BC102: Lasse Leppäkorpi | Beddit – Achieve More With A Great Night’s Sleep

This week’s guest is Lasse Leppäkorpi, the CEO and founder of Beddit, the world’s leading sleep app.  Beddit’s sleep analysis is based on ballistocardiography (BCG), which is the measurement of the mechanical cardiac activity from the platform supporting the body.  Each time the heart beats, the acceleration of blood generates a mechanical impulse that can be measured and analyzed with a sensitive-enough force sensor, such as the Beddit Sleep Tracker.  Throughout the night, Beddit picks up each individual heart beat and respiration cycle while separating other body movements from them.  Their advanced analysis and machine-learning algorithms adapt differently to each body type and provide detailed sleep information each morning.

You will achieve more with a great night’s sleep and you can easily make your bed a smart bed with Beddit.  Leppäkorpi discusses the science of sleep and what athletes need to know for the most undervalued aspect of optimal performance.

You can follow Leppäkorpi and Beddit on Twitter @Beddit and online at www.Beddit.com.

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Cain: Hey how are you doing? Brian Cain your Peak Performance Coach here with the Peak Performance Podcast. Today our guest is Lasse Leppakorpi. He is the CEO and founder of Beddit, an app and a program that I personally use and that we’ll get into.

With Beddit you achieve more with a great night’s sleep and you’re able to make your bed a smart bed so that you can learn more about how you invest – literally – a third of your life. Some of the background on sleep is that if you’re sleeping for 8 hours a night that is literally a third of your life and how you use that 1/3 of life and how the quality of sleep that we get will dramatically impact the other 2/3 of how you live.

Lasse, thank you for joining us. If you would give our listeners a little bit of your background and your passion for sleep research and how you came about Beddit in your days as an athlete that would be great because you can do it much better than I.

Leppakorpi: Thank you, Brian. Thanks for having me.

So yeah, I used to be a professional triathlete in the national triathlon team of Finland. At that time I had actually multiple coaches because I had my personal coach and I was doing this mandatory military service so I had a military sports coach and I was in the elite forces for top athletes in the military. So there was a kind of mixing of this communication between the coaches that led into the situation that I got into a very bad overstress syndrome, over conditioned state.

At that time there wasn’t really a good census or analysis available to track sleep and recovery so I had to sleep wearing the heart rate monitoring test band. That was pretty annoying to sleep with any wearable sensor but that was needed to track resting heart rate, heart rate variability, and those parameters while sleeping.

So later on when I was the research scientist at the Helsinki University of Technology I came across this method called ballistocardiography. That is a method that you can actually measure the ballistics of the cardiac function, meaning you can measure the mechanical movements of the cardiac muscle using the sensitive four sensors that can be in any supporting platform. You can put the sensors in a chair, in a bed, in a standing platform like a weight scale, anywhere that supports part of the body weight. That way you can track the mechanical forces coming from the cardiac contraction and that way you can track cardiac function, respiratory function, movements, sleep quality, without attaching any sensors to the body.

Especially for athletes the resting heart rate during the sleeping as well as the heart rate variability are very key parameters that you can get to assess the recovery and the stress level.

Cain: Where I was turned on to the Beddit app is from one of the world’s leading sleep experts, Dr. James Moss, who was a professor at Cornell for 48 years and wrote the three books Sleep For Success, Power Sleep, and I can’t believe the other one is escaping me right now. Let me turn around and look. It’s Sleep For Success, Sleep To Win, and Power Sleep as I look at them here in my library.

I had the wonderful fortune of having breakfast with Dr. Moss and he gave me the Beddit system. I’ve used it now for almost six months and I’ve found it to be fabulous in that it just increases my awareness of the quality of sleep that I’m getting. If I get interrupted sleep – and it gives you your sleep score – I know that if I have a couple continual nights of sleep scores between 40-60 or 40-70 I know that I’ve got to really get a quality night’s sleep to almost try to play catch up and recovery.

I’ve noticed in the last six months that since I’ve had that increased awareness my performance has been much better and I’ve been doing more and working harder in the last six months than I ever have in my life and I’m training for a marathon and on the road 280 days a year and have not broken down at all and actually have felt the best I’ve ever felt. I think that the increase in sleep has played a huge part of that.

If you would could you talk a little bit about the importance of sleep in athlete development? As most of the people that will be listening to this podcast will be coaches or athletes.

Leppakorpi: Sleep is just as or even more important than the nutrition, the diet, or the exercising for athletes. Really exercising is just an exhibition for the body. The actually training effect takes place when the body is recovering.

If the athlete doesn’t take care of the proper recovery, including good sleep with all the different needed sleep stages, the recovery is not sufficient and the training effect is not optimal. Obviously how our metabolism is working, how a different diet and nutrition is working, how we’re burning our calories, how we are burning more fat tissue or muscle tissue when recovering, that is also depending on our sleep because that process is very much controlled by these different hormones and what happens during the different sleep stages. Sleep is extremely important for the athletes.

Then there is another not as direct aspect of sleep that is the being more alert and also that our brains function better. It’s also preventing injuries. There are many studies showing that the athletes who take care of their sleep do have much less injuries and obviously in the long term we don’t get ourselves into that overstressed state or causing any like these even worse health impact like cardiac diseases or stress and mental issues.

Cain: Talk a little bit about the sleep stages that athletes go through and the importance of each of those.

Leppakorpi: Sleep is periodical. Each sleep cycle, for a normal person, takes about 90 minutes. There are a lot of individual variations but about 90 minutes is the typical sleep cycle. During that sleep cycle we go from light sleep to a deeper sleep. All the way after the deep sleep we get to the stage which is called REM sleep that is actually quite light sleep state. But when we go into that REM sleep state, true deep sleep.

So that is a common misunderstanding that when people think about what is the most important sleep state many say that it’s REM sleep. When we ask “why” they say that “well that’s the only sleep stage I remember exists” and nobody really understands the meaning of these different sleep stages. So we go through these different stages.

Especially the deep sleep is very important for the physical recovery and how much we get this deep sleep directly correlates the best how we feel in the morning, how refreshed we feel, and how well our body is recovering from this physical stress.

When we are exercising more, training more and harder, we naturally get more pressure for sleep and for deep sleep and the amount of deep sleep increases if our body is working naturally. That deep sleep is needed for our body to recover physically.

But then the REM sleep on the other hand is very important for learning. It’s really for our brains. It’s how we learn different skills. So if we do these repetitions, how those repetitions kind of go into our muscle memory, that happens during the REM sleep so that we learn new skills and we also – it’s kind of often compared to this de-fragmentation of the hard drive. The things we go through during the daytime are moving from the short term memory to the long term memory. It’s important for our brain and for learning new skills, especially motor skills.

Every single sleep stage, even the light sleep stage, is important because it adds up to the total duration of the sleep that is the first most important thing that we get enough sleep, then we get these two additional aspects of sleep which is a deep sleep, I would say, is more important for the physical recovery and then the REM sleep that I would say is a little bit more important for the brain side and for the different strategic aspects of whatever we do.

Cain: So if a sleep cycle is 90 minutes about how long are you in light sleep versus deep sleep versus REM sleep in that 90 minute cycle?

Leppakorpi: So that is also depending on the time of night. Typically in the first cycles when we go to bed deep sleep dominates so we get more deep sleep and we get less deep sleep during the morning cycle.

So the first cycles in the evening when we start sleeping are dominated by deep sleep and there is much less REM sleep. This can be impacted and affected if we have emotional stress or if we used any alcohol or if we – there are various reasons that can distort that. But in a normal process during the first cycles of the night we get more deep sleep and less REM sleep. Then toward the morning our physical recovery has happened and our brains start to recover more and then we get the more REM sleep as compared to the deep sleep.

When looking over the entire night we should get about five cycles in total, each about 90 minutes, and we’re looking over the total duration of the night we should have about 20% – an adult person. This is also an age-dependant question. When looking at an adult male about 20% deep sleep, about 35-40% REM sleep, and the rest of the sleep is additional light sleep or core sleep or however you like to call that. But that’s roughly.

Cain: So the actual amount of sleep that you would suggest an athlete 16-26 years old would get – a lot of people say 6-8 hours of sleep which I’m not sure where that comes from and I’ve heard people say 9 hours and 15 minutes – according to the research what is the actual number that athletes should be getting?

Leppakorpi: Well that is totally depending on the age and the training allowed. When you’re training more (like I said) it naturally increases the pressure for getting more sleep and especially getting more deep sleep to recover physically from that training load. Then if you add some other pressures from relationships, from life, the pressure of competition, that trio, whatever it is it’s impacting to that.

So the need is really individual and it’s also changing so when you are training more you naturally are more tired and you should get more sleep to recover properly. Also when you are younger you should get more sleep. There are there average recommendations between 7-9 hours but it’s always very individual.

The best tip I could give is to try to keep the time when you wake up in the morning exactly the same. That would be the synchronizing time for your body that every morning no matter if it’s a business day, weekend, no matter what day it is, try to keep that waking time within +/- half an hour. Then what is really synchronizing your body is the time in the morning when you first get this natural light containing blue wavelength light and when you eat your first meal of breakfast. So keeping these within that +/- half hour every morning and then in the evening not forcing yourself to the bed.

If you train more you naturally feel more tired earlier and then you go to bed a little bit earlier but then you still wake up at the same time in the morning. So if you are training more and there is more load you feel tired earlier the next evening and then you go to bed a little bit earlier. But trying to keep that waking time as steady as possible even when moving over time zones.

So that is really a good tip, kind of trying to find that individual need for sleep. For younger athletes (teenagers or something) it’s over 10 hours for sure and for the older it might be less but it’s totally depending on the training load.

Cain: So is it more important to say that you get out of bed at the same time every day than it is that you get into bed at the same time every day?

Leppakorpi: Yes. For sure.

Cain: Okay. So then it wouldn’t necessarily be you want to get 7 ½ hours. So if you’re travelling and you can get to bed at 10:00 at night or you get to bed at 2:00 in the morning if you’re going to bed at 2:00 in the morning and you normally get out of bed at 6:00 AM you’re saying get up at 6:00 AM and you’ll go to bed earlier that night?

Leppakorpi: Yes. That is definitely at least. But obviously if you’re traveling and you have this jet lag that is impacting as well and you don’t feel tired you cannot get to the bed and force yourself to go to sleep because if you don’t feel tired it doesn’t make sense to go to bed and try to force yourself to sleep. So you must feel tired as well. So in that kind of case that is causing that adjustment of the body and you still need to get enough sleep.

So if you’re traveling for a major event or competition or something then you have to sleep in. You have to let your body sleep longer in the morning and you can’t avoid it. But if it’s a general day that you have to stay awake later then still wake up at the same time and compensate the next day. If you change a lot that time when you wake up in the morning (more than the +/- half hour) that is setting your body into that adjustment mode. And you don’t need to travel over time zones. It’s exactly the similar adjustment mode as in jet lag.

So trying to prevent that is one of the main important things. But obviously it cannot be always avoided and if you’re preparing for some major event then you have to compensate also sleeping more in the morning that you get enough recovery. But trying to avoid that.

Cain: So let’s say I’m going with an Olympic team or let’s say there is a UFC fighter in Texas and he is going to fight in Australia. There is a 12 hour time zone difference. So he has just got to kind of go over there and then try to get up at the same time he would normally get up and just naturally let the body catch up to that time zone difference?

Leppakorpi: Yeah. If there is time to do that that is the best way to get the best performance is to have enough time. So taking that about half an hour (maximum one hour) per day adjusting, so a 12 hour time difference would mean it takes from 12-24 days to naturally adjust. Obviously there is very seldom enough time to do that. So that can be helped with some kind of bright light treatments (for example giving you that light excitation at the right time) and trying to keep your schedule closer to your own time zone, like when you’re eating, when you’re training. But yeah, I agree that these long travels are sometimes problematic.

And also what needs to be remembered is that if there is only like a 1 or 2 night deprivation or issues then it’s not that bad. Many times athletes think that if they sleep very poorly the last night before the big event that is very bad for the performance but it has been shown in the studies that that’s not necessarily the case. Most of the athletes do have this worse sleep right before the big event. It is natural stress. But it still has not been shown to have such a huge impact on the performance. Only if it continues over many nights and the deprivation is longer term then it has a major impact.

So just traveling somewhere and having one poor night before the big event is not that bad as long term deprivation. The other end is obviously having that natural adjustment, that 12 hour difference, they’ve got almost a month and it’s very seldom we have such time.

Cain: What about shifting your clock before you go over? Training yourself to almost put your watch on – if you’re in Texas put your watch on Australia time and try to live your life for a month before you go over there on that clock? Does that benefit at all?

Leppakorpi: Yeah you can do that. Even if doing that I would recommend doing that through that morning synchronization. So starting to adjust your morning wake up half an hour per day at maximum and then having that natural light with blue wavelength and the breakfast time. Those are the two really good synchronizing factors.

So trying to start moving them and then kind of synchronizing all the rest of the activities of the day (like training and everything else) to that particle of time then starting to slowly move that and adjust already before the travel. That’s obviously helpful but that is also sometimes hard to do.

And of course just to prevent that natural light other than at the right time then you must have really good curtains/blinds in your bedroom. You have to really have also the tools for it.

Cain: Eye mask or earplugs to help eliminate some of the noise as well.

Leppakorpi: Yeah.

Cain: Fantastic. Talk a little bit about Beddit if you would and the strap that goes on the mattress and it hooks up to your iPhone. Really super easy to use. It’s going to measure heart rate. It’s going to measure respiration rate. Talk a little bit about is there a correlation between heart rate, respiration rate, and quality of sleep.

Leppakorpi: The respiration rate while we sleep is pretty standard. Looking at an average one minute respiration rate it’s pretty standard. But there are differences in different sleep stages. For example in deep sleep the respiration rate is more steady. There is less variability in respiration rates than in other sleep stages. So that also helps us to kind of figure out these sleep cycles. Same thing with the heart rate that the heart rate variability is to some extent depending on the sleep stages.

When looking at it from the beginning at what is Beddit and what it is – so the thin film sensor that is attached on the mattress under the bed sheet is a very sensitive force sensor. So it’s measuring all the forces, pressure, and strain that is exposed to that thin film. It’s natural so you don’t need to wear anything. You don’t need to recharge any batteries or replace any batteries. It makes it really ambient and you don’t need to take any notice of it. It’s just tracking every night without doing anything or even noticing it’s there. So that is the key benefit of Beddit.

First of all it knows when you are in the bed so it’s an easy way to track that general circadian rhythm, how much you reserve time for yourself to rest, how much time you spend in bed and how regular that period is. So that is the first thing is it detects automatically when you are in the bed.

The next level is that it tracks those movements in the same way like these activity trackers do, but because it’s under your body it can track the movement of any part of the body. So it can be a limb movement, head movement, anything, and it will detect that as a movement and as a minor disruption to your sleep. We call that “whole body actigraphy.” Versus these typical actigraphy devices that only track the movement of the wrist with some kind of wristband this is a whole body actigraphy that detects any movement in the body. So that is the next step of what we track.

We get this whole body actigraphy signal. Then when the person is sleeping and lying still there isn’t any other movements left except the expansion of the thorax because of our respiration motion. So we measure that small force coming from the actual breathing effort and that is the way we track the respiration rate and respiration rate variability. In the same way the cardiac function is based on this ballistocardiography so our sensor actually measures that small mechanical force coming from the cardiac muscle contraction and the blood acceleration. So that is the scientific way how we track that mechanical heartbeat and how we get the heart rate and how we get the heart rate variability.

Now when we combine all this information it makes us unique because many of the sleep trackers available only track the movement of the wrist. Some of them also track average heart rate or something like that. What we do is we combine all this information. We combine whole body actigraphy, respiration rate including variability, and heart rate including heart rate variability. When we put all this together we get a much better and accurate sleep assessment and recovery assessment than the basic sleep tracker.

Cain: I’ve played with the ones you wear on your wrist and the iPhone that you put down on your bed and the accelerometer in the phone. I know that in talking with Dr. Moss that I believe the most statistically relevant sleep app to match what goes on in the lab would be Beddit. Is that accurate?

Leppakorpi: Yes. I would say so. That is accurate. There is really no other device on the market that combines all those informations together in the way how we do. We’ve also done quite a few clinical studies about the accuracy of tracking heart rate, tracking respiration rate, and then using them to assess sleep. So I would say that is correct.

Cain: Excellent. So for the listeners if they want to invest in a better night’s sleep and they want to invest in that recovery so that they can achieve more with a great night’s sleep and make their bed a smart bed how do they go about getting Beddit? Is there a website that they can go to or a Twitter account that they can follow to get more information?

Leppakorpi: There is a Beddit Twitter account. The easiest place to find more information is obviously the website www.Beddit.com. Beddit is widely available. You can buy it from any Apple store. It’s also available on Amazon and through our website so it’s easy to get one. It sells for $149 so it’s not that expensive of a tool compared to the information it provides. It’s easy to get more information and there are also good blog posts about athletes using it and the different experiences that you can find from our webpage. Also in that Twitter feed you can see many athletes discussing about using it.

Cain: Excellent. Well I know I’ve been on the Twitter feed. It’s @Beddit and the website is www.Beddit.com.

Leppakorpi: Yes.

Cain: Awesome. Last question for you. Obviously you’re ultra successful in what you’ve done in your life. If you could offer one piece of advice for all the coaches and all the athletes that are listening to this podcast what would be that one piece of success that you would encourage them to take? If you could maybe remove their skullcaps and plant one seed of success inside their head and it would germinate what would that one seed be?

Leppakorpi: Well what I’ve learned is really (like you said yourself of what Beddit did to you) pay enough attention to have enough recovery and sleep. Just be aware of that thing. It’s not just a black hole where 1/3 of our life is disappearing. It’s one of the most important parts of our life. So be more aware of that and remember that has a huge impact to your performance, your success, everything, all your achievements. Just being more aware of that no matter what means you are using to do that. Concentrate on that and that will definitely improve your life.

Cain: Excellent. If you would could you talk a little bit about how the Beddit app gives you the information that helps to assess not only recovery but also athlete performance and the correlation between the two so that it’s not necessarily just a test, train the athlete, and then post test to find out of the training is working, but you have more data throughout the training to see if it’s accomplishing what you want the physical training to accomplish.

Leppakorpi: You should not just think about sleep as something that if you sleep well then you perform well after that sleep. You can also think about sleep as a reflection of what has happened prior to that sleeping period. So by tracking sleep you also get a good input of the effectiveness of training and you can do the adjustments to the training program based on the sleep tracking. That is the way how you can make the training program more effective.

The coaches should not just look at the test results that they do periodically for the athletes and do the adjustments to the training program based on that. If they add the component of tracking recovery and sleep and use that to reflect the training program and do adjustments they can get much faster and better optimization for the performance.

Cain: Excellent. So by measuring the training load they can see if the athletes are sleeping more or not enough and maybe they need to increase or decrease the training load based off some of that information from sleep.

Leppakorpi: Yeah. Increase or decrease. Also you can kind of access what type of training should be suitable because the sleep is impact in a different way if you do the shorter time, shorter distance, harder training, than the longer term aerobic endurance training. So it also has a different impact to the sleep and recovery as well.

Cain: Talk a little bit about the impact of either distance training (so marathon training) versus sprint training and the impact that that would have. Let’s say training a football player (more explosive) versus an IronMan triathlete which you were. What would be the difference on sleep in that?

Leppakorpi: First of all just the duration of the training causes naturally the body endurance athletes the need for more sleep and need especially for these deep sleeps is higher than for the athletes who are more training for this explosive power and different – like shorter but harder training average is also more sadistic and having other aspects than just the physical endurance. So for them also the REM sleep has a much higher role than for the endurance athletes.

These are really individual changes and by understanding the sleep and these cycles better it helps the athlete and the coach to understand. So there are all different (what they call) phenotypes or genotypes that even our genes have a big impact to that, what is the best training method for us and how that would change our sleep. So it’s also connected to that. So just by tracking sleep it gives a lot of understanding of what is the optimal way to train.

Cain: Awesome. If you would could you talk about the heart rate variability.

Leppakorpi: So that was something I wanted to point out is that what I’ve learned from many athletes and from the field is that many of these devices and analyses assessing recovery are overemphasizing the heart rate variability. What I would recommend is to look at more the overall behavior of the resting heart rate during the night and over the longer period of time over a series of nights. I would say that would give more valuable data than looking at the heart rate variability within one night.

HRV (heart rate variability) is an excellence additional parameter to take into account but I would say that the more important is looking at that resting heart rate and how it behaves during the night. It should start dropping when the athlete is getting that good quality sleep along with the recovery of the physical stress of the body so when that recovery happens that resting heart rate drops throughout the morning and we test that lowest point that we call “the recovery point.” That should happen. Then it goes back and starts naturally increasing a little bit again before the natural wake up time in the morning and awakening. If this doesn’t happen it doesn’t really matter what other heart rate variability in the morning or in the evening or during the night because you just don’t get enough recovery during that night.

Also many of these HRV analyses get confused because of the deep sleep. During the deep sleep our autonomic nervous system is automatically suppressing the way how it regulates the heart rate. During the deep sleep there is less heart rate variability which is natural. Typically when you get less heart rate variability it’s an indicator of stress. So these deep sleep periods are often seen with these HRV analyses as a stress event even though for the athlete they are just the opposite. They are the most important time for physical recovery.

So everybody using these HRV analysis methods (especially during the sleep when our body behaves slightly different than being awake) should be conscious and should be aware of these physiological events behind the heart rate variability. That is my one tip is to look at the resting heart rate and how it behaves during the night and over the series of nights, giving an even better insight than the heart rate variability.

Heart rate variability does have its benefits as well. Just be conscious about it.

Cain: Thank you so much for taking the time out of your hectic schedule. I know we’ve had to reschedule a couple times and you’re many time zones away. I appreciate you making time to be a guest on our podcast. Thank you so much.

Leppakorpi: Thank you, Brian. Thank you very much.