The Sleep Elixir: Revamped and Expanded

In short, this is a post containing everything you might ever want to know about sleep, all compiled from the world of podcasting. Summarized content has been taken from the following series of Podcast Notes:

Sleep Facts 

  • 1 out of 2 American adults is trying to survive on 6 hours of sleep or less during the week
  • The average American adult is sleeping 6 hours and 31 minutes during the week (it used to be 7.9 hours in 1942)
  • About 70% of teen parents believe their teen is getting enough sleep
    • But only 11% of teens are actually getting the sleep they need
  • Every 30 seconds, there is a car accident linked to lack of sleep
    • Drowsy driving kills more people on the roads than alcohol or drugs combined

Do we really need 8 hours of sleep? 

  • Based on evidence from over 100,000 studies, the number of people who can survive on 5 hours of sleep or less, without showing any impairment, rounded to a whole number and expressed as a percentage of the population…is 0
    • There’s a genetic abnormality in the DEC gene, which allows people to sleep around 5.5-6 hours, without any impairment
      • The genetic defect promotes wakefulness chemistry in the brain
      • There is a small fraction of <1% of the population, that has this gene abnormality – You are more likely to be struck by lighting in your life time (odds  of 1/12,500) than you are to have this genetic abnormality

Circadian Rhythm 

  • We all have a “chronotype” – a natural timing tendency for when you want to be awake, and when you want to be asleep
    • Some people are “night owls”, others are “morning larks”
    • It’s important to realize that your chronotype is not a choice
      • There are genes that dictate whether or not you’re a night/morning person
      • So some good news! – It’s not your fault if you can’t function effectively at 7am

Here’s a huge list of what happens when you don’t get enough sleep: 

  • In regards to physical performance:
    • If you’re getting 6 hours of sleep or less, your time to physical exhaustion drops by up to 30%
    • Lactic acid builds up quicker
    • The ability of your lungs to expire carbon dioxide and inhale oxygen decreases
    • The less sleep you have, the lower your peak muscular strength, the lower your vertical jump height, and the lower your peak running speed
    • You have a higher risk of injury
      • Why? – Your stability muscles fail earlier when not getting enough sleep
      • One study showed a 60% increase in probability of injury, comparing people who get 9 hours of sleep a night, to those who get 5
  • In regards to mental performance:
    • Once you get below 7 hours of sleep, scientists can measure impairments in the brain
  • With less sleep, leptin gets suppressed, and ghrelin gets ramped up
    • Leptin is the body’s main satiety hormone. It tells our brains we’re full. Ghrelin does the opposite. It’s the hunger hormone.
    • People sleeping 4-5 hours a night will on average eat 200-300 extra calories each day (this equates to 70,000 extra calories each year, which translates into 10-15 lbs. of extra body mass)
  • Insufficient sleeps is the most significant lifestyle factor for determining whether or not you’ll develop Alzheimer’s Disease
    • Our brain detoxifies during sleep through activation of the glymphatic system. It’s about 10x more active when we sleep compared to when we’re awake.
      • A cool tidbit – When we sleep, our brain cells shrink to about 60% of their normal size, making more room for detoxification.
      • One of those toxins cleared by the glyphatic system during sleeo is beta amyloid – which is responsible for the underlying mechahism of Alzheimer’s Disease
      • So the less you sleep – the more this plaque builds up
  • Impact on driving:
    • With just 6 hours of sleep, you’re 33% more likely to get into a traffic accident
    • After 20 hours of being awake, you are as physically and cognitively impaired as you would be if you were legally drunk
  • Men who sleep 5-6 hours a night will have a level of testosterone 6-10 years their senior
  • One study sleep deprived individuals for one night (to 4 hours of sleep) – they experienced a 70% reduction in critical anti cancer fighting cells (natural killer cells)
  • A lack of sleep and medicine:
    • Residents working a 30 hour shift are 460% more likely to make diagnostic errors in the intensive care unit, relative to when they’re working 16 hours
    • If you have surgery, you should ask your surgeon how much sleep they’ve had in the last 24 hours
      • If they’ve had 6 hours of sleep or less – you have a 170% increased risk of a major surgical error
    • 1 in 5 medical residents will make an error due to insufficient sleep
    • 1 in 20 medical residents will kill a patient due to a fatigue related error
  • The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life – a lack of sleep predicts all cause mortality
    • If you’re regularly getting 5 hours of sleep or less, you have a 65% increased risk of dying at any moment in time, relative to people getting 8 hours of sleep or more
    • “Every disease that’s killing us in the developed world, now has a causal link to insufficient sleep“ – Dr. Matthew Walker
      • This list includes – Cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, Stroke, Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes, Obesity, Depression, Anxiety, and Suicide
  • Our brains ability to decode the emotions of other people goes down
    • With a full 8 hours of sleep, you have a nicely tuned ability for picking up and discriminating subtle emotions
    • With sleep deprivation, or specifically a lack of REM sleep, this ability becomes blunted
    • Why does this happen?
      • With sleep deprivation, there is reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex
      • The prefrontal cortex is responsible for decision making, distinguishing between right/wrong, and social/emotional control
  • Stress hormones (like cortisol) get elevated
    • One of the adverse side effects of cortisol, is that it can break down muscle tissue for sugar

Sleep, Adenosine, and Caffeine 

  • Adenosine
    • From the moment you wake up, adenosine starts to build up in the brain, and the more it builds up, the sleepier you feel
    • After 16 hours of the accumulation of adenosine, you should feel sleepy enough to fall asleep relatively easily, and stay asleep throughout the night
    • During the deep stages of sleep, the brain clears out the adenosine
  • Caffeine
    • Caffeine latches on to adenosine receptors, blocking the sleepiness signal
      • It’s like the mute button on your remote – it mutes the adenosine signal
      • While the caffeine is working it’s magic, the brain is still building up adenosine
        • So by the time the effect of the caffeine has worn off, you’ll have additional sleep pressure from that adenosine build up (otherwise known as a caffeine crash)
  • Caffeine has a half life of 6-7 hours, so after 5-6 hours of drinking a cup of coffee, half the caffeine is still in your system
    • It has a quarter life of 12 hours – So if you have cup of coffee around noon, 1/4 of the caffeine is still circulating around your brain at midnight
      • This is the equivalent of drinking a quarter cup of coffee right before bed
  • Caffeine is thermogenic (it increases your core body temperature) – this makes you more alert
    • So even a non-caffeinated hot drink in the morning, will help wake you up (try high quality decaf coffee (swiss water method, you don’t know want to see the chemicals they put in cheap decaf)
      • In order for the body to “wake up” – its core temperature has to rise
      • So, a half hour before you want to wake up, it might be a good idea to set your thermostat to rise by a few degrees

Shift Work

  • The link between a lack of sleep and cancer is now so strong, that recently the World Health Organization decided to classify any form of night time shift work as a probable carcinogen
  • One study showed that nurses doing shift work (working overnight) have a 30% increased risk of developing breast cancer
    • All is takes, is 2-3 days a week of working overnights for this risk to develop
  • Shift workers have higher rates obesity, diabetes, and cancer

Some Beneficial Things That Happen During Sleep 

  • Our brain replays memory sequences we learn while awake, but ~20x faster 
    • “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice with a night of sleep makes perfect.” – Dr. Matthew Walker
    • Sleep after learning, will essentially hit the “save button” on those memories, so you won’t forget them
    • You come back the next day and you’re 20-30% better at your skilled performance, compared to the end of your practice session the day before
  • Dream sleep is the only time during the 24 hour period, that the brain stops producing a stress related chemical called noradrenaline (aka norepinephrine)
    • During this time, the emotional and memory centers of the brain, are ~30% more active than when you’re awake
    • What does this all mean? – The brain is reactivating and reprocessing the emotional experiences of the prior day, in a neurochemical state that is “safe”, devoid of any stress neurochemistry
      • So when you wake up, you remember the emotional memories, but you’re left with a memory of an emotional event, that is no longer itself, emotional
      • In a sense then, dreaming is essentially divorcing the emotion from the memory
  • During dream sleep, we take old information, and combine it with new information we’ve learned, and form new connections/associations
    • During deep sleep, we cement individual memories
    • REM sleep then takes those memories, and starts to collide them with the back catalog of information that you’ve built up – the new memories find connections and associations, allowing you to find remarkable insights for previously impenetrable problems
    • That’s why you’re told to “sleep on it”
    • For this reason, we might often find new solutions to previously unsolvable problems after a good sleep

How to Beat Jet Lag 

  • Assuming you’re taking a long transatlantic flight (like from SF to London)…
    • Sleep only during the first half of the flight, and stay awake during the second half, as well as throughout the following day when you arrive
      • Try to give yourself at least 14 hours of being awake, from the time you wake up halfway through the flight, to the time you want to go to sleep in the new time zone (so you have time to build up enough adenosine)
    • Change your watch/phone time to the new time zone before your flight takes off to get yourself in the new mindset
    • Avoid alcohol and caffeine on the flight – both will make it harder for your 24 hour clock to adjust to the new time zone
    • Get at least 30 minutes of natural day light before 10am in the new time zone – do NOT wear sunglasses, you need the light
    • Do some light exercise before midday in the new time zone – even a 20 minute walk
    • As soon as you land, start eating on the new time zone schedule
    • Supplement with melatonin to help “reset” your clock (see below)
  • Your body clock resets by about an hour each day that you’re in the new time zone

Melatonin

  • It’s a hormone that rises at night. It tells your body it’s night time, and that it’s time to sleep
  • Use it strategically – You can fool your body into thinking it’s night time, enabling you to get an edge up on jet lag.
    • You don’t need to supplement with much though– only 0.5-2 mg
      • By taking 5-10 mg, your system starts to adapt, and becomes intolerant to the melatonin
      • Take it 45 minutes before your desired bed time
  • Once you’re stable in a new time zone, melatonin doesn’t seem to be advantageous towards sleep – it’s much more of a placebo effect

Sleep and Evolution 

  • “From an evolutionary stand point, think about sleep. It is the most idiotic of all things. When you’re asleep, you’re not finding a mate, you’re not finding food, you’re not reproducing, and you’re not caring for your young. You are vulnerable to harm. Sleep should have been strongly selected against in the course of evolution. The fact that it has persisted in every species that we’ve studied to date, means that if sleep doesn’t serve an absolutely vital function, it’s the biggest mistake the evolutionary process ever made.” – Dr. Matthew Walker
  • Think about sleep on an evolutionary level
    • Going to sleep for 7-8 hours leaves us so vulnerable to attack
    • If sleep was something that wasn’t needed, we would have developed the ability to function without it

Sleep and Early School Start Times 

  • Studies have found that when school start times are delayed, academic performance increases, behavioral problems decrease, psychiatric issues decrease, and the life expectancy of students increases
    • Why does life expectancy increase? The leading cause of death among adolescent teens is road traffic accidents – a major cause of which is a lack of sleep
  • One study in Wyoming tracked a school who delayed their start time from 7:30am to 8:55am
    • They showed a 70% reduction in road traffic accidents for kids ages 16-18
  • For a 7:30am start time, some school buses will starting picking kids up around 5:30-6am, meaning some kids have to wake up as early as 5am
    • Waking up at 7:30am, for a teenager, is the equivalent of an adult waking up at 4:30 or 3:30 in the morning
      • During adolescence, you become more night owlish – your chronotype starts to move forward in time
  • One school shifted start times from 7:25am to 8:30am, and average SAT scores rose 212 points
  • “If our goal, as educators, truly is to educate and not risk lives in the process, then we are failing our children in the most spectacular manner, in this incessant model of early school start times” – Dr. Matthew Walker

Some Great Quotes About Sleep 

  • “If you’re not sleeping, you’re not healing” – Shawn Stevenson
  • “Almost all of us are chronically underslept, and it’s not a badge of honor that we should be wearing. It’s hurting us in our creative pursuits, in our work, and the way we relate to others.” – Jordan Harbinger
  • “Sleep is the greatest legal performance enhancing drug that most people are probably neglecting” – Dr. Matthew Walker
  • “Your sleep quality is potentially a bigger influence on your overall health, your physical appearance, and your biomarkers than your nutrition and exercise” – Shawn Stevenson
  • “A great night of sleep starts the moment you wake up in the morning” – Shawn Stevenson
  • “Human beings are the only species that deprive themselves of sleep, for no apparent gain” – Dr. Matthew Walker
  • “You don’t know you’re sleep deprived, when you’re sleep deprived” – Dr. Matthew Walker


How to Improve Your Sleep Quality, and Boost the Speed at Which You Fall Asleep 

  • From these Podcast Notes, what’s the MOST IMPORTANT piece of sleep advice sleep expert Dr Matthew Walker, author of Why We Sleep, can give?
    • Go to sleep and wake up at the same times every day – regularity is key
  • Here’s some advice from Shawn Stevenson, author of Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to A Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success, discussed in these Podcast Notes
    • Get some sun exposure early in the day (from 8-10am, even 5-10 minutes is good)
      • Sun exposure increases cortisol levels
        • A normal cortisol rhythm is as follows – it peaks in the morning, and drops in the evening
        • Cortisol helps jump start our body
        • Raised cortisol levels in the morning, lower cortisol levels at night (this is good)
          • Why? – Cortisol and melatonin have an inverse relationship (remember melatonin rises at night)
          • If cortisol is elevated later on in the way, it can suppress melatonin
      • Sun exposure increases serotonin production
        • Serotonin is a precursor for melatonin
      • Even on a cloudy day, you can get enough light to anchor your body’s circadian rhythm, and help your sleep
    • Get some exercise early on in the day – even 5 minutes is enough (a jog, yoga, a power walk – anything to get your body moving)
      • Morning exercisers have been found to get more deep sleep, have more efficient sleep cycles, sleep longer, and have a higher drop in blood pressure at night
        • This drop in blood pressure, is correlated with relaxation
  • Some tips from Dr. Matthew Walker from these Podcast Notes:
    • One hour of iPhone use will delay the onset of melatonin production by about 3 hours (Your peak melatonin levels will also be 50% less) – so stay off your phone near bed time
      • Dr. Walker also recommends turning off most of the lights in your house at night 2-3 hours before bed so your melatonin levels can rise
    • Keep your room as cold as you can tolerate – Your brain needs to drop its temperature 2-3 °F in order to sleep
    • Either go to sleep with socks and gloves on, or take a warm bath right before bed…why?
      • The socks and gloves warm your hands and feet – this moves blood away from your core out to the surface, which helps drop your core body temperature (this helps you fall asleep quicker)
      • With a warm bath, you get vasodilation (rosy cheeks, red skin) and all of the blood rushes to the surface – when you get out, you have a massive dump of heat from the body, and your core body temperature plummets  
  • A few tips from Tim Ferriss, as discussed in these Podcast Notes:
    • Try taking 3-5mg of melatonin if you’re having trouble winding down, or looking to reset your clock after travel, late nights, etc.
      • Note – Be careful of relying on any pill to help you sleep every night, or you risk becoming dependent on it
    • Go to sleep by 11PM to mitigate depressive/anxious symptoms
    • Supplements that might help – NAC (this can raise glutathione levels, which aids in detoxification) and lithium orotate
    • Check out these cool products:
  • Here are a few tips from famed biohacker Serge Faguet, from these Podcast Notes
    • Sex boosts the amount of time you spend in deep sleep
    • Wear blue light blocking glasses (use the code “PodcastNotes10” for 10% off at checkout) a few hours before going to bed – excess blue light exposure (from phones, TVs, and computer screens prevents melatonin levels from rising
    • You have to sleep at the same time every night. If you shift your sleep by a few hours, you’re going to miss certain stages.
    • Caffeine has a half life of 5-6 hours, so 5-6 hours after drinking a cup of coffee, half of the caffeine will still be in your system, hindering your sleep – best to avoid it after 12pm
    • And most shockingly, Serge has noticed even half a glass of wine disrupts his deep sleep via his Oura Ringso avoid alcohol unless it’s a special occasion
      • Purchase a ring using our link for a $50 discount applied at checkout
    • Check out the Chilipad. (Use code PodcastNotes25 for 25% off a ChiliPad or PodcastNotes15 for 15% off an Ooler) – a recommendation Serge, Tim Ferriss, and many of his guests
  • What else do top performers use to help them get some shut eye? Kelly Starrett and Amelia Boone recommend foam rolling right before bed:
    • The RumbleRoller is perfect for this – roll out your quads 10-15 minutes before hitting the hay and you’ll be out like a light. Why does this work? It activates the parasympathetic nervous system – this is what relaxes us.
    • Alternatively, you could use a deep-tissue massage ball, this works great for the stomach/gut area
  • Here are some supplement recommendations from legendary strength coach, Charles Poliquin:
  • And lastly, a Podcast Notes recommendation:
    • Try SOM 
      • What is it?
        • A “Sleep Stack” to maximize sleep onset and quality
      • What’s in it?
        • Magnesium: Many people lack enough magnesium which is key for producing melatonin naturally
        • L-Theanine: Found in green tea and associated with calming effects
        • GABA: Produced by your body and associated with calming brain activity and relaxation
        • Vitamin B-6:  Co-factor for natural melatonin production
        • Melatonin: Once the other ingredients help you get calm and relaxed, this helps supplement your body’s natural levels to help you take the final step into sweet sweet slumber
    • Want SOM (haha)? Use the code “podcastnotes” for 10% off at checkout
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