Why Your Chronotype and Circadian Rhythm Can Wreck Energy – How to Fix It with Dr. Michael Breus

Content By: Ari Whitten & Dr. Michael Breus

In this episode, I am speaking with Dr. Michael J Breus Ph.D. also known as “The Sleep Doctor.” Dr. Breus is a clinical psychologist, diplomat of the American Board of Sleep Medicine, and a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Dr. Breus is the author of The Power of When, which discusses how your chronotype can affect your circadian rhythm and energy levels.  We will discuss how your chronotype affects your days and how to leverage it to level up your life.

If you want to know what your chronotype is, go and take the quiz.

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Ari: Everyone, welcome back to the podcast. Today, I am with Dr. Michael Breus, who is a clinical psychologist and both a diplomat of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

He was one of the youngest people in the world to have passed the board at age 31, and specializing in sleep disorders. He’s 1 of 163 psychologists in the world with these credentials and this distinction.

Dr. Breus is on the clinical advisory board of the Dr. Oz Show and appears regularly on the show. Over 30 times in the last 4 years. He’s known more generally by as the Sleep Doctor.

Welcome, Dr. Breus.

Dr. Breus: Hey, thanks for having me, man.

Ari: Yeah. It’s a pleasure to have you here. It was great to meet you very, albeit very briefly a couple weeks ago at the Consumer Health Summit.

Dr. Breus: Yeah. No. It was a lot of fun. That was a great summit by the way.

Ari: Yeah. For sure, and in general, I’m a huge fan of your work. I’ve read your book.

Dr. Breus: Thank you.

Ari: I’ve read tons of articles of yours online. It’s heavily influenced my own stuff. I’m a geek on circadian rhythm stuff so I’m a fan of yours.

Dr. Breus: Super cool.

Ari: Yeah. I guess to get us started I think what would be helpful for people, a lot of people have never even heard of this term circadian rhythm.

Dr. Breus: Sure. Yeah. We can certainly start there, and just to give everybody a little bit of background on me.

I’m an actively practicing sleep doctor. I treat patients with apnea, narcolepsy, insomnia, all that stuff, and circadian rhythms is something that, they’re actually circadian rhythm disorders that are out there, and but first, before we talk about that let’s talk about what is the circadian rhythm.

It turns out that sleep is run by two distinct systems in the brain. One is the sleep drive. It’s like hunger. I’m hungry, I’m hungry, I’m hungry, I eat something and that hunger begins to dissipate.

The same holds true with sleep. Sleep actually builds throughout the day.

Adenosine and caffeine and how they affect the brain

If you look at it neurochemically it turns out that there’s, when a cell eats a piece of glucose something comes out the back end. One of those things is something called adenosine.

Adenosine is this by-product and it filters its way through your blood and gets to your brain and has these very specific receptor sites just for adenosine that clicks in, when you get enough of them clicking in, you get sleepier and sleepier and sleepier.

Now, what’s cool about this is if you look at the molecular structure of adenosine and the molecular structure of caffeine they’re off by one molecule. Caffeine actually fits into that receptor site and it blocks the adenosine and so sometimes when you’re drinking caffeine the reason that you feel that energy is because that adenosine is getting blocked, but of course, once your body or your brain rather burn through that caffeine, the adenosine comes flooding through, and that’s when you get that caffeine crash.

That’s part of the system called your homeostatic drive for sleep or I just called it the sleep drive.

The circadian rhythm

There’s a whole second system called your circadian rhythm and that’s what we’re going to talk about more today. Circadian rhythms are really interesting because your body, you ever notice how your body only gets hungry like at breakfast, lunch, and dinner? It’s kind of that those times when your body is going to be doing that.

Same holds true with sleep, is on the average Americans we see average time that people have a tendency to get sleepy is right around 10:30 at night.

Turns out that this is all based on the core body temperature rhythm. As your core body temperature rises and rises and rises, once it hits its peak and it starts to tip downwards, that’s the time that your circadian rhythm produces or tells your brain to produce melatonin.

Remember melatonin is that key that starts the engine for sleep. This is all kicked off on a very predictable pattern called your circadian rhythm.

The rhythm lasts roughly 24 hours. Just a little bit more a little bit less 24 hours [inaudible] you are.

Ari: Beautiful. How does that relate to sleep? We hear a lot of people talking about sleep and knowing in the health sphere you don’t hear people talking about circadian rhythms so much.

You hear people talking about just get seven, eight hours of sleep. I would love if you can draw a distinction for people around circadian rhythm and sleep and what’s the difference between optimizing circadian rhythm versus just getting eight hours of sleep.

Dr. Breus: Here’s what’s cool about circadian rhythms is there’s not just one. There’s literally over a hundred in your body. Every organ system has its own circadian rhythms.

Believe it or not even diseases have their own circadian rhythm. There’s a lot of interesting research in that area.

Circadian rhythms are not just when does your body want to go to sleep, it’s when does your body want to eat, when does your body want to exercise, when does your body want to think, when do you want to have brainstorming, when do you … Every single activity that you can imagine that you do is affected by circadian rhythms.

Sleep is like the anchor, and what’s interesting is it’s all genetically predetermined. There are over 80 different markers in the body for circadian rhythms.

If you did a 23andMe test, the saliva test, you could go, they can actually tell you that they look at all of these different 80 markers. They could tell you if more of an early bird or a night owl or things like that.

There’s a lot of biology behind all of this, but what’s fascinating is your sleep time, again, which is genetically predetermined is when you start. Then when you wake up all the hormones start to kick in.

That’s where it gets super cool because we know that hormones run on a very predictable pattern. Your cortisol, your melatonin, epinephrine, serotonin like everything you can imagine runs on a very particular pattern.

Where it’s really getting interesting as far as circadian rhythms are concerned and where we’re seeing medicine in general start to move is we can actually leverage our circadian rhythms and figure out the best time of day to do literally just about anything.

That’s what my new book is all about The Power of When, which is when should you do stuff.

It’s all based on this anchor of your circadian rhythm, and then, everything else that goes on during the day, we can pick and choose exactly the right time to do stuff.

What is a chronotype

Ari: Yeah. Beautiful. I think that’s a natural segue into chronotypes. If you could talk a little about what chronotypes are. I know in your book you talk about dolphins, lions, bears, wolves, and so, what’s that all about?

Dr. Breus: Okay. Don’t get scared by the animals. What I wanted to do was I was looking to better understand these chronotypes, and so, first of all, what does that word mean, chronotype?

It means a genetically predetermined sleep schedule, that is a chronotype. Now, you may not have heard the word chronotype before, but I’m sure you’ve heard of people being called an early bird or a night owl. Those are chronotypes.

It turns out there’s not just two. It turns out that there’s actually four. This research has actually been around for almost 10 years now. What I wanted to do was find a way to identify those four chronotypes because I had patients who were coming in to see me, and they would say, “I don’t want to sleep at 10:30 at night when the average person wants to go to sleep. I want to go to bed at 8:30 and I like to wake up at 4:30.

Well, those are people that would be early birds, right? I call them lions.

I changed the symbolism and the animals for two distinct reasons; number one, I’m a mammal, not a bird, and so, I was like I want to have a mammal in there; number two, I actually chose mammals that had these circadian rhythms.

The main characteristics of the Lion chronotype

Lions, which is my early bird, these are people who … Lions in general in the animal kingdom, their first kill is at dawn, they’re very early morning creatures, by the late afternoon they’re zonked. They’re ready to go to bed. They’re chilling out.

Lions actually have very specific personality characteristics. I was able to discover this because I have a quiz that people can take to figure out what their chronotype is.

I ask them very specific questions about personality, I ask them questions about what time of day they like to do things, I ask them questions about what their favorite meal is.

Now, you’re probably sitting there saying, “Michael, what could a favorite meal have to do with it?” Well, it turns out early birds love breakfast, but night owls hate it, and so, it’s actually a fairly easy way to identify it.

What are my lions? My lions are my real go-getters. They have a tendency to wake up between 5:00 and 5:30 in the morning, but they’re going to bed at 8:30 at night, which is not so good for their social life, by the way, dinner and a movie for a lion never seems to happen, only dinner because they’re falling asleep by the time, been up since 4:30 in the morning, right?

These are my COOs of a company. They’re my type-A personalities. They’ll make a list at the beginning of the day and go from step one to step two to step three like they’re very orderly almost military in their thinking. Very good at organizing people.

The main characteristics of the Bear chronotype

The next which are people in the middle are called, I call them bears. Historically, the research would call them hummingbirds, but bears are the best. They make up almost 55% of the population. The world works on a bear schedule.

Ari: Do you say that they’re the best because you’re a bear? Is that your [crosstalk] …

Dr. Breus: No. I’m a wolf, by the way.

Ari: Okay.

Dr. Breus: I’m a wolf. I think bears are the best because it’s so much easier for a bear, quite honestly like the world works on their schedule like for bears going to work at 9 o’clock and leaving at 5 o’clock works perfectly for their circadian rhythm, whereas for me, and I’m a night owl or a wolf, it’s terrible. I hate mornings.

The only thing I hate worse than mornings are morning people. I’ve told that to people all the time. Don’t talk to me in the morning especially if you’re one of these chippers, not that I hate you, but you know what I’m saying? I’m just not a chipper in the morning. I’m not there. I don’t have that level of energy.

I mean, we’re doing this that is 4 o’clock in the afternoon, our time, this is my perfect time. I’ve got lots of energy. I’m wide awake. I’m reeling off data like it’s perfect for me to do stuff at this particular time because I’m more of a late-night creature, but back to bears.

The reason they’re so good is it’s so easy for them. They’re very nice people. They’re really good friends. They also have a tendency to be the people that are a little bit more social, a little bit more extroverted.

If you’re going out to lunch with a group of bears they’re telling funny stories and laughing at each other. They’re the first person at the bar to buy drinks for everyone that kind of stuff.

They really get the work done. Lions have a tendency to be more managerial. Bears have a tendency to like get in there and make shit happen, which is cool.

The main characteristics of the Wolf chronotype

Wolves, which is what I am, are night owls. Wolves have a tendency to be a little bit more introverted. I’m not really that way much myself, but most of my wolves are.

What’s really fascinating is wolves have a tendency to be my creative. They’re my actors, my authors, my musicians. People like that because they’re night people.

They look … For them, they don’t want to go to bed before 12:30, 1:00 o’clock. I can honestly tell you, I can’t remember the last time I went to bed before midnight because that’s just not how I operate.

I am much more of a night person, and wolves themselves, the creatures are nocturnal anyway. They hunt at night, they’re very nocturnal-ish creatures.

The main characteristics of the Dolphin chronotype

Then, finally, are my problem children so my Dolphins. I love my Dolphins to death, but they definitely have an erratic sleep schedule. I chose dolphins, this is an interesting little side note.

Most people don’t know this, but dolphins sleep what’s called unihemispherically. Half of their brain is asleep, while the other half is awake and looking for predators.

I thought that was this interesting representation of my patients who just don’t feel like they sleep very well or have insomnia.

My dolphins are usually my very erratic sleepers. They are usually self-diagnosed as insomniacs. They may have some other health complaints as well.

Super intelligent and also much like a lion and that they’re very type-A personalities, but they have just a little bit of obsessive compulsive in them. They have a hard time finishing projects in their mind. If somebody walks by a dolphin desk they’ll be like, “Holy cow, this person is amazing,” but the dolphin themselves would be like, “Oh, no. No. This stuff isn’t ready for primetime yet.

Very different from a personality perspective, and so, once you figure out, which one of these four chronotypes you are, then it gets super cool because I know exactly when your hormones are doing different things throughout a 24-hour period because as an example, when a lion wakes up at 5 o’clock in the morning, that’s their start time for all of their hormones, whereas a wolf, like me, if I wake up at 7:30, 8:00 o’clock that’s my start time for my hormones.

We can follow these hormones, and again, pick the right time to do anything from having sex to eat a cheeseburger to run a mile to ask your boss for raises. It’s pretty crazy.

Why you might feel that you do not fit into your chronotype quiz result

Ari: Yeah. Very interesting. I have a couple questions around this. First, I would say I feel like I don’t fit neatly into one of these types.

Dr. Breus: That’s common actually. We have hybrids.

Ari: Okay. I’m definitely not a dolphin, but I’m …

Dr. Breus: Did you take the quiz?

Ari: Yes. I went through the book and read all the characteristics of the different book and I, the truth is I can feel pieces of each one so like I have the creativeness to me, I’m not very type-A, but I’m more of like a lion schedule, not quite that early, not 4:30 in the morning but more like 6:00. I do wake up with lots of energy. I do, get my best work done at the beginning of the day.

Dr. Breus: Interesting. You would probably be what I would call a bear-lion, right? You’re somebody who’s in the middle, but you have a tendency to fade to the earlier side of things. When you were younger, were you always this way? Did you always wake up at 6:30 in the morning or did you sleep in and stuff like that?

Ari: Pretty much I was this way.

Dr. Breus: Okay. Then, you probably actually were a lion when you were much younger, and you started to fade a little towards the middle as you get older.

How your chronotype might change as you get older

People move, by the way, throughout their lives, through different chronotypes.

As an example, I’ve got a 15-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter, they are wolves for sure. That’s how lots of teenagers are because teenagers like to stay up until 2:00 and sleep until 12:00. That’s a classic wolf schedule.

We know that what I call chrono longevity can change over time. Meaning, as you get older different things can happen. It’s interesting that you fell into several categories. If you had to guess, what were your parents?

Ari: Bears.

Dr. Breus: Most people fall in line with whatever their parents were.

Ari: Actually, my mom is a lion, for sure.

Dr. Breus: Okay. See how I said I think you’re a bear with a little bit of lion in you?

Ari: Yeah.

Dr. Breus: Your dad was probably a bear, your mom was probably a lion, and henceforth, we get you.

Ari: Now we’re getting at, we’re also getting at my mommy issues right now as far as being bossed around my whole life.

Dr. Breus: Lions will do that.

Ari: It’s good I’m talking to a psychologist.

Dr. Breus: Absolutely, it is. We can do therapy for you later. Don’t worry about it.

How social influences can make you change your chronotype

Ari: On this notion of chronotypes there’s … I’ve seen some of the research that you referred to around chrono longevity and how it changes over time. I think one thing that’s interesting is how social influences can change our chronotype. For example, I’m curious how much …

Actually, let me rephrase this. My personal opinion is I think there are a lot less wolves out there than people think or I think there are a lot of people who think they’re wolves who are not actually wolves.

Dr. Breus: Yeah. I would agree with you. It runs about 10, 12% wolves and about 10, 12% lions, 50, 55% bears, and about 10% dolphins.

Ari: Okay, because I think there’s a lot of people who got shifted into that night-owl rhythm by virtue of the fact that we live in a world that disrupts our circadian rhythm.

Dr. Breus: I agree.

Ari: There was a recent study I saw where they took a bunch of people and put them out like into an outdoor environment, essentially, on a camping trip.

Dr. Breus: Yeah. The insomnia camping trip. Is that what you’re talking about?

Ari: Yes.

Dr. Breus: Yeah. It was super cool, and their insomnia, gone.

Ari: Yeah. Their insomnia is gone and all of a sudden their circadian clocks got shifted back a couple hours so they’re no longer night owls, right?

Dr. Breus: Right. Yeah. That’s actually a perfect example, I’m so glad you brought up that example. That’s a perfect example of how we’ve got all these influences that are all over us.

We’ve got internet. We’ve got blue light. We’ve got our significant other that’s waking us up because they want to tell us something or going to bed when we don’t want to or what have you, we’ve got children, we’ve got pets, we’ve got all these different influences on our time.

Timing turns out to be really important, and when we’re talking about your area of expertise, which is energy and reduction of fatigue and those kind of things.

The thing that we all want to start thinking about is, are their natural times in our circadian 24-hour cycle where we will naturally have more energy and naturally have less energy? What do we want to do about those?

Ari: Yeah. Let’s get into that. How …

Dr. Breus: Sure.

Ari: I mean, I guess let’s use I guess lions, bears, and wolves, and talk about what are the best, the most energetic, productive times of day and how can they use that to their advantage?

Dr. Breus: Sure. Just for everybody out there if you want to try to figure out what your chronotype is, check out thepowerofwhenquiz.com so you can know because I want everybody to be able to participate in the podcast for sure.

Ari: Yeah.

How to use your chronotype to your advantage

Dr. Breus: When we’re looking at energy levels there are ”on” times and there are ”off” times. What’s interesting is if you look at the data, it depends on what you want to do. As an example, if you want a brainstorm or solve a problem, believe it or not, you don’t want to do it during an on time.

You actually want to do it at an ”off” time and I’ll tell you why.

When you look at creativity, there are several different rhythms like we’re talking about that affect creativity. There’s actually four. One is called the connectivity rhythm.

Have you ever heard of people being called right-brained or left-brained?

Ari: Yeah.

Dr. Breus: Right. That’s actually real. We know that a lot of people, the majority of the activity happens on one side of the head or the other. Well, right after you wake up in the morning both sides are talking. That’s a connectivity rhythm. You want to have both sides talking especially to solve a problem.

Second thing you want to think about is REM sleep. It turns out that during REM sleep, which is the sleep where your eyes move back and forth and we have the most likelihood of dreaming, that’s where you move information from your short-term memory to your long-term memory.

You actually create an intellectual substructure for information in your brain. “Oh, my gosh, Michael. What does that have to do with brainstorming?”

Well, if you’re trying to solve a problem you need each of these pieces of information in the filing cabinet in the right place and connections have to be made to them. That’s actually what we think dreaming is, is making connections between pieces of information.

What’s super cool is if you’re trying to solve a problem or brainstorm a problem, you want to sleep on it. You know that old adage, “Oh, sleep on it and you’ll feel better in the morning.” It really works especially when you’re trying to be on or brainstorm.

Believe it or not, I call these times moments of groggy greatness. Here’s why. It’s because the distraction that you have in the early morning is actually pretty good. How many times have you been to taking a shower and you have like this amazing idea that you think is going to cure something and make you a million bucks and all these different things?

That’s also something that has a tendency to happen very early in the mornings and it’s a distraction rhythm.

It’s interesting where if your brain is distracted by some manual technique like taking a shower or going for a run or being on a treadmill or a bicycle it gives your other part of your brain time to really start to move around that piece of information and get there.

Then, the final rhythm has to do with dopamine.

It has to do with new experiences. When you put yourself into places of new experiences or you meet somebody for the first time or get to reacquaint yourself with them it fires off dopamine in your brain, and that also helps with the creative process as well.

If you’re looking to brainstorm you’re actually going to not want a time where you have high energy, you’re going to want to have a time where you have this groggy greatness. That’s going to be very early in the morning, literally within 20 minutes of you waking up or it’s going to be later on in the mid to late afternoon, somewhere between like 1:00 and 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon.

We all get sleepy around that period of time. Turns out our core body temperature has a small dip somewhere between 1:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon, which sends off a little bit of melatonin that’s what makes us a little bit sleepy.

That level of grogginess can actually be leverageable to be able to think through or brainstorm different ideas.

Let’s say that you did, you wanted your on time, you wanted your times where you were pop in, you’re ready to get stuff done whether it’s work out or be on stage or whatever it is that you happen to be, those times are actually different.

Those times have a tendency to occur right before lunch. Somewhere between like 10:30 and 11:30, 12:00 o’clock for different chronotypes can actually be really good.

For example, that time is great for a bear, but for a lion, it’s about an hour earlier. For a wolf, it’s about an hour later.

When you start to think through these ideas of when am I going to be on, that’s when you’re going to want to be doing stuff like I said doing a presentation or paying your bills or going through a bunch of emails.

Something that’s going to require a good bit of focus. That’s when you want your on times to be. That usually happens about four hours after you actually initially wake up.

Exercising based on chronotype

Ari: Interesting. What about things like exercise or sex? Are there best times to do those things?

Dr. Breus: Yes. They’re not the same for those two different activities.

Ari: Okay.

Dr. Breus: When you look at exercise, I’m a … Are you a runner?

Ari: More of a weightlifter, rock climber, surfer.

Dr. Breus: Okay, but you do a lot of cardio? I mean surfing and rock climbing.

Ari: Yeah. To some extent. Mainly surfing.

Dr. Breus: Mainly surfing. Oh, that’s cool. I do surfing too. When you look at people who are doing cardio, there … You want to, first of all, ask yourself, what is the reason why I’m doing the cardio?

As an example, are you trying to burn fat or are you trying to get a better time?

If you’re a runner, I am also a runner, I run because I’m a wolf. I will run later in the afternoon even early evening because that’s when my body is ready to do that.

If I try to run at 6:30 in the morning, I’m almost guaranteed to get injured because my coordination is off, my muscles haven’t warmed up. It’s a freaking mess for me.

If I was a lion, it’d be one of the first things I’d want to do because loins wake up super alert, ready to rock and roll, and they can really accomplish that. If I was looking to burn fat then you want to actually exercise in the morning because if you have an empty stomach you got to get the fuel from somewhere so you’re going to get it from fat.

Again, what is your object of your game with your level of exercise? What do you want to do?

There’s a lot of data looking at professional athletes and one of the things we’ve discovered is if they train at roughly the same time as they compete, they actually do better than they normally would have, and it’s kind of cool now almost every major sports team has a sleep specialist associated with it.

That is the new secret weapon for everybody out there is getting better sleep because these athletes are tested the second they walk off the field for performance-enhancing drugs and all that stuff.

I can tell you the difference between being on the podium and off the podium in the Olympics is a good night’s sleep the night before.

Ari: Yeah. Very interesting. What … 

Dr. Breus: What about sex?

Ari: Well, actually before we get into that staying on the topic of exercise. Does exercise type matter? Does it matter whether we’re talking about weight lifting or cardio?

Dr. Breus: It can actually. When we look at, for example, training for strength. Again, if you’re doing cardio then based on your chronotype you’re going to want to do it a little bit earlier in the day for bears especially.

It’s weird for bears if they don’t exercise in the beginning of the day. They just won’t do it. They just, their motivation just go straight down.

Lions and bears, I’m having them exercise fairly early. Believe it or not, dolphins, remember my problem children? They’re really good at exercise in the morning because it calms them down.

It takes that nervous energy that they have and calms them down, whereas wolves like myself we’re much better to exercise at night.

Generally, speaking I try to exercise four times a week and I don’t usually exercise most days until about 11:00 in the morning because that’s a good time for me to be able to do it for my day, but I actually prefer doing it closer to like 6:30, 7:00 o’clock at night.

Ari: Eleven a.m. is like first thing after waking up for you as a night-owl.

Dr. Breus: Well, it’s not exactly but it’s pretty close. If I had my druthers, I would be getting up around 8:00, 8:30 most days, but I can’t do that because I got kids. That’s a whole another area we can talk about that as well.

For strength training, it turns out that muscle growth doesn’t matter. You can train any time of the day for muscle growth, but for muscle strength, which is different, you want to follow the ideas behind chronotype.

Again, lions are going to exercise a little bit earlier. Bears more in the middle of the day. Wolves in the evening.

Ari: Okay. Now, what if you’re a bear or if you’re a wolf, but the only time that you have available is let’s say in the morning and that’s the only time you can exercise. Will your body get entrained to that  attern and so it becomes easier like your body learns to expect exercise at that time?

Dr. Breus: It will, depending upon how frequent you do it. If you’re only exercising twice a week, no. It’s probably not going to get that, but once you hit like the three, four times a week mark, your body starts to get used to looking for exercise at that point in time. Remember, it’s much easier for a bear to do that than for a wolf because we just hate the mornings.

How to get the most out of your sex life

Ari: Okay. What about sex?

Dr. Breus: Sex is a question I get asked everywhere I go, and so, I’m going to give you a general understanding of sex in circadian rhythms, and then, more specific.

Here’s what’s interesting is in order to have good sex, you need several hormones. You need progesterone, estrogen, testosterone, you need cortisol and adrenaline all need to be high and melatonin needs to be low.

Ninety-three percent of sexual activity occurs between 10:30 and 11:30 at night. All right. If you look at the profile, the hormone profile, I’ll give you one guess what it looks like. It’s the opposite.

You have high melatonin and all those other things are low. You heard it here from the Sleep Doctor, you should be having sex Saturday morning somewhere between like 8:00 and 9:00 in the morning.

Everybody out there who’s listening, do this experiment with your partner. Go ahead and try having sex in the morning, you will be surprised.

Number one, at your performance, but more importantly, your connection to that individual. You will feel more from an emotional standpoint. You’ll have a heightened sense of sensitivity.

It’s very, very different than having sex at night. Now, if let’s say you’ve got kids and kids are wandering into your bedroom at 8:00 o’clock in the morning and it’s just not going to be able to work. Then, look at earlier in the evening. Look at 6:30, 7:00 o’clock in the evening.

You really just want to stay away from those late, late nights because, again, melatonin is high, all the other hormones are low. It’s not going to work out very well for you.

We think this may be one of the reasons why men have a tendency to fall asleep after sex especially in the evenings is because their melatonin levels are very, very high and once they expend their testosterone and their adrenaline, they crash very, very quickly, whereas women, it’s a much slower decline on that curve and so that’s why a lot of women don’t get sleepy right after sex. In fact, some women actually report that they feel more energized after sex.

Ari: Yeah. Very interesting.

Dr. Breus: Now, here’s the really interesting question. What happens if you’re a lion and your partner is a wolf?

Ari: Oooh.

Dr. Breus: Right? That’s where it gets funky. I actually created a matrix in the book. You can put in your chronotype across the top and their chronotype across the side and then actually you can find the points.

Then, I created two other matrices; one, there’s a heterosexual one; there’s one for lesbian; and one for gay because the hormones are different, right?

Two women are going to have a vastly different hormone profile than two guys will versus a heterosexual couple. It’s all in the book. You can check it out.

How to optimize your circadian rhythm, regardless of chronotype

Ari: Oh, very cool. Let’s get into some of the nitty-gritty around optimizing circadian rhythm, optimizing sleep. Regardless of chronotype, are there practices that one can engage in you to help optimize those things?

Dr. Breus: Absolutely. If people get one thing from this whole podcast today it’s about consistency. Your body craves consistencies, but more specifically, your brain does because your brain is … I mean, it’s looking at literally hundreds and hundreds of different functions every second.

The more consistently you go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time, the better off you’re going to be.

Now, I am a six and a half hour sleeper. I have been almost my entire life.

First of all, eight hours is a myth. I want everybody out there to know that. If you need eight hours and you get them, that’s great, but don’t kill yourself for eight hours if you don’t feel good after eight or you don’t think that you need it.

I go to bed at midnight. I’m up at 6:30, it works out perfectly for me because I only need six and a half hours.

Are there sometimes I need a little bit more? Yeah. Sure there are, but the more consistent I am, because let me tell you something. When I hit the pillow at like 12:00, 12:15, I’m asleep in like 5, 10 minutes because my body knows it’s supposed to be sleeping at this time.

I wake up without an alarm sometimes even before 6:30. It just all of a sudden. Consistency, consistency, consistency is probably the biggest factor here.

There also are some environmental influences that are probably worth mentioning. One of those is blue light. You probably all heard all kinds of stuff about, “Oh, my phone has got light, and my laptop has got light, and my iPad has got light.”

Well, they do. It turns out that the light that is emitted, there’s a particular frequency at 416 nanometers. That light hits very specific cells in your eye called melanopsin cells, and these turn off the melatonin faucet.

Well, it’s hard to have the melatonin faucet going and wake up in the morning. You need the melatonin faucet at night. Again, that timing is going to be important. You really want to limit any blue light exposure that you have in the evenings as best you can.

“Okay, Michael, how the heck am I supposed to do that?”

Well, there’s a couple different ways.

Number one, if you’re using a laptop there’s a computer program called flu.x. It’s just F-L-U.X you can google it or whatever. It’s free. You download it and it works like a charm. It really does a great job of lowering those levels of blue light if you’re, let’s say you’re watching something on your laptop or you’re doing work late at night that stuff.

Your phone, there are some software programs inside the phones. They don’t work great.

All they do is lower the brightness, they don’t necessarily change the frequency because that’s a different aspect of light. They’re better than nothing. What I do for my kids is I have them wear blue blocker glasses.

Ari: Do your kids actually wear them?

Dr. Breus: My son loves them.

Ari: Oh, nice.

Dr. Breus: I’ll tell you … It’s really interesting. I gave them to him so, easily 75% of his school work is done on his computer. He comes home after school he takes a nap for usually an hour, hour and a half, sometimes even a little longer depending, he’s still growing.

Then, he wakes up, has dinner, and then, he starts doing his homework. His homework really starts around 8:30 at night, and he’s like this on the computer screen, and his eyes were starting to hurt him.

I said, “I’m going to give you these special glasses that will help you with your eyes.” I gave him blue blocker glasses. He loves them now. He keeps them by his bedside. I walk in, he’s got them on. I don’t even have to tell him, and because the eye strain is less, it really makes his eyes feel better.

Then, I say, “Look, just keep them on until you fall asleep because …” I explained to him about all the blue light and so he does.

There are a lot of different blue blockers out there. I just … I personally have used, there’s a friend of mine here in Los Angeles he makes them. His name is James Swanwick and he makes these called Swannies.

My kids like them because they’re fashionable. They look like Ray Bans or whatever, but there’s a new one that just came out that’s called TrueDark. These are freaky looking, but they’re like noise cancellation for your eyeballs.

Ari: Are they really … Yeah. I was wondering about that because they make some interesting claims on their site that are not really from … I mean, I’ve looked at the evidence quite a bit, and I mean, I don’t really see the evidence for some of the claims that they’re making. I’m glad you’re bringing that up.

Dr. Breus: Here’s what’s interesting. I haven’t checked out their science yet. All I have is I got a pair of the glasses. I used it on my flight. I just got back from Europe.

I flew, I’m in Los Angeles, I flew 10-1/2 hours to London on the way there. I wore them on the way there.

I fell asleep within 30 minutes of getting on the airplane, which was my goal. I slept for 5-1/2 hours no problem, and when I woke up, I took the glasses off. Honestly, I was a little shocked. I felt great.

I had very little jet lag when I got there. Now, granted, I know what I’m doing with jet lag and so I had melatonin that I could take after I got there, but I have to tell you, it definitely slowed down the jet lag that I normally would have experienced even with the knowledge base that I have pretty significantly.

For me, and of one, one test subject, I was very surprised, but it actually worked quite well.

Ari: Interesting. Now, are they more reddish glasses that also block …

Dr. Breus: They’re super red. I mean, they’re not reddish, they’re red.

Ari: Okay. They really change your color perception, not like blue blockers, which just block like that isolate blues they’re also blocking out greens and some of the other parts of the spectrum?

Dr. Breus: Oh, dude. These things … I mean, it’s like blood red. It’s like everything you see is red. You have to get used to that like, to be honest with you, I don’t know if I could watch television with them on.

Ari: Right. Yeah. On this subject, I actually bought a pair of red laser glasses. They’re like glasses for like construction workers or something [crosstalk] …

Dr. Breus: Yeah. Like you get in Home Depot.

Ari: Yeah. People who work with lasers of various kind. I was using them for a while, and then, I heard an interview with Alexander Wunsch. Do you know who he is?

Dr. Breus: I know the last name, but I don’t know him.

Ari: He’s a German researcher who does a lot of work around light and circadian rhythm…

Dr. Breus: Yeah.

Ari: He mentioned something to the effect of thinking that it was not such a good idea to use the reddish glasses that are blocking so many parts of the spectrum. I mean, he didn’t really elaborate so much on it, but I mean, I just, I was like, “Oh well, I trust this guy?” I assume he’s probably … I mean, he knows like more about light than anyone I could think of.

I mean, but you and him, I mean are right up there so, on the one hand, I got you recommending them, and then, him saying more, stay with the blue blockers.

Dr. Breus: Here’s what I would say is you got to do what you’re comfortable with. For me, I’m a geek. I mean, I’m a sleep geek. I play with all these different because people send me stuff all the time. You would be shocked at how much stuff shows up in my P.O. box.

I try stuff because I want to be able to talk to people intelligently, and say, “Here’s the science behind this. Here’s what works. Here’s what doesn’t.”

When you have a total red lens, you block out a lot of other parts of the spectrum. The question becomes is that healthy or is that not healthy?

Depending upon the length of time that you’re using them, I think that would determine the health factor.

Again, as an example, when I’m on an airplane, throwing on the red lenses is fine for me because I’m not, I don’t necessarily have to have that depth perception and the perception that would be required if I had all those other types of frequencies heading into my eyeballs, whereas at home, I might like I said with my son I’m using the blue blockers for him.

I think it’s really a matter of figuring it out for yourself.

Here’s the good news, either way, you’re not going to hurt yourself. For sure, and you will probably see a difference in the level of effectiveness.

Also, there is some data to suggest that it could have something to do with the number of rods and cones in your eyes and you know people with lighter colored eyes have different amounts of that than darker color eyes. There could be a variable there that we’re not even thinking about.

Ari: Yeah. Absolutely. Consistency is huge.

Dr. Breus: Consistency is huge. The good environment is good, getting that blue light out of there if you possibly can. That’s going to be important.

How caffeine affects your sleep

Caffeine is another one that I talk to people quite a bit about. Turns out that the research is pretty consistent that there are actually different caffeine sensitivities for different people so some people are really affected and some people not so much.

Generally, speaking, my general recommendation for people is, do not drink caffeine after 2:00 p.m. if you can help it.

Caffeine has got a half-life of anywhere from 6 to 8 hours depending on how quickly of a metabolizer you are. I just like it out of the system at least half of it by 10:00 o’clock. That way we give all the people out there the opportunity to be able to fall asleep caffeine free.

Now, I guarantee you there’s somebody who’s watching this or listening to this who’s going to be like, “Yeah. That Dr. Breus doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I can have three cups of coffee with dinner and fall right asleep.”

Number one, you might be on that lower caffeine sensitivity scale that we were just talking about but number two, if I attach electrodes to your head, and you got three cups of coffee on board. I guarantee you, you’re not getting into deep sleep.

When to stop drinking alcohol for quality sleep

Remember, it’s not just the quantity issue, it’s also a quality issue.

For folks out there, when you’re looking for ways to improve quality; number one, less blue light; number two, less caffeine; number three, is alcohol.

There’s a really big difference between going to sleep and passing out.

We have to think through this idea. I don’t have any problems with you. I want to have a couple of glasses of wine with dinner, go for it. I think it’s fine, but once you pass two – here’s what ends up happening.

If your body actually doesn’t get into a deeper stage of sleep that’s where that quality aspect comes in. We want to be very, very careful.

My general recommendation is you want to stop drinking about two to three hours before lights out. If your last glass of wine is at 8:00 and had 2 then by 10 o’clock, you’re fine. If you had three than by eleven o’clock you’re fine.

If you’ve had more than three you’re probably not in a good zone as far as sleep is concerned. You need to probably investigate like why am I having more than three glasses of wine.

The importance of direct sunlight in the morning

The other thing is sunlight. A great thing to do is when you wake up in the morning is get direct sunlight.

First of all, it’s amazing how many people are vitamin D deficient in this country. That has a lot to do with a lot of sunscreen and staying out of the sun and so one of the things I tell people, and you’re an outdoorsman because you rock climb, and you surf, and you appear to be pretty tan. You get a lot.

I mean, look at me. I’m like the whitest guy ever. You are outside so you get that vitamin D. I take vitamin D supplements.

I’ll tell you this, I find that the days that I miss them it definitely affects my energy.

If people can, when they wake up in the morning, the first thing they should do is drink a bottle of water. Second thing you should do is stand in front of a window while doing it because they can get that direct sunlight.

Ari: Well, so, I mean, there are a couple issues that you’re that are wrapped up. One is vitamin D on the skin and… sorry, a UVB on the skin and synthesizing vitamin D. The other thing is light in the eye setting circadian rhythm.

Dr. Breus: Exactly. Yes. Thank you for clarifying that, but that’s an important factor for sure.

Ari: Yeah. I just want to clarify to people that taking a vitamin D pill is not a supplement for setting the circadian rhythm with bright light …

Dr. Breus: Absolutely. You know what? I didn’t say that correctly so you’re absolutely right. Thank you for pointing that out. Good point.

How room temperature may affect your sleep

Ari: Okay. Consistency, blocking blue light at night, bright light in the mornings. There was some interesting research on, there was a hunter-gatherer sleep study.

A big one that came out last year, maybe the year before, where they showed that temperature plays a big role in setting circadian rhythm.

Dr. Breus: Yeah. Well, because remember your sleep circadian rhythm is based off of your core body temperature rhythm and.

When you’re in situations where you’re too hot or too cold it will absolutely have an effect on your sleep. We know this. I mean, think about it like people don’t sleep nearly as well in the summer as they do in the winter.

When I … I used to have 4 sleep laboratories that I was in charge of with 12 beds. Three bed, three and four and difficult configurations.

We always knew that our census would be up during the summer and down during the winter because people slept well in the wintertime. They weren’t coming in to have sleep studies done. Temperature definitely plays a big role.

It turns out so does ventilation and so does air quality because if you don’t have great air quality and you’re in one room during the daytime, well, you get up and you move to the other room, you open the window whatever, but once you’re asleep, your breathing and rebreathing that air.

That quality of that air I am convinced has a pretty big effect on people, especially if you’re in a place that’s got mold or there’s smokers or things of that nature.

I think those are definitely things, but temperature is a big one. You really definitely sleep better in the cool. Turns out that there’s a range, somewhere between 65 and 75 degrees seems to be the best ambient temperature so temperature of the room.

I will also tell you this is a little fun fact. If you get hot and you’re sleeping, if you stick your foot out from under the covers you will start to cool down pretty quickly. Do you ever do this?

Ari: I usually will like uncover half my body.

Dr. Breus: Here’s what’s interesting, you don’t actually have to uncover the whole half of your body if you just stick your foot out, it turns out that the skin on the bottom of your foot is very different than the skin on the rest of your body because it doesn’t have hair. You actually dissipate heat much more quickly through your feet. That’s why if you just stick your foot out you’ll cool down pretty fast.

Ari: Interesting. What do you think of those Chilly Pads? Have you seen that?

Dr. Breus: I like the Chilly Pad quite a bit. I think that they’ve actually … That could be a very big help especially for some people with insomnia, especially women who we’re going through menopause, who have insomnia. That could be a real benefit.

Ari: Okay. Two more quick questions for you. I know we’re running out of time here.

Dr. Breus: Oh, yeah. Sorry.

Ari: One is the distinction between sleep time and sleep period. Do you think that’s an important distinction and like also is wrapped up in the idea of our we more sleep-deprived than our ancestors were just a couple generations ago because I see mixed data on that?

Why we are more sleep-deprived than our ancestors

Dr. Breus: Let me ask you, let me answer the second question first. I would argue, yes. We are more sleep deprived. I think that has to do with our schedules. I think that has to do with artificial light exposure. I think that has to do with caffeine consumption.

I would argue that we’re at epidemic levels for sleep deprivation as it stands right now.

Now, are our body’s evolving and adapting to some of that? Actually, they are. Our sleep needs, I think it’s also been changing over, it’s kind of evolving over time.

We’re going to hit a bottom. You know what I mean? We’re going to hit this point where our bodies aren’t going to evolve much more, and in fact, our sleep habits are going to be in conflict of what we’re trying to accomplish here.

I mean, if I had to give everybody a message here I would say, “Look, if you wake up in the morning and you feel good, then you’ve probably slept the right amount for you, okay, and you need to think through that idea.” Everybody has an individual sleep need.

Mine happens to be six and a half hours. Yours might be seven hours. My wife’s might be nine hours, right?

It’s genetic. It’s genetically predetermined. Some people hit the genetic lottery and are short sleepers and only need three and a half hours a night. Let me tell you something, you think that’s really a good thing I’ve talked to some of these people, they hate it.

When you only sleep 3-1/2 to 4 hours a night, you have 20 hours a day.

Nobody can read that many books, nobody can watch that many videos, nobody can talk to that many people on the internet. They get bored. They get depressed, and they get lonely.

A lot of these people, trust me, you don’t want to be a short sleeper. I would argue that, yes, generally, speaking our sleep time is starting to crunch a little. I would say that yes we are seeing a pretty high level of sleep deprivation in societies.

Interestingly, some societies worse than others. So, some cultures value sleep a lot more. If you go into the Latin American cultures they have siestas and all that kind of stuff, and that actually works out quite well for them.

If you look at some of those hunter-gatherer groups they actually sleep for extended periods of time. It really depends upon I think where you are on the evolutionary scale as to the sleep deprivation that number one your body can handle, and number two that affects you.

One last point that’s important to make is for humans, the more sleep-deprived you get, there’s a part of your brain that tells you you’re not tired.

That’s where it gets quite dangerous. This is something that came back from way back in caveman days where if you were getting tired and there was a saber-toothed tiger chasing you, you really shouldn’t lay down and have a nap.

It doesn’t give your brain a whole lot of good stuff to say, “Oh, you’re sleepy stop.”

That bypasses that mechanism. And that’s still a part of our world. The problem is, is you don’t realize how sleepy you are until you hit the wall, and then, you get really tired really quickly. That can be dangerous.

Ari: Yeah. Thank you for mentioning that. That’s super important.

Dr. Breus theory on why some people wake up consistently in the early middle of the night

Last question for you. Waking up in the middle of the night, some people wake up very consistently around 2:00 a.m., 3:00 a.m. Why does that happen? What should they do when they wake up?

Dr. Breus: Nobody knows a 100%. Let’s just start with that. I will tell you what some of my theories are.

First of all, remember everybody wakes up three to four times a night anyway. You don’t remember it, your body has to be actually a, brain rather has to be awake for full 30 seconds for you to remember that you’re actually awake, and especially, if you’re a side sleeper because you get what’s called capillary crush like you’re leaning on that side and it slows blood flow. You have to wake up to turn over and move around. That’s part of what’s going on.

I personally think there’s a blood sugar issue going on. I think that people haven’t had anything, you’re basically fasting from dinner until you wake up in the morning unless you’re eating midnight snacks or whatever.

We see blood sugar spiking. I think that can have something to do especially if you have like a lot of sweets before bed. What I see ends up happening is you have this huge blood sugar spike, and then, it dumps, and then, you wake up at 3:00 o’clock in the morning and your brain is like, “Where is all the sugar?”

I’m looking for sugar right now and so one of the things I’ve wondered and I think we’ll see over the course of time is as we look at low sugar diets or dietary regimens, I think that will help people sleep over time.


Ari: Yeah. Interesting. I’ve definitely seen in my experience that people who have poorer metabolic health have trouble maintaining their energy even during the day, during extended periods without eating. I mean, it only makes sense that during the nightly fast, kind of the same ideas would apply.

Dr. Breus: Got you.

Ari: Yeah.

Dr. Breus: Well, that’s my dogs barking.

Ari: They’re barking at you to finish the interview.

Dr. Breus: They are.

How to find out what your chronotype is

Ari: Well, thank you so much, Dr. Michael Breus. Thank you. I really appreciate this and it’s been an absolute pleasure interviewing you and getting you to share your wisdom with my audience.

Dr. Breus: Well, dude this is my pleasure. I loved it. I had a great time. I’d love to come back and talk more sleep and hopefully, people got their sleep questions answered, if not, ping them over to Ari and we’ll see if we can get them answered for you.

Ari: Yeah. For sure. One final thing, make sure you go to the powerofwhenquit.quiz. Is it dot quiz?

Dr. Breus: It’s powerofwhenquiz.com.

Ari: Okay. The powerofwhenquiz.com. Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure and enjoy the rest of your day.

Dr. Breus: Thanks, man.

Show Notes

Adenosine and caffeine and how they affect the brain (2:05)
What the circadian rhythm is (2:58)
What is a chronotype (6:00)
The main characteristics of the Lion chronotype (7:20)
The main characteristics of the Bear chronotype (8:33)
The main characteristics of the Wolf chronotype (10:06)
The main characteristics of the Dolphin chronotype (10:49)
Why you might feel that you do not fit into your chronotype quiz result (12:15)
How your chronotype might change as you get older (13:25)
How social influences can make you change your chronotype (14:29)
How to use your chronotype to your advantage (17:00)
Exercising based on chronotype (21:05)
How to get the most out of your sex life (25:29)
How to optimize your circadian rhythm, regardless of chronotype (28:00)
How caffeine affects your sleep (36:15)
When to stop drinking alcohol for quality sleep (37:22)
The importance of direct sunlight in the morning (38:02)
how room temperature may affect your sleep (39:39)
The impact of chronic sleep deprivation (42:10)
Dr. Breus’ theory on why some people wake up consistently in the early middle of the night (45:13)
How to find out what your chronotype is (47:12)


Take the chronotype quiz here.

Learn more about chronotypes here

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