The Latest Episodes of INSIGHT with Chris Van Vliet
Nov. 8, 2021

The Science Of How To Sleep Better With Dr. Greg Wells

The Science Of How To Sleep Better With Dr. Greg Wells

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Today's guest is Dr. Greg Wells (@drgregwells) from Precision Nutrition. Dr. Greg Wells is a wellness advocate, scientist, TedX speaker and best-selling author. He talks with Chris Van Vliet about not only WHY we need to sleep better but HOW we can sleep better. He focuses on the science behind sleep, little hacks that anyone can do to get a better night's sleep, how sleep affects other aspects of your life, how to sleep, eat, move and think better with 1% changes.

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On the science behind sleep:

“I feel that in the past 10 years people are really looking at how to do better and feel better. Sleep is at the forefront of what everyone can do. We all sleep, we do it every day, hopefully, and we can all sleep so much better. So many people are struggling with sleep. Just to get us started, one of the things so fascinating about sleep is that we have discovered what is known as a glial lymphatic system. It is a network of vessels inside the brain that literally pump fluid through the brain as you sleep. It cleans out bacteria, viruses, broken down cells, waste products, then pulls them up to a network of vessels that are just on the inside of your skull. Then it drains them into the lymphatic system of the body, which is how we dispose of all of these things that we don’t want. The brain is literally washing itself out every night that we sleep, so it’s the fundamental thing we need to do to keep our brain healthy. There’s many other things too, but that is the coolest advance we have seen probably in the last 10 years when it comes to sleep. The imagery around it is amazing, we can see this happening live with some of the cool studies that have been published. It is absolutely amazing.”  

Is 8 hours enough:

“There’s a wide range for all humans. Some can do fine on less, some could do with a little bit more. What we have learned is that there are sleep cycles. In these cycles we go through stages and we cycle through those throughout the course of the night in 90 minute increments. On average, we like to get 5 cycles a night, which is roughly 8 hours. The research is quite clear, any less than 6 hours, or 4 complete sleep cycles, the risk of all cause mortality starts to go up. Many things are involved there, but a lack of sleep is associated with it. I always say bare minimum 7, I get that sometimes you won’t get enough and sometimes you need to sleep in. It’s all about getting the balance.”

On people who can’t get to sleep:

“Yeah the mind is racing and you are staring at the ceiling but you can’t shut your brain off. I think that is a symptom of the way we are living these days. We are going flat out, and there’s so much to do. There is looking at your phone, put it away and can’t get to sleep. One of the biggest things I think you can do is to not look at your tech for the last hour. These are these things called books, you can take a bath, talk to your partner. Think of all the things you can do to unwind. We need to give ourselves that chance to unwind and to settle, instead of sprinting to the finish line and staring at the ceiling.”  

On having an evening routine:

“The morning routine has gotten so much traction recently, but to win the day, you have to get a good night's sleep. I recommend 3 times 20 minutes of unwinding, experiment and try things out, see what works. There are some amazing yoga poses that can calm you down, you can do slow breathing, communicate with people. These are all awesome things you can do.”  

Optimizing your sleep space:

“Humans have a structure inside the brain that is very sensitive to light. When any light, from the sun or a screen, goes through our eyes, that goes through your eyes, and can penetrate your eyelid. That light then hits the back of your eyeball, shoots electricity back to your brain. That electricity then makes it hard to sleep. Make sure your bedroom is really dark, you can invest in blackout blinds, or just get some paper. Make sure your alarm clock is covered up and your phone is covered up in the bedroom. Once the room is dark, keep it cool too. If your body is cooler by 1 degree than the day, it releases melatonin and can help you sleep better. Those are a couple of tactics you can do to help you sleep better.”

On how to get the kids involved:

“We kind of treat it like a digital sunset in our home. The whole house has dimmer switches installed, I am not moving for 10 years. I wouldn’t have done that in the previous apartment, I would have just been hacking my way through it all without spending any money. It does take time, we dim all the lights and have all the electronics set to a timer to night mode. It took us a while, but the concept of slowly decreasing the amount of lights and downshifting as a group works. When it’s time to sleep, I read a story and the kids are out. One of the things we did to get the kids to buy into the system was to get the kids to write their routine on the wall. They like to see the routine, follow it and see the next steps. From there, it was just so much easier for all of us.” 

On training to sleep better:

“So from 0-6 months of having kids, it’s a disaster. You don’t know if you can get through the next hour. There is a glimmer of hope where it looks like you can get through one sleep cycle without dying of fatigue. But slowly, it gets a little bit better. The key thing for those who are not good sleepers, you can train yourself to sleep better. The human body can adapt, when you lift, you get stronger, when you run, you get faster. We know that we can adapt, we just need to be consistent enough to nudge ourselves towards better sleep. If you stick with it, and it took me 6 months to notice, it is absolutely worth it.”  

On how a good night's sleep can benefit you in a lot of ways:

“It all cascades. If you get a good night's sleep, you make better decisions on the food you eat and eat better. Then, you feel better and more energized, you get a workout in. Get the workout in, you lower your stress level, then you sleep better. We can create these upwards spirals by working on these areas. Get the sleep down, work on the nutrition, then the exercise. This is a multi-year project to make you live longer and better. It’s not easy, but it does add up.” 

On boredom and what it can do for you:

“I love boredom, I think it’s awesome. Within 2 minutes when my kids say they are bored, they are creative and thinking of ways to entertain themselves. Because we have our phones, we are constantly engaged and never bored. But the problem is then it inhibits our creativity, our strategic thinking and all of the things we need to do to live life. I love the idea of using technology intentionally, but also unplugging. I have 1 hour a day where my tech is unplugged, the best time is during dinner with the family. We need a little bit of time to be bored, your mind wanders and then boom! There is something new you can create, you won’t get that if you are constantly distracted.”

On what he is grateful for:

“My family and their health and happiness, the ability that I can do what I want and I get to connect with cool people.”