Supplements That Help (and Hurt) Sleep

As a caveat to this brief article, I want to make clear that supplements should never be your first line of defense. When it comes to sleep, your main defenses should surround important habits, such as limiting blue light in the evening, exercising earlier in the day, and many other key tactics which I cover in this in-depth article on how to master your sleep (without letting it control your life).

That said, if you’re doing a lot of the right things (or doing what you can given your schedule) but still need a boost, supplements can provide that boost. But first, let’s cover the supplements you should actually avoid.

Avoid Exogenous Melatonin

Naturally, if you’re struggling to get to sleep, you’ll want to grab a melatonin supplement. However, in the long-term this is a problem. You see, when you take melatonin, you signal to your body that you don’t need to produce melatonin naturally at that time. If you take it regularly, you’ll suppress your body’s melatonin secretion, right when you actually want to do the opposite.

There are times with melatonin is helpful to supplement with. One such example is traveling across time zones. If you take melatonin when it’s night time at your new location it can help you adjust, but in general you’ll want to avoid it.

Avoid Caffeine Later in the Day

You probably know this, but you probably don’t realize that caffeine taken in the afternoon can affect your sleep quality without you even realizing it. Caffeine’s half-life is five hours on average, which means if you have 200mg of caffeine (a large cup of coffee) at 3 pm, that means at 8 pm you’ll still have 100mg of caffeine in your blood. So, you actually need to avoid caffeine earlier than you think.

While it can vary from individual to individual, I think noon is general a good practice. Check out this article for more specific thoughts on caffeine consumption.

Add Magnesium Before Bed

The research on magnesium is clear: it’s essential for sleep and recovery. Additionally, it’s really hard to get magnesium through food. That makes it one of the few supplements I recommend to nearly everyone. The problem with most magnesium supplements though, is that they come in forms that are also laxatives. Not only will this make you run for the toilet, but it will also make the magnesium go right through you, defeating the entire point of magnesium supplementation.

Yes, there are so more bioavailable forms you can supplement with orally, but another option is get magnesium that you can rub on your skin and absorb that way. Personally, I like Ease Magnesium.

Another choice, which I guess isn’t really a supplement in the strictest sense, is to take an epsom salt bath. Epsom salt is chemically called magnesium sulfate, and by soaking in it you can increase your serum magnesium levels. Not to mention all the other benefits of taking a relaxing bath that can help you unwind.

Get Your Dose of Potassium

Potassium, like magnesium, we also know is so essential for so many jobs, including sleep. Unlike magnesium though, a supplement might not be the best route of action here because you can get potassium in ample doses and bioavailable forms through many foods. For example, I make a point to have a banana in my smoothie almost every day. But tons of fruits and veggies from grapefruit to broccoli provide a nice dose.

Potassium is a great reminder that even though in theory it would make a good supplement, the best choice is to just have a diet with lots of fruits and vegetables.

4 Steps to Shift Your Energy – How Bad Wifi Almost Ruined My Day

Crap. The wifi is too slow. Wifi troubles in today’s day and age are like a flat tire. Without it, I couldn’t get to work. The problem was I had an important work call in 20 minutes and I wasn’t within an hour of decent wifi.

Frantically looking up coffee shops I could go to (they were closed), I didn’t know what I was going to do for my call. We’ve probably all had to deal with similarly stressful situations like this.

More important than the call, though, I felt the stress evade into me. My jaw tightened. My shoulders scrunched up. When my fiancé Justin came in to say hi (unaware of the situation) he received nothing but a glare. The intense glare of a fiancé who’s mad at him for no good reason.

At that moment, I had a choice. 

The wifi was out of my control. But my energy state was in my control.

I realized I had already accomplished step one for how to shift from a stressful (catabolic) energy state into a peaceful and productive (anabolic) state: awareness.

We’ve talked about this before, but you can’t make any changes, without being aware that changes need to be made. Awareness is the precursor to all conscious change.

The next step, step two, was to pause. Just pause. Take a moment before making any rash decisions, and see the situation from an objective lens once again. If you’ve ever had a sensation where you let “your emotions get the best of you,” that’s because in the moment of stress and emotion we lose objectively, and with it, the ability to think clearly.

That pause provides the moment to reset. During that pause, we can all have different strategies. I chose to take 10 deep breaths.

You could take a different approach during your pause:

Go for a walk.

Take a cold shower.

Have a conversation with someone.

Listen to your favorite song and dance to it.

After that, the third step is to make a choice. I could let the catabolic energy drag me around all day and cause me to snap out in my conversations and let the stress mount, or I could make the choice to move into a relaxed, anabolic energy.​ This is easier said than done, but it’s as simple as that. I made the mental choice that I was going to improve my energy in the way I was showing up.

The choice, however, won’t be as effective without action. Step four is to take action. I’d recognized my energy, paused, made the decision to shift it, now I had to move through my day with my anabolic energy.

The actions in this fourth step look a lot like your pause. Throughout the day I continued to bring awareness to my breath which modulated my energy. I made a point during my next interaction with Justin to ask him with a smile how his day was. All my actions the rest of the day were filtered through the lens of “how can I bring my best energy?”

Sure, my call didn’t go as smoothly as I would’ve liked, but that was out of my control, and I didn’t let it ruin my entire day.

I know I said there were four steps, but there are actually five. That fifth step is reflection. In my regular nightly journal, I thought about how I handled that situation. Did the deep breaths really help? Is there a better way I could’ve handled it?

Surely, I should have found step one sooner instead of snapping at Justin (sorry J). Without this reflection period (and it can take many forms), I have no way of knowing how to improve next time my energy needs to shift.

Journaling can help us consolidate and reflect on our thoughts. So can a conversation with someone, or even some space to talk through how you handled it out loud. Anything that can provide the space for you to explain (verbally or written) how you handled it, and how you can handle it even better moving forward.

In my reflection, I found that deep breaths worked very well for me. But something I can improve on is finding step 1, awareness, sooner. After all, I was stressed all morning until I found awareness. So, this lesson is a cue to me to reaffirm my meditation practice, which is a great method to cultivate awareness everywhere in our life.

Next time you catch your energy sabotaging your life, remember these four (well, five) steps. Start with awareness. Then, just pause, make a choice, take action, and finally, when the storm has passed, reflect.

Cold Water Isn’t For Everyone

It is super important that you know your own data. Now, I’m all for the Wim Hof Method and cold water immersion. But at the right time. In particular, at the right time for you

But the only way we know if it’s right for you is if we have your data and so we can measure how you react to it. I read an article today on Wim Hof’s page on supercharging your sleep. To summarize, the thesis was that cold water immersion right before bed will help optimize your sleep.

Really great.

Well, it was brought to my attention because a couple of my clients told me they wanted to add this in.

So we did.

A week later, we took a look at their data and all of their sleep was cycles plummeted over the course of a week, HRV nosedived, their resting heart rate spiked by 10-12 beats over the course of the week. The only difference was they started doing cold plunges or taking cold showers before going to bed.

Well, when the DNA test came back and we really took a deep dive into it for them, they run in sympathetic overload. That’s what actives the flight or flight response, as opposed to the parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system.

When we’re going to bed, we want the parasympathetic nervous system to take over so we can get into deep sleep quicker. When we took away the cold immersion before going to sleep, everything came back in the right direction. 

Does That Mean Cold Plunges Are Bad?

No.

It means it was bad for them at that given period of time. They still use cold immersion after they workout and sometimes in the morning depending on what their HRV said the night before. But it’s all about understanding a time and a place. It’s not “this tool is going to change your life.” No. That’s a receipt for disaster.

That’s why we need to know our HRV, resting heart rate, sleep cycles, and more. This is how we test modalities on ourselves and figure out what does revolutionize the way we feel. We determine it through certain interactions, variables, and tests. With this, we can get the results we want.

Track Something: The Simple Solution for Sustainable Progress

Why should we track something? And what do we mean by ‘something?’

By something, we mean anything. I know, we’re getting very abstract here.

Usually when we talk about tracking, we’re thinking about the wearable devices like Whoop Bands and Apple watches (among others a part of the billion-dollar wearable industry) that monitor sleep, physical outputs, recovery, and more.

But we could also track something like the number of steps you take in a day. I know I’ve done that. When you’re aware of how many steps you get and always try to hit a number, you’re going to take more steps than if you’re not tracking steps. Why?

Awareness.

It’s all about making you aware of what you’re tracking. Things that we are aware of, all of the sudden, become changeable. We can take action on them. Whether that’s steps, HRV, or whatever. In other words, something.

When you stopped using it, and your actual movement went down. It was because you were no longer aware of it. You were no longer as focused on it.

And as much as it goes for the outer energy, it goes for the inner energy as well, because it all comes back to awareness. 

With the inner energy and mindset side, often the concepts can get very abstract. I mean, who really has a good definition for ‘mindset?’ It’s such an intangible thing to think about. So, in order to improve it, we should first bring something tangible to it that we can measure and become aware of it.

That’s why we came up with the concept of the seven levels of energy. When you can identify where your energy is on a scale of 1-7, you can make connections between certain thoughts, feelings, actions, and beliefs, and your level of energy.

In other words, bringing awareness to your mindset.

When you actually measure it, that’s where the beauty of it comes in. You can measure where you resonate, what level of energy you’re at. From that awareness, you can make action plans. I can say, “Okay, maybe in that situation I was frustrated and I showed up at a level two energy but didn’t feel good for me.” Obviously, the goal is to feel better and resonate at a higher energy level. 

So, what can you do? When you measure your energy level, you bring awareness to it, and you can then use that information and take action and make change.

In each of our lives, there’s something you want to change. Whether it’s weight loss, more energy, better relationships, the only way to create long-term sustainable change is to become aware of it. The way to become aware of it is through tracking and measuring. So ask yourself: 

What is it you’re trying to change? 

Spend some time thinking about that. Once you’re clear on one charge you’re trying to make, think about what you can measure and track to bring awareness to that. Just track something; the magic of awareness is half the battle.

How to Use Your Wearable to Never Get Sick Again

We all know the feeling.

You wake up with your eyelids weirdly sticking together. Your head lightly throbs as you wake up, your throat scratches at is yearns for water. Dammit, you’re sick.

The first thing you’ll want to do is sleep in, of course. Then, you’ll grab for the zinc and vitamin D and start steeping the tea. These are great steps to healing, of course, but we all know that by this point it’s too late. The virus has already come, and really, there’s nothing we’re going to be able to do now except ride out the cold or flu symptoms, lying in your bed.

If only you’d known you were going to get sick, you would’ve taken the few previous days much easier and stomped the pathogen in its path. But, obviously you can’t know you’re going to get sick until you’re, well, sick.

Or can you.

Wearable devices like Whoop Bands provide you with all kinds of information. And, if you know what you’re looking at, you can predict when your immune system will be working over time and your body will be predisposed to catching an illness.

In fact, all you have to do is look at these two metrics and, if you respond appropriately, you can glean the information necessary so you don’t get sick at all. Imagine if you all those sick days you typically deal with year in and year out were replaced with some of your most productive, energetic days.

You just have to look at these two numbers carefully: resting heart rate, and heart rate variability

This is why we track 2 metrics that will allow you to prevent sickness and reduce your number of sick days:

Resting Heart Rate and Heart Rate Variability

Before we get into to talking about these two common metrics and their relationship to one another, first we have to understand why we get sick. Now, novel viruses like SARS-COV2 (COVID-19) aside, getting the flu and the common cold — and their effects on us — depends not only on encountering pathogens but also whether our immune system is able to ward off those pathogens.

If we have elevated stress levels, are working out hard, and not sleeping as much or as well as we need to, the immune system will take a hit, leaving us more susceptible to common illness. 

Our immune system’s ability to respond to pathogens, simply, depends on our recovery from all of life’s stresses. So the question then becomes, how can I tell when the stress of my life exceeds my recovery?

Resting Heart Rate 

As your recovery slides and your body becomes fatigued, one fo the first easily recognizable signs will be your resting heart rate. Your wearable will record your resting heart rate while you sleep each night. This will give you a consistent day-to-day log for your RHR. And, generally, you’ll see a consistent number.

If your RHR rises up about 10-15% over the course of two days, that’s a sign you’re more fatigued than normal, and you should take the precautions for recovery as if you were sick. So, if your RHR is normally 50 beats per minute, and suddenly it’s 55, that’s a red flag. If this happens, cancel your workouts, get extra sleep, steep the tea, take the zinc and vitamin D. Ease off of the stress on your body.

Heart Rate Variability

HRV, as the name implies, is a measure the fluctuation (variation) in your heart beats. If your HRV is high, that means your heart rate varies more, a sign that it’s responding to changes in your environment. For example, if you start run, your heart rate will shoot up. The quicker it shoots up, the better your body is responding, and the higher your HRV will be. During activity is an extreme example, but even while we’re sleeping our body has different demands at different moments, and a high HRV is a sign our body is aptly responding. 

When you’re underrecovered and stressed, a drop in HRV will be one of the first signs. It means your body (and heart, specifically) aren’t responding the way they should. A 5-10% drop means you should ease off of your stress levels and prioritize your recovery above all else.

What Happens When These Head In the Wrong Direction

Often, your resting heart rate will have an inverse relationship with your HRV: when one drops, the other rises. If you want to ward off illness before you feel its effects, its paramount ot take action on this data before you start to feel symptoms. Once you’re symptomatic, you’re going to have to ride it out.

Getting sick is a lot like getting a small injury. Nobody wants to stretch when they feel good, but once they pull their hip flexor, you’ll see them on the foam roller all day. When really, if they just regularly stretched their hip flexors when they felt good, they wouldn’t have gotten injured in the first place.

That’s what sickness is like too. Except, with the wearable, you now have to data to know when exactly you need to prioritize recovery and taking care of your body.

Using your wearable device to make small changes is a perfect example of what mean when we talk about the importance of “being a pro.”