How do caffeine and alcohol affect sleep? Is it better to skip a late-night workout, if it’s going to shortchange our sleep? Do melatonin supplements work? Devin Burke, the author of The Sleep Advantage, coaches high achievers and exhausted insomniacs all over the world to get better sleep. Today he coaches us, answering the questions above and offering his insights on how to improve our sleep quality.
Devin tells us why sleep is essential for improved energy, performance, and good health, and he offers practical tips for getting deeper, more restorative sleep (even if the time in bed doesn’t change). Devin shares his 3-2-1 sleep method–a simple approach that has helped countless people sleep more profoundly. Finally, he reviews the relationship between our sleep quality and stress levels during the day. And he warns us of the risk we take with our health when we don’t prioritize sleep.
Check out Devin’s website: devinburke.com
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Within the below transcript the bolded text is Hilda.
Solid sleep improves our mood, energy, performance and health. The question is how do we improve our sleep to get all of that good stuff? This is episode 403 and our guest is Devin Burke. Devin is the author of The Sleep Advantage and the Founder of Sleep Science Academy. He coaches high achievers and exhausted insomniacs all over the world to get better sleep. In this episode, Devin tells us exactly why sleep is essential and what we can do to improve its quality of it, even if the quantity doesn’t change. Devin shares his 3-2-1 Sleep Method for deeper more restorative sleep.
He discusses the effect of alcohol and caffeine on sleep quality and he answers a few questions like whether a melatonin supplement is a good thing or whether it’s preferable to go to the gym late at night so you don’t miss your workout or to hit the hay. Finally, he reviews the relationship between our sleep quality and our stress levels during the day. In some, he reminds us that we jeopardize our health when we don’t prioritize sleep.
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Welcome to the show, Devin.
Thanks for having me. I’m excited to talk sleep with you.
I know most of us drag ourselves out of bed, grab a cup of coffee, struggle to make it through the day and everybody seems to be exhausted, to be honest with you and then they have trouble falling asleep. What is going on?
It’s a huge problem for many people. If you go to any public place, whether it’s an airport, you see people look tired and that’s because a big part of this is the relationship between stress and sleep, which they’re bidirectionally linked. The more stress you experience, the less rest you experience. The less rest you experience, the more stress you experience physically, mentally and emotionally. People get stuck in this loop where they’re stressed so they’re not sleeping. They’re not sleeping and their body’s more stressed, then on and on. It goes until hopefully you read this blog and do some of the things that we’re going to talk about to get out of that paradox because it’s not fun. It affects every important area of your life.
You’re the first person who has ever talked about the relationship between stress and sleep on this show. I hadn’t thought about that before.
For whatever reason, people tend to focus on what’s going on at night. A great night of sleep happens as soon as you wake up. Everything you do throughout your entire day is going to dictate whether you’re going to get a peaceful night’s rest. That peaceful night’s rest is going to affect everything the next day. You can’t separate your day from your night. It’s important for that to land for people.
When you say you can’t separate your day from your night, it makes me think about how some people do wake up in the middle of the night and they are trying to resolve a problem or remember some difficult moment from their day. They can’t go back to sleep because they’re worried. In that way, they may understand that on that level.
That is common. People often say when you ask the question, “Why do you have trouble sleeping?” “I have a racing mind at night. That either gets in the way of me being able to initiate sleep, which we call sleep latency or stay asleep.” People wake up and start thinking about all the what-ifs, coulds and shoulds. Next thing you know, the body is releasing cortisol and adrenaline. Your body is at threat. A body at threat is not going to sleep because it thinks that it needs to be awake for survival. Many people find themselves in this situation night after night.
Let’s talk about how we can lower our stress levels to make sleep more peaceful and restorative.
Something I always like to share is a simple tactical of what you could do tonight. We’ll start there. I call it 3-2-1 Sleep. Three hours before bed, you want to stop eating. The reason is you don’t want to be digesting food. That first quarter of the night is when you’re getting into these deeper stages of sleep, this body restoration and you want your body’s energy to be cleaning up the cancerous cells, flushing out the beta-amyl or the plaque, all the things that the body does during this important stage of sleep.
You want that taking place. You don’t want the blood going to the digestive system to try to digest. Trying to sleep and digest at the same time is not a good combo. Two hours before bed, stop working. This is a huge one, especially since many people work from home, we often take our day into our night. There needs to be what we call a bed buffer between your day and your night. You can’t just turn the brain off. It doesn’t work like that. There needs to be space.
One hour before bed is when you would start a nighttime routine or ritual that doesn’t involve technology for many reasons. The blue light gets in the way of the natural melatonin production but also the hyperarousal from the devices and shows that most people watch, especially the news, which is the worst thing to watch while you’re in bed or right before you go to bed. 3-2-1 Sleep is simple and easy for people to remember and apply.
I want to focus on this last bit, the bedtime routine that has nothing to do with tech. Think about how you would put your kids to bed. You would read them some books. There would be a bath. There was a ritual that we performed with them to help them prepare for sleep. They know, “First, it’s a bath, then it’s a story, a song and a prayer.” With some kids, this can get elongated but the point is their bodies would know, “When this happens, I’m starting to wind down and get ready to rest.” As adults, we don’t do that.
We tell a story that we don’t have the time and that’s a story. You have to make the time. You have to prioritize and protect that important aspect of your time so that you can get the rest you need to get up and do it again. If you treat yourself like you would treat your children, that’s a great bedtime routine. The hot bath is going to drop the core body temperature when you get out of the bath. We need that temperature to drop 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit for sleep to happen. That’s going to support that. The reading is going to help get our minds off of the day’s worries and troubles. Treat yourself like you would treat your kids and you’re going to sleep better without a doubt.
Think about how kids are like, “Wait. We want to keep playing or watch this show.” You’re like, “No, it’s time for this.” We don’t do that with ourselves, “I have to clean the kitchen. I don’t want to go to bed with one dirty dish in the sink. I have one more email I got to shoot out.” It’s like, “No. Let’s be kind to ourselves.” Let’s go back to what you were saying at the top about insufficient sleep. Most of us are running around exhausted. What happens to us when we are in that cycle? When we’re stressed and not getting enough restorative sleep, what are the effects on the body?
There’s not an important area of your life that’s not affected. From a physical health and longevity standpoint, unfortunately, when you’re consistently sleep deprived, that increases your risk of every major disease from heart disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and all of the big ones. Your risk of developing those diseases is enhanced. That’s first and foremost because it’s during the night when our body’s immune system is most active. We all have cancerous cells in our bodies. It’s during the night when those cancerous cells are getting cleared out and autophagy is happening. Our body is clearing out all of the damage.
When you’re consistently sleep-deprived, that increases your risk of every major disease, from heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s – all the big ones.
If we’re not getting enough time in bed and not enough quality sleep, which we can talk about what that means, our body’s not able to clean up the garbage throughout the night. This impacts our health in the long run. Not to mention the impact on our hormones. Specifically, insulin. Some studies show that even after one night of sleeping between 4 to 5 hours, you could look pre-diabetic because your insulin is thrown off, your cortisol levels are increased and that’s the stress hormone and then ghrelin and leptin, which are those signaling hormones for, “I’m full. I’m hungry,” get thrown off. You’re craving sugar and fat like crazy and your body doesn’t know when you’re full. It’s a recipe for weight gain and bad decision-making, which leads us to the next area that’s impacted, which is our cognitive function.
I’m thinking about something I’ve heard and I know you can’t believe everything you read on the internet or see there but somebody was saying that if you have a choice between going to the gym late at night or going to sleep, go to sleep. I feel like that’s a little bit of what you were saying.
If you go to the gym too late, unfortunately, that’ll affect your sleep because what controls our sleep is our body temperature and light. Exercising too close to bedtime heats the body and the body temperature needs to drop for sleep to happen. That’s why they say to have a cold, dark room, which will improve your sleep like sleeping in a cave because that helps you get into the deeper stages of sleep.
That leads us to the quality of sleep that you wanted to touch on. I used to always sleep soundly. Not a lot of tossing and turning, not a lot of moving all night long but I’m not sure that my sleep was always restorative and as profound as it needed to be. What are some of the metrics by which we can measure that? How can we know that our sleep is as restorative and effective as all the things you were discussing, autophagy, working on taking care of us on a cellular level? How can we know that it’s doing that? Is there a way to know?
There are amazing tracking devices that do a good job of showing us how well we’re sleeping. These devices are not perfect but they are getting better as technology continues to improve. Measuring your sleep is a great way of understanding at a deeper level. The device that we use at Sleep Science Academy is the Oura Ring, which is a ring you wear on your finger.
That’s going to measure your body temperature, heart rate variability and the different stages of sleep with deep delta or REM sleep when we talk about quality. We want 20% of our total sleep time to be in that deep delta or REM sleep. Those are the important stages of sleep. You got to get through the initial stages of sleep to get to those stages but people are always surprised when they start to consistently measure their sleep, how little deep sleep and REM sleep they’re getting. This is because of a variety of factors that we could talk about but we’re talking about the quality of sleep.
You want to be in that restorative REM or deep sleep. If people don’t have a device to measure, you can also tell by how fatigued they are during the day. Why is it if you’re in bed for eight hours and you’re like, “I got a good eight hours of sleep,” that you’re still tired? You still need your coffee and something to wake you up in the middle of the afternoon. That means something’s off. You might want to pay attention to the bedtime ritual, sleep hygiene, temperature in your room and all those things that will be a factor in the profanity of your sleep.
You can’t master what you’re not measuring. It’s worth the investment to get even an Apple watch. It doesn’t have to be Oura Ring. Have something that’s going to help you measure your sleep so that you can see the impact when you make the lifestyle changes and the behavior changes, how that impacts your sleep and you can start to correlate, “I did this. I slept better and felt better.” That becomes a new habit and you have the momentum and the motivation to continue those healthy lifestyle habits.
My husband makes fun of me because I go to bed so early. One thing I learned from studying my sleep patterns with the Oura Ring is just because you’re in bed eight hours doesn’t mean you necessarily slept eight hours. There are little moments when I’m turning a little bit or I hear an ambulance outside. I’m waking up. I have my wakeful moments too. I might be in bed for 8 hours but only get 7 hours of sleep.
I adjust for that and take it into account. I go to bed a little bit earlier and he’s like, “You’re like a grandma but who has more energy?” I feel so good when I get sufficient sleep. Let’s talk about that a little bit. When we make the lifestyle changes that you’re recommending, what benefits might we see in our overall health and energy?
First and foremost, you’re going to be able to make better decisions because when you’re well-slept, the prefrontal cortex, the executive functioning part of the brain, is functioning the way that it should be versus being sleep deprived. This is a big one for people. People don’t realize when we’re underslept, we’re making poor decisions. When we get the sleep we need, we’re making better decisions. Our destiny is dictated by our decisions. Every little thing you do throughout the day, when you’re getting the sleep you need, you’re going to be doing it at a higher level. It is important to memory.
When we’re underslept, we make poor decisions. When we get the sleep we need, we make better decisions.
There are a lot of science and studies that show this. When we get the sleep we need, our brain is functioning. We’re able to remember things. That’s because, during the night, short-term memories get shuttled to long-term storage. That happens during REM sleep. Also, emotional traumas are being worked out. Our emotional health or fortitude is stronger. Readers probably know that when you don’t sleep, you feel a little bit more on edge and irritable. That leads to relationship issues, whether that’s with your partner or coworkers. It affects relationships because we don’t feel good. I could go on and on. What’s important to me, sleep affects it and it affects it in a big way.
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To go back to what you were saying before about weight, some people are concerned about their weight. I don’t even talk about that anymore because I feel like overall well-being and that sense of well-being is more important. If you change nothing but prioritize your sleep, you may lose weight because your body will have everything it needs. The hormones will be functioning more properly. It’ll be easier to digest your food.
You’ll get that restorative sleep that helps your body take out the trash and all the things that Devin’s saying. That’s super fascinating to consider. I interviewed a nurse on this one time and she said, “If you don’t change anything else but just prioritize your sleep, you may see the difference in your weight and how you feel in your body.”
If you think about it from a basic survival standpoint, the air is most important. We last a couple of minutes without air. The next in line is water. We last a couple of days without water. The next thing is sleep, food, then exercise. Many people focus so much on their diet and exercise and neglect sleep. They wonder why their body isn’t responding to eating these healthier foods and all the effort that goes into their training regimens. It’s because they’re not getting enough restoration and quality sleep to have that make an impact. That nurse was a sharp lady.
I want to pivot and ask you what made you get into this field of sleep.
Honestly, I thought sleep was a waste of time. Funny enough, growing up, I’m an amazing sleeper and it’s like a superpower. My family would call me narco short for narcoleptic because they would all be watching the Sunday game after church and I would be asleep, passed out on the couch. It wasn’t until somebody reached out for help. It was somebody that I was coaching. I was coaching a lot of high-performing entrepreneurs. This particular person had issues with their sleep and they asked, “I’m having a real issue with my sleep. What do you know about sleep?”
I was honest. I said, “Honestly, I don’t know anything but give some time. Let me see what’s available.” I started to do research as to what was available for people that have sleep issues. I was shocked because what I found were sleeping pills. When I started to understand what sleeping pills do, how they work and the long-term side effects, I was like, “This is not a good solution. This isn’t a solution. It’s a bandaid,” then that got my interest.
As I started to look into the science of sleep and how important it is, I realized, “How did I miss this? Sleep is the foundation that extraordinary health is built on and nobody was talking about it.” That piqued my interest. Long story short. I went down the rabbit hole. I was able to help this person and then I said, “If I can help one person, I could help millions of people. Millions of people have issues with their sleep.” That was many years ago and it’s been nonstop sleep since.
Let’s go back to the sleeping pills because there may be someone reading who’s like, “I take Melatonin. I know that helps me. Is that helpful or not?” What’s your thought on that?
It depends on how they’re taking it and why they’re taking it. There was a meta-analysis done that showed that Melatonin doesn’t help with our sleep. Melatonin is a hormone. Naturally, it is produced in our bodies. You got to be careful. It can be used as an amazing antioxidant. They think Melatonin is an antioxidant. That’s a different conversation. When using Melatonin for sleep, I’m not a huge fan. There’s a whole chapter in my book about sleep supplements and which supplements I would recommend, depending on what somebody struggling with.
The answer isn’t in a pill, whether it’s a supplement or a pharmaceutical pill. They are band-aids. You need to address the underlying root causes, which are how you’re thinking about your sleep, what you’re doing during the day and what you’re not doing during the day. All of these things have a much bigger impact on our actual improvement in our sleep.
Let’s get practical again because you’re good about that. We already talked about the 3-2-1 Sleep Method, which is great. What other lifestyle changes can we make to prioritize sleep and get the most out of it?
The two of the biggest changes that people can make and I always laugh when I bring this up because these are the things that people love, which are caffeine and alcohol. Unfortunately, caffeine blocks adenosine. Adenosine is what builds up in our body that creates what’s called sleep pressure and sleepiness. Caffeine blocks that receptor site. That’s why it gives you this artificial energy. It’s like borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. Having caffeine too late in the day will affect your sleep and your sleep quality.
Having caffeine too late in the day will affect your sleep quality.
People have their upper and then people have their downer, which is alcohol. Unfortunately, alcohol disturbs our sleep. It raises our body temperature. Not to say that you can’t have a nice glass of organic biodynamic wine at dinner but most people are using alcohol as a sedative or to manage their stress. Limiting your use of caffeine as well as alcohol is a good first step and looking at what is creating the most stress in your life. Most people go through their day in a blur. They go from one thing to the next. This is a form of stress. Even if you’re going from one thing that you love to the next thing that you love, there needs to be space.
What I found is when people don’t have space throughout their day, intentional space to rest, to allow their minds and bodies to rest. The body builds up this tension and pressure. A lot of times it’s not even conscious. People are not aware that this tension’s building and then it takes much at the end of the day to discharge that tension. Whereas if people focused on creating some more space and prioritizing some time for rest, mental, emotional or physical rest throughout the day, it would be e much easier for their body to then rest at night.
I’ve seen it modeled with some friends of mine and even one of my daughters has said, “I don’t want to have every minute of my day scheduled out. What if a few nights a week, if not every night of the work week, I have it open so I can either go home and make a meal or hang out with whoever.” I’m like, “This is countercultural because this is the side hustle or everyday hustle culture.” Let’s make sure we’re doing something fun every night or catching up on Netflix, which isn’t even as relaxing as binge-watching things. Our council is a word to the wise.
I’ve seen after working with thousands of people that have very bad sleep issues that the people that take this and run with it make a tremendous difference. It takes being open to change because we often associate busyness with importance. There’s this, “If I’m not busy, then I got nothing going on.” There’s this whole thing that goes on. It’s a cultural thing. People need to understand that’s going to lead to a lot of issues down the road if you don’t see how that’s affecting every aspect of your life. You’re running through your life from one thing to the next. The presence isn’t there which leads me to the next thing.
It’s important for people to practice some type of mindfulness and awareness-based training that allows people to see that they’re not their thoughts. We have thoughts but thoughts don’t have us. Build some emotional intelligence and some head space to analyze what’s going on, the stories that we tell ourselves throughout the day that create all this unnecessary stress. Having the skills to be able to do that yields massive results. Not just in your sleep but in your happiness, joy and ability to be present and live a happy, healthy life.
You’ve worked with thousands of people and I know you’ve written your book, The Sleep Advantage and affected many people. Tell us a story or two of people whom you’ve seen this prioritization of sleep transformation take place in their lives.
The people that we work with are people that are at the end of the road. They’ve been on sleeping medications. They’ve tried the sleep hygiene stuff. They have the perfect sleep environment and they’re still not sleeping. I always tell them they’ve tried everything that addresses the symptoms but not the root cause. One particular person that I work with whom I’d love to share the story, her name was Peg. For 30 years, she was from medication to medication, trying to solve this. She realized that it was these subtle little patterns of trying to force and control sleep.
Sleep is not something you can force or control. Sleep happens. Sleep is a result. It’s not the problem. Once she understood the ways in which she was relating to sleep and how she was trying to force herself to control it and address the symptoms but not the underlying stress and the stories she was telling herself as to what was happening if she wasn’t sleeping and all this stuff that was creating the stress that then kept her up, she was able to sleep and her life changed.
Sleep is not something you can force or control. Sleep happens. Sleep is a result. It’s not the problem.
Think about 30 years of being on sleeping medication and not sleeping. She was losing her memory. She was forgetting people’s names. Once she was able to get off the sleep meds and restore her natural sleep cycles, her memory came back. She had a new lease on life. I always remember her because it was such a drastic transformation. A lot of people find themselves maybe not 30 years on sleeping medications but a lot of people could relate to that story.
I feel like I’ve heard of some historical figure who was like, “I only need four hours of sleep.” There are these people who swear that they can function optimally on fewer hours. Is that true or a myth? What do you think?
Interestingly enough, there is a very small percentage. It’s estimated about 1% of the population that can get away with blessed sleep. Most people think that they’re this percentage and they’re not. They wish that they were this percentage. Most people do not have this short-sleeper superpower. They’re sacrificing a lot. It’s not sustainable. You can get away with less sleep for a little bit of time but eventually, it will catch up with you and it’s not worth it. Life is so much better when you get the rest that your mind and body need. You can get a genetic test to see if you are one of these short sleepers but 99% of people that even if you took action on that, it would come back that you are not, unfortunately.
When you speak about the benefits of sleep, I feel like you’ve experienced this firsthand. I wanted to ask if after you did some of this study, you changed some habits, even though you feel like it was a superpower that you could sleep at any time and if you saw some changes.
What I realized is one of the reasons why sleep was a superpower was because I wasn’t doing it as well as I thought. When I started to study my sleeping patterns, I wasn’t getting into the deeper stages of REM sleep. The reason why I was probably such a good sleeper was that I wasn’t doing it very well. My body was trying to catch up on the sleep. That was an eye-opening thing for me. When I started to implement some of the things that I’ve even shared in this conversation, it did make a huge difference physically, mentally, emotionally and creatively. I have more energy, juice and joy. That didn’t happen overnight. It took a lot of openness and experimentation but it made a big difference. That’s what keeps me passionate about sharing this message.
I’m so glad you did. Who knows? Maybe we should do part two and talk about the most common sleep problems and how to address them but I feel like our time is elapsing. I need to wrap up and ask you the question I’d like to pose at the end. If the reader could do one thing to improve their health, what would you recommend that they do?
Prioritizing your sleep. That’s the big thing. When people prioritize their sleep and they get to experience the benefits of what that does, it’s better than any drug. That’s the one tip.
Devin, thank you so much. This has been a great conversation. I appreciate talking to you.
Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate you.
Our guest was Devin Burke. Visit his website at DevinBurke.com to check out his book, the Sleep Advantage and other resources. You can find me at HolisticHilda.com. For a letter to the editor from a recent journal. Connie, a chapter leader from Kansas had this to say, “Thriving on raw milk, my chubby, very cute, happy basketball-loving nineteen-month-old grandson is thriving on raw milk. He does not want to eat. He was born at home, nursed and did not develop chewing capabilities until after a year old. He would sometimes gnaw on homemade arrowroot crackers. He would not touch egg yolks but now he doesn’t want anything except raw milk.”
“One day, no doubt he will find his appetite and will chow down food like his five siblings. I find it fascinating that when you give children the right thing, they thrive even when it seems minimal to us. I love to recommend raw milk, especially in situations where digestive issues are serious. In these cases, getting adequate nutrition is paramount but difficult. Raw milk, since the greens are already processed through the four stomachs of the cow, assimilates easily and gives tremendous benefits. I grew up on it, gave it to my five children and still drink it.”
Thank you for your letter. This is encouraging. We would love to know your testimonials as well. What has made a difference in your health? Write us at Info@WestonAPrice.org. Put Letter To The Editor in the subject line and tell us one of your stories. Perhaps how the diet has helped you, the show or any of our resources. Thank you much for reading. Stay well. Hasta pronto.
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About Devin Burke
Devin Burke helps high achievers and exhausted insomniacs get and stay asleep so they can wake up with more peace, power and presence.
He a bestselling author, speaker, renowned sleep coach and founder of Sleep Science Academy which helps people stop suffering and start sleeping using a unique holistic approach based in science.
He was named one of the “Top 25 Health Coaches in America.” and has studied innovative holistic coaching methods from some of the world’s top health and human performance experts for over a decade.
As a speaker and coach, he has inspired thousands of people to open their eyes to what is possible through creating new sleep, health and performance habits and routines.
He has studied innovative coaching methods from some of the world’s top health and human performance experts including Dr. Josh Axe, Tony Robbins, and Brendon Burchard.
Devin believes that we create our reality and in living in the field of infinite possibility. He believes that our bodies will heal when giving the right conditions to do so and that small consistent choices lead to big lasting results!