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How To Determine The Hours Of Sleep You Need Each Night, with Dr. Michael Breus

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

One of the common questions we get asked is about the optimal hours of sleep needed each night. Unfortunately, there’s no right or wrong answer, as the amount varies from person to person. So how many hours do YOU need? In this fourth and final episode in a series with sleep doctor Michael Breus, he and the Amens give you a strategy to determine your nightly sleep target, as well as additional sleep tips to help you get the most out of your nights.

For more information on Dr. Michael Breus, visit https://thesleepdoctor.com/

Read Full Transcript

Daniel Amen, MD:

Welcome to the Brain Warrior’s Way podcast. I’m Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

And I’m Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.

Daniel Amen, MD:

The Brain Warrior’s Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit amenclinics.com.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

The Brain Warrior’s Way podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to brainmd.com.

Welcome back. We are still here with Dr. Michael Breus, and I mean, I got to tell you, I am learning so much about sleep. We are just having such a good time. This is fascinating. In this episode, we’re going to answer your questions. We’ve got some amazing questions. We asked you for them. You sent them. Dr. Michael Breus, our expert today, is going to help us answer these questions. Welcome back, Dr. Breus.

Michael Breus, PhD:

Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Absolutely. I’m just, I’m sitting here dumbfounded with all the information I’m learning. It’s been amazing. Let’s talk about this. The first question is, what could cause patients to lose sleep during the COVID-19 pandemic? I think you kind of answered that, but if there’s anything more specific you want to touch on, now would be the time.

Michael Breus, PhD:

Well, I think we talked about it, but just to, in summary, I think that we’ve got too much media going on. That’s causing a significant amount of stress in people. I think people need to make sure that they are maintaining their wake-up time. Even if you want to go to bed at a variable time, I don’t think I care as much as if you just have a consistent wake up time. Remember, caffeine is not your friend right now. A little bit is okay, but don’t go overboard and you really want to try to avoid alcohol too close to bedtime. I think those are the big things that we need to make sure that people know and move, move, move. You’ve got to have movement. We recover. Sleep is recovery. If we don’t have anything to recover from, it makes it kind of tough.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Love that.

Daniel Amen, MD:

What’s the ideal number of hours of sleep?

Michael Breus, PhD:

I wish that was an easy question to answer.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yeah, it’s weird, because he is golden at seven hours. If he wakes me up with seven hours, I’m not a nice person for the rest of the day. I know I need eight to eight and a half.

Michael Breus, PhD:

Yeah. I would argue that it’s different for everybody.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yeah.

Michael Breus, PhD:

Everybody can actually find their sleep need, if they want it. Right? There’s an easy formula that you can do it. Number one, you learn your chronotype. I’ll tell you exactly when to sleep, but if you don’t want to do that, that’s okay too. The average sleep cycle is 90 minutes long. The average person has five of these cycles. Five times 90 is 450 minutes divided by 60, is 7.5 hours. Let’s get one thing straight. Eight hours is a myth. I mean, the math doesn’t even work, right? It just doesn’t make sense. But here’s what you can do with the math. Let’s say that you normally wake up at [6:30]. Count backwards seven and a half hours. That puts your bedtime at 11 o’clock. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

Go to bed at 11. If you wake up five minutes before your alarm at [6:25], guess what? You figured out your sleep schedule. If you still require alarm after five or seven days, go to bed 15 minutes earlier. The goal here is to be able to wake up roughly five minutes before your alarm goes off. Now, let’s say you say to me, “Michael, I went to bed at 11 and I woke up at [5:30], not six 30. Well, then go to bed about an hour later. What’ll happen is, you’ll figure out where your swim lane is for sleep. It may or may not be identical to your partner. That has everything to do with gender, age, medical condition. There’s a million reasons why you and your partner may or may not have the exact same sleep schedule. You need to have the right amount and quality of sleep for you as an individual.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I would-

Daniel Amen, MD:

Does that mean ours is okay?

Michael Breus, PhD:

Yeah, because there’s actually some imaging studies that suggest if you’ve got less than seven hours, you have less blood flow. I’m very worried about people who only get four hours of sleep at night that are tweeting in the middle of the night-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Okay, Let’s not go there.

Daniel Amen, MD:

But, I heard that Churchill only got four hours of sleep at night and ended up with dementia toward the end of his life and Margaret Thatcher, same thing.

Michael Breus, PhD:

Yeah.

Daniel Amen, MD:

There’s some people that say, “I can do four hours and I’m just fine.”

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

But, they can, or should?

Daniel Amen, MD:

Is that really true, given that your brain cleans and washes itself, perhaps it’s not getting enough time.

Michael Breus, PhD:

Here’s what’s interesting. There’s actually genetically short-sleepers. It’s a syndrome. We call it short-sleeper syndrome and there are people whose bodies will literally only allow them to sleep four hours a night. Some people say those people hit the genetic lottery, and they have now 20 hours in their day to do … and to be clear, they sleep four hours and they function just like you and me. They’re perfectly fine. Not a big issue. This is an incredibly small percentage of the population. We’re talking less than a quarter of 1%. Okay. While you may try to aspire to having less sleep in your life, what I would argue is, what you really want is good quality sleep. It’s not about shortening the amount of sleep. It’s about increasing the quality of sleep, and then what actually happens is your amount shortens by itself.

Let me give you an example of what happened to me, in my sleep. About six years ago, I decided that was going to lock and load on my Wolf’s chronotype schedule. I was just going to follow it and do exactly what the data said I should do. I was going to bed at midnight. I was waking up around [7:30], naturally. I figured that was great. Within six months, I started waking up, by myself, [7:15]. Didn’t really think much about it. Another six months went by now. I’m waking up at [7:00]. Guys, I wake up at [6:15] now. I still go to bed at midnight. Okay.

My sleep is so consistent and I track my sleep with my ring. My sleep is so consistent. I get all the sleep I need. I get all the stage three, four sleep. I get all the REM sleep. What’s happened is my body’s become more efficient, because of the consistency of my sleep. When people have inconsistent schedules, you require more sleep to just get some of the good stuff in there, but when you’re consistent, you don’t. Go for it.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I think that, that’s why I need more sleep than he does, because I mean, if a door opens in the middle of the night, I’m out of bed. I’ve got a weapon. I’m looking forward. It’s crazy. I’m always like on the lookout, but because of that, and I mean, if there’s any lights, if there’s any sound-

Michael Breus, PhD:

Right, right.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I wake up. I think it takes me longer to get to sleep. I wonder if he needs less sleep because literally, he climbs in bed, gone, he’s out.

Daniel Amen, MD:

No, that’s not true.

Michael Breus, PhD:

Here’s the-

Daniel Amen, MD:

I play puzzles and-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

But then he’s out. [inaudible [00:07:19] When he’s out and he’s then out.

Michael Breus, PhD:

Here’s the good news. There’s no couple that I have ever met, has more than one insomniac in the couple, because they drive each other too damn crazy. Right? He’s always going to be a good sleeper. Right? We’re going to work on you and you’re going to continue to be pissed off that he’s always the good sleeper.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Is that what I need, more sleep? Because I feel like I start to finally get good sleep, sometime around four o’clock in the morning or five o’clock in the morning.

Michael Breus, PhD:

Yeah.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Right.

Michael Breus, PhD:

Yeah, honestly, there’s a likelihood that you could be going to bed too early and we would want to compact your sleep and there might be some supplementation that we could help you with.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Well, I take a lot of supplements.

Michael Breus, PhD:

Well, we could help you with that.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Okay, two more questions. Tana, You’re going to ask-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

That’s one of our questions.

Daniel Amen, MD:

What about sleep trackers?

Michael Breus, PhD:

Yes.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Do you like Sleep Cycle? Do you like Fitbit? Do you like the Oura Rings? What do you-

Michael Breus, PhD:

I’m going to tell you what I like, but I want to be very clear that I was recently asked to be on the clinical advisory board for Oura Ring. I do wear one. To be clear, I’ve been wearing one much longer than before they came to me and started talking to me. I’ve been involved in sleep tracking with multiple companies over the years. Here’s what I can tell you. Nobody is good. Okay. Everybody has issues. Here’s why. Sleep is a complicated process. Look, if you were tracking steps, it’s … my daughter can … That’s a math equation. Okay. That’s a calculus. What’s the length of my leg? What’s my stride? How long am I going? How many steps did I take?

That’s an easy thing for a device to measure, but with sleep, how do you create the score? Is it how quickly you fall asleep? Is it how quickly you get to REM sleep, and is it how much deep sleep is it? Number of awakening? Is it the length of awakenings? I could go on for a week with all of these different variables. There’s multiple issues with sleep trackers that are out there. Number one, nobody has the same definition. Can you believe that? Nobody has said, “This is how we all should define light sleep, deep sleep, REM sleep.” What I get on my Oura Ring could be different from your WHOOP Strap, could be different from your Sleep Cycle. The definitions have not been there.

What do I do, Michael? How do I make heads or tails of it? Is it even worthwhile for me to get a tracker? Yes, it is. But I’m going to tell you exactly how to use it. Don’t look at the absolute data. Look at the relative data. Okay? If I look at my Oura Ring and it says, “Michael, you only got four minutes of deep sleep,” I don’t care, because I know I didn’t get only four minutes of deep sleep. If every night it tells me that I only get four minutes, then I’m probably good because honestly, there’s no way that that happens. But if I get four minutes one night, 700 minutes the next night and 37 minutes the next night, I want to know the Delta. I want to know the change. That’s when I want to look in and see what’s going on.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

You’re looking for patterns?

Michael Breus, PhD:

Exactly. I’m looking for patterns and changes. I’m not looking for, Oh my gosh. I only got 12% REM and my body needs 16%. That is a game nobody is going to win.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Okay.

Daniel Amen, MD:

All right. What about supplements and sleep?

Michael Breus, PhD:

Yeah. Every single time that I talk to a patient, there’s four different things that I want to know are up to, what I call, par levels. Magnesium.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yes.

Michael Breus, PhD:

Melatonin.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yes.

Michael Breus, PhD:

Iron and vitamin D. All four of those have been shown to have dramatic, dramatic effects on sleep. The very first thing that I do when I get a new client or I’m working with somebody, is I’m like, “Let’s get bloods done, and let’s figure this out.” Magnesium is one of those things that absolutely helps calm people down, something that I recommend people taking in the evenings. Vitamin D is actually a circadian pacemaker, and it actually is an energy provider, so I ask people to take that in the mornings. By the way, a simple side note, I think it’s something like 95% of people who have died from COVID are vitamin D-deficient.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yeah. Yeah.

Michael Breus, PhD:

Everybody out there, go buy some damn vitamin D and start taking it. Then iron, specifically more on the female side than on the male side, because I’m always looking for restless leg syndrome, anemia, things like that, that can be going on to affect sleep. Then, of course, melatonin production. I’m 52 years old. My melatonin is starting to decline. That’s one of the things that can happen at age 52 years old. Am I going to, I’m considering taking a melatonin supplement if I were to need it, but to be fair, I sleep great. I fall asleep exactly at the same time every night. I wake up at the same time every day. I really don’t need any melatonin in my system, even though I do know that it’s starting to decline.

Now, if over the next year, two years, three years, all of a sudden, my schedule starts shifting like crazy, well then yeah, it might make sense. From a melatonin perspective, I only supplement melatonin in my patients who are a little bit older and who have circadian rhythm issues or are using it for jet lag. There is one group of people that I do use melatonin in that’s different than any other group, and those are autistic children. I am not a fan of melatonin in anybody under the age of 18. Remember everyone, melatonin is a hormone. Okay? This is not something to fool around with. It’s not like a mineral or a vitamin. This is a hormone and hormones have dramatic, dramatic effects. It also depends when you take it, how much you take. There’s a whole idea behind how to take melatonin effectively and whether or not you need it. I’ve written a blog about it. Actually, I’ve written three blogs about it, and we’ll put those in the show notes as well.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Awesome. I agree with everything you just said. I love all of those. May have a whole sleep cocktail. Melatonin. Magnesium are my go-to one. One thing-

Michael Breus, PhD:

How much melatonin do you take?

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

How much is three now? Three of ours?

Daniel Amen, MD:

Of Restless Sleep?

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Time-release, yeah.

Daniel Amen, MD:

It’s about a milligram.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

About one milligram.

Michael Breus, PhD:

Yeah, because you really want it to be somewhere between a half and one and a half milligrams. So many people are taking three, five, 10 milligrams.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Oh, no, I feel drunk when … Yeah, I feel.

Michael Breus, PhD:

Yeah. It’s terrible.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I get a hangover. But, so that really helps me, but it needs to be time-released for me. Otherwise I wake up. But the one thing that really helped me, because of COVID and then also the menopause thing, my brain got busy and I never thought that I would like GABA, taking a little bit of GABA in the evenings, settled my brain down.

Daniel Amen, MD:

So much [inaudible [00:13:32].

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I say, no. So much less.

Daniel Amen, MD:

We just produced our 15th Public Television Special, and we did this one together because Tana is-

Michael Breus, PhD:

Amazing.

Daniel Amen, MD:

When I write the scripts and she criticizes them-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Well, I have a critical mind.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Yeah, yeah.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

But I find myself saying no, so much less.

Daniel Amen, MD:

The level of cooperation was so much better.

Michael Breus, PhD:

I love it. I called [inaudible [00:14:01]

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I’m a critical … I’m an ICU nurse. Of course, I have critical thinking. That’s how I [inaudible [00:14:05]

Michael Breus, PhD:

Right. Well, I mean, so first of all, dolphins are critical thinkers. That’s just who they are. That’s part of who she is, that she’s always going to be that. You love that about her, but there are days when it probably isn’t so much fun. I get it. Right? But, GABA are the brakes of the brain.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Right.

Michael Breus, PhD:

I love using GABA with people, when we have good GABA, PharmaGABA in particular, I happen to like quite a bit. T.

hat seems to work well with patients. My son takes GABA for anxiety and finds it to be highly effective.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

My daughter too.

Michael Breus, PhD:

Yeah. I mean, there’s things out there that can be very effective from a supplement standpoint. Arguably, the most studied herb is actually valerian. Some people find it-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

I like it. People say it gives them weird dreams, but I like it. I like the tea.

Michael Breus, PhD:

Yeah, it’s stinky though. It smells terrible.

Daniel Amen, MD:

It’s stinky. That’s the problem.

Michael Breus, PhD:

Yeah, I think that’s the problem. We have valerian and sometimes people complain about it.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Michael, you have just been a joy.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

So much good. I feel like there’s, we just need to go on and on.

Daniel Amen, MD:

We should have you back.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Yes.

Michael Breus, PhD:

I’d love to come back.

Daniel Amen, MD:

And be on your podcast.

Michael Breus, PhD:

Thank you.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Yeah. I think we’re getting close to 10 million downloads for the Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast.

Michael Breus, PhD:

Amazing.

Daniel Amen, MD:

People can learn more about your work, thesleepdoctor.com. Go to chronoaquiz.com. Fun. Tana and I actually took a, while we were doing this. So, if you saw me looking down, I wasn’t answering email. Michael’s got books. The Power of When, I think as your latest book. You can catch him on Dr. Oz or The Doctors. We’re just great that we’ve become friends-

Michael Breus, PhD:

Sure.

Daniel Amen, MD:

… and a big fan of you and your work, and thrilled to introduce you to the Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast. For those listening, what did you learn? I have all these notes from our phone. Write them down, post them, take a picture of it. Post them on any of your social media sites, hashtag BrainWarriorswaypodcast. Also, hashtag thesleepdoctor.

Michael Breus, PhD:

Definitely.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Share this information, because when you sleep your brain and your life is-

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

So good. Thank you so much.

Daniel Amen, MD:

Thank you Michael.

Michael Breus, PhD:

Absolutely. Thank you guys. Just one quick shout out to all of your guys, sweet dreams from the Sleep Doctor.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

Thank you so much. Bye-bye.

Michael Breus, PhD:

Bye now.

Tana Amen, BSN RN:

If you’re enjoying the Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, please don’t forget to subscribe, so you’ll always know when there’s a new episode and while you’re at it, feel free to give us a review or five-star rating, as that helps others find the podcast.

Dr. Daniel Amen:

If you’re considering coming to Amen Clinics or trying some of the brain healthy supplements from BrainMD, you can use the code podcast 10 to get a 10% discount on a full evaluation at amenclinics.com or a 10% discount on all supplements at brainmdhealth.com. For more information, give us a call at 855-978-1363.