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How to Sleep Smarter: Tips From Shawn Stevenson Podcast

In this Shawn Stevenson podcast, learn how sleep affects everything from your ability to lose weight to your brain health to your work performance and grab some actionable steps to make improvements today.

Sleep expert Shawn Stevenson is the creator of The Model Health Show, which has been featured as the number one Fitness and Nutrition Podcast on iTunes. He believes that sleep has been criminally overlooked as an important element to weight loss, overall health, and wellbeing.

After a degenerative bone disease destroyed his hopes of becoming a professional athlete, and in many ways made him want to give up on his body altogether, he realized there must be a better way.

Stevenson studied the science of sleep and in 2016, published a best-selling book called ‘Sleep Smarter‘ to share tips and tricks on both how to hack your sleep and why optimizing your sleep is so important to avoid health issues.

Read on to leave Shawn’s top advice on sleep from his latest Google Talk.

(Note. While we earn commission from the links in this article, we only recommend the products we truly believe will improve your sleep the most. These commissions come at no extra expense to you and help us to keep providing you with expert sleep information for free.)

What’s This Shawn Stevenson Podcast All About?

The Shawn Stevenson podcast is a roughly hour-long talk at Google in Chicago. He wants to help you sleep better at night by helping you to understand how sleep impacts your basic functionalities, physical and mental health, your weight, and your brain.

Stevenson believes in sharing actionable steps. Instead of just presenting the ‘why’ he also presents the ‘how to’. His tips, while they may be challenging at first, are very doable for the average person.

As he puts it, 

“One of the biggest missing pieces to this whole equation of having the body and health that we want is sleep.”

8 Sleep-Improving Tips From the Shawn Stevenson Podcast

If you are not sleeping well and know there must be a better way, these tips are for you.

Here are eight things you can do now to improve your sleep quality to boost your quality of life.

1. Sleep for weight loss

Stevenson understands that many people struggle with body weight and while they may be exercising and making healthy food choices, without proper sleep, that hard work almost doesn’t matter.

He cited two studies from the University of Chicago and Canadian Medical Association Journal where participants whose only variable was whether they were sleep-deprived or got enough sleep, had radically different outcomes in body fat loss and body composition. 

In one study it was a whopping 55% difference.

He goes on to discuss the role of hormones, sleep, and body composition.

When you sleep, you release Human Growth Hormone (HGH) during the deep sleep phase – usually, this is early in your sleep cycle. Known as the “youth hormone”, HGH is critical for building lean muscle mass and also protecting muscle tissue.

Next is cortisol, the stress hormone, which he thinks gets a bad wrap but it’s critical to your health and well-being.

He explains the role of cortisol in metabolism, 

“Cortisol is responsible for actually helping to build your thyroid hormone. Your thyroid is literally the metabolic center of your entire body…cortisol is important, it’s just that if it’s produced at the wrong time and in the wrong amount is when it could become a problem.”

What does this have to do with sleep? Simply, 

“Sleep deprivation immediately has a correlation with elevated cortisol.”

Furthermore, melatonin, known as the “sleep hormone” has a role to play in weight loss too.

“Melatonin was found to increase your brown adipose tissue (BAT)…BAT functions a lot like muscle in that it burns WAT, white adipose tissue. By increasing your body’s ratio of brown adipose tissue, you’re effectively increasing your metabolic rate. Melatonin has been found to directly increase your body’s level of brown adipose tissue…but if you’re not getting adequate sleep, you’re not producing the adequate amounts of melatonin.”

The impact of sleep on weight is clear — if you want to reduce body fat, sleep more.

2. Sleep to improve immediate mental health

Stevenson explains that even one night of sleep deprivation lights up your amygdala (the part of your brain responsible for survival and reptilian instinct) and dampens your prefrontal cortex (the part of your brain responsible for decision making, mood regulation, will-power, and distinguishing right from wrong).

One of the effects of sleep deprivation is that your brain isn’t getting enough glucose, the energy it needs to function.

“When your brain starts to starve, this is basically an evolutionary problem. The survival mechanism is going to kick in… our design is very primitive still. A couple thousand years ago, this could mean death.”

Stevenson continues to further explain what this brain starvation results in, 

“When we’re sleep-deprived, we get an amygdala hijack basically, so this more primitive part of your brain that’s only concerned about survival of self kicks in… a more primitive angry selfish version of yourself shows up.”

Have you ever felt cranky when you don’t sleep enough? Do you find that you argue more with your partner when you’re tired? Are you more irritable at work? There’s a good reason your emotional stability is off.

Stevenson’s advice is, 

“To avoid going to the dark side, we need to make sure we’re getting adequate sleep.”

3. Sleep to stave off brain degeneration

You’ve probably got first-hand experience that after a night of bad sleep, you just don’t feel sharp the next day.

But what does sleep deprivation do to your brain over the long term? Spoiler alert, it’s not pretty.

Put simply, your glymphatic system is responsible for getting rid of waste in your brain (like your lymphatic system does in your body). Your brain has a lot of metabolic waste because it’s processing so much.

As Shawn Stevenson puts it,

“During sleep, your glymphatic system is 10 times more active than during the day. So, your brain is always trying to clean itself but it’s ten times more active when you go to sleep. To get rid of all of this stuff that it’s building up to make room for new cells…. There’s a 60% decrease in your brain cell size, so your brain cells literally shrink when you go to sleep to make more room for detoxification.”

When your brain can’t detoxify enough, bad things happen. 

“Alzheimer’s has been found to be heavily correlated with an inability of your brain to detoxify itself. So, it’s just building up all this waste that it can’t remove.”

To break it down, 

“If you’re not sleeping, your brain isn’t detoxifying itself properly and you’re getting closer to an early date with memory loss, dementia, Alzheimer’s. This is the opposite of a productive brain.”

4. Alcohol damages REM sleep

Stevenson is clear that he’s not anti-alcohol. But he does explain why your memory of what happened last night is fuzzy or non-existent.

“When you drink alcohol there’s this interesting process that happens that is called a REM rebound effect”

Essentially, the REM sleep phase (Rapid Eye Movement Sleep) is when you process the day’s events and store them in long-term memory. Alcohol heavily disturbs this process.

When you drink and especially when you drink too much, your brain does not get REM sleep or gets very little of it. This means when you wake up and you can’t remember dancing on the bar or giving your phone number to the jukebox, it’s because your brain did not process those memories while you slept.

He recommends giving yourself an alcohol curfew and helping your body with the detoxification process by drinking water.

5. Regulate your caffeine intake

Shawn Stevenson is also a fan of caffeine but explains that taken at the wrong time, it can have major effects on the quality of your sleep.

Caffeine has an 8-hour half-life. That means that if you drink a cup of ordinary coffee (200 mg of caffeine), after 8 hours, half of that caffeine is still in your system.

Caffeine is a stimulant that, even in small doses, can cause you to sleep less even if you drink it as long as 6 hours before bed.

If you’re a caffeine person, he suggests, 

“Give yourself a caffeine curfew. If you can, make sure to get that in in the earlier part of the day, I recommend by noon. It’s not that caffeine is bad, it’s just the way that we utilize it.”

He explains that it takes the majority of people about 72 hours to detoxify from caffeine so try cycling your use. Take a few days off, let your body detoxify, and then have that cup of coffee again to feel the full impact of it.

6. Be mindful of blue light

Blue light is the light wavelength that comes out of your electronic device and most closely mimics the sun.

Stevenson’s explanation of how blue light affects your quality of sleep is a real eye-opener.

“Every hour of use of your device [at night] leads to 30 minutes of suppressed melatonin. You can physiologically be passed out; you can just go to sleep from exhaustion but you’re not actually getting optimal sleep cycles because your melatonin isn’t being produced properly. You’re not producing as much HGH, you’re not producing as much of these anabolic recovery hormones and enzymes. You’re just passed out from exhaustion; you’re not getting actually high-quality sleep.”

This is particularly jarring for those of you who have fallen asleep looking at your phone and thinking to yourself, ‘oh my phone doesn’t keep me awake, I can still fall asleep’. But the blue light does affect the quality of that sleep.

Steveson suggests doing a few things. First, get some good blue light glasses to block the blue wavelength at night.

Second, on your phone or computer, use the night mode – iOS is called night shift, Android is Twilight, and on PC there is an app called fl.ux.

Third, give yourself a screen curfew. If you’re going to try to get off your phone earlier, fill that time with something of equal or greater value – talk to someone, read a book, meditate, play with your dog.

7. Take care of your gut for good sleep

Gut health has become a hot topic as scientists begin to understand more about its connection to our overall health.

Stevenson explains,
“[There is] 400 times more melatonin in your gut than your brain… so we have to take care of that environment”

Take care of the friendly flora by eating, what Stevenson calls, “good sleep nutrients”. He highlights two.

  1. Potassium –  “Individuals that were deficient in potassium were more likely to have interrupted sleep.” Avocado is a good source.
  2. Magnesium –  This mineral is responsible for over 300 chemical processes in your body. It’s an anti-stress mineral. Stevenson usually suggests getting minerals from food but for this he recommends supplementation. Specifically, he suggests using topical spray because oral administration can cause diarrhea.

8. Manage your stress

Stevenson’s final tip is to manage your stress properly. He gives four very concrete ways to do this as part of your daily routine.

  1. Exercise – Morning exercisers spent more time in the anabolic sleep cycle compared to people who exercise other times of the day. “We need to get some morning exercise in because it resets your cortisol rhythm.” He recommends as little as 5-10 minutes of exercise in the morning to get your systems on track.
  2. Smart sunlight – The human body needs natural sunlight. Get sunlight from 6-8 AM and your cortisol will drop in the evening.
  3. Meditation“You’re manipulating your brainwaves when you meditate.” Meditation leads to improvement in sleep onset, decrease in interrupted sleep, sleep increase overall, and improvement in clinical depression. 5-10 minutes of mediation in the morning can do the trick.
  4. Tai Chi and Chi Gong – These activities result in an increase in melatonin metabolites. Basically, your body produces more melatonin from doing these practices.

These few simple stress management tactics can have majorly positive effects on your sleep quality and sleep duration.

To Sum Up…

Shawn Stevenson gives some fantastic actionable tips to improve your sleep and overall health in the process.

Healthy sleep is attainable.

Depending on what your goal is — weight loss, emotional stability, productivity, brain health, memory, stress management, quality of life — the biggest takeaways are that sleep is critically important and too often overlooked.

As Stevenson says, “It’s progress, not perfection”

So, don’t worry about being the perfect sleeper, worry about making some small changes that result in big impacts. Harness the power of sleep.

Want to watch the full Shawn Stevenson podcast? Click here.