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Katie: Hello and welcome to the Wellness Mama Podcast. I’m Katie from WellnessMama.com and this episode is all about sleep and especially how your sleeping position affects your health in ways you may not have ever known. And I’m here with Dr. Peter Martone, who is really working to change the conversation about sleep. We all know that sleep is vital to our health, but how you sleep is just as critical. And this is where his wealth of knowledge lies.
His personal story combined with his 23 years of expertise has taken sleep and health optimization to a whole new level. I got to meet him at a conference, and we got to nerd out a little bit about so many aspects of sleep. He gave me some sleep tips that have been helpful for me and for my kids. And he has a uniquely different structural approach to that’s catching fire in the health space and his product, which is called the neck nest, is helping a lot of people really improve their sleep posture.
But in this episode, we go deep on that topic. We talk about things like the HPA axis and the vagus nerve and how they affect sleep. He provides some really actionable tips that I have not heard before on how to improve sleep and HRV and many other things. We talk about rapid fire things like alcohol, THC, melatonin, so much more. And he has some great quotes about how you don’t think yourself to sleep, you remember yourself to sleep and what that means, and so much more. Definitely lots of actionable tips in this episode. So without any further ado, let’s join Dr. Peter Martone. Dr. Martone, welcome. Thank you so much for being here. I’m so excited to finally get to chat with you and record it.
Dr. Peter: This is great. Thank you so much for having me.
Katie: Well, we’re going to go super deep on the topic of sleep today. But before we do, in researching your bio, I also have a note that you raised a deer. And I want to hear this story because you might be the only person I know who has raised a deer.
Dr. Peter: So it’s interesting, I was just waking up from a nap because I’ve been, this was 15, oh my, no, it’s gotta be, yeah, it’s 16 years ago now. And I hear, mom, mom, mom, mom. And I’m like, what the heck? And I look outside, my wife is holding this baby deer. And I remember right when I was going down for a nap, I heard this really screeching type of noise out in the backyard. We live right in the woods. And I’m like, what the heck is that?
And I look out, my wife is holding a deer, and we had found out that the mom was killed. So we tried to contact animal control, and they’re like, oh, let it go back out into the wild. And my wife being my wife was unable to do that. So she, we ended up getting raw goat’s milk and figuring everything out on how to raise a deer, and the deer would play with my dog as it grew. It would go out into the woods, it would come back, and we raised a deer until it finally met up with a pod of deer and left. But we had the deer for about nine months.
Katie: Wow, that is quite the story and so cool to have that bond. I bet that was really special for your kids too.
Dr. Peter: Yeah, it was amazing. I mean, the deer would follow my kids around. It would walk into our house when, like we had that old farmhouse and it would walk through a screen door when my wife was cooking. It was pretty crazy.
Katie: Oh my gosh, it sounds like a movie. Well, so for context for the listeners, I met you and connected with you at a biohacking conference. We got to have great conversations about sleep and you kind of gave me an analysis, gave a couple of my kids an analysis and gave some suggestions that have been helpful for our sleep. So I’m excited to get to let the audience benefit from your wisdom today as well.
I think to start off broad and we can get a much more nuanced from here, but there seems to be so much debate in the area of the optimal sleep position and you have done so much research and work and helped so many thousands of people sleep and I know that you have data on this. So can you kind of clear the air for us and what is the actual best sleep position and well from there, maybe springboard into what if someone doesn’t sleep well in that position?
Dr. Peter: All right, this is fantastic. So I can still remember when I was a little kid, six years old, I lived in Maldon, Massachusetts on a really, really busy street and my bed was against a window and that window was on the front porch. So I can still remember my parents saying, go to sleep. I would go to sleep, I’d lie in bed and all I could think about is somebody smashing through the window and kidnapping me and taking me away. So in order to fall asleep, like most people do we fall asleep curled up in a ball in that being curled up in a ball on your side, either having, I had all of my stuffed animals around me. That was because I fell asleep in a state of protection and safety.
So we have always been taught, well, told to go to sleep. We’ve never been taught how to sleep. And those eight hours that we spend at night, most sleep experts understand, yes, we can get well rested and we can be more energized if you get better sleep, but they always fail to understand the impact of alignment.
So when you look at sleep, not only as waking up well rested, we take it one step further and say, you have to wake up more well aligned because your alignment of your spine plays a critical role in affecting the health and wellbeing of your nervous system. So when we came up with that concept, we came up with a concept that’s called the correct sleeping posture, not position, but posture. And the correct sleeping posture is being able to fall asleep in a position that is not necessarily the most protected position so you can feel a little bit exposed, but that is on your back with something under your neck and using the weight of your head over the back of that something to fall asleep when your neck is your head’s in distraction and not supported. So that is that’s the positioning and we’ll dive into that positioning as we kind of get a little bit further through the interview.
Katie: Yeah, that’s so fascinating and it makes sense when you explain that childhood connection that we can develop patterns where we might not naturally sleep that way. I know for me the pattern that shifted it and this might ring true for a lot of people listening as well is when I got pregnant with my first child, I was told by the doctor in a very strongly worded way to sleep on my left side and that like that was optimal for the baby. But I think he even worded it that like that was the only safe position for the baby and in my nervous system internalized that strongly. And since then I have mostly only slept on my left side even though I haven’t been pregnant in almost eight years. And I would guess a lot of women listening maybe received that advice to sleep on their left side during pregnancy. So I’m curious A, if that is a modification that’s helpful during pregnancy and then any tips for sort of unwinding that pattern after the baby’s born.
Dr. Peter: Yeah, no, that’s great. And like we said, as humans, we go away from pain and towards pleasure, right? So when we’re thinking about comfort and protecting our babies, and we’ve always taught, do not sleep on your back when you’re pregnant. Well, where does that come from? Can a baby literally die in the womb if you sleep on your back? No, not really. But the pressure of the child can put pressure on a nerve, right, or an artery. Your legs can fall asleep. But ultimately, what will happen if you are in pain in that position of sleeping on your back?
Well, one of the reasons you toss and turn, toss and turn for three reasons, pain, safety, and temperature regulation, your body’s just gonna move you out of that position. Now, do I recommend for my pregnant woman sleeping flat on your back? And the answer is no. So I recommend sleeping at an elevated position with something under your legs also. So you’re almost in this kind of this V position because when you put your spine into that position, most people that had come into my office, and I’ve been a chiropractor for over 24 years, especially when they’re pregnant, it’s always hip problems. It’s hip problems and back issues. And a lot of that is created at night when you’re sleeping because you’re sleeping twisted. And when you fall asleep on your side, whether it’s your left side, you’re only gonna be able to stay into that position for a short time before pain makes you toss and turn at least on a minimum 40 times a night. So my suggestion is put yourself into a position that’s sustainable and you can stay in that position as long as possible that nurtures alignment for you and keeps space open for the baby.
Katie: And that makes sense. And I love that you just said the three reasons we toss and turn. I would love for you to elaborate on each of those and maybe walk us through initial solutions if someone is having trouble with tossing and turning. Because I know for me, sleep has been a long journey and I wear an Oura ring and now most nights tells me like no significant movements at all during the night. And I usually find out I wake up in the same position I fall asleep, but that certainly hasn’t always been the case.
So for people who do toss and turn, can you go back through those three reasons and give us some suggestions for what to do if someone’s experiencing any of those three?
Dr. Peter: Great, great question. So the first one is pain. Pain is the one of the number one reasons why we toss and turn. The body’s in pain because your weight is distributed over a small surface area. So for instance, if you sleep on your side, your weight is distributed over your over your side, over your hips, and then your shoulder and you’re going to sleep twisted. Your body is only going to be able to stay in that position. Actually, I give my patients a test. I say watch a two hour movie in the position that you fall asleep in and see how long you can consciously stay in that position. And arguably, you’re only able to stay in that position for about 20 minutes before you move.
So first thing to prevent pain while you’re sleeping is put your body into an aligned position on your back with the pillow. Actually, you know what, we are on video, Katie, so we are going to show you that position. So it’s lying on your back, making sure that your pillow is underneath your neck. In that your head is over the back of the pillow using the weight of your head as like a little block, almost like a slinky, and then your arms and your hands are down by your side. Almost similar, I hate to even say it, but being in a coffin. You know, that is an aligned position for your body.
Number two, safety. That position, remember it’s so it’s your body is going to want to feel safe when you’re sleeping like me curled up in a ball. When you lie on your back your body is going to feel more exposed. So that is where these you know sleep masks or pressure against your eyes come in where you can use pressure against your eyes to stimulate a safe environment. You can put a pillow over your chest, you can you can put a pillow on your legs but pressure on your chest will create a safe environment when you sleep on your back.
And then the third is temperature regulation. My major recommendation here is that your body is like a furnace, especially when you eat late. It creates heat. Your body temperature needs to drop about two degrees before you get good deep sleep. So you want to stop eating late. You want to avoid strenuous exercise before bed. And then when you fall asleep, you want to fall asleep with your hands in your feet outside of the covers so your body can temperature regulate. Like use your hands and your feet as radiators so it can drop your body core temperature.
Katie: Ah, and that makes me think of, I know I’ve done this before and I would guess other people have as well, if you get hot, putting a foot out of the covers to cool yourself back off. But falling asleep that way seems like a great solution because then you’re maintaining that throughout the whole night. And I love those suggestions as well because to me that touches on, I know I’ve heard from like waking posture perspective that our posture can affect if our body is in a parasympathetic versus sympathetic nervous system state and that like being slouched for hours is actually like a stressful thing for our nervous system. Whereas like being in a relaxed shoulders back position signals a lot more safety to the body. So it makes sense to me that during sleep those same things would apply, but in even more of an amplified way because we’re spending hopefully a third of our day asleep and often in the same position. It makes sense. We would want to be intentional about that position.
You also mentioned temperature and I’d love to talk a little bit about this because I know that there are ranges that they say are optimal for sleep temperature and I’ve done a lot to like hack that with having a ChiliPad on my bed and things like that. But it seems like temperature is one of the big needle movers of sleep as well. It might help people avoid tossing and turning also. Any other tips for like temperature or sleep environment like temperature, light, the type of bedding we’re using, anything along those lines that can help.
Dr. Peter: You’re correct. We have five pillars of sleep, and one of our pillars is temperature. And I want people to remember, and this is really, really a critical fact that happens, you are only typically in control of how you fall asleep. Once you fall asleep, to give yourself the best chance of staying asleep, we want to own falling asleep correctly. Let’s not think about the rest of the night. Let’s just try to master and be like sleep machines, I guess you can say, on falling asleep.
So if we think about core body temperature in falling asleep, what are some things that we can do? The biggest thing, like I said, have your hands and your feet out of the covers. But your body core temperature follows two very important vitals that you’re going to be able to control. And you control this when you fall asleep. Actually, I’m going to say a third one.
First. What’s on your mind the last five minutes before you close your eyes is going to determine your quality of sleep. So we got to learn to control and clear our brains. Now, the two vitals that you can control to be able to drop your core temperature is your heart rate. And you control your heart rate by your respiratory rate. So you want to slow your breathing down so your heart rate comes down because that will ultimately drop your core temperature. And now your core temperature follows our circadian rhythm. So naturally your core temperature elevates and drops. So the more consistent you can be with your bedtime to give your body the internal clock timing it needs to be able to get you into deep sleep. By the time you hit what’s called your energy spike, you wanna do your maximum amount of healing by dropping your core temperature low. So you can also get your timing right. And I have some people take a cold shower so that you can drop your temperature a little bit that way. But those are some things, I mean, I have a whole host of things on it, but those are some big ones.
Katie: And also to circle back to the neck posture during sleep, I know in our conversations at the conference that there are a couple of really cool biological factors that come into play here that I really wanna go deep on today. And the first being is how the structure of your neck and how your sleeping affects vagus nerve. Because I’ve talked a little bit about vagus nerve in other contexts on this podcast before, but it makes sense to me that sleep is a big area when it comes to this because we do spend so much time in that sleep state. So, but can you walk us through that connection and what’s going on, how we can optimize vagus nerve function during sleep?
Dr. Peter: Well, Katie, it just so happens, yes, I can. I have my little handy-dandy spine, and as you can see behind me is the wandering nerve, which is called the vagus nerve. So the vagus nerve is very different. It controls 80% of your entire parasympathetic nervous system. And it’s one nerve. And it’s a cranial nerve, which means it comes out directly from the brain. And where it exits the brain, let’s say this is the spine, and this is you looking straight, where it exits the brain, it then comes down the cervical spine and then wanders all the way to the digestive tract immune system, reproductive system. It controls all of that vital thrive systems in your body.
When you do the poor sleeping positions and or do the modern day lifestyle reinforced by poor sleeping positions in the modern day lifestyle, being texting all day long, being on a computer, and then sleeping curled up in a ball or using a pillow the wrong way to support your head, what you end up doing is you lose the cervical structure in the neck. And this is what most people don’t realize, is when you lose the cervical structure in the neck, you create this dural tension. You create this tension in the nerve. And actually you end up with scoliosis and misaligned hips because of it.
But that dural tension causes interference in vagal tone. So it suppresses vagal tone or suppresses the vagus nerve, which is going to give you a relative sympathetic dominance state or a very stressed state. So a lot of people can’t come down and relax and slow their respiratory rate down quickly because of the loss of cervical structure. And that is happening at night when you’re sleeping. And then that is what can be corrected by getting the sleeping position correct.
Katie: That makes sense. And I guess peripheral to sleep, are there any other things we can do during the day that are also helpful for the vagus nerve or that can sort of by default help our sleep as well in that area?
Dr. Peter: Yeah, so if we’re talking specifically about vagal tone, we want to, and let’s stick with it with posture, because one of our missions is to help people get best to help people get way better sleep in the way is well aligned. Well rested, aligned you. So is to work on your proprioception or to work on your balance. So working on your balance is critically important in being able to help the central nervous system or the vestibular system in your brain be able to maintain this new position. Because ultimately our body posture, this is a law in the body now, body posture adjusts to head position. So by the way that you hold your head, whether it’s forward, whether it’s to the side, your body posture adapts to that.
So if you have poor posture, you don’t have weak muscle tone, you don’t have weak structure, you don’t have a weak core, you have a misaligned head. So if we can sleep on our back, distract our neck into that position, and then work on a wobble board, working on our posture, those two things together can strengthen the curve in our cervical spine.
And then during the day, you work on meditation techniques to slow your respiratory rate and also to slow your heart rate. And by doing that consciously, Katie, you saw me put the scent under my nose. So every time I meditate or I slow my breath down and I get into a relaxed state, I use this, I just use this, this scent. I use lavender. Some people hate lavender, you can use citrus. It doesn’t matter. But during the day, by consciously slowing your respiratory rate through meditation, you can attach your brain to a scent. Then you can use that scent at night when you sleep or any time during the day to slow down your sympathetics.
Katie: That is a genius tip. I think, I mean, we all heard that smell is the most closely linked to memory and that applies to our nervous system and our body memory as well. And I hadn’t ever thought to use it that directly, but I love that tip of… Getting your body to associate ascent with a deeper state of relaxation and calm and vagus nerve tone and all of those things. I love that.
I know another area that this really comes into play and another area we talked about at the conference was the HPA axis relationship. And I would guess for most people, I would guess most people have heard that term, but I would love for you to explain what the HPA axis is and how that has a direct relationship with our sleep, our stress, our metabolism. I know, obviously we know that sleep affects all areas of health, but I feel like this is one really cool place of understanding just how intricately it does.
Dr. Peter: So HPA, you’re talking about the hippocampus?
Katie: The hypothalamic pituitary tract.
Dr. Peter: Oh, yes. Okay. So, basically, it’s everything. So, in order to break, I like to break things down into a very understandable, very kind of connected way. And when we’re looking at, when we look at, let’s say, how our body functions, I like typically look at two states. You have a state of survival. Which is when the average individual is in stress. So you’re gonna run from a tiger and you’re gonna run from a tiger, your body is going to need to embrace specific things. Core temperature is gonna rise. Right, then your heart rate’s gonna rise, respiratory rate’s gonna rise, all of those things are a state.
And when you want to stimulate growth or healing and repair, you need to stimulate the opposite state, which is the opposite where your immune system turns on, your digestive system turns on, your core temperature is going to drop. So those are different states. Most chronic disease lives in the inability to regulate that state. That happens neurologically in the brain. And you can shift by shifting awareness on how you think, what you focus on, you can shift different areas and different triggers in the brain. There’s really some cool technology that’s trying to do that.
So you’re trying to consciously stimulate a state of healing, repair and reproduction. You do that through elevating your, believe it or not, your core temperature. You get into a steam room, you get into a sauna, you get into a shower, I mean, a really, really hot heat environment. You’re going to stimulate this immune system. You’re going to stimulate the reproductive system. You’re going to calm the brain down. That’s why I really loved reading all the research on these hot, you know, when people go into these, you know, the hot chambers and they work on this very, very high elevated heat system. And then the opposite of that is doing the cooling baths and going into the cryogenics. So when you’re able to take your body into these maximum states, the delta change of how your brain regulates those states is really where true healing comes in.
Katie: That’s a great explanation. And I definitely have cited before the studies, especially the one out of Finland, related to the heat part you just mentioned. And I’ve said before, if sauna or heat manipulation were a pill, everybody would take it because the benefits are so profound and the reduction in everything from all-cause mortality to cardiovascular events to even like stroke and cancer, there’s kind of connections across the board there. And I love that this is now something that’s entering the mainstream conversation, but I love that you brought in that other element and tied in how we know the benefits of cold as well.
And I’ve always said heat and cold are kind of separate things. And then when you combine them, it’s their own special type of therapy. It’s not that you’re stacking necessarily all the same benefits of heat and cold. You are in a way, but it’s the contrast that actually has its own host of benefits. And you explained so well, like how you said, the delta between those two and how the body regulates is actually what you’re sort of training in that state.
I also know from firsthand experience and from the research that sleep ties into, like you’ve already touched on a little bit, immune system health, hormone health, reproduction, and also maintaining a healthy body weight. But I think that this often goes deeper than most people realize. And I know for me firsthand, if you’re not sleeping well, it’s going to be very difficult or impossible to get to your ideal body weight or to your ideal state of health in general. But can you talk about why that’s the case and why sleep is so vital for things like metabolism and maintaining healthy body weight?
Dr. Peter Yeah, and I, like I said, I’m a very simplistic-minded in how I educate. And I really try to bring people always back to that regulation between those two states. And I mean, there’s insulin resistance that happens if you don’t sleep well. There’s all of these, leptin goes out of control and the balance between those two, all of that stuff happens. But when we speak at the fifth grade level, really ultimately, your body is like… An iPhone or a smartphone. And that smartphone, the more performance or the more apps that you want on that phone at night, the more you have to plug it in. So you wear your body, you wear the battery down by the more production you have. And then in order to have the same production the next day, you need to plug in.
So we wanna look at sleep as our plug-in time. But with the difference between a cell phone or that phone is if it runs out of power, it’s just gonna end. Well, you can go, if you don’t recharge every night the same way, you’re gonna chronically have an internalized stress state and hormonal balance is going to overtake to keep you alive. So when your hormones are out of balance, your body goes into a stressed state. So by getting less sleep, you’re actually putting your body into a stressed state, even living the same lifestyle the next day, that’s why people get sick during the winter time, right around the time change, not because the virus comes down and infects everybody is because as the days get shorter, you’re still trying to get away with as much less stress. So when the environment around you changes, you’re just gonna end up getting sick because your body goes into that stressed state.
And when your body’s in that stressed state, cortisol increases and whilst cortisol increases it affects your body’s ability to break down fat. So you end up maintaining more fat, especially as we go into the winter time. So we’ve got to look at things as states and replugging in. So the rule of thumb get eight and a half, eight hours of sleep during the summertime. And you want to increase that to about eight and a half hours of sleep during the winter time. And then as the days get shorter, the more sleep you get, the more you’ll be able to keep off weight because your body will be less stressed. It’ll be plugged in. And by getting better quality of sleep, which we can also talk about, then you’re going to just maximize your energy through the winter time and not get sick.
Katie: That’s another great tip. And I’m glad you said steps perfectly set up the springboard to the next question, which was what are some ways that we can both track and improve the quality and duration of sleep? Because I know that sleep is not just the number of how long we’re sleeping, but also the quality of sleep we’re getting. And we now there’s so much access to wearable sleep trackers. I know many people listening wear some sort of wearable device that gives them some kind of insight into their sleep. So I’d love to talk about how accurate you feel these are, what metrics within that are important to pay attention to, and then any levers we can use to improve certain aspects of sleep. Maybe if someone struggles with deep sleep or struggles with their respiration is high during sleep or whatever the case may be.
Dr. Peter: So now I have this conversation quite a bit with neurologists and owners of the sleep companies and stuff like that. When it really comes down to it, a wearable is just that, it’s a wearable. Whether you have one wearable, and I have a ring on that is actually a wearable, the data is only good as the consistency as you’re going to wear it. So arguably is one better than the other? Who knows? I mean, the best is technology that I mean, it’s super expensive. The technology runs $2,000 to be able to analyze that. But the more consistent you use a wearable, the more accurate the data is going to be for you.
So then what you want to do is you want to be able to see and make changes based on what your energy levels are. So for the clients that I coach in our programs, this is my recommendation for people. Is I say, put a wearable on whatever it is, I don’t care which one it is, then go and analyze how you feel that that day you woke up, then how you feel that next day, how you feel that next day and how you feel that next day. And then get the reading, which I believe is the most important reading, which is heart rate variability. Get your HRV reading. See what your target HRV zone is. HRV is a reading of how your heart’s beating to tell you how rested you are overall, regardless of how much sleep it is. There’s so many more variables that go into understanding HRV than just your quality of sleep at night.
So then, and then especially if you exercise, like get that target HRV, and then try to increase it by 15 to 20% doing different things. And some of the things that you can do, use weight on your eyes, allow your body to temperature regulate by having your hands in your feet, put pressure on your chest. You can work with magnesium, you can take GABA. So what’s right for you is going to be that thing that you need that is going to be able to give you the energy that you desire with the downtime. We wanna become what we call in our system, more productive while we sleep. So we want to look at yes, the hours of sleep, but we wanna be able to have better quality of sleep. And then we have to biohack that with the different techniques that are out there.
Katie: Yeah, I’m so glad you brought HRV into it because that was going to be another question I had for you. It seems like now that people have access to this information, that can actually be a source of stress sometimes, especially if people are comparing their HRV to other people’s HRV or to things they see online. And so I love that you brought that up and made the point that you’re wanting to compare against your own baseline and see improvements versus your own baseline instead of looking at, like I know I’ve worked with a couple people who have HRVs in the like 180s and above, which is not common or average. But if you see that and compare yourself to it, you might feel like you’re failing at HRV all the time when really you could be making improvements relative to your own baseline, which is the actual important metric to look at.
Are there any other factors that can be helpful there? You mentioned waking factors, because I know for me I’ve seen improvements when I dealt with stress and did breath work regularly, when I’ve done things like a lot of zone two activity, like walking, just conversational walking with friends, even things like improving my nitric oxide seem to help my HRV. But are there any tips you have for people who maybe are concerned about that or wanting to improve their HRV?
Dr. Peter: Absolutely. And you are Wellness Mama. So what we don’t want to do is compare HRV to kids because kids’ HRVs are through the roof. So let’s say we split this podcast into like how to help kids and how to help adults. Kids, it’s simple. Put them into a position, right? That where they feel protected, you pressure on them and you’re not going to, and a child, right? We make decisions based on if the Y is big enough, the what doesn’t matter. Children don’t have that Y yet. And their bodies are more plastic, or which means they stretch a lot easier. So yes, we just want to put them into the position when they fall asleep. Don’t worry about how they wake up. Just be consistent with how you put your child to sleep.
Now, let’s go with an adult. There’s so much more complexity because one of the limitations that happens is we get scar tissue, we get arthritic changes within our spine that change our structure. Changing that structure suppresses vagal tone, which is gonna throw HRV out of balance. So things that we do, put the pillow under our neck, let the head weigh back, let’s work on that structure. So now let’s talk about during the day.
One of the only organs in the body. Let’s say, I mean, we’re all exposed to a stressful mental event. And let’s say you’re exposed to a stressful event. There’s a specific hormone that’s released, we’re all familiar with it, called cortisol, right? So when you are exposed to a stressful event and then another one, then your kid runs down the hall and then another, the cortisol levels build up. Cortisol will stay in your system for up to five days. So think about that, cortisol after cortisol after cortisol to cortisol stacking. One of the only organs in the body that can metabolize cortisol at a high level is your heart. So you wanna increase your heart rate through aerobic activity that metabolizes the cortisol. And then at night, your body is going to be able to get into a much deeper sleep because your heart rate comes down quicker. And if your heart rate comes down quicker, your core temperature is gonna drop, you fall asleep, you get into deep sleep quicker. And most people have an energy spike around midnight. And if you’re in deep sleep before that energy spike, one hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours of sleep of healing after midnight.
Katie: I have heard that before and I’m glad to hear you confirm it. I tell my kids this actually often of why the reason we all go to bed early is because sleep is more effective and efficient before midnight when you’re in that deep sleep. And I see that play out in my sleep data. The majority or all of my deep sleep will be in that early phase, certainly before 2 AM. And then REM tends to seem to happen more in the early morning hours. And I noticed that in my energy levels, that pretty drastic difference if I don’t get to sleep on my normal schedule, if I’m traveling and I’m speaking and I get to bed at midnight, I notice obviously a drop off in deep sleep. But also I just notice a huge difference in my energy levels the next day.
Can you walk us through the difference of what’s happening physiologically and why those different sleep phases are important? For instance, deep sleep. And I know that there’s like the flushing of the cerebral spinal fluid during deep sleep. A lot of repair happens then. I know there’s also benefits to REM sleep, but can you explain those and why both of those are important and we need to get that early in the night sleep as well?
Dr. Peter: Yeah, I’m gonna do this for you, because we are, a lot of the people listening, I would imagine have kids too. So I wanna kind of go back on this and give you such a huge tip, because I don’t know when this is launching or when this is gonna happen, but our body temperature follows a circadian rhythm. So a child that has a fever, or if you’re sick, temperature is going to elevate right around 9, 10, 11, or 11 o’clock, right? And then it will start dropping. So fevers also spike right around that time. So if a child’s fever is going up, raising, raising, raising, raising, raising, and you wanna let a fever go as long as you can, right around midnight, that fever is going to start dropping, which is why that’s when your energy spike goes away, and that’s really why you’re getting that deep sleep.
So in really simplistic way, I know I’m saying that like 100 times now, but to understand the difference of deep sleep and REM sleep. Purely this. Deep sleep is when your body… Rejuvenates, recharges and repairs. REM sleep is when your brain detoxifies and gets clearer. So if you’re a heavy thinker like me, I have ADD, I think about a 9 million things a day, I need a lot of REM sleep so my brain can categorize all that stuff. Not everybody needs a lot of REM sleep. If you’re more of a chill person, you calm down a little bit, you’ll get a little less REM sleep. So you can’t compare your REM sleep to me.
But ultimately to think about sleep cycles, your body needs to go through 4 to 5 sleep cycles a night going from deep restorative sleep up to brain. Brain recategorizing sleep, deep restorative healing sleep, brain recategorizing sleep, and you go through these normal cycles. If your body doesn’t go, let’s say you take a melatonin that drops you out, or you take a sleep medication, you have alcohol to put you to sleep, what happens a lot of times is you stay down into this comatose sleep, you’re not dreaming, you’re doing very little repair, and then at the end of the night you’re going to have what’s called REM rebound, you’re going to wake up in the middle of dreams, you’re not going to get enough REM, not enough deep sleep, and you wake up feeling fatigued, dragging, and groggy.
And so it’s important to go through those cycles, you go through those cycles naturally, the best is when you create a bedtime, and you go to bed and you wake up at the same time, your body will get used to the circadian rhythm, and then once you understand temperature, and you’ll see that that becomes important around that time too, to be able to biohack those different phases.
Katie: You mentioned two other things that I would love to get your clarity on. The first one is alcohol. And I know this is a controversial topic in general, and certainly when it comes to sleep. And I can say my general approach from having seen my sleep data play out and knowing that alcohol does negatively impact my sleep, especially in excess of about one drink of any type, is that I most of the time avoid alcohol and I sort of weigh it in a capacity of like sleep capital. And if it’s a great community experience and I’m spending time with people I love and I’m going to stay up a little later, I might have a couple of drinks and I’m weighing that against am I willing to lose some of my good sleep to pay that cost for this social time? And if the answer is yes, then I will do it. But I almost never drink outside of that because I have seen it, how much it impacts my sleep. So I would love for you to talk about alcohol and sleep and the implications both biologically and just long-term and what your recommendations and also maybe your personal stances on that.
Dr. Peter: Yeah, so I just got back from Vegas. I went to Carrie Underwood. Yeah, she was crushed. And so I had a couple drinks. And the biggest issue is when you go, I mean, I’m on the East Coast and I was on the West Coast time. That is just a nightmare. So I didn’t get that. I mean, I think my heart rate variability was like, sticks. I think if you’re zero, you’re dead. So I mean, I was, I didn’t get a really great night’s sleep.
So how do you come back from that? Right? So when you have alcohol, you’re not going to have great sleep. Alcohol just deteriorates your sleep patterns. THC just deteriorates your sleep patterns. So when you take something that alters the chemical, the way that the stuff fires in the brain, you can throw the body out of balance.
So now, how do you come back from that? How am I going to make up my trip in Vegas? Well, you do that by napping. So you have to have a conscious schedule of being able to make up that loss of REM sleep and that loss of deep sleep. If not, you’ll carry that into days later. So if you have a really, let’s say, hard weekend, or you had a great time, you went to a bachelor party, or you did something, and you did that on Saturday, your immune system, or you’ll be sick by Thursday. I usually see that there’s about a four or five day gap. And then people are like, Oh man, I got sick on the plane. You didn’t get sick on the plane. You got sick because you’re suppressing your sleep and your immune system bounced back five days later. And that’s typically what happens. So you make that up by napping.
Katie: Okay. And the other thing you mentioned was melatonin. And I know this also has some controversy around it. And that certainly maybe people over rely on melatonin. I know there’s, I’ve at least heard things like if you take it for too long or too high amounts, it can affect your natural melatonin production. I know I tend to avoid it unless I’m traveling and seriously changing time zones. Like if I’m flying to Europe, I’ll often use it strategically to try to get onto a better sleep schedule. But I personally like to rely on morning sunlight, which I know is very simplistic and often overlooked because it’s so simplistic. But I feel like that drastically improves my sleep and makes me not ever feel like I would need something like melatonin. But what is your take on melatonin? Is it useful at times? Does the dose matter a lot? Is it being overused? And if someone is going to use melatonin, what should they take into account?
Dr. Peter: Oh, this is great. Well, you actually answered the question. How you’re taking it is actually perfect, the way that I recommend. So I don’t like to take the hormone that stimulates sleep. I like to take things that support relaxation and ultimately is going to allow your body to create, you know, is going to allow you to release more melatonin. If you need melatonin to sleep, the problem is there’s something else that’s a problem that you’re using as a crutch. You’re not able to shut down your brain. And then what’s going to end up happening is you’re going to end up waking up in the middle of the night with red rebound in the middle of your dreams and you’re going to have crazy dreams because you’re not going through those natural cycles.
So my suggestion is, yes, you can support with melatonin. You can support with melatonin when you’re traveling, things like that. Taking it regularly, arguably what’s going to happen is your body will rebound to what you’re taking, but then you’re going to be dependent on dosages and things like that. The best way is to ultimately understand how to get into your own brain because a lot of it’s anxiety and anxiousness, that reason why we can’t sleep, and work under the pillar of this.
You cannot think yourself to sleep. You have to remember yourself to sleep. We all want to be in control of something, right? We want to think about our to-do list. We want to think about not forgetting something. If you’re thinking, you’re going to destroy your sleeping patterns. If you’re remembering things that happened in the past, you’re accessing different parts of the brain that are really close to your sleep centers. And then if you remember the same thing, we came up with this thing called creating a sleep memory, but if you remember the same thing over and over and over again, night in, night out, you put yourself to sleep on it once, you get to sleep quicker, and you’ll stay asleep longer without having to use any support.
If you do use support, one of my recommendations to start is with magnesium. And then you take the number three, multiply it by your weight and take it about an hour before bed. So if you’re 100 pounds, you would take 300 milligrams of magnesium. And then that’s a good thing because that calms your system down and stimulates the release of melatonin, but it’s not the melatonin hormone itself.
Katie: And speaking of dreams, I would love to know, is there anything you have found, I don’t tend to remember dreams often, I know I have them and everyone has them, is there any downside to not remembering our dreams and or is there anything that can help enhance the REM sleep and or dream side?
Dr. Peter: Well, naturally, ultimately, you’re not supposed to remember your dream because when you wake up, you want to… I mean, you’ll remember a dream if you just wake up and then you consciously attach yourself to the dream. A lot of times you can remember what you were dreaming about. But if you’re remembering your dreams at night, it means you’re in this really shallow state and you’re not getting a really good deep sleep. Because you should dream and then drop yourself into deep sleep. And once that happens, it clears the slate. And then you dream again and then you drop into deep sleep and it clears the state. And then once you come out, and especially a lot of people remember their dreams if they’re waking up with an alarm clock, because it’ll wake you up in the middle of a REM sleep. And that’s when you’ll remember your dreams is when you’re waking up in a state of sleep that you’re not supposed to be in, waking up, right? So that’s why you wake up tired and grumpy.
Katie: Okay, a few other rapid fire questions I want to make sure we have time to get through. The first being mouth taping, yes or no, recommend, don’t recommend.
Dr. Peter: Yeah, I recommend it. Managing your airway is really important, especially when you try to sleep in a position that is on your back. You need to either mouth tape or keep something up underneath your jaw so it holds your mouth shut.
Katie: And seems like also helpful in snoring potentially. People mouth tape and it tend to get better with snoring.
Dr. Peter: It is, and ultimately we haven’t been taught how to breathe correctly. So when you fall asleep, we’re really supposed to be sucking our tongue to the roof of our mouth, keeping our mouth shut. But most people’s jaw drop back into their mouth. So that’s why we have airway issues. And that’s one of the issues that people, once they fall asleep on their back, then people go away from pain and towards pleasure. They’re like, oh, I can’t do this because I can’t breathe. And they don’t overcome the hurdle of being able to breathe in the position you’re supposed to be in.
Katie: Got it. Okay, what about light considerations? I know I’ve said enough times on here, people are probably tired of hearing about it, of sleep in a dark environment. And I take this to the extreme with blackout curtains in my room. I can’t even see my hand in front of my face. But how important is light? And if someone doesn’t have a completely dark sleep environment, can something like a sleep mask get them 80% of the way there? Or what are the ways we can optimize light both during the day and at night for better sleep?
Dr. Peter: Sleep mask can get you 100% there. You can put a sleep mask on. Sometimes those sleep masks fall off if you’re a restless sleeper, especially when you’re starting. Even a flickering light from an alarm clock can stimulate through the eyes and can affect your sleep. But light is super important. A lot of times in our house, right after a certain time, we go to low light situations. So we go to low light right around seven or eight o’clock. Either candles are going, all of our lights in the house are pretty dim. So I really think that it’s important to be able to be in a low light situation. You do want your room as dark as possible with as little light leaks. But if that can happen, sleep mask is a really good way, an effective way. I also put a pillow on my head, creating a head garage, just like an ostrich sticking its head in the ground. It feels safe. That’s another way to do it.
Katie: I’ll be curious. I haven’t experimented with that yet, but I’m going to give it a try. And lastly, the circle back, I know we already touched on this, but for people who are like hardcore side sleepers and that’s how they want to sleep, is it still possible to get the same benefits of sleep in that position or is it really worth over time trying to transition to sleeping on your back as much as possible?
Dr. Peter: Yeah, so like I mentioned, you’re only in control of how you fall asleep. So you want to put your body into the position for when you fall asleep. Most people are going to stay in that position for an hour or two hours a night, and then they’ll turn on their side. That’s fine. Don’t wake up in the middle of the night, always just try to change. Just be in control of how you fall asleep. If that’s a lifestyle habit, don’t worry about how you’re sleeping. You just need to control how to fall asleep. That’s what you need to become an expert in. And that’s kind of what I do is I teach you how to fall asleep. Let the body do what it’s going to do. Let’s stop controlling it. So yes, we want to fall asleep into this position. And then whether it’s an hour a night, 45 minutes a night, two hours a night, your body’s going to be in control of how long you stay there.
Katie: And speaking of that, for people who are not watching the video and just listening, they may not see behind you. I know you invented something very specific to this and it’s something I’ve now been using, but can you talk about the neck nest and how this helps that, especially for people like me who had trouble transitioning to sleeping on my back again?
Dr. Peter: So a neck nest is in most of the issue becomes in how to use something, right? You can’t buy a more comfortable pillow. You need something that’s more functional and then comfort happens. So that’s why you hate your pillow is because you’re using it as a pillow and a pillow is a support for your head. So the difference with the neck nest is that the neck nest is designed to put you in a very different position and for you to start in that position for one hour a night. And then as the nights go on, the neck nest becomes extremely comfortable. Then you can sleep in this position with a shoe under your neck. But it’s designed to be able to put your body into this corrective sleeping posture, restoring the cervical curve in your neck, improving the vagus nerve function and ultimately making you healthier and more aligned when you wake up. So that is the design of the neck nest. It’s really a pillow with a purpose.
Katie: And I will make sure that’s linked in the show notes as well as to your website. But can you let people know, I know you have so many educational resources freely available online. Where can people find those?
Dr. Peter: Yeah, if they go on to also necknest.com/wellnessmama. And what I did there is some of the things we talked about about the structural alignment. And I put some x-rays up there so people can kind of see what we’re talking about and what it really looks like to have a loss of that curve. But they can go to that necknest.com/wellnessmama. And from there, they’ll be able to take a sleep quiz to see how, you know, and it will score you on how, you know, it’s called the sleep risk assessment. How are your sleeping patterns affecting your overall health and wellness? And it’s a free test. It gives you some feedback. I think it’s fun kind of to see where you are. But if they go to necknest.com/wellnessmama, they can click on that at the bottom and that will take them to the quiz.
Katie: Well, that will be linked as well. And a couple of last questions that I love to ask at the end of interviews, the first being if there is a book or number of books that have had a profound impact on you personally, and if so, what they are and why.
Dr. Peter: Well, you know, you look at me as a exercise physiologist, then moving to a chiropractor, now moving into the sleep industry. A big, a book for me is the zigzag principle. You know, in order to find purpose and be happy and to decrease anxiety in life, you have to have purpose. And whether that, and I believe the purpose, you know, is channeled from up above, but it’s really ultimately finding your why and whatever your why is, and then being able to, you know, and then I zigzagged into that. So that was a good book to really figure out, you know, because, you know, it’s anxious for me to think that I’m in the sleep industry now and I’m a chiropractor, but it’s truly where I’m supposed to be, and it really is in line with my purpose. And it all goes back to helping people get Great, way better sleep.
Katie: And we have talked the most about sleep, but my last question is if there’s any life advice that you have found really helpful, it could be related to sleep and everything we’ve talked about or unrelated life advice that you just find helpful.
Dr. Peter: Well, I like to, I’ve talked about it a few times, but I really, really like to reiterate this is. Is there’s a principle called hard easy, easy hard, right? It’s hard right now to change your sleeping position, right? Because as you know, it is going, you know, it’s going away from pleasure and more towards pain. Because when you sleep in this position, you’re gonna be like, I can’t do it. And all this negative self-talk that always goes through our lives is going to go through our brain. But that’s, it’s easy hard to keep doing the same thing that you want, which means you want the same patterns, the same pain, the same health, then don’t change. That’s easy. But hard easy is making the change now in the potential of what your life can be like afterwards. So go through life with those principles is know that our nature is to go more towards pleasure and comfort, but really where great change happens, like taking your temperatures to the full extremes, high, high heat, cold, cold, cold, that adaptation to the change in that Delta is where true growth happens.
Katie: I love that. I think that’s a perfect place to put a pin in it for today, though hopefully we can do a round two one day. I’m so grateful that we finally got to connect. It was a pleasure to meet you in person and now to get to record this interview with you. I know you’re also very busy, so thank you so much for your time and for all that you do.
Dr. Peter: Thank you so much, Katie. I really appreciate it and thank you for giving me the opportunity.
Katie: And thanks as always to all of you for listening and sharing your most valuable resources, your time, your energy, and your attention with us today. We’re both so grateful that you did and I hope that you will join me again on the next episode of the Wellness Mama Podcast.
If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.