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Sleep Soundly

Case Study: Jet Lag

Case Study: Jet Lag


1. Your body has a natural circadian rhythm, an internal biological clock which regulates sleep, eating patterns, mood, hormone regulation, and everything your body does during the day.

2. Jet lag is a misalignment between this internal clock and external cues, such as light exposure. This can lead to reduced alertness, nighttime insomnia, loss of appetite, depressed mood, poor balance and coordination, gastrointestinal upset, fatigue, cloudy thinking, and decreased physical and mental performance.

3. Fortunately, there are several tricks of the trade we will share with you to help combat jet lag and live your best life!

Jet lag, also known as flight dysrhythmia, may be characterized by an entire list of unpleasant symptoms: reduced alertness, nighttime insomnia, loss of appetite, depressed mood, poor psychomotor coordination, gastrointestinal disturbances, fatigue, reduced cognitive skills, and decreased physical as well as mental performance are well documented examples. The more time zones you cross, the worse your jet lag is likely to be.

Rapid travel across multiple time zones causes a temporary misalignment between biological rhythms and external cues known as zeitgebers, or time givers. Jet lag is essentially caused by a desynchronization between our endogenous circadian clock, which regulates important biological rhythms, and exogenous cues, including geophysical variations like the light/dark cycles in solar days. Simply put, jet lag throws our internal rhythms out of synchrony with our external environment, leaving us with numerous unpleasant symptoms.

The culprits of this desynchrozation lie in the brain – specifically the hypothalamus – and are known as the suprachiasmic nuclei (SN). These nuclei regulate circadian oscillators by using visual information sent from the retina, which is why external cues including light and dark cycles are so important. Information regarding physical activity and general excitement is also sent to the nuclei. Collectively, these cues set genes throughout the body, known as ‘clock genes,’ to 24h time. The pathways involved here essentially act to translate external cues into biological rhythms that form our internal concept of time. Without external regulation, our clock genes operate on 24.5h time. The SN also help regulate the secretion of hormones including serotonin, melatonin and cortisol; their job is to help regulate things like our sleep cycles, eating patterns, and cognitive function in concert with the clock genes.

Ideally, in a body that is adjusted to its local time zone, the body’s circadian rhythms behave as follows:

  • Melatonin secretion peaks at night, and decreases throughout the day
  • Cortisol levels peak in the morning, and decrease throughout the day
  • Core body temperature reaches its lowest peak in the middle of the night and rises throughout the day
  • Clock genes promote activity in the daytime and recovery during the night.

In a jet-lagged body, these rhythms get mixed up because the external environment has changed and the internal rhythms haven’t had a chance to catch up. Rises in core temperature at night will cause pre mature wakening; melatonin secretion throughout the day will cause daytime sleepiness, and lack of sleep is responsible for a large handful of common jet lag symptoms.

Jet lag doesn’t just make you feel awful; it hangs around, sometimes for weeks. Our bodies adjust to new time zones at a sluggish rate of 1.5h per day after westward flights, and 1h per day after eastward flights. In simple terms, the hourly difference between point A and point B during travel translates into the days required for recovery. Eastward travel generally causes difficulty in falling asleep due to phase advances (your body is behind the local time zone) while westward travel interferes with sleep maintenance due to phase delays (your body is ahead of the local time zone).

Jet lag can also be made worse by travel fatigue and the general difficulties and stresses associated with long trips. Sources of travel fatigue include cramped environments that don’t offer much opportunity for exercise, restricted food choices, dehydration due to dry cabin air and cabin hypoxia, and disruption of sleep and routine. Travel fatigue has less to do with time zone transition and more to do with the effects of travelling itself. The good news is that the effects of both travel fatigue and jet lag can be lessened using a few simple tricks.

1. Tackle your travel fatigue

Before your trip:

  • Ensure the trip is planned
  • Anticipate layovers, and arrange for them to be as easy as possible
  • Arrange documentation, passports, visas etc. beforehand
  • Ensure arrangements have been made at your destination

During your trip:

  • Bring some snacks (apples, nuts, carrots, whole grain crackers are great)
  • Make sure you’re drinking water (rather than tea, coffee or alcohol)
  • Try to avoid sleeping if you’re travelling to substantially new time zones, even though it might seem like a good idea. Jet lag symptoms may be worsened by anchoring sleep patterns to your old time zone

Once you’ve reached your destination:

  • Rehydrate with non-alcoholic drinks
  • Take a warm shower; try avoiding hot showers and baths
  • Take a brief nap if needed, but not long enough to disrupt sleeping at night

2. Grab a bottle of melatonin

Research shows that melatonin can be an exceptionally helpful tool in overcoming jet lag by helping regulate the circadian system. Melatonin acts on the body’s clock genes by means of the SN (the culprits of desynchronization that live in the hypothalamus) and promotes sleep, an elusive concept for frequent travelers. The administration of 0.5-5mg of melatonin 2-3 before local bedtime has been shown to help resynchronize circadian oscillators while improving nocturnal sleep and alertness during the day. Generally speaking, sleep is normally initiated during the falling phase of bodily temperature rhythms and the rising phase of melatonin secretion, meaning our core body temperature is coldest in the middle of the night and our melatonin levels are highest in the late evening. This means that melatonin administration in the afternoon and evening causes phase advance (you get tired sooner), while administration in the late night or early morning causes phase delay (you get tired later). Melatonin produces optimal results when taken 3 days prior to departure 2-3 hours before destination time zone bedtime, and 4 days following departure, also a bit before destination time zone bedtime.

3. Structure your caffeine consumption

While jet lag can make it very difficult to fall asleep according to the local time, it can be almost as difficult to stay awake during the day. Stimulants, namely caffeine, have been suggested to alleviate daytime sleepiness, and have shown positive effects in circadian resynchronization when used in combination with melatonin. Both fast and slow-release forms of caffeine may help counteract daytime sleepiness and nighttime insomnia – tossing a thermos or mug full of green tea in your travel bag for sipping throughout the day may prove helpful in alleviating jet-lag induced sleepiness and resulting symptomology.

4. Time your light exposure

Light exposure unassumingly plays a massive role in the synchronization of our biological rhythms to external time by means of altering clock genes. Research indicates that critically timed light exposure of sufficient intensity may help mitigate jet lag symptoms and speed up circadian synchronization. More specifically, light exposure during or near minimum core temperature produces the greatest phase shifts. Delays of 2.5-3 hours per day and advances of 1.5-2 hours per day have been observed using critically time light exposure.

How does it work?

Light exposure at your lowest body core temperature (usually the middle of the night at home) and light avoidance at your highest core temperature (usually mid day at home) serves to essentially stop your circadian oscillator (this is where melatonin and external factors may come into play to help resynchronize your biological rhythms to new time zones). Light exposure will also inhibit the release of melatonin, which is why we get sleepy in the evening when the sun goes down; these biological rhythms operate in concert. For this reason, exposure to bright light coupled with melatonin used has been effectively shown to alleviate jet lag by synching our bodies to destination time faster.

How do I time my light exposure?

Light exposure in the morning will advance your circadian rhythms (you’ll sleep earlier), while light exposure in the evening will delay them (you’ll sleep later).

Eastward travel

If you are travelling eastward, try advancing your sleep time by one hour per night 3 days prior to travel, and expose yourself to bright light upon rising. Upon reaching your destination, it is suggested that you advance your rhythms by exposing yourself to morning and afternoon light and avoiding evening light at your destination. Advance the time that you expose yourself to bright light by one hour per day at your destination to continue fostering adjustment throughout your trip.

Westward travel

If you are travelling westward, try delaying your sleep time by one hour per night 3 days prior to travel. Upon reaching your destination, it is suggested that you delay your rhythms by exposing yourself to evening light and avoiding exposure in the early morning.

5. Make time for physical activity

Exercise has been shown to be helpful in mitigating the negative effects of jet lag. Physical activity of any sort that coincides with bring light exposure (ideally daylight) is a zeitgeber (or time giver), meaning it is an external factor capable of regulating internal rhythms. Working up a light sweat around 2-3am by the standard of your home time zone might actually be helpful - current studies suggest gentle exercise at your lowest core temperature (typically the middle of the night) in a new time zone may be effective in synchronizing your internal rhythms to the local time faster.

6. Consider the length of stay

Our body clocks aren’t easily disrupted by external factors, preserving our biological rhythms even in the face of daytime naps or waking throughout the night. However, it is exactly this resistance to perturbation that makes it so difficult for our bodies to adjust to new time zones. In other words, our clock genes have substantial inertia that we have not yet found a foolproof way of manipulating. For this reason, it is important to consider the length of stay when travelling to a destination. An adjustment of activities to the timing of home may be more appropriate for travel lasting only several days as opposed to attempting to retrain the circadian oscillator twice.

Sleep Soundly Wrap-Up

Sleep Soundly Wrap-Up

The STEM 1.0 Corporate Program Home Page


1. Keep in mind the seven keys to sleeping soundly: save your caffeine for the morning, defend your last hour, keep your sleep cave dark and cool, sleep 7-8 hours per night, don't snooze, and optimize your naps. Even if you can't achieve these on a daily basis due to your line of work, at least prioritize your sleep on your days off. 

2. Sleeping better will reduce the risk factors associated with heart attacks, strokes, and cancer, will strengthen your immune system, will build muscle, will regulate your appetite, and will help with learning, problem-solving, creativity, and your ability to manage stress. 

We’re at the end of the sleep component….but you’re going to keep working at it. You know how important sleep is. You can’t be exhausted and lead a high performance life. You can’t drag around and be your best self at work or at home.

Here’s what you’ve achieved:

You learned that sleep maintains your health. You know it reduces the risk factors associated with heart attacks, strokes and cancer. You know that your immune system is strengthened by sleep, helping to keep colds, flu bugs, inflammation and infection at bay. You know that you build muscle and regulate appetite when you sleep well. You know that your brain gets scrubbed clean. And you know that your learning, problem-solving, creativity and ability to manage stress are boosted.

Here are the 7 micro-wins for sleeping soundly, performing better and being healthier.

1. Save your coffee for the morning. Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that stays in your system for about six hours or even longer. Avoid foods or drinks with caffeine for 6-8 hours before your bedtime. That coffee after dinner is just not a good idea. 

2. Defend your last hour. Our hectic lives mean that we often come home from work jacked up and are still revved at bedtime. Create a calming ritual to help lower the cortisol in your body. Make a to-do list and put it aside, stop checking email or other electronic devices by 8 p.m., and read in bed. 

3. Your sleep cave should be pitch black. Light reduces your melatonin levels, and low melatonin can lead to disrupted sleep. Even light from your alarm clock is enough to wake you up. Keep it really, really dark.

4. Your sleep cave should be cool. Your body naturally cools down at night by about 0.3-0.4 degrees C, and that drop in temperature makes you drowsy. Keep the room no warmer than 19 degrees C to help you fall asleep and stay asleep.

5. Sleep 7-8 hours per night and be consistent. Our brains and bodies love regular routines. Not only are your hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin well regulated by a good sleep routine, you lower the amount of stress caused by constantly changing sleep and wake times. Sleep for at least 7.5 hours and keep your fall-asleep and wake-up times consistent. 

6. Snoozers are losers. Keeping a regular sleep cycle and clocking at least 7.5 hours of shut-eye means that you’re likely to wake up out of REM sleep. This is a good time to wake up, as you’ll feel refreshed. Hitting the snooze button means waking up out of Stage 1 or Stage 2 sleep – not good! You’ll feel groggy and gross. Don’t do it.

7. Nap happy. There is growing evidence that napping improves energy, productivity, cognitive functioning and health. If you don't have time for a full 90-minute full cycle nap, take a short 15-minute power nap to improve alertness.

There you have it, folks… all of the sleep wisdom wrapped up in a warm (but not too warm!) blanket to take into your (very dark and quite cool) bedroom with you. With this knowledge of practical things to do to improve your sleep, your days will be the best they can be.

It seems like a no-brainer to get the right amount of rest. And yet, I know it’s a daily struggle.

Practical steps help a lot. Embrace the process of building your sleep cave: getting your bedroom really dark, keeping screens out, cooling the air, and having a few good fiction books at hand. Also, monitor your caffeine, avoid gastro-distressing foods, be consistent in your bedtime and wake time, fight like a hyena to get 7.5 hours of sleep, and avoid snoozing before or after your alarm.

Remember, make 1% improvements. You can’t do everything at once. Small steps really matter and you can always do a bit more. And you really can sleep better.

Today's POWER-UP: Apply the 1% Better concept to your Sleep

Every night, you can make a 1% improvement to your sleep situation! Aim for 15 minute improvements and 1% better sleep. Micro-wins add up over time to change your life!

Sleep Soundly to Eat Smarter

Sleep Soundly to Eat Smarter

The STEM 1.0 Corporate Program Home Page


1. Sleep affects what and how much you eat. The worse you sleep, the more likely you are to go for that unhealthy snack. This is because sleep helps regulate the amount of leptin and ghrelin in your body, which are the hormones that control and manage your appetite and satiety.

2. People who sleep less than six hours per night have almost double the risk of obesity compared to those who sleep six hours or more.Lack of sleep also disrupts insulin metabolism, which can lead to Type 2 diabetes.

3. Sleeping well helps us to manage our appetite, avoid cravings for sugar and high fat foods, and improve our body composition (more muscle, less fat).

People who sleep less than six hours per night have almost double the risk of obesity compared to those who sleep six hours or more. The Canadian Obesity Network recently added sleep as one of its top recommendations.

We are in the midst of a worldwide obesity epidemic. We are also sleeping less than we ever have in history. Amazingly, those two problems are connected. Sleep helps regulate the amount of leptin and ghrelin in your body. Those are hormones that help to control and manage your appetite and satiety. So if you sleep better, you’re better able to avoid cravings for sugar and high fat foods.

But wait, there’s more!

Lack of sleep also disrupts insulin metabolism, which can lead to Type 2 diabetes. Recent research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine by Dr. Matthew Brady and his team showed that after four nights of sleeping four and a half hours each night, the fat cells of the participants acted like the cells of people with full-blown Type 2 diabetes. What that means is that the fat cells became insensitive to insulin. Total body insulin response decreased 16% and fat cell response decreased 30%.

The bottom line: only a short period of sleeplessness changes the metabolism of your cells – as if you have Type 2 diabetes. That’s really not good.

Slow down, do less, sleep more – it’s not only possible, it’s a requirement of a high-performance life. Sleeping well will help you manage your appetite and improve your body composition (more muscle, less fat).

A great biohack for using nutrition to sleep better and vice versa is to have a small protein snack right before you fall asleep. Research has shown that protein ingestion before sleep improves protein synthesis (like building muscles) by about 22% when compared to a placebo pre-bed snack.

Today's POWER-UP: Eat Your Way to Sleep

Food affects our energy level: some foods rev us up and some foods calm us down. As you begin to make some changes in your life to sleep better, it’s good to know the difference.

Here are some calming, sleep-inducing foods that are great before bed: non-dairy milk, bananas, oats, yogurt and sunflower seeds. So if you need a post-dinner snack, try a bowl of plain yogurt with berries and sunflower seeds or fruit like berries or a banana.

But there are some foods that stress our bodies and can keep us awake at night. Some classic body-stress foods are those high in fat, because they require a lot of digestive energy and stimulate the production of acid in the stomach. Spicy foods can also place a heavy burden on your digestive system. 

Bottom line: avoid spicy or fatty foods before bed. Of course, those big greasy meals are not healthy in general. But if you are going to indulge once in awhile, make sure you do it at least four hours before sleep.

Dive Deeper: The Dr. Greg Wells Podcast

Recently I interviewed Dr. Charles Samuels from the Centre for Sleep and Human Performance for my podcast. To learn more about sleep you can listen to the interview here.

Sleep Better Keys 5-7: Defend Your Sleep

Sleep Better Keys 5-7: Defend Your Sleep

The STEM 1.0 Corporate Program Home Page


1. Here are the final 3 three keys to sleeping soundly.

2. Key 5: Sleep 7-8 hours/night and be consistent. Even if you can't get 7-8 hours, at least try to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day. Sleeping on a regular schedule is even more important than the total amount of time you are asleep.

3. Key 6: Snoozers are losers. Sleep cycles are approximately 90 minutes long. We're naturally designed to wake up during the end of our sleep cycle (during REM sleep). So if you wake up naturally within 45 minutes of your alarm, get out of bed. If you try and go back to sleep, you might fall back into the deeper stages of sleep and feel worse when your alarm goes off.

4. Key 7: Nap happy. Naps have been shown to improve energy, productivity, cognitive functioning and health. However, make sure that you take into account the 90-minute sleep cycle. If you want to have a quick power nap, sleep for 15 minutes. If you want to sleep for longer, make sure you complete the 90-minute cycle. 

Last post, we talked about managing caffeine, defending our last hour, dark sleep caves, and sleeping in the cool; here are the final three keys to sleeping soundly to tap into your full potential.

Key #5: Sleep 7-8 hours each night & Be Consistent

Research has shown that for adults, sleeping less than 6 hours per night is associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality. It takes us 90 minutes to move through a complete sleep cycle. We need at least 5 complete sleep cycles (5 x 90 minutes = 7.5 hours) for optimal sleep.

Also, if you’re sick, you have done a really hard workout, or if you had a very mentally demanding day, tack on extra sleep to help you to recover and regenerate better! The bottom line? Not sleeping enough can actually decrease our life span! Do your best to get those 7-8 hours per night.

In terms of the timing of your sleep, there is also an increasing body of evidence that suggests that sleeping on a regular schedule is even more important than the total amount of time you are asleep. Studies show that when an athlete’s bedtime is shifted around but the total number of hours they sleep remains the same, there is a measurable decrease in athletic performance. So sticking to a consistent routine is critical.

Check out It’s a cool little app that works based on the fact that we sleep in 90 minute increments. So if you know what time you want to wake up, will calculate when you should go to bed so that you wake up feeling good and refreshed. Check it out at

Key #6: Snoozers are losers

You know from yesterday’s article that we naturally cycle through sleep stages during the night. We have five sleep stages (REM and sleep stages 1-4) within each 90-minute cycle. Near the end of our sleep in the morning, we spend lots of time in REM. We are designed to naturally wake up after a night’s sleep during a REM stage. If you wake up while you’re dreaming, you’re waking up at a good time.

So when you do wake up out of a dream, it’s a great time to get out of bed – if you are within 45 minutes of your alarm time. Don’t fall back asleep and hope that getting that extra 15-30 minutes will help. It won’t. Because you’ll drop down into stage 1 or even stage 2 sleep. And when the alarm goes off, you’ll be awakened from a state that you’re not physiologically supposed to wake up from. The outcome is that you’ll feel bleary and slow for hours.

The same goes for those of you addicted to your snooze button! Don’t set the alarm for 6 a.m. and then “snooze” for ten minutes…then ten minutes more…. You are not getting the right kind of sleep in those little ten-minute increments to make you feel more rested.

Key #7: Nap happy

It is fabled that Leonardo da Vinci used to take multiple 20-minute naps throughout the day to charge his creativity. Brainiac Albert Einstein was also a napper. It’s taken hundreds of years, but recent research seems to back up this approach. Naps have been shown to improve energy, productivity, cognitive functioning and health.

Artists, scientists and even politicians (Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton) are on to something powerful. Professor Matthew Walker from UC Berkeley has found that a biphasic sleep schedule (sleeping at night and during the day) not only helps with mental recovery and regeneration, but can make you smarter as well!

But there is a catch, and it has to do with those 90-minute sleep cycles we’ve been talking about. In 90 minutes, we generally pass through REM, stage 1, stage 2, stage 3, stage 4, then back through stage 3, 2, 1 and REM again.

So if you want to have a rejuvenating nap, go for a short 15 minute power nap so that you wake up before falling into the deeper levels of sleep. Or alternately, allow yourself the full 90 minutes to complete all the sleep cycles.

Some companies are optimizing happy napping. Nike, Apple, Google and Deloitte Consulting encourage employees to add a power nap to their daily routines!

Pick from the “nap menu” below when you seek happy napping:

1. The micro-nap (2-5 minutes) - Helps to decrease sleepiness and improves cognitive performance.

2. The mini-nap (10 minutes) - Improves mental and physical performance, decreases fatigue.

3. The power nap (20 minutes) - Improves alertness and energy and has the added bonus of also improving memory.

4. The I-feel-like-hell nap (30 minutes) - Makes you feel groggy and foggy - go back to sleep!

5. The full-cycle nap (90 minutes) - This one includes all the sleep cycles and is like a mini-full night’s sleep. Great for memory and creativity if you have the time. The added bonus here is that there is some growth hormone released, which repairs muscle and bones. So if you had a hard workout in the morning, then this is the nap for you.

Today's POWER-UP: Sleep Information from the NY Times

Check out this fantastic overview of anything and everything sleep related in the New York Times:

Sleep Better Keys 1-4: Set the Stage

Sleep Better Keys 1-4: Set the Stage

The STEM 1.0 Corporate Program Home Page


1. Over the next couple of weeks, we'll outline the 7 keys to sleeping soundly. Here are the first 4 keys.

2. Key 1: Save your caffeine for the morning. Limit your caffeine consumption to 200 mg per day and make sure you don't have caffeine within 8 hours of when you'd like to go to sleep.

3. Key 2: Defend your last hour. Stay away from screens - this includes TV, your computer and your phone one hour before you'd like to go to sleep.  

4. Key 3: Your sleep cave should be dark. Melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy, is released when it's dark. So make sure your bedroom (or sleep cave) is as dark as possible. 

5. Key 4: Be Cool. Increased melatonin levels cause a natural cooling of your body temperature by 0.3-0.4 degrees Celsius, which helps you fall asleep. So keep your room at 19 degrees C (or cooler) to promote drowsiness. 

By sleeping soundly, we can strengthen our bodies and minds, enhance our mental and physical health and get to our potential. To help you on your way, here are the keys to sleeping soundly.

Key #1: Save your caffeine for the morning

Caffeine promotes blood flow to the brain which increases memory and concentration. It encourages oxygen delivery to the body, making exercise feel easier, and acts as an antioxidant which heals damaged tissue. However, it’s not the caffeine, per se, that does that antioxidant work. It’s the phytonutrients from the teas or the coffee beans, dissolved in the water, that can have that powerful effect. The problem is, while there are health benefits from tea and coffee, too much caffeine can promote anxiety and insomnia. So where is the line between improving performance and decreasing performance?

The general rule is that 200 mg of caffeine per day is safe for most people (equates to about 2 10-ounce coffees or 2 cups of black tea). Another rule to follow is if you want to sleep well at night, skip the caffeine 8 hours before you fall asleep. So if you want to go to bed at 10pm, don’t have caffeine after 2pm. And remember to watch out for other sneaky sources of caffeine. Decaf java can have up to 20 milligrams of caffeine in a cup, and tea, pop, chocolate, weight-loss products, pain relievers, energy drinks and even some cold and flu medications are all to be avoided for a good night’s sleep.

Key #2: Defend your last hour

Have you ever had an exhausting day, then in the hour before you’re going to bed you find your mind racing even though your body is tired? You’re not alone. Calming down in the hours before you want to fall asleep is crucial. A key habit is not to check your electronic devices within 1 hour of when you plan to go to sleep unless you absolutely have to.

Research by Mari Hysling from Centre for Child and Youth Mental Health and Child Welfare in Bergen Norway published a population-based study on 9846 adolescents and showed that there was a dose-response relationship between the amount of time that was spend using electronic devices during the day and sleep duration, time to fall asleep, and sleep efficiency. Basically, the more adolescents used their electronic devices during the day, the less they slept and the worse their sleep was.

Key #3: Your sleep cave should be dark

I want you to have a place in your home that is your place to rest and recover. Think of it as a peaceful place where you go to crash out after rocking the world all day. This will be your sleep cave – formerly known as your bedroom.

Melatonin (a hormone that helps regulate sleep) is produced by your pineal gland, which is located deep inside your brain and is very sensitive to light, including light from screens. Because the pineal gland responds to light via neurons that project from your eyes, you have to ensure that you are in a dark space while you sleep. To do that you have to keep you room dark. Really dark. Even the light from your alarm clock is enough to reduce your melatonin levels. Little things like covering up your alarm clock lights or getting dark curtains for your windows will help!

This also means getting rid of your screens if you have them in the bedroom. Television, tablets, mobile phones all compromise your ability to fall asleep. I realize this can be a huge change for you but having a massive light that flashes at you at 240 frames per second is a sure fire way to make sure you don't fall asleep.

Light Therapy Tip: Install f.lux on your computer to cut blue light emissions later in the day. If you have iOS then activate the night shift feature and if you use Android then try the Twilight app!

Key #4: Be cool

In the evening, increased melatonin levels cause the blood vessels in the skin to dilate, cooling the body by 0.3–0.4 degrees C. This cooling promotes drowsiness and helps us fall asleep. Research has even suggested that sleeping in a cool room might help you prevent diabetes, have healthier sugar metabolism and stay leaner. If you are having a hard time falling asleep, have a warm bath followed by a cool shower to decrease your body temperature slightly, and then make sure your room is as dark as possible. This procedure mimics the effect of melatonin and will knock you out every time.

At night keep your room cool. A temperature of 19 degrees C should be cool and comfortable for you. If you find yourself waking up because you’re too cold or too hot just adjust your room temperature, and the sheets and blankets until you find the right combination to keep you cool and comfortable all night!

Today's POWER-UP: Read Fiction

Before you fall asleep at night, read books, preferably fiction. Reading is great for you. It calms the mind and activates parts of your brain that you will use to fall asleep and dream. Your reading should have a story – something that requires your imagination. When you're done a book, pass it on!

Sleep to Learn and Create

Sleep to Learn and Create

The STEM 1.0 Corporate Program Home Page


1. We have 80-100 billion neurons and each neuron has hundreds to thousands of connections to other neurons. When we sleep, the neurons make new connections (called synapses) between each other.  

2. NREM sleep is for mental recovery and learning - when we make memories so we can retain all that new information we gathered during the day.

3. REM sleep is for creativity - when we encode procedural memories like how to perform a new physical skill or mental process.

It’s clear that poor sleep causes health problems and can help you live a healthy disease-free life. But sleep also has a powerful effect on both mental and physical performance. This is true for exercise, sports, playing music, academics, business and most other pursuits. Let’s think about the positive effects of sleeping better and how that can help us learn better.

The main stages of sleep – NREM and REM, each have different effects on our ability to learn and create. Professor Vincent Walsh from the University College of London has described the deep, slow wave sleep that happens earlier in the night as being crucial for encoding of information and facts that we encountered during the day. NREM sleep seems to be when we encode memories and learn. The second half of the night – when we are in REM sleep – is when we encode procedural memories like how to perform a new physical skill or mental process. It is also when we do subconscious creative problem solving.

Simply, the first half of sleep is for mental recovery and learning, and the second half is for physical recovery and creativity.

Sleep Soundly to Be More Creative

One of the physiological processes that happens when we sleep is that neurons in our brains make new connections between each other. We have 80-100 billion neurons and each neuron has hundreds to thousands of connections to other neurons. It is these patterns of neurons and the connections between them that allow us to encode new learning, movement patterns and memories. The key is that the growth of new neurons and the new connections happens at night while we sleep. So if you want to ensure that you are being as creative as you can, that you can solve difficult problems, or come up with new ways of performing a task then sleep should be at the top of your list of priorities.

Recently, REM sleep has been identified as an incredibly creative state. In a study at the University of California-San Diego, researchers found that REM sleep “directly enhances creative processing more than any other sleep or wake state.” Yes, you heard that right – more even than any wake state! One of the study’s leaders explains: “We found that, for creative problems that you’ve already been working on, the passage of time is enough to find solutions. However, for new problems, only REM sleep enhances creativity.” In REM sleep, the brain makes new and useful associations between unrelated ideas.

Sleep Soundly to Learn Better

Pulling an all-nighter get ready for exams is common. In a school that I visited this year a Principal told me that many of the students show up to school with an array of energy drinks after staying up late studying. This is hardly a high performance approach. Imagine if we taught all our kids how to sleep better and we created a school system that supported that? What would happen to our learning as a nation? How cool would that be?

Our brains are made up of approximately 86 billion neurons. And when we sleep we create new connections between those neurons. Connections are critical, because it is those connections that form the basis for our thoughts, memories, problem solving, decision-making, motor patterns (how we move), and other important aspects of what makes us human. Scientists in China and the US have recently used a microscope to witness new synapses being formed in the brain during deep and sustained sleep. What exactly was it they could see? In short, they watched the brain building memories. We’ve known for a while that good quality sleep is necessary to remember what we have experienced and learned during the day, but not why. This study made visible the brain’s work of replaying the day’s activity like a movie and building new connections between neurons during sleep.

Today's POWER-UP: Make Sleep a Priority

If we are well rested, we are able to cope with life’s stresses, stronger and more effective in our exercise, sharper in our work and just plain more fun to be around. The catch is that the attitude toward sleep tends to be that it isn’t particularly important. It’s almost the opposite where it's a badge of honour to get by on less sleep. Which is crazy and we’re getting sick and performing horribly as a result. As you plan for your great word class life where you have an impact on the world, the more you can commit to getting a great sleep, the healthier and better you’ll be.

Dive Deeper: The Dr. Greg Wells Podcast: The Science of Sleep with Prof. Richard Horner

Here is a conversation with Prof. Richard Horner, who just published a book on sleep called "The Universal Pastime: Sleep and Rest Explained". In this conversation we go a bit deeper into the physiology of sleep, and why we sleep. We talk about circadian rhythms and some of the challenges we face in trying to sleep well in a world where we are disconnected from natural light / dark cycles. Its a fascinating conversation.

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Why Do We Sleep?

Why Do We Sleep?

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1. During the night, we cycle through 90-minute sleep cycles. 75% of our time sleeping is spent in the Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) stage and 25% is spent in the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage. 

2. Both NREM and REM are important. NREM sleep is when we recover our energy levels, when our nervous system recovers and regenerates, and when our tissues are repaired. REM sleep is when we establish new connections between neurons in the brain.

3. Sleeping better has endless benefits. It decreases our risk of a heart attack, improves our immune system, helps manage chronic pain, makes us smarter, helps us lose fat, helps us recover faster from training, and can even help us survive cancer. 

“Society is learning how important sleep is and how dangerous sleep deprivation is. We’re teaching our players: Sleep is a weapon.” – Sam Ramsden, Director of Player Health & Performance, Seattle Seahawks.

The foundation of human health and performance is sleeping soundly. This is where we will start to construct a healthy, high-performance life.

What is Sleep?

People often think of sleep as a time of rest where the body and mind shut down. It is a dormant state when the activity of our brain’s cortex reduces by 40 percent. But sleep is not a passive process. While you’re asleep and not moving there is a lot going on inside you that is helping you to recover, restore and rebuild your body and brain. Sleep is a highly active metabolic process that helps to optimize our brain structure, repair damaged cells, and restore energy levels.

Humans are naturally attuned to the 24-hour cycle of light and dark. We have developed what are known as circadian rhythms such as sleep-wake cycles, changes in your body temperature, and times where different hormones are released into the blood. Our circadian rhythms are regulated by a structure in our brains called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), although the SCN can be over-ridden by the light or darkness in our environment. That’s what happens when we fly across time zones and we get jet lagged.

Each night while we sleep we cycle through different stages of sleep in approximately 90 minute cycles. 75% of our night’s sleep is in the Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) stage where our body and muscles relax, temperature and blood pressure drops, heart rate and breath rate comes down and cells and tissues grow and repair. The other 25% is called the rapid eye movement (REM) stage wherein our brain is active, energy is supplied to brain and body and eyes dart back and forth. Both stages are critical for the optimal recovery and regeneration of our bodies and our brains.

NREM sleep is when we recover our energy levels and when our nervous system (our brain, spinal cord and nerves that connect our spinal cord to muscles and organs) recovers and regenerates. During NREM sleep anabolic hormones are released that repair tissues and stabilize our energy levels. REM sleep is equally important and is thought to be when we establish new connections between neurons in the brain.

Sleep and Your Health

Optimal health and performance starts with sleep. You can set yourself up for success in all aspects of your life by sleeping deeply and sleeping enough. Sleeping better decreases your risk of a heart attack. It will improve your mood and energy. It improves the immune system keeping you from getting sick and can even help you survive cancer. It helps manage chronic pain. Imagine if someone developed a drug that could do all that! The drug would be hailed the miracle of our lifetime. Whoever developed it would win the Nobel Prize for sure. Let’s look at some of the specific links between sleep and health.

Sleeping soundly can help you lose fat, recover faster from training, clean your brain, and be better at solving problems. We consolidate memories while we sleep so sleep is when we actually learn! Our immune systems recover and regenerate while we sleep so sleep helps us to fight off disease and illness. If you’re training sleep is when your muscles repair and grow. Regardless of whether you’re an elite athlete, brilliant student, or titan of business sleep is the foundation of your healthy, high-performance life. Let’s explore the relationship between sleep and health in a bit more detail.

Today's POWER-UP: Try Yoga for a Deeper Sleep

Yoga is great for helping you to calm down and sleep better. Start with ujjayi breathing for a few minutes to relax and activate your parasympathetic nervous system. Then move through head to knee forward bend, child pose, and corpse pose. That sequence works wonders for calming the body and mind and setting you up for a deep, restful sleep.

Dive Deeper: Wash Your Brain!

One of the coolest studies I’ve seen in a long time was released last year by Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at Rochester Medical Center. Dr. Nedergaard’s team showed that during sleep, the size of neurons in the brain is reduced by up to 60%. This creates lots of space between your brain cells. Then during sleep, the glymphatic system cleans the metabolic waste from the microscopic spaces between the neurons in your brain.

You wash your body, hair and clothes – now, we know you need to wash your brain. It’s a great image to carry around: wake up every morning knowing that your brains cells have been showered up and your mind is literally cleared for another day!

Welcome to Sleep Soundly!

Welcome to Sleep Soundly!

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1. In today's society, we no longer sleep and wake according to the sun's cycle. Many of us work indoors, exposed to fluorescent lights during the day, and at night we watch bright TV and look at screens from a computer or mobile device. The result is an epidemic of poor sleep and sleep disorders. 

2. Lack of sleep is associated with increased rates of obesity, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, depression, and anxiety.

3. The good news is there are many tricks you can use to optimize your sleep, wellbeing, and performance. We're going to explore these concepts in this module.

“Pulling all-nighters isn't a badge of honor. It's the enemy of intelligence, patience, and creativity.” - Jason Fried, Founder of Basecamp.

For most of history, humans have woken up and gone to sleep based on the sun’s cycle. But our current situation is much different. Many of us work indoors, exposed to fluorescent lights during the day. In the evenings, we watch bright TV and look at computer, tablet or mobile phone screens.

Our internal physiology is no longer matched to the rhythm of the sun. As a result, we’re not sleeping enough and our health and performance are suffering. According to the National Sleep Foundation, we sleep 20% less than we used to a century ago. Seventy million Americans have a diagnosed sleep disorder. In Canada, one in seven people suffer from insomnia. That’s bad.

How bad? Along with sleeplessness comes increased rates of obesity, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, depression and anxiety. Lack of good sleep is so damaging that it actually shortens your life. An epidemiological study of over one million Americans reported that sleep duration below 6 hours per night was associated with increased mortality.

Here’s a quick story to illustrate how our culture perpetuates this problem.

Just seconds after its launch in January of 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded, killing all seven crew members. Some of the managers involved in the launch had only slept for two hours before arriving for work at 1 a.m. In the Presidential Commission on the accident, investigators wrote, “The willingness of NASA employees in general to work excessive hours, while admirable, raises serious questions when it jeopardizes job performance, particularly when critical management decisions are at stake.”

Yes, the Challenger tragedy was partly the result of sleeplessness. But I want to focus on the part of the Commission that describes the willingness to work excessive hours as admirable. This same attitude exists in the general workplace today. We receive the messaging that we are better people if we put in longer hours. 

But working yourself into a stupor is not admirable. And volume of work does not lead to excellence. You cannot perform at world-class levels if you’re staring blankly into a screen trying to comprehend words that you could breeze through in a few seconds if you took the time to build a consistent, rejuvenating sleep pattern and routine.

So that’s our topic for this module: getting the sleep you need to live a high-performance life. Together, we’re going to fight back and reclaim sleep. Once you are sleeping like a champion, pretty much everything in your life will get better.

Today's POWER-UP: The Transition Ritual

I’d like you to create a transition ritual and use it to help you make the shift from working to being at home. Find an activity that helps you to make that shift.

For me, it’s walking down to the park near my house and relaxing on a bench for five minutes before walking home. Take a few minutes to walk, listen to music, or make a call to a friend on the way home.

The key is to make sure that when you arrive home, you’re not still at work.