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Dr. Olli Sovijari recently made an appearance on the Mikhaila Peterson podcast to discuss bio-hacking. Dr. Sovijari – author of Biohackers Handbook – discussed many aspects of bio-hacking including nutrition, stress, recovery, and sleep.
Mikhaila: Let’s start with sleep. How do you start to regulate your sleep? I certainly underestimated how important sleep was. I did have a period of three months where I woke up and went to bed at the same time and I got – I think it was eight hours of sleep. I felt so much better. But then stress happens and you can’t sleep. Or other things happen and your sleep goes off. How do you suggest people get their sleep in order and what’s the optimal length of time. What are tricks you can do?
Olli: Well actually you described it very well. Have a very regular rhythm in your sleep patterns. I can also reflect on what [problem] I used to have. I used to work nights. Shift working is the worst. It’s the enemy of sleep. It’s the enemy of – basically your own health. Also social jet lag. I used to party a bit from my twenties to thirties and then I quit. You know, partying on the weekends, you go to bed at three or four and then you wake up Monday morning way too early for the rhythm. Having a pretty tight schedule – like within an hour – when you go to bed, when you wake up; that is the number one thing. And also having enough time to actually sleep. So let’s say if you want to sleep eight hours then I suggest you have ten hours to spend in bed. Usually people’s sleep efficiency is not 90 percent or 95 percent, it’s more like 85 or 80 percent. Of course, it could be even worse if you’re waking up all the time. But having enough time to actually sleep and even better, to be in a relaxed state.
After that comes, light management [is important]. In the morning you want to have white-spectrum or blue-spectrum light – basically sunlight, which is every spectrum. For example, here in Finland, during certain times of the year sunlight is pretty scarce. It might be – for two weeks, it’s grey all day long. Then it gets even darker towards Christmas time. But we can use artificial lights. Like here in the studio, these bright lights would actually work in the morning. There are light glasses that have specific wave lengths. Use them for 20 minutes and you can reset your circadian biology and the clocks in specific parts of the brain.
Also in the evening, you don’t want to have these kind of lights. Definitely you don’t want to have a cell phone here (holds hand up to face) with photons bumping against your eyes. You want to have natural sunset coloring like the red spectrum of light, dimming the light, and so on. You want to play with these natural elements.
Mikhaila: Just to ask a couple of questions about that. Specifically with the light, what’s the time frame? There were a lot of people who asked about time changes and jet lag and circadian rhythms. So what time is it that you should be having more of this bright, bluer light and what time do you start toning things down and using more red light? And the purpose of that is for circadian rhythm, am I correct?
Olli: You can think of this two-hour rule that I just made up. For two hours of the day you want to have really bright – preferably sunlight – but if you don’t have it you can use very bright daylight lamps. The last two hours of the day, you want to really dim it down. Use only red spectrums. You can have specific blue-light-blocking glasses which I don’t think I have at the moment here. But that’s what I’ve been using for seven years already now. I usually put them on three hours before I go to sleep. This actually cuts off the blue light totally. Your body naturally starts secreting melatonin – that’s the dark hormone. That’s not going to be secreted if you’re exposed to too much bright light.
Mikhaila: OK. What kind of glasses do you use? Do you have recommendations for where to go? I know you can get the kind that are five dollars off of Amazon and there are a whole bunch of companies that say they are the best.
Olli: What I use is our own bio-hackers evening glasses. Those are scientifically validated and researched. They actually work as sunglasses. They have UV-A and UV-B protection. They cut off almost 100 percent of the blue light and 80 percent of the green light which may also have an effect. I can give you links to these.
Mikhaila: Oh yeah, sure, I’ll put those up.
Olli: I have them here. This is what I’ve been using. [Puts glasses on face].
Mikhaila: Oh yeah, OK.
Olli: So these actually, I kind of like them. I might use them for the rest of the show. I’m somewhat sensitive to these super-bright lights.
Mikhaila: Yeah, I used to have to this response. I thought I was just being neurotic. I thought a lot of my reactions were just neuroticism. But I used to go in to places. Some of the major places, like Walmart, just destroy me. And I’m sure the lighting in there. I go in there for like 15 minutes – into Target or something – and I’m just dizzy. My dad’s got the same problem. Headaches with fluorescent lighting. Some people get that.
Olli: You probably belong to the 25 percent of people who have sensory processing sensitivity. SPS. Which I definitely have. That’s why I’m also very sensitive to sound. Malls are the worst. And hospitals.
Mikhaila: Oh god, hospitals. You go in there and you’re already half dead. They put you under buzzing, fluorescent lights. Ugh. They feed you sugar. It’s great.
Olli: Try recovering in that environment.
Mikhaila: Yeah! Try sleeping with all the sounds, too. The beeping. Beeping, fluorescent lights, and sugar. Here’s the place to get better.
Olli: I think I’ve used them for at least ten years. I have these specific evening sleep rituals. I use white noise or pink noise or Atlantic waves. I do meditation. I have a spike mat. This gives you some endorphins and oxytocin. It creates a relaxed state. Definitely good technology.
And when I sleep I used the eye mask. Also earplugs, so that I don’t hear anything. I’m not a morning person. My wife is more of a morning person. The others are more in the middle. They’re waking up at six AM or like seven-thirty or eight. I usually go to sleep until nine-thirty or ten.
Mikhaila: What time do you go to bed?
Olli: Usually at about midnight. That’s been my rhythm for all my life. I could easily stay up as late as I want. It’s no problem. Usually when I was on-call at the hospital, I had no problems staying up. But I couldn’t sleep in the hospital beds. You know, you’re being bombarded with lights and sounds. Then I went home at nine AM and tried to sleep for five hours. It was kind of a mess. But my rhythm is very strict. It’s very natural for me. In the summertime I wake up earlier because there’s so much light and you don’t really need that much sleep in the summer, which is pretty natural. When it gets darker you naturally begin craving more sleep.
Mikhaila: Oh, OK I didn’t know that. Is that part of our slight hibernation?
Olli: Everything is about cycles. You have these micro-cycles. You know, the circadian rhythm. Also you have these macro-cycles which are the weekly rhythms but also longer cycles, like the four stages of the year. This affects your chronobiology, your hormones, the way you’re supposed to eat. Not eating the same stuff all the time. Of course, if you have an illness and you really have to do it then it’s a no-brainer.
Mikhaila: You said chronobiology? What is that?
Olli: Basically it’s the biology around the clocks that regulate different systems in our bodies. For example, the melatonin system, also the secretion system, the HBA-axis. Basically most of the hormones. Different kinds of things in the body. Body temperature, regulation of blood pressure, pulse rate, breath rate, and so on.
Later in the interview
Nothing is going to work if you’re not getting enough sleep. Especially deep sleep. It’s the most critical.
Mikhaila: So I use this Oura Ring. I got an Oura Ring last year when I was –
Olli: [holds up hand] Boom. We’re in the club.
Mikhaila: Nerd club. I like the nerd club. Anyway, I got this Oura Ring last year when I was having trouble sleeping. I’ve always overslept but I couldn’t sleep from stress. I got this Oura Ring and it just destroyed my life because I was like, ‘oh, this explains it.’ So now, even if I have a good nine hours my deep sleep is at four percent and I can’t move it. It’s all REM sleep.
Olli: I feel for you. This is a very common problem. That is actually why I wrote this massive article on how to optimize your deep sleep. It’s about 40 pages and has around 200 references. I first wrote it for Ben Greenfield’s site. So you can find it there. The story behind this is that I sent him my Oura data. I get anywhere from between two hours to three-hours-and-twenty-minutes of deep sleep.
Olli: So it definitely hasn’t been like this all the time. I’ve been using Oura Ring for over three years and my starting point was about 50-55 minutes of deep sleep. It’s been slowly but steadily climbing up. There are so many things that you can actually do. The things we discussed at the beginning of the show are definitely the most important, but you can bio-hack your body to get more deep sleep. This is also very crucial for stress management. The number one thing if you go on the supplement side is getting enough magnesium. Not just any form of magnesium. I like magnesium glycinate because it has amino acids that are actually calming and inhibitory. They calm the nervous system and increase GABA production. I take this one capsule. It’s like 100 milligrams. That doesn’t do beep. You need 100 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. For example, I weigh 95 kilos so I take 1000 milligrams of magnesium.
Mikhaila: Wow, OK.
Olli: I might take more if I’m doing a lot of exercise or sports and if there’s a lot of chronic stress. This has been the most traumatic effect. I have been trying a few nights where I don’t take it at all and it drops. Then I take it and it comes back again. So glycinate, magnesium thorate, and even magnesium chelate. If you aren’t remembering these tricky names, just get enough magnesium for your system. The more ill you are, the more chronically stressed you are, the more you need magnesium.
Mikhaila: For sleep you still think that magnesium glycinate is probably better than the magnesium l-threonate? Does that cross over?
Olli: You can use both. Glycinate in the sense that glycine is calming and inhibiting neurotransmitters by itself but it also boosts GABA production. Besides taking magnesium I also take glycine, the amino acid separately, to get it even more. Anything from six to even 10 grams of glycine before bed time is a game changer. Also taurine, the amino acid, separately, two or three grams before bedtime. Taurine is interesting in the sense that it has a very high antioxidant property but also very high properties in boosting GABA production. It’s also very good for the testicles in men, the heart, it increases blood flow to the heart and to your whole system. It’s a very interesting substance.
Mikhaila: Interesting. So if people test their magnesium and it comes back normal, is this still something that can benefit them?
Olli: Yes. I always ask what it means to ‘be normal.’ And how are the magnesium levels measured? If it’s only serum information, it’s only one piece of information. You want to know what’s inside the cells. You want to know the whole blood level of magnesium. Then you can determine what the level of magnesium is that you actually need. Even with the this high-sounding dose, my magnesium isn’t even optimal. The recommendations for magnesium – the RDA – is very low.