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Sideshow: Olympic Sleep Consultant

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Sideshow: Olympic Sleep Consultant

Oct 26, 2021
Learn how the U.S. Olympic weightlifting team used a sleep performance director to optimize performance and his tips about getting better sleep.

Episode Transcript

This content was originally created for audio. Some elements such as tone, sound effects, and music can be hard to translate to text. As such, the following is a summary of the episode and has been edited for clarity. For the full experience, we encourage you to subscribe and listen— it's more fun that way.

Scot: Welcome to the "Sideshow" on "Who Cares About Men's Health." We're going to talk about an article that I found about sleep. This is kind of interesting. But the first question I have for you guys, Troy and Mitch, is would you like a sleep consultant? Would you like to have somebody in your life that would help you make sure that you're getting the optimal amount of sleep?

Mitch: Are they sitting and watching me sleep or . . . Because that's the first thing I thought of. I don't know if that's accurate, but just what do you mean?

Troy: Yes. There are people who do that.

Mitch: I know. But it just sounds . . .

Troy: They're also called stalkers, but yeah.

Mitch: Just pull up a chair and watch me toss and turn.

Scot: That's right. Maybe you should lay on your left side, Mitch, for a little bit. I notice you seem uncomfortable on your right side.

Mitch: Right.

Scot: "Thanks, sleep consultant."

Troy: I'm going to say no, I would not want that just, because it would just make me more frustrated than I already am. I know my sleep is not good.

Scot: So this is kind of interesting. In the Olympics, Olympic teams, a lot of times they have coaches and trainers and physical therapists and massage therapists and all that so they can perform at the height of their abilities. In Tokyo, the U.S. weightlifting team had another person on the team to help athletes perform at the top of their game. It was a sleep performance director. They're the only Olympic team to have such a thing on their staff. And this person's job essentially . . . He said, "I'm a sleep doper, is what I am. I just try to manipulate using people's natural rhythms and sleep to make sure that they get the maximum amount of sleep and recovery."

Troy: Sorry, which team was this?

Scot: The U.S. weightlifting team.

Troy: Oh, wow. And only the weightlifting team. It wasn't like the soccer team or anyone else?

Scot: Yeah. This year, it was just the weightlifting team. So Jeffrey Durmer, Dr. Jeffrey Durmer, he's a neuroscientist who specializes in sleep, and he's been doing this since 2013. He's been a sleep consultant that helps optimize athletes' performance through sleep programs and just using natural physiology and science to improve the sleep.

I thought this was an interesting thing. He said, "What we found is the concept of overtraining syndrome really is not about overtraining. It's about under-recovery." And when we talk about the core four, we talk about activity, nutrition, emotional health, and sleep as important components to your health. And I think that really underlines how important sleep is, first of all, that Olympic team had a sleep consultant, and then this notion of under-recovery.

Something else that the doctor said that I really, really liked was this notion of, "Don't think of going to sleep as ending your day. Think about it as getting ready for tomorrow." You guys like that?

Troy: I like it. Here's my thought on sleep. And it's funny, I was just thinking about this today. Sleep is the new smoking. I feel like we're going to look back . . . honestly, I think we're going to look back in 30 years and be like, "What were we thinking?" in terms of our approach to sleep, in terms of often disregarding it. Obviously, we're seeing changes there, but we feel like, "Oh, anyone who sleeps eight hours a night is weak. I admire people who sleep five hours a night and look how productive they are."

And I think in 30 years, we're going to look back and be . . . kind of how we look at smoking in the 1950s and '60s now. You look back at the doctors who would smoke and appear in ads and be like, "Smoking is healthy." It's funny. Maybe I thought about that because I'm actually listening to a book on the history of tobacco right now.

Yeah, I feel like sleep is the new smoking. And in 30 years, we're going to be like, "Wow, we were stupid."

Scot: The doctor said that the most important part of his job as a sleep performance director is first educating the athletes about the benefits and necessity of sleep. So there's this mentality, like you referenced, Troy, "I'll sleep when I'm dead," or when you're an athlete, you've got to use all those waking hours to train.

Troy: Yeah.

Scot: So that's the first thing. And then the second thing is to actually help the athletes and the individuals sleep better. And we've talked about some of this stuff before, but I think it's worth repeating. I would like to have a sleep expert on and talk about this notion of, out of the three of us, maybe one of us does better going to sleep at 3:00 in the morning and sleeping their eight hours until whenever they get up. This notion of you have to get up at 6:00 in the morning or 5:00 in the morning, that doesn't necessarily work because everybody has their own kind of natural sleep rhythms, if you will.

Troy: Yeah. But it's fascinating to me too, and I think we talked to Kelly Baron about that, the idea that there are short sleepers out there. People who function just fine on three, maybe four hours a night. And her response was that, "No, they don't. These people don't exist. They just have learned to be tired." They've learned to be tired, and that's how they function.

We all need sleep. We're not superhuman. And it's so prevalent in the medical profession. That's what's so hard for me. It's just this idea that it's crazy how . . . As medical professionals, sure, I'm going to tell patients who need sleep, but among our profession, how we disregard that. And we even look at people who prioritize that as weak or unfit.

I think in our society, larger society, it's in so many areas people disregard it. And certainly in the tech industry, I think there's a lot of that there where it's like, "Yeah, you can work all day and party all night, or work all night too and get by on four hours of sleep," and that's the definition of success. So, hopefully, that'll change.

Scot: Yeah, the short sleeper notion that Dr. Baron talked about, I think about that a lot. The notion that they've done research. There are still these people in the world that say, "I only need four hours of sleep, and I work great. I actually do better than if I sleep too much."

But what their research found that I wanted to also throw out there is they do things to really keep themselves awake. They drink a lot of caffeine beverages, or a lot of sugar beverages, or they really amp up their excitement level and their intensity to try to push through it.

So it's not necessarily they don't need fewer hours of sleep. It's just they found strategies to get around that and cheat sleep a little bit, which, as you said, cheating sleep, not a good idea.

Troy: Yeah. And I think as they studied those people, too, they found that they engage in multiple what they referred to as microsleeps during the day, where essentially, their brain is turned off. Their eyes are open, but their brain is off, which is a little scary if you're driving. That happens and they may try napping or just . . . essentially, involuntarily napping, just doze off for 10, 15 minutes just to try and . . . Their body is trying to compensate.

Mitch: Well, for me, when I'm hearing Troy talk about the social impact of how it's cool not to sleep, etc., I think the one that I get tripped up on a lot is, "Am I sleeping right?" And for sleep to be such a standard biological process, there's a part of me that's like, "Oh, I have to have the most perfect sleep hygiene. Am I sleeping right? How do I optimize whatever?"

And so I guess what I wonder is, does the consultant help you figure out how to do that? Because that would be great, especially if you're trying to personalize and figure out what works best for you, rather than just what works for everyone.

Scot: This consultant in this article did give some suggestions, so I'll go ahead and go through those. We have heard some of them. There's a couple of them that I hadn't heard before.

So wind down before bed. Slow down 30 to 45 minutes before you go to sleep. This individual suggested setting an alarm even to remind yourself to do that. How many times have you been like, "Oh, geez. I've got to go to bed now"? You don't get that 30 to 45 minutes to wind down. So meditation, reading, stretching, anything that helps you settle.

The second suggestion is to cool your core. So take a warm shower or a bath and then rapidly cool your body in the air.

Troy: Oh, interesting.

Scot: And that helps you fall asleep faster. Also, belly breathing will help with that as well.

Troy: Haven't heard those before.

Scot: Treat the bedroom as a recovery sanctuary. So the technology stays out. We've heard that, right?

Troy: No TV.

Scot: You can't be reading that stuff. Yeah, not only the light of the technology, but sometimes the content when you're scrolling and looking through the comments of Facebook or social media

Troy: Yeah, it gets your blood pressure up.

Scot: Don't add anything until you've eliminated stuff. So light, noise, heat, bed discomfort, or objects that stimulate wakefulness.

Include sleep as part of your training. This was the notion that sleep is your basis for your performance the next day. So think of your sleep as the beginning of tomorrow, instead of the end of today.

And then be mindful of your own sleep habits and patterns. Are you giving yourself enough time to sleep with a regular routine?

And if you still are doing all these things, you're winding down, you're trying to get the eight hours, and you're getting to bed on a consistent time, you're getting up at a consistent time, and you still don't feel rested, then they suggest you get professional advice from a sleep physician.

So there are a couple extra tips for how to make your sleep a little bit better. Any final thoughts on that?

Troy: Yeah, it's got some interesting points in there. Again, I hadn't heard that about the shower and then cooling your body core down after that. That's an interesting concept.

The other stuff, like you said, Scot, the screen time, that makes great sense, and having that 30- to 45-minute wind-down time, definitely essential just to slow the brain down, decrease all the external stimuli, and then be ready to go to sleep.

Scot: Hey, this is Scot. Thanks for checking out the "Sideshow" episode. By the way, I've got a couple of extra little sleep tips. So these are some thoughts and concepts that have come up over the course of the podcast tying back into the core four, and just remembering how your activity, your nutrition, your stress, your sleep, and your genetics can impact your health. They all interrelate. They're not separate things.

So, over the course of the podcast, we've learned nutrition can also have an impact on your sleep. So take a look at how late you're eating, how close to bedtime you're eating, how much you're eating.

We've talked to Thunder Jalili about intermittent fasting. And if you stop eating before bedtime a few hours, sometimes that can help you sleep. I know it definitely changed the way that I sleep when I stopped eating, say, at 6:00 p.m. versus having a snack at 9:00 p.m. or 10:00 p.m.

Another one of the core four is activity. So getting some activity can help you with your sleep. Again, I know from personal experience if I get the activity that I need to get during the day, but not too much because if you overtrain, that can actually limit your sleep, but getting some activity, making sure that you get out and being active will help you with your sleep as well over time.

Of course, stress can really impact your sleep. So we have some old episodes on some better tools to deal with stress you might want to check out. Or you might want to get some sort of help and find somebody you can talk to to get those tools to deal with stress.

Alcohol and other substances can impact your sleep as well. Alcohol is notorious because a lot of people think it actually helps them fall asleep, but research has shown that you do not sleep as well after you've had alcohol. You don't get into that deep sleep. So that could be another cause. And other substances you might want to check out for smoking or drugs.

And then there could be some medical conditions that some of the symptoms might be sleep-related. They impact your sleep. Obviously, the obvious one is you have to get up and go to the bathroom. It could be something going on with your bladder, your kidneys, or it could be a health condition that you're not aware of.

So if you're not sleeping, those are some other things you can check out. A good first step is to go to your primary care physician and just let them know that you're not sleeping very well, and you can start working through some of those things.

You can also check out some of our past episodes where we talked about sleep. Episode 6, we talked about if sleep trackers work or not. Episode 11, how to beat your insomnia. So some tips there from our sleep expert, Kelly Baron.

And then Episode 44, tips for better sleep. And those are some of the sleep hygiene things that we briefly talked about here, but we have a little bit more of an expanded conversation with sleep expert, Kelly Baron.

And then Episode 45, that's your mental health toolbox episode. Just such a great fallback episode with some exercises, some breathing exercises that might help you as well.

All right. Thanks for checking out the show. Next week, we're really super stoked because we're going to have a migraine update. We had a show about men and migraines and we learned . . . Well, we knew Troy had migraines, but we learned that Mitch also suffered from migraines, even though he wasn't admitting it to himself. And they both went to a doctor to find out more to see if they can get help, and we'll find out about that next week on "Who Cares About Men's Health."

One last thing, if you know somebody that would get use out of this podcast, please do us a favor and share it with them whether it's on social media or in person just by saying, "Hey, I've got a really cool podcast you might enjoy," if there's a specific episode that might help somebody. It's the best way to help us get into the ears of more men and help more men care about their health.

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Thanks for listening. Thanks for caring about men's health.

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