sure that you don’t have any potential interaction effects with other medications that you could be taking or other supplements that you could be taking.
Okay. So, there’s so much good stuff, now, with sleep, you have so much experience researching that at length. I know we could talk for several hours about it but maybe we could just sort of summarize a bit in terms of, one, for the chronic undersleeper who wants to be awesome at his job, and is hard charging, could you make the case for why sleep is necessary, how much and why should it be a priority?
Sure. So, first of all, let me start of by saying I’m a 6-and-a-half-hour sleeper. I have been my entire life and that’s who I am. So 8 hours is a myth, so for folks out there who think like “oh my gosh! I got to get 8” and they’re feeling guilty for not getting it, don’t. Because you might not need 8.
I haven’t used an alarm clock in almost 15 years, so when you are waking up naturally on your own after a period of time of sleep, that’s your sleep need, if you will. And that’s something that you can address.
I’ve got kind of five simple steps that people can use to help them get a better night’s sleep and to be more productive during their work day if that would make sense to talk about them here.
So the first thing is the consistency of your sleep schedule and it’s actually more important to wake up at the same time than it is to go to bed at the same time. So you know Friday night if you want to stay up late or Saturday night, dinner and a movie, or go out with friends, or parties or what have you, that’s fine. But you still got to wake up at the same time you do during the week on the weekends.
So if you wake up at 7 o’clock, during the week I want you up at 7 o’clock on Saturday and up at 7 o’clock on Sunday. Because that reset of the circadian clock plans your day because if you sleep in on Saturday and sleep in on Sunday, guess what your brain wants to do on Monday – sleep in.
And that makes it difficult, you show up at work groggy, non-productive, it’s not going to kick off your week the way you want it to.
Step number 2 is to stop caffeine by 2 pm. We know that caffeine, like I said, has a half-life between 6 and 8 hours, so you don’t want to affect your ability to sleep. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve got people who show up at my office all the time and they say “Michael, I can have a cup of coffee at 8 o’clock at night and fall asleep, no problem.”
Here’s what I would argue, there’s nobody in the universe who is going to argue with me that caffeine is a stimulant right? And so if I put EEG electrodes all over your head after you had your 8 o’clock cup of coffee and I looked at the sleep that you’re getting, I can almost guarantee you that yes you fell asleep but you got light, crappy sleep.
Remember, it’s not just a quantity issue, it’s a quality issue as well. So limiting caffeine by two is going to improve your overall sleep quality. Also, over caffeinating in the morning just to kind of get yourself going, you’re going to burn out quick and then you’re going to have to ingest more caffeine and more caffeine and it’s just not going to be as productive as you wanted to be.
Step number 3, as to do with alcohol. We haven’t had a chance to talk much about alcohol, but there’s a big difference between going to sleep and passing out, right? So when we’re talking with people alcohol, while it does make you feel sleepy, it keeps you out of the deeper stages of sleep.
But I don’t have a problem if you want to have a couple of beers at dinner or cocktail or a couple glasses of wine, but here’s what I ask you to do: for each glass of alcohol that you drink, drink one glass of water. Number one it helps rehydrate you because alcohol is a diuretic and you are already going to be dehydrated when you wake up, you don’t need to go to bed dehydrated, that’s number 1.
And number 2, give yourself one hour per alcoholic beverage before you go to bed. So if you’ve had two glasses of wine and your dinner is over at 8, you would not want to go to bed before 10 o’clock, because it takes the average human body approximately an hour to digest through all of the sugars and the tanons and things like that for alcohol.
Step number 4 is exercise, we already talked a lot about it, but exercise daily is the best thing you can do for sleep. It’s the easiest way to improve the quality of your sleep. Some people though they can’t exercise right before bed, they have the tendency to get too jazzed up, so I ask them to exercise earlier in the day or even in the morning. Again, the book will tell you exactly when is your perfect time for the perfect type of exercise.
When you say exercise, it boosts your sleep quality, is there a particular type of exercise gives you more of a benefit on the sleep quality or are all four categories you laid out earlier going to give you approximately equal benefit to sleep quality?
Great question. So, there’s only one or two studies that have tried to the kind of tease out the type of exercise. I saw most of them have been cardio-related so I’m looking at more of a cardiovascular exercise appears to improve your overall level of sleep quality and by cardiovascular exercise, I’m not saying run a marathon. I’m talking about walking 25-30 minutes okay? Like that’s enough to be able to actually have some benefits to your sleep. If you want to do more, do more, but don’t feel like “oh my gosh, I’ve got to run” you know 10 5-minute miles in order to get a better sleep because it doesn’t really work that way.
For strength training, that actually can hurt your sleep depending upon how heavy you lift, how much damage you do to your muscles and the timing of it whether or not it causes pain. So, if you have pain from your exercise it could prevent you from sleeping, so that could be a big issue as well.
And the final one is just getting 15 minutes of sunlight in the morning which we already talked about.
So those are handy things there. I’m curious to talk about, you might be a 6-and-a-half-hour sleeper and that’s totally fair and legit, and nothing to worry about.
I think, as I think about my own sleep pattern, it seems like well today, I woke up after about 5-and-a-half-hours of sleep and I usually wake up after 7 hours of sleep, and after waking up at 5-and-a-half hours of sleep for no good reason, no alarm, no distractions, or noises or lights, I’m just like “oh man, now I guess I’m awake” and it was a bummer.
So if we say these sleep quality things like you know watch out for the devices and your blue lights and alcohol and whatnot. Is there something that can contribute to early wake ups in particular?
In a good way or in a bad way?
I think in a bad way; I mean like I’d rather have remained asleep a little bit longer, and felt better when I arose.
Some of the biggest things that I find that are sleep disruptors is temperature, so we haven’t had a chance to talk much about that other than talking about those core body temperature dips.
If it’s too hot in your room, it’s difficult to sleep. The data would suggest, if it’s over 75 to 78 degrees, it’s going to be much more difficult for you to sleep and so that could easily be something that wakes you up.
From a noise perspective, if you’ve got a bed partner that snores, that can certainly be and it can be a human bed partner or a non-human bed partner, it just depends. I have a French bulldog who sleeps right next to me every night. Aliens, I’m not talking about aliens I knew you were going to go there.
I have a French bulldog who sleeps right next to me every night between me and my wife and he snores like crazy. So there are definitely times where I am woken up by his snoring.
Sound definitely can be a factor for waking people up and then of course light. If there is too much light in the room, specifically blue light, it will go through your eyelids and it will wake you up.
Is there another variable associated with – this is my hypothesis, throw it by the doctor – maybe you, let’s say you had dinner at 6:30 and you go to bed at 10:30, so you’re not like hungry, but there is sort of less circulating nutrients in your blood sugar going on and thus there may be a reason for cortisol to get activated earlier. Is that the thing or did I just invent that and it’s not real?
No, that’s actually a thing and so I have patients who wake up in the middle of the night hungry and so the very first thing I’m looking at is the potential for diabetes, blood sugar issues, metabolic process issues, things like that.
That’s going to be actually something that if you wake up in the middle of the night hungry, you need to talk with your doctor and make sure that you don’t have early onset diabetes or pre-diabetes and also looking at your levels of blood sugar.
There’s nothing wrong with, by the way, having a small snack before bed. There’s nothing wrong with it right? A 250-calorie snack that’s maybe 60% carbs, 40% protein or fat is going to be just fine.
Again, small, 250 calories to 200 calories. I’m not saying eat a hot fudge sundae before bed even though I would personally would love to do that every night. That would not look too good on me after a short period of time.
Okay. Well, we’ve covered a lot of fantastic stuff about sleep, timing and hormones. I’d say you tell me is there any other key gems you want to make sure you put out there before we kind of shift gears and hear about your favorite things?
Well, I would say that, don’t take your sleep for granted. So many people out there tell me “oh, I’ll sleep when I’m dead” or “oh I’ll catch up in my sleep.” It doesn’t really work that way. Your best bet is to have some good sleep habits as they stand now, because sleep has been related to every single disease state in every organ system. Cancer cells multiply faster, the more sleep deprived your body is. I don’t think I need to say any more than that to get that message across but literally any issue that you could have gets worse with sleep deprivation. Do yourself favor and get not only good quality but good quantity sleep.
Okay. Will do. Well now, can you tell us about some of your favorite things here. How about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?
Oh I heard one the other day, hold on, I got in on my phone. I took a picture of a quote this is from Nikola Tesla. I just heard this the other day, I thought it was quite fascinating: “The day science begins to study non-physical phenomenon, it will make more progress in one decade and in all the previous centuries of its existence.” I thought that was fascinating, so the things that we can’t necessarily see are some of the things that we need to explore the most.
Cool. And how about a favorite study or experiment or piece of research?
You know I would have to say that with all of my learnings recently with chronotypes, I would say that some of the most fascinating research was actually the cancer research where we started to look at things.
There’s something kind of interesting going on in the medical world right now, and that is that we’re starting to – during specimen collection so blood, urine, saliva – we’re actually starting to time stamp it. Because we’re now finding out that there are different norms based on the time of day that the sample was collected.
Right. And so, yeah which is fascinating right? So, when you think about it, let’s say you got thyroid issues and you’re trying to figure out, “okay well, what’s the best time for me to be taking my medication?” Historically, people want to take medication at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, right? If you have to take it 3 times a day or taking it with food.
So, what I tell people all the time is that’s not necessarily the best time to be taking your medication. There’s now data to show that chemotherapy given at night is more effective than chemotherapy during the day.
And how a favorite book?
Favorite book? Well I like the Power of When because I just wrote it.
I would say, I’m a big biography person. And a biography that I just finished or maybe not just finished, maybe a little while ago which I thought was really interesting and inspirational, believe it or not was Andrei Agassi. He had a great book. I just picked it up. It’s been out for a while, but learning more about his life and what he had to go through to become a great champion, he has some major physical issues, he came from a fairly abusive background, it was really, really, fascinating to learn more. I like biographies of interesting people because I love to know how did they get to where they got.
Yeah. And how about a favorite tool? Something like that you use of that’s been very helpful for you?
I would say that my gym app is the thing that I use more than anything else. So, I find out when the classes are, and then I can schedule them in my calendar. So I would say my calendar is probably my biggest tool that I use.
And how about a favorite habit or personal practice of yours that’s really boosted your effectiveness?
So I do this thing it’s a little odd, but it works really well for me. I do a one minute meditation when I’m in the shower. So I face the water and I have the water actually hitting me directly in the forehead, and when it drips down in my face, I can’t do anything other than concentrate on my breathing, because you know there’s so much water there.
And as I’m slowly breathing in and out as the water is hitting my face, it really focuses me in, and after I do that for a minute and I walk out of the shower, I’m like dead on, right on the money, ready to do anything.
I like how supremely specific that is, thank you. How about a favorite sort of nugget of yours that you share when you’re doing doctor hours or shows, speaking, or in the books with the Kindle versions, things that really seem to connect with folks in terms of they retweet, they Kindle book highlight, they share with others. Could you have a quote or two of yours that seems to resonate with folks?
Sure. I tell people all the time: “everything you do, you do better with a good night’s sleep,” that’s one of them and then, one for this book has been “your pillow unlocks your potential.”
Oh. Alliteration. Powerful. And what would you say the best place to find you if folks want to learn more or check out your stuff. I guess thepowerofwhenquiz.com is a key spot to go to.
Yep. They can go to thepowerofwhenquiz; they can go to the powerofwhen.com. I’m also available on thesleepdoctor.com, and of course I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest and LinkedIn, all those wonderful places.
And do you have a parting challenge or call to action you’d leave listeners with who are seeking to be more awesome at their jobs?
Absolutely. So number 1, go take the quiz, I guarantee you’ll learn something about yourself that you didn’t know. And then, if you like the quiz, and you like the results from the quiz, check out the book. There’s a great chapter in there called When to Ask Your Boss for a Raise. And that is supremely interesting and can be extremely helpful.
Well, Dr. Breus, this has been such a treat. Thank you and I hope the book is a smashing success and I’m happy to have had a little part in helping some folks get to know about it.
I couldn’t thank you more, thanks again. And for everybody out there, sweet dreams.