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/
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What’s the ideal number of hours of sleep?
I wish that was an easy question to answer.
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.
Yeah. I would argue that it’s different for everybody.
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.
Does that mean ours is okay?
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-
Okay, Let’s not go there.
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.
There’s some people that say, “I can do four hours and I’m just fine.”
But, they can, or should?
Is that really true, given that your brain cleans and washes itself, perhaps it’s not getting enough time.
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.
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-
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.
No, that’s not true.
I play puzzles and-
But then he’s out. [inaudible [00:07:19] When he’s out and he’s then out.
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.
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.
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.
Well, I take a lot of supplements.
Well, we could help you with that.
Okay, two more questions. Tana, You’re going to ask-
That’s one of our questions.
What about sleep trackers?
Do you like Sleep Cycle? Do you like Fitbit? Do you like the Oura Rings? What do you-
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.
You’re looking for patterns?
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.
All right. What about supplements and sleep?
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.
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.
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.
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-
How much melatonin do you take?
How much is three now? Three of ours?
Of Restless Sleep?
It’s about a milligram.
About one milligram.
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.
Oh, no, I feel drunk when … Yeah, I feel.
Yeah. It’s terrible.
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.
So much [inaudible [00:13:32].
I say, no. So much less.
We just produced our 15th Public Television Special, and we did this one together because Tana is-
When I write the scripts and she criticizes them-
Well, I have a critical mind.
But I find myself saying no, so much less.
The level of cooperation was so much better.
I love it. I called [inaudible [00:14:01]
I’m a critical … I’m an ICU nurse. Of course, I have critical thinking. That’s how I [inaudible [00:14:05]
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.
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.
My daughter too.
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-
I like it. People say it gives them weird dreams, but I like it. I like the tea.
Yeah, it’s stinky though. It smells terrible.
It’s stinky. That’s the problem.
Yeah, I think that’s the problem. We have valerian and sometimes people complain about it.
Michael, you have just been a joy.
So much good. I feel like there’s, we just need to go on and on.
We should have you back.
I’d love to come back.
And be on your podcast.
Yeah. I think we’re getting close to 10 million downloads for the Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast.
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-
… 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.
Share this information, because when you sleep your brain and your life is-
So good. Thank you so much.
Thank you Michael.
Absolutely. Thank you guys. Just one quick shout out to all of your guys, sweet dreams from the Sleep Doctor.
Thank you so much. Bye-bye.
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Dr. Daniel Amen:
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