It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t like sleep.
It’s even harder to find someone who gets enough.
For one of the simplest and most effective things people can do to improve their health and body composition, sleep usually gets overlooked.
Most people are struggling to reach and maintain a healthy weight. You know how important diet and exercise are for fat loss, but sleep is arguably almost as important. Your sleep can impact what and how much you eat, your ability to exercise, and how much fat or muscle you lose while dieting.
In this podcast, you’re going to learn from sleep researcher Dan Pardi on how you can improve your health and lose fat by sleeping better.
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Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink
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**Armi Legge:** It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t like sleep. It’s even harder to find someone who gets enough. Getting enough sleep is one of the simplest and most underrated things you can do to improve your health. It’s also essential for your athletic performance.
One of the other things sleep can impact is your weight. Most people in developed countries are just struggling to lose weight or not gain any. Obviously, diet and exercise plays a huge role in this, as you learned from Eric Helms in podcast #10. However, something that often gets overlooked when it comes to your weight is sleep.
In this podcast, you’re going to learn how sleep can affect how much sleep, what you eat, and how those behaviors and impact your efforts to reach and maintain a healthy weight. You’ll also learn the most scientifically supported techniques to get a good night’s sleep. You’re going to hear from Dan Pardi, a well respected sleep researcher and personal friend of mine. Dan is a great guy who really knows his stuff. He’s down to earth, he’s trustworthy, and he’s an excellent critical thinker. Plus, he’s a great public speaker, which makes him an excellent guest for podcasts.
My name is Armi Legge and you are listening to Impruvism Radio, the podcast that gives you simple, science-based tips to improve your health, fitness, and productivity. If you like what you hear on today’s show, here is how to get more like it. Go to impruvism.com, enter your email address in the box on the right side of the page, and click the button below. After you do, you’ll get free updates from the Impruvism blog delivered to your email inbox when they’re published.
Dan, thank you for coming on the show today. Would you tell our listeners who you are and what you do?
**Dan Pardi:** Yeah, sure. My name is Dan Pardi. I am a researcher. I work with the departments of neurology and endocrinology at Leiden University in the Netherlands. And I work with the behavioral sciences department at Stanford. My research looks at how sleep affects things like hormones that are related to eating and energy expenditure like leptin in ghrelin. And I also look at how sleep loss affects cognition and other things like mood and how that relates to eating behavior.
I’m also the CEO of a company called Dan’s Plan. We’ve created a framework for a healthy living. So trying to map out what are the fundamental attributes of a healthy lifestyle and how do those map to a 24-hour or 168-process of one day or one week. And then how to do you use behavioral economics or persuasive technology to make it more likely that a person will live within a healthy zone consistently.
Lifestyle is one of the biggest unsolved challenges of our day and I think it’s a problem that a lot of answers are not exotic solutions but actually just right under our nose and because they’re mundane, they’re easy to overlook. So it’s a really fun puzzle to work on and I like having a foot in both academia and research and then also in the entrepreneurial world, trying to see if we can create tools and solutions and programs that help people achieve health goals and be healthy.
**Armi Legge:** That is a cool thing to do, man. You do have some awesome stuff you’re working on and one of the things you talk and write a lot about is sleep. So that’s what we’re going to focus on today. On the macro level, what happens when people don’t get enough sleep? What are the main things that occur in their body and psychologically?
**Dan Pardi:** Well, you know, it goes to the question of “what is the purpose of sleep?” which in some ways still eludes us. It’s been very difficult to identify a solitary or singular purpose for why we sleep, but perhaps that’s just the wrong question.
There are a lot of reasons why we sleep. There are a lot of functions in the body that are either reset or basically respond to the activity that you performed during the day. I’ll just give you an example about how sleep can react to what has happened during your day.
A friend of mine, Marcus Frank at U Penn, does what are called monocular deprivation studies. They will blind one eye or put a patch over it on cats, so that only information is entering on one eye. Then they’ll look at hemispheric sleep. They’ll look to see what is happening in different parts of the brain during sleep. Basically what you’ll see is the areas of the brain that correspond with the open eye are a lot more active. There’s a lot more going on. They’re processing a lot more information than the eye that was closed and wasn’t taking in information during the day.
I think that’s a really cool example, to think about how sleep isn’t this monolithic, uniform, very consistent state. It’s actually something that is in reaction to what you have done during the day to try to prepare you for next day activities. That means there are certain hormones that are released at night that will be regenerative and restorative to the body. There are things happening to your immune system, making it so you can fight off certain infections. One way to get sick very easily is to stay up late at night. That greatly increases your chances of getting sick. Then also there’s a lot of mental processing that takes place.
One good example is memory. When you sleep, there is a process of consolidation of different pieces of information that you’ve taken in over the day, so over the day period, you encode new memories and then at night, you consolidate them into neural networks. Your memory literally improves over while sleeping. If you were to do memorize a list of terms, the next day your memory would be better than it was an hour or two hours after you’ve learned them.
The reason why is the brain will do two things. It will actually trim old memories that it feels it no longer needs. Part of the active memory process is pruning stuff that is no longer valuable. Then another part of it is to actually replay the important memories over and over again, so it strengthens the synapses and, again, makes that memory stronger. So you are more likely to be able to retrieve it and recall it the following day or whenever you do need it.
So those are a few examples. Again, what is the exact purpose of sleep? Hard to say, but at the same time, on a very intuitive level, we all know what it’s like to miss a night of sleep or not get enough sleep for a few days in a row and can perceive that it’s not a healthy thing for our bodies.
**Armi Legge:** Sure. It’s funny how you mention how the brain prunes memories as well as reinforces them. One of my favorite Sherlock Holmes quotes is something along the lines of, “I forget useless information as soon as possible so I can memorize cool stuff.” That’s obviously paraphrasing. It’s just interesting that our brain does that automatically.
How can sleep affect our long term health and lifespan? What impact does it have both on our quality of life and quantity of life?
**Dan Pardi:** Sure. Well, you know, some aspects of this question are hard to study. Like anything where you’re looking at something over a lifespan and knowing what contribution things like diet or good sleep ultimately have on longevity are difficult to study for a lot of reasons, right? It takes a very long time. We can try to look for certain markers.
One thing that we do know is that healthy elderly, people that are 70, 80 years old but actually perform like they’re 40s or 50s, so they are very active, they’re very sharp, they’re lean, these people tend to sleep very well. Now whether the sleep is causative or if it’s actually a response to the lifestyle, there’s probably actually a little bit of both of that going on, where the good sleep helps you, again, be restored for the next day, be more active, the activity during the day, the mental thinking, the engagement helps you sleep well at night.
But we also know through various sleep disorders that impact sleep in a variety of different ways, that poor sleep will increase risk of a variety of different sorts of conditions or diseases in the body.
Not only is it lack of sleep, but it also has to do with something called circadian timing. Circadian timing is basically a 24-hour, rhythmic process where hormones, body temperature, behaviors will oscillate according to the time of day. A major problem in our society now– and by the way, those circadian rhythms are orchestrated most strongly by light, so light entering the eye. Because of our modern world, we have devices and artificial light that’s coming into our eye at a time that it ordinarily wouldn’t. When I say “ordinarily,” I mean in relationship to a kind of natural environment. So usually the sun goes down. The intensity, the spectrum of light will change. Now we have artificial light. We can turn lights on in our home. We can put on high definition televisions. We can read an iPad. In all of that, the light enters the eye and it can affect what time of day the brain thinks it is.
Because of that, for some people in particular who have greater sensitivity, obviously there are individual differences like there is with anything in science, people have what’s now called a state of perpetual jet lag. Their brain is always trying to play catchup to what kind of day it thinks it is. Usually at 10:00 or 11:00 at night, because of the light entering the eye, the brain knows it’s time to sleep and it’s probably around 10:00 within that circadian period. But again, when you’ve got that light coming in, the brain might think it’s the middle of the afternoon and try to adjust accordingly. It’s adjusting hormone rhythms. It’s adjusting body temperature. This makes it difficult to sleep.
Long term, we know from studies like the Nurses’ Health Study, where you can look at populations of people who do shift work over a period of time. They have drastically increased rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancers. The research scientists think there is a discrete contribution both coming from impaired sleep quality and sleep duration, but then also from circadian rhythm misalignment. So really when you’re talking about sleep, you really want to talk about circadian rhythm and sleep at the same time when you’re thinking about your health.
So that is what I would say. Healthy elderly sleep really well might be a signal that sleep actually is important for longevity and also how you feel. I think it can perpetuate a youthful existence when you’re sleeping well. That’s my assumption. Then also we know longevity and well-being is significantly affected when you’re not getting enough sleep. Whether that’s from voluntary sleep curtailment, whether it’s from environmental light and lifestyle, and whether it’s from sleep disorders, where it be sleep apnea, or even people who have chronic insomnia. We know there is very significant impacts on your health and well-being.
**Armi Legge:** Great. So one of the problems that a lot of people are facing both in the United States and elsewhere is obesity, or even just being a little overweight. As we’re going to talk about today, sleep may impact that process. How can sleep affect people’s ability to gain weight or make it harder for them to lose weight?
**Dan Pardi:** This is a really interesting line of research. At this point, I believe it’s 81 out of 89 studies that have investigated the relationship between sleep and weight disturbance have identified a kind of negative correlation, so as sleep goes down, weight goes up. It’s been investigated in multiple different areas. So people have looked at well, are there metabolic disturbances? Indeed, that has been shown.
A lot of work comes out of the University of Chicago from Evan Cotter’s lab and also from Fred Turek. There are others in the area, but that has been kind of the epicenter of the research. Obviously, it’s taking place elsewhere too but that is where a lot of these signals were first identified in terms of how sleep affects hemostatic hormones like lepton and ghrelin. These are hormones that will affect energy regulation. So they affect energy regulation by circulating to the brain and then telling the brain to either be more hungry or to increase energy expenditure.
So they control how much fat stays on the body by influencing things like metabolic thermogenesis, metabolic rate, hormone levels, and hunger. It does this subconsciously. It’s doing this kind of behind the scenes to influence your behavior and also influence things that are not behavior related.
When you actually get less sleep, and it doesn’t have to be that much, depending on the different study– some of them have done total sleep deprivation, so no sleep for one night or more. Other studies have done partial sleep restriction, where they will have people undergo, let’s say their normal sleep time is 8 hours, they give them 4. They give that for one night or maybe three nights– or even 6 hours.
You see alterations in both leptin and ghrelin, both in a direction that would increase calorie intake, decrease energy expenditure in the next few days. That research brought a lot of attention to the subject and since that time, there has been more epidemiological studies and observational studies that have taken place to look at what’s happening on a population level.
One thing was the Wisconsin Cohort was looking at 15,000 people over a 12 year period, where they would do surveys with the population that was involved. They found that basically their findings aligned with some of the clinical work that was happening with Ben Cotter’s labs, showing that on a population basis, if you were to ask people how much sleep they get, and then they were doing some blood sampling as well to check that periodically, they found people who slept less had changes in leptin and also had higher body weight, so more confirmation that there is a real association there.
It’s ongoing and there’s more for us to identify what’s really going on there. But then there has also been research trying to understand what’s happening in the brain. So how does sleep affect cognition so that you might change the way that you’re eating? Certain types of foods might be more interesting to you. You might start to eat in a manner that is not totally related to hunger. That is where a lot of my research looks at. I could tell you a little bit about my study that just completed. Would you like that?
**Armi Legge:** Yeah, absolutely.
**Dan Pardi:** OK, cool. I did a study where I looked at 50 subjects over two different periods where I had them come in and I did an assessment, a cognitive battery. They did things like vigilance measurement. They also did assessments of impulsivity and mood and working memory and I used what’s called international misdirection in the study. So I tried to make the subjects feel that the study was about cognition, but I also gave them a break in the middle of the study. I won’t explain the study fully, I’ll just give you some of the highlights.
During that break, I observed what people were eating. What I did was I weighed and measured basically this available food before and after the subjects came to the study. So I could tell exactly how much they ate and where they ate the food from. The food options were ostensibly healthy or not so healthy. You might have almonds or sugar cinnamon covered walnuts. You might have apple rings and gummy bears. There were these choices people could make and I wanted to see what people chose.
At the end of this study, I had them actually subjectively rate how healthy they felt these foods were. Some studies will actually assign the health value for the subjects, but as you know, there’s huge variation in terms of how people feel about the healthfulness of something. In fact, the gummy bears I had were made out of agave. Some people might have looked at that and say, “These are agave. They’re going to be healthy.” I don’t feel that way. You can see how, depending on the perspective of the person, that might influence of course what they’re going to eat and how healthy they think these are.
At the end of the study, what I did was I looked to see if drops in vigilance or reaction time, which is really how alert somebody is. And how alert somebody is is a good reflection of the quality of sleep that they’ve had, and how that related to what they chose to eat. What I found is that people who were very sleepy or had low vigilance were more likely to basically eat all of their food from foods that they felt were less healthy, foods that they themselves rated as not very healthy. In other words, they were much more likely to eat a lot more gummy bears even though they said gummy bears are not good for you.
So really interesting. That’s just one example, but it’s very interesting about how sleep can change the way that we process information and when you reflect that against the research from Brian Wansink that shows we make over 200 food decisions a day– if sleep influences how we’re deciding and what we’re interested in, and there’s a lot of opportunities for us to make these choices, you can see how sleep loss can really affect our dietary quality, style, and total amount that we’re consuming.
Not only are there metabolic aspects to sleep loss, but there are also some every significant, and what I think are very interesting, cognitive aspects to weight loss that can affect obesity, weight gain, or weight loss.
**Armi Legge:** That is a fascinating study. Is there anywhere our listeners can read more about that? Has it been published on Pub Med or anything like that yet?
**Dan Pardi:** Not yet. We’ve collected the data. That’s a good point. I should say this. It hasn’t been peer reviewed. What I wanted to describe was how the study was set up and the findings. We just ran the statistics on it and I will be starting to write up the methods section and the results soon. Then eventually either I’ll turn it into an abstract for a conference or just submit it to a journal. Nothing is available yet.
**Armi Legge:** Cool. Just so our listeners know, Brian Wansink wrote “Mindless Eating,” which I think Dan would agree is also a great book on weight regulation.
**Dan Pardi:** Yeah. One that I would recommend to everybody.
**Armi Legge:** Yeah. It’s a great one. Is the reverse also true? You just mentioned how sleep can affect our food choices. Can our food choices impact our sleep at all?
**Dan Pardi:** You know, it’s a really interesting question, but I’ve seen that the data on this has been a little bit equivocal. I don’t know that we really have a lot of clarity about whether or not a meal before bedtime influences how well you sleep. I think the size of the meal definitely does and the timing.
We were maintaining the hormone ghrelin. That is a gut-derived hormone that is released into the blood and it travels to the brain and it influences energy expenditure. It also does some other interesting things. It works with another neuropeptide called hypocretin to influence our motivation to seek food.
Ghrelin was first identified as a growth hormone secretagogue. Before they actually termed ghrelin, they knew there was a substance that bound to growth hormone receptors and was very potent at releasing growth hormone. So when you have a big meal late at night, you’re suppressing ghrelin and that is going to suppress the first release of growth hormone. Maybe it just changes the profile of growth hormone release so that even though you don’t have as much of a peak in the first sleep cycle, maybe you have more growth hormone released at later stages. But for men in particular, the majority of growth hormone is released within that first sleep cycle. Within the first three hours of going to bed. That’s where most growth hormone is released. Eating late at night is probably going to suppress that.
Again, whether or not the body can make accommodations to get the net total growth hormone level equal is still a matter that needs further investigation. But I try not to eat within about three hours of going to bed. So if I’m going to bed at 11:00, I’m not eating after 8:00. I think that’s probably pretty decent guidance with low risk. I also think that having a big meal for your body to process is also something that– you know, your body is resting during sleep, so forcing it to do a lot more work might cause less restorative sleep. I know of subjective reports of people feeling like if they eat a big meal, it might not make them sleep quite as well. Again, I don’t think we really know what’s going on. Can the body adjust to it?
I think for what you’re eating, I kind of always go back to the same thing. Does it change? Does this question about sleep change what we should be eating? I think in general, sticking with meals prepared from whole foods is the only dietary device I follow for the most part.
**Armi Legge:** Simple is better most of the time.
**Dan Pardi:** I agree.
**Armi Legge:** We talk about the psychology of how sleep impacts our food choices. On a physiological level, and I know you mentioned a few things a second ago, but on a physiological level, what occurs when somebody restricts their sleep either internally or accidentally that could increase their ability to gain body fat? Let’s just say they’re eating roughly the same amount or more. Based on the reasons you just listed, are there any metabolic changes that actually could make it easier to gain fat when you’re sleep restricted?
**Dan Pardi:** There’s a study by Arlet Nedeltcheva. She’s working with Plamen Penev, who’s also at the University of Chicago, so there are a few labs that are work on that now. In 2010, she released a study in Internal Medicine, I think. She had a protocol where she had people on a calorically restricted diet for 14 days and then there were two sleep interventions. It was a crossover study, so every subject did basically both the full sleep and the restricted sleep protocol. It was separated by about 3 months. There was a good amount of time in between. What they did was they restricted calories to I believe 90% of their resting metabolic rate for 14 days. Then they either slept 5.5 hours per night for 14 days and then they switched them over and did the exact same thing but had them sleep 8 hours per night.
This was a weight loss study. What they saw was that the sleep restriction really changed where the weight loss came from. People who were sleep restricted lost a lot more lean body mass and a lot less fat. Even though there was an insignificant differences between the total amount of weight that was lost, there were significant differences in terms of where that weight came from. I think it was 60% more lean body mass was lost in the sleep restricted group and that was also reflected from a neuroendocrine perspective. You also saw alterations in hormones that you would expect with more muscle loss.
That I think is really interesting. There were basically two identical studies where the only thing that was different was the amount of sleep people got and it really changed, again, how well the body was able to maintain lean body mass and where that weight loss was coming from. As you know, not all weight loss is the same. You want to minimize the amount of lean body mass as best as possible, both through diet and training and sleep.
Obviously, when people set out to lose weight, the primary goal is to lose body fat. So when you lose a lot of lean body mass, it just makes it that much more easy that you’re going to not be able to continue to lose weight. Maybe you’ve lost it for a few weeks, but it’s going to make the next couple of weeks more difficult. It’s also going to increase the likelihood that you’re going to gain weight back after you’ve stopped the caloric restriction, or at least it will change the trajectory of that weight regain.
From before, we talked about the less you sleep, if you’re not dieting, it will change certain hormones that would make it likely that you’re going to increase body weight by increasing hunger and affecting metabolic rate. Then in this weight loss study, it shows you’re going to lose more lean body mass where the only thing that’s different is the amount of sleep you’re getting.
**Armi Legge:** Very interesting. Especially because of one the arguments people will make sometimes about staying up late is they rationalize it like, “Well, you know, I might be getting a little less sleep, but I’m staying up and moving a little more during the day. That sort of thing. So maybe it will kind of even out.” Is that generally the case, with at least what you’ve seen?
**Dan Pardi:** There’s a really significant drop in the sympathetic nervous system tone when you go to sleep. When you transition from awake state into stage 1 and stage 2 sleep, and actually as you transition into deeper stages of sleep, the sympathetic nervous system activity will drop.
Another idea about how weight is regulated is that downstream of the sympathetic nervous system is activation of your HPA axis, which is the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis, so you have increase of glucocorticoids and cortisol that is circulating with this higher degree of stimulation. Whether there’s some allosteric modulation, which means over time, does that equal a state where you’re basically like inducing Cushing’s Syndrome, where you have high levels of circulating cortisol, because we know people who take proctozone and all sorts of glucocorticoids, they will basically develop metabolic syndromes. Basically, it makes them gain bat really quickly. That’s another aspect, too.
I think as your body relaxes into those deeper stages, yeah, you do have increased energy expenditure when you’re awake, but long-term, how does that actually have a negative impact on the way that fat is being accumulated? So it seems like it’s a perfect storm when you think about weight loss, where there is possibly more signals for fat deposition. There is less defense against gains in body fat with alterations in leptin and ghrelin.
Overall, we don’t really know exactly what’s going on. We can’t say for sure because, again, a lot of times it has to do with the limitations of studies. It’s hard to study people for six weeks at time in a laboratory, but these are the signals we do know from studies that last anywhere from one day to a few weeks. Probably some of the compelling evidence is the longer term data that shows when people sleep this much, they have a 55% increased risk of weight gain compared to people who sleep the same amount that are aged for age, activity level, smoking, and all that. We’ve had this major increase in obesity since the 1980s. I think this is very plausible that this is a contributing determinant of fat gain.
**Armi Legge:** Interesting. So if you could list your top three tips for how people could improve their sleep to help fight weight loss or just generally be healthier, what would they be?
**Dan Pardi:** OK. Top three tips to fight sleep loss?
**Armi Legge:** Just to improve your sleep overall. Just to have great sleep.
**Dan Pardi:** OK, yeah. So the things that matter with sleep are timing, duration, and intensity.
Timing is when the sleep is occurring within a 24 hour period.
The duration is how much sleep you’re getting. Let’s say you go to bed at midnight and you wake up at 8:00am. That’s an 8 hour time in bed. Now in that time in bed, you may have not been asleep the whole time, so I like to focus on things you can actually control like time in bed vs. sleeping time. Now let’s say the next night, you get the same duration of sleep but you go to bed at 2:00am and wake up at 10:00am. You can see that the sleep is occurring within a different part of the circadian phase. That’s a good way of thinking about the differentiation there. Both matter.
Actually, in my study, I looked at a people who had a lot of variation between not necessarily how much duration they’re getting, but their sleep timing, so their bed times and wake times were changing a lot day by day. People who had a lot of variation there had much lower vigilance scores and much lower alertness, even when they were getting the same amount of sleep. That’s kind of one area to focus on.
And then intensity is the depth and the consistency, the architecture of the sleep, which we have less influence to control. You can’t sleep more deeply by squinting harder at night. That doesn’t work. But there are some things that you can do during the day, like controlling your light rhythms and being physically active, that can increase the depth of sleep.
So the way I like to think about it is, and by the way, with the tools, we created a dashboard on Dan’s Plan, which is free, and I encourage everybody to use it whether you’re an athlete or just trying to get healthy for the first time or, again, whatever that may be.
Forming an intention around sleep time can be very, very powerful. Oftentimes, people have a fixed wake up time. “Oh, I need to get up by 7:00 if I need to be at work by 8:00.” If you think you need 8 hours of time in bed, you need to be in bed by 11:00 in order to have at least the opportunity to get that much sleep, right? You’re not going to get 8 hours of sleep if you’re in bed for 6 hours. That helps you say, “OK, I know I need 8 hours of sleep or I think I perform really well when I get that. I know I need to wake up at 7:00. My bedtime is 11:00.” Having that clarified in your mind is huge. It’s huge.
A lot of people don’t and what happens is we becomes more impulsive as the day goes on. The executive functioning of our minds diminishes as we’re tired. We’re likely to be more impulsive and basically want to play with the thing that is bright and shiny like an iPad or a phone or watch another episode of television. The world is trying to create more engaging products by the day. Games that are really locking into understanding what makes us want to crave more. So we’re fighting this uphill battle.
So when you think about how important sleep is, the idea of just going to bed at 11:00 is kind of boring, but it’s super important. It’s super, super important. So setting an intention and doing a little tracking to let you know how close you’re coming to that goal is really valuable. That’s the simplicity of our tracking system. We look at timing and then also the duration. Then we just let you know, “OK, how are you doing against these goals that you set?”
You can’t apply population averages to individuals and say, “OK, well here is a group of 100 people and the average is 8 hours, therefore you should get 8 hours.” There are individual sleep needs. There is intraindividual and interindividual sleep needs, meaning that you and I may have a different sleep need and, with me, my sleep need might change day by day depending on what I’m doing. Am I sick? Did I exercise really hard? I’ve been getting a lot of volume. My own personal sleep need is going to change.
When I say trying to get 8 hours in bed, I think it’s a good palace for a lot of people to start. If you find that you’re waking up earlier consistently– let’s say you’re going to bed at 11:00 and you’re waking up at 6:15 and you can’t really seem to sleep past that, that’s probably your sleep need. I would say set a goal for being in bed for 7.5 hours. Try to give yourself a little extra time for those days where you actually could need to get more and allow for that to happen.
Our sleep schedules are now regulated by television, light at night, and then alarm clocks in the morning, not the sun going down and then just waking up when the body says to wake up. I think that has a huge impact on how we perform during the day. It’s not like our brains and bodies can accommodate to some of that, but as long as we’re getting close. We’re trying to help you do your best.
Identify, basically estimate a time that you think you need to be in bed to be your best. Try to give it a little bit more. Give yourself more time than maybe you thought at first. Then just evaluate it over a three week period and see, “OK, how am I doing?” Try to pay attention. You’ve got a time series record if you’re tracking on our dashboard, which basically means you can go back over those three weeks and see what each week tells you. Then you can plan accordingly. You might say, “I’m really good with 7.5 hours of time in bed.” It will let you know exactly what time you should be in bed. That’s how I think about sleep. Now you can’t control how well you sleep night by night. I mean, you can a little bit by doing this because you’re going to be making your timing more consistent.
The other thing that you can do is think about what we call “smart light rhythms.” That’s day, evening, and night. During the day, you want to get a lot of bright light into your eye. Now the intensity of light is sometimes difficult to interpret intuitively. What I mean by that is outside light is much, much more intense than indoor light. It’s usually measured on a logarithmic scale, so when you go outside on a fully, bright blue day at noon, the intensity of light is going to be around 100,000 lux or greater. Indoor light is somewhere between 2,000 and 5,000 lux.
If you think about a lot of programmers these days, which the need for programmers is ever increasing because all commerce and everything is going onto the web. We need people to create websites and tools and applications. It’s usually low-light caves that these people are working in. Even though the brightness of the screen can seem bright, it actually is not that intense. So when you don’t get a lot of light during the day, it makes it so that light at night is much more likely to shift your circadian rhythms and put you in perpetual jetlag and make your brain think that it’s 2:00pm instead of 10:00pm when you’re looking at a television, your iPad, you’ve got your lights on at home.
So get outside for a half an hour everyday if you can. Exercising outdoors is great. This is one reason why. Have lunch outside. Take a phone call outside. Take breaks. Get outside if you can.
Then in the evening, you want to dim your environmental lights. There’s a program that a lot of people know about for computers called “f.lux.” It’s free. What it does is it will change the color of your monitor and make it more amber tone so it pulls out the blue light. The blue light is particularly potent at stimulating these retinal ganglion cells that are intrinsically photosensitive, that respond to light, that actually cause your master clock to know what time it is. Bright blue light is actually very good during the day and not good during the evening.
Incandescent or amber bulbs in the evening, both dim, so you want to think about the dimensions and also the color tone. Try to have it more yellow tone or red and keep them dim. That’s in the evening.
Then at night, you want to have your very dark, cool, comfortable, and quiet. That’s going to be very personal. Lights can penetrate our translucent eyelids, so if you sleep and there’s light coming in, whether it’s from just outside your window and you’re in a city, or whatever it may be, you know a full moon, it can affect sleep as well and the amount of melatonin that your brain produces. Trying to keep your room really dark is a pretty good idea given our modern world.
Between those, I think that’s a smart light rhythm. So day, evening, night, a lot of bright blue outdoor light during the day. At evening, dim and amber toned. Then at night, keep your room really, really dark, and I think that’s going to also help with things like sleep, basically your sleep quality measure, which is a little bit harder to make it actionable. The actions takes place more during the day. So those are my tips for how to get really good sleep on a regular basis. I follow them all myself and I fail a lot, too, meaning that I’ll stay up later than my bedtime, but I just try to keep my average by my goal.
It’s funny because there could be a perception that, “Well, this sort of a tool could really be good for somebody who really doesn’t know anything about sleep and is just kind of a neophyte at trying to be healthy.” Not at all. I use it everyday to help me be more mindful about how I’m actually living. It has nothing to do with how much I know or respect and appreciate the value of sleep. It’s still just easy to get off track. There are a lot of things that are pulling us in the direction that would be less healthy, less good sleep.
So I check in, I see where I am, I try to keep my scores in the green because they change green, yellow, red, depending how close you are to your goal. It’s remarkably motivating when my scores turn yellow. I’m like, “Alright, I’m going bed early tonight” because I care about this stuff. I basically give power to the tool. I say, “You know what, I’m going to let this tool help me, so I’m going to allow it to be my health advocate. I’m going to pay attention to these numbers and I’m going to kind of modify my behavior accordingly.”
So we kind of started to touch on some quantified self aspects of health in the end. I think right now, in our world, I’m actually a really big fan of some of the devices and systems that are being created. Quantified self is basically self tracking. At best, I think these new devices simplify the ability to track aspects of our health. At worst, they basically make a lot of false claims about what they can do and commercial products and turn into a feature war because they’re trying to sell products, so their competitor products are going to be like, “Well, we do 20 different things different than this person.” All that does is district somebody from the thing that’s really actionable that is valuable. It’s like they create certain games and stuff like that. They just make it into a toy and possibly make you less likely to attend to the things that matter.
So I like to keep things very, very simple. I do think, kind of like a gas gauge on a car, seeing where you are and seeing when the light turns yellow that you need to fill up with gas, is super super helpful. I know I would run out of gas way more frequently if I didn’t have that feedback. Now I think we have some very legitimate ways in which we can get that feedback on aspects of our lifestyle.
Sleep is a perfect area for these things to help because, again, the guidance isn’t really complex. It’s simple. But it’s easy to forget about. It’s easy to overlook. So this keeps you mindful and present on a daily basis that, “Hey, these are ways that can be healthy and here is how I’m actually doing.” That’s my pitch for how to get good sleep and how to use some of these tools to nurture that.
**Armi Legge:** Dan, thank you so much for coming on the show. Where can people learn more about Dan’s Plan and your work?
**Dan Pardi:** I encourage everybody to go check out dansplan.com. We provide free access to our dashboard, so the tools I was mentioning that help you set goals and then track things like sleep, aspects of physical activity both low intensity and higher intensity.
I think we’re doing some really novel things. We don’t try to do everything. We just want to try to help people get within certain levels, which we call “health zone.” The ultimate goals is to try to help people, including the people who work at the company, just live within what we call that zone of health consistently. I totally encourage you to check it out.
We’re also creating goal-oriented programs for people to pay for, so premium programs. So Stephan Guyenet, who writes at Whole Health Source, one of the best bloggers on the internet, he’s a scientist at the University of Washington, he studies obesity. We’ve been creating this for many months. Stephan and I met at the Ancestral Health Symposium n 2011 and really hit it off. He’s just kind of the perfect partner to do this with. We challenge each other. We debate. It’s exactly what we want. And we know how to move forward. It’s a very creative process that we have. It’s a lot of fun.
At the end of the day, our goal is to try to create something that is the best weight loss and weight management program that is available and we’ve already created that.
It’s funny. I was thinking the other day. In a lot of senses, this is a program, be more, it’s a commitment. We’re committed to this area. The program is going to evolve, and it’s going to change, and it’s going to grow. New science is going to come out. I don’t think there’s going to be any tectonic shifts in what we’re doing. There could be and we’ll respond to that when information comes out that compels us to make that level of change but I think what we have now is really, really solid. We’re going to be releasing a 2.0 version, which is really the first full version of the program probably in a couple of weeks now.
Then we also have a corporate wellness program. We’ve been working on that for a little while also. Basically, we go into companies and we help employees find ways to live a healthier lifestyle at work. We do a lot of relating to how they’re living to just how they’re processing and how they’re performing at their job. That’s a lot of fun, too.
Anyway, I encourage everybody to check it out. There’s that free component that’s really, really good and robust. Then if you have a specific goal for weight management, I also encourage you to check the Ideal Weight program, too.
**Armi Legge:** Dan, that sounds awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the show.
**Dan Pardi:** You have a great podcast, Armi. I really appreciate you having me on. And, yeah, thanks so much.
**Armi Legge:** If you enjoyed this podcast, the best way to show your appreciation is to leave a positive review and ranking on iTunes. To do so, navigate to impruvism.com/itunes, and you’ll be redirected to where you can leave your comments. You can also search google for “Impruvism Radio” and find the same page. Thank you for listening and I will see you next week.
1. Nedeltcheva AV, Kilkus JM, Imperial J, Schoeller DA, Penev PD. Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity. Ann Intern Med. 2010;153(7):435–441. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-153-7-201010050-00006.