Dr. James Maas is a world renown authority, consultant in the field of sleep and performance and widely regarded as the world’s leading expert in sleep research and how sleep impacts optimal performance.
You will learn…
- How sleep relates to optimal performance.
- Sleep tips that NFL and Olympic teams are using.
- About the sleep cycles of Lebron James, Tom Brady, and more.
For more on Dr. Maas, visit JamesMaas.com
First of all if you get more sleep your glucose metabolism will increase meaning you’ll have more energy. Your cortisol levels will decline meaning you have less stress. Your growth hormone is going to increase so your muscle and bone development is going to increase. And more sleep is going to lower your RER – your Respiratory Exchange Ratio – so you’ll burn fat instead of lean muscle.
Cain: Hey how are you doing? Brian Cain your Peak Performance coach here with the Peak Performance Podcast. Today I’m super excited. I’ve been looking forward to doing this episode for over a year. Our guest today is Dr. James Maas, a world renown authority and consultant in the field of sleep and performance.
Maas was a member of the faculty at Cornell for 48 years while having taught nearly 65,000 students. In one of his classes, The Introduction to Psychology, for 48 years he had about 2,000 students in that class. This currently stands as a world record. During his time he authored several books including Sleep For Success, Power Sleep, and Sleep To Win and I’ll tell you they’re all key components of my personal learner’s library and I cannot encourage you enough to get those books. I consider them the Bible of sleep.
Maas has made appearances on The Today Show, NBC Nightly News, CNN, Good Morning America, and Oprah to just name a few. He’s worked with clients such as Google, JP Morgan Chase, Apple, IBM, the National Basketball Association, as well as teams in the NHL, NFL, and some of these teams include the New York Jets, the Miami Dolphins, and many many others which I’m sure he’ll mention during our podcast. He’s even a notable filmmaker helping to provide nine television specials for PBS and the BBC. It’s my absolute pleasure to welcome to the Peak Performance Podcast Dr. James Maas. Dr. Maas, how are you?
Maas: You forgot the biggest kudo I have.
Cain: What’s that?
Maas: I’m on the Brian Cain show!
Cain: Well we’re excited to have you man. I appreciate you being here. Could you explain to us if you would to our listeners, which are going to be mostly coaches and athletes, how is it that you got into the field of sleep of all the possible fields?
Maas: In teaching a large course of introductory psychology students at 10:00 in the morning Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and seeing no matter how dynamic a lecture I was giving before I even opened my mouth or showed my first video or slide some of these large class attendees would be asleep. In fact the definition of a professor is somebody who talks in other people’s sleep.
So I thought that maybe I’d better perk up the lectures. In particular on sleep because I know how tired college students are. They need – in fact anybody from puberty to 26 years of age need to be at their peak 9 ¼ hours of sleep every single night and they average 6.1. That’s more than a three hour deficit every single night. So I call these kids “walking zombies.” Since we’re supposed to spend about a third of our lives sleeping and these kids are incredibly sleep deprived I thought we’d better address that problem.
I started to talk about it and as soporific of a topic talking about sleep is to sleepy students because I had good films and good case histories they seemed to be interested in the topic. I did notice in particular that the coaches at Cornell often tell their team members who are in my class to sit up front. They instructed me as the head of the faculty committee on athletics at Cornell to take note to make sure all those teams showed up every lecture. Well I would start in the spring season and I would see the whole front row totally asleep before I said a word.
I went down into the audience before a lecture one day and I said “guys what sport do you represent?” They said “we’re lacrosse players.” I said “well very interesting, I wonder what would happen if I went to your coach and he told me that when he went out to practice everybody was asleep on the lacrosse field, what would he say to you, do you think he’d be very pleased?” They said “oh my god he’d yell at you.” I said “well maybe I should yell at you too, why are you so sleepy?” “Well we have morning practice, we go two a day as school is starting and so we have to get taped about 5:30 in the morning and by the time we’re on the field it’s 6:30-6:45 and we have practice for an hour, hour and a half, we grab a bite to eat, then we come to your class and we’re totally exhausted.” I said “well I’m going to lecture about this in the next week because you guys need 9 ¼ hours of sleep to be fully alert all day long, so you are walking zombies and because of circadian rhythms and your age you cannot go to sleep naturally until 1:00-2:00 in the morning and if you have to get up at 5:00 to go to practice you are way sleep deprived and we’ve got to do something about that.”
It just so happens that from puberty to 26 melatonin is being blocked in your brain which is what puts you to sleep at night by the growth hormone. The growth hormone is being secreted in large amounts around midnight and we all need the growth hormone but the problem is when the growth hormone is secreted you don’t get any melatonin when you turn out the lights. So if I tell you I’m going to pay you to go to sleep at midnight, I’m going to pay you a lot of money, you’re not going to be able to do it – as starved for finances as you are. But if I tell you to go to sleep and it’s 2:00 in the morning you’d fall asleep instantly. I’d never give you that offer. So it’s a matter of circadian rhythms.
Now how do I get you to go to sleep at 10:00 at night? The only way I can do that is by exposing you to bright daylight spectrum light first thing in the morning when you get up. That’s going to change you from being night people to morning people. So you’ll be wide awake for practice in the morning and very sleepy early at night so you can get your 9 ¼ hours. Furthermore that light exposure is going to mean a great deal for your athleticism. Not only your academics will improve but literally overnight you can have your A game almost every single night.
“You want to listen?” And they say “yeah, I like my A game, tell me all about this, tell me about the gadget.” So I’ve got them hooked.
Cain: That’s fascinating. Fascinating. Now a lot of people in the circles that I run in with high school and college athletics they’ll say “you’ve got to get 8 hours of sleep.” I’ll ask them “why.” They can’t tell you why. It’s just what they’ve always heard. So could you explain why 9:15 and some of the research that you did in the lab where you would bring people in and you would actually check what was going on inside them hormonally and chemically and talk about why 9:15 and what are circadian rhythms?
Maas: Okay. Your circadian rhythm is run by your biological clock. We have about 80 circadian rhythms believe it or not. That means there are rhythms that vary around the clock. Circa diem, circadian rhythms. One is for example – most people aren’t even aware of it – is we have a nostril circadian rhythm, that we tend to breath out of one nostril and then it switches over to the other. Our heart rate changes throughout the day. Our temperature. And certainly our sleep and our alertness change.
But we find for athletes in particular that sleep is that magic silver bullet that’s going to enhance your athletic performance. First of all if you get more sleep your glucose metabolism will increase meaning you’ll have more energy. Your cortisol levels will decline meaning you have less stress. Your growth hormone is going to increase so your muscle and bone development is going to increase. And more sleep is going to lower your RER – your respiratory exchange ratio – so you’ll burn fat instead of lean muscle. These things all are to the good for the athlete.
If you are wondering if you’re sleep deprived or not asking a person whether they’re sleep deprived is not accurate at all. Not at all. We have to actually bring you into the lab, put electrodes – not shocking you but recording your brain waves. I’d like to shock some people but – and that will tell us every second of your night whether you’re awake or whether you’re asleep. That would give us some knowledge as to how much sleep you’re getting. Most people overestimate the amount of sleep they’re getting by 47 minutes. If you think you’re a 7 hour sleeper you’re probably closer to 6.
Without coming into the lab I’m going to ask you some questions and your answer to these questions is going to be about the same, it will predict what would happen if we measured you in the lab. So here we go.
Cain: Okay let’s play.
Maas: Does a heavy meal, a low dose of alcohol, a warm room, a boring meeting or lecture or TV show like this ever make you drowsy? Question #2, do you fall asleep instantly at night? Question #3, do you need an alarm clock to wake up? Question #4, do you repeatedly hit the snooze button? Question #5 do you sleep extra hours on the weekend? Answer “yes” to any two or more of those questions and consider yourself a walking zombie.
Cain: I answered “yes” to all five.
Maas: Right. Most people do. Asking those questions is a much better predictor than just saying “are you alert or not?” Some people say “I’m ready to go, my adrenaline is running, I’m fully alert.” We have surgeons in the middle of the night saying “I’m fully alert, this is life or death,” then they leave sponges in the open wound or whatever. So we want to know this accurately.
Most of us are moderately to severely sleep deprived. 71% of the population, I’m talking about at all age levels, don’t meet the recommended 7 ½ to 9 ¼ hours a night. Most people, including college students, claim they sleep 7 but now it’s closer to 6. Especially for high and college students.
Why is this important? Well it’s the quality and quantity of your sleep that determines in large measure the success of your waking life. It affects your mood even with modest deprivation, and everybody is modestly deprived. You’re likely to be irritable, to be anxious, to be depressed. So sometimes you go to practice or you’re in a game and you get a little bit irrational. You draw a penalty when you shouldn’t. You penalize your team. You’re a man down in hockey because you crosschecked somebody – which is a stupid thing to do – and they get a goal and be a man up. You cost them the game.
It affects your alertness, your energy your thinking, your performance both on the job, in the classroom, and on the athletic field, your productivity, your general health, and it’s the best predictor of how long you’re going to live. Much better than exercise which is important, much better than nutrition which is important, how long you’re going to live is best predicted by the quantity and quality of your sleep.
So what happens to us? 75% of us – and that includes college students and high school students – have a sleep problem at least three nights a week. We either can’t fall asleep or we wake up in the middle of the night or we wake up too early or some combination of all three. So we’ve got to do something about it.
Why is sleep so important? The consequences of shortened sleep are devastating. You’re drowsy at inappropriate times during the day. If you’re on the athletic field you might miss a play or do something studio because for a second your brain is disconnected. You have a significantly increased risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, obesity, cancer. As I mentioned you’re going to be irritable, anxious. You’re going to gain weight. You don’t like teamwork. You don’t have a sense of humor anymore. You decrease your motor skills, your reaction time, your situational awareness, and you reduce in the classroom and on the athletic field your ability to process, to concentrate, to remember, to speak well, to write well, to do multitasking, to be creative, to make good decisions. You take risks that you shouldn’t take. Some reduce health and reduce performance. We don’t want to be that way. We want to be just the opposite.
Cain: You know you go back to something that you talked about earlier. A lot of the coaches listening to this, Jim, they want to practice in the morning. They want to lift weights at 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning before the kids go to class. I know the last time when we sat down and we had breakfast you had mentioned how the Cornell basketball team was practicing in the morning and they changed to an afternoon or an evening practice and the results skyrocketed. Could you talk a little bit about the negative side of practicing in the morning?
For the coaches listing to this pay attention because just because you’re practicing in the morning to make it convenient for you and your coaching staff to not have to be there late at night when it’s ideally scientifically and psychologically for your kids to benefit you might want to make that change in your routine and listen to an expert explain why practicing the morning is not ideal for Peak Performance. Dr. Maas, take it.
Maas: Yeah. As we mentioned before you’re going to be very sleepy if you can’t go to sleep at night until like 1:00-2:00 in the morning then you have to get up after 5 hours of sleep. You’re a walking zombie. So your athleticism is very low, you’re more prone to injury early in the morning.
A lot of football, lot of hockey injuries, happen at practice early in the morning because you’re not aware and your body isn’t in tune. You haven’t stretched enough. You’re not ready to go. We find out that teams that do two a days if you cut out the morning practice their performance in the afternoon or the evening is much better than doing two a day. A lot of coaches say – well, in the Ivy League which is where we played at Cornell – they say “well Harvard does it, Yale does it, if we don’t do two a days we’re going to be behind.” It’s just the opposite. We tried it in so many sports.
You mentioned basketball. The basketball coach listened to a talk I gave to all the head coaches at Cornell and I showed FMRI – which is functional brain resonance imagery – of the awake brain of the college student at 8:00 in the morning and at 4:00 in the afternoon, various times. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is going on in the brain at 8:00-9:00 in the morning. People are totally asleep. It’s like talking to them at 2:00 in the morning. So this is not a good and healthy time to practice. You run through plays and within a few hours whatever they learned in practice is gone because you’re talking to them really in the middle of their sleep while they’re wandering around the athletic field. It just doesn’t make any sense.
Well the basketball coach said “you know what I’m going to do is I’m going to cut out all morning practices, I’m just going to have the team practice in the afternoon.” When he did that the Cornell basketball team – we don’t give athletic scholarships at Cornell – the Cornell basketball team went to the Sweet 16. That’s unheard of.
Cain: That’s unheard of. And especially for an Ivy League where they don’t have scholarships that’s unheard of.
Maas: Exactly. So unfortunately he was so successful at Cornell that BU bought him away so we lost him. And he maintains that at BU. We tried it with our swimmers and our swimmers everyone improved their time when they didn’t do two a days. So the coach couldn’t believe it.
Well I gave a talk at the University of Michigan a couple of years ago and the director of athletics told me the night before my presentation “I know what you’re going to say about cutting out early morning practices, there is one guy, one coach in particular, that is going to give you a hard time, he is the winningest swim coach in America and he’s not about to change, so I’m just warning you be prepared for an argument.”
Well I give the talk and the athletic director is standing next t me and one of the first guys up to the podium he nudges me. He said “yup, here he is.” The head coach, before he introduces himself, turns to the man he brought up with him – it turned out to be his assistant coach – and he said “starting tomorrow morning the University of Michigan will never have a morning swim.” I thought the director of athletics was going to have a heart attack.
Cain: That’s outstanding. I love it. That’s probably why he’s such a great coach I’m sure is he is open to feedback and open to scientifically proven truth in terms of where the college athlete is at. So you’re suggesting it sounds like then it would be no more morning practices. Would it be better off if they wanted to do two a day let’s say if they go at 2:00 in the afternoon and then again at 9:00 at night and push everything back?
Maas: Well 2:00 is in the middle of that midday dip in alertness but maybe 11:00 in the morning and then late in the afternoon or early at night would be fine. The Philadelphia Flyers when I talked to their coach and he heard me talk about all of this – this is Peter Laviolette before he went to Nashville – he said “gee we have all these young guys right in that age group that you tell me, they stay up late at night playing video games but it’s not because they’re interested in video games, it’s because they can’t go to sleep, now I know why so I’m going to move early morning practice because they’re not students anymore and I have the flexibility, I’m going to have practice start at 11:00.” And he made great strides and they had a couple of great seasons. Now the Predators, when he’s in Nashville, they’re doing very well.
Cain: A couple specific things on sleep. So you’ve covered the amount of time, 9:15 for people between the ages of puberty to 26.
Cain: Then ideal room temperature.
Maas: Okay. We used to say between around 65 to 70 would be okay. Now we say keep it really cold. Keep it around 65. Don’t go much above 65 because in your lighter phases of sleep a warm temperature will arouse you. No caffeine after 2:00 in the afternoon – including chocolate – because it disturbs REM sleep, a period of sleep that is very important for your mind and for your body.
Absolutely no alcohol within three hours of bedtime. A lot of young students, the young professional athletes, like to have a couple of beers before they go to sleep or wine and I told my students alcohol is a stimulant not a sedative in large amounts. They say “prof you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, I’ll drink myself into oblivion and I’ll go right to sleep.” Yes you will but you’ll be up every 90 minutes thereafter in REM sleep because of that alcohol. The same thing goes for chewing tobacco because it’s got the caffeine in it in a sense that does the same thing as smoking does to your brain. It arouses you.
Cain: So we got 9:15, we’ve got 65 degrees, no caffeine after 2:00 in the afternoon, throw preworkout into that mix there for the athletes listening to this, no alcohol within three hours of bedtime.
Maas: And, Brian, I think you’re probably about to say no electronics within an hour of bedtime. That means no TV, no video games, no computers. That’s because all of these monitors put out a lot of blue daylight spectrum light. It’s like looking at the sun and it will delay your sleep by as much as 45 minutes to an hour. If you must use electronics in the bedroom within an hour of sleep you need a pair of special glasses that block the blue daylight spectrum.
Cain: The glasses that I know I think I heard from another podcast that you were on or doing some research, the ones that I have here are called “gamma ray optics.” They make everything kind of gives it a little bit of an orange tint. If you’ve used Flux on your laptop or on your phone it kind of has that same effect. The glasses, I think they were $10 on Amazon. They make me look like Bono. Sometimes when I take my wife to dinner I just wear them because I think they’re funny.
Maas: Very cool.
Cain: Yeah, they’re cool looking. So I’m going to wear them for the rest of the podcast here.
Maas: We’ve have some golden rules for getting a good night’s sleep. One, determine and meet your sleep requirement every night. It’s hardwired. It’s not adaptable. You can condition yourself to wake up after 6 hours but that doesn’t mean it’s all your need. You want to try to get as close to 9 ¼ hours as you possibly can.
Then as important as getting close to 9 hours is you want to establish a regular sleep/wake schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time Monday-Monday including the weekends so you have one biological clock. Not one for school and one for the weekends. Get into bright light as soon as you get up to get your body established to an early rising and an early sleep schedule. So for 15 minutes go outside, walk around, take a light jog, or get a light book which is a little gadget the size of an iPhone which has a lot of daylight spectrum lights. You don’t stare at it – it’s too bright – but you hold it an arm’s length away at a 45 degree angle so it hits your retinal surface. That 15 minutes exposure while you’re eating your cereal, putting on makeup, whatever it is you do, watching TV or reading the newspaper, that 15 minutes a day will make you within 3-4 days a morning person. I’ve got to take you to all my speeches. You’re a great demonstrator.
Cain: You talk about being a morning person or an evening person and is it possible to be both if you take a nap? Could you talk a little bit about naps? I know in hockey you’ve worked a ton in the NHL and just with RPI ice hockey recently we were out playing a game in Arizona at Arizona State and it’s routine I think in hockey. It’s almost part of their tradition is that they always take pregame naps. It’s the only sport I know of where taking a pregame nap is something almost as common as tying up and lacing your shoes in basketball or your spikes in baseball. Could you talk a little bit about napping and the benefits and time you want to nap.
Maas: 40 years ago I coined a term. I coined the term “powernap” and I defined a powernap as 10-15-20 minutes in the midday dip of alertness that’s enough rest to get you through the rest of the day but not so long as to give you nocturnal insomnia and not so long as to make you groggy when you wake up. You want to do it maybe 15 minutes or 20 minutes or 90 minutes. Never 60 because 60 would wake you up in deep sleep and you’d be foggy and not alert. So it’s either less than 30 or a full 90.
It’s very healthy. You have much less risk of a heart attack or stroke if you nap on a regular basis. You want to finish that nap at least 2 hours before you hit the ice – for example in hockey. A lot of teams now play like Sunday afternoon football or college football around 2:00 in the afternoon which is in the midday dip of alertness.
So we have teams like the New York Jets in the locker room, they have light books and they have big banks of blue daylight spectrum light and before they take the field they expose themselves to 15-20 minutes of bright light so that they don’t have that dip in alertness and it makes a huge difference.
We also use the light book with jetlag. We have so many wonderful case histories. My favorite is in the NHL the Olympic break starts only 48 hours before the first Olympic game in the winter. Well in Sochi that’s like 11 time zones away from North America, from the East Coast. So the coach for the Canadian Olympic team and the American Olympic team they both called me and they said “what do we do, we understand that it takes one day to recover for every time zone crossed, by going to Sochi it would take us 11 days to be on Sochi time but our first game is within 48 hours, the Olympics would be over in 10 days, what do we do, help!” So I said “okay let’s try this.” We gave everybody light books and we told them when to expose themselves 2-3 days before they left North America and when they should put on the dark glasses if it was daylight outside if we wanted them to shift to Sochi time.
The Canadian team followed our instructions to the letter continuing all the way through the Olympics. They won every single game and they came away with 36 Gold Medals. The American team thought that they were time adjusted because they won their first game and they felt great so then they didn’t bother continuing to use the light book and they lost every game after they quit using the light book.
My other favorite example was in football. The Dolphins and the Jets, two of my teams, played a year ago a demonstration game (as it were) in London at Wembley Stadium. The Dolphins said “well we don’t want to use the glasses or futz with that, we’ve been to Wembley before, we’re just fine,” and the Jets said “gimme gimme gimme.” So the Jets used the light books.
Every time the Jets had the ball in the first half they scored. The broadcasters were saying “my god the Dolphins look like a worn shirt in the overhead rack of an international flight, they look like a bunch of junior high schoolers out there.” they were wandering around in a fog. I’m very grateful to them for saying “whoever is the sleep coach for the Jets is a genius.” Unfortunately he didn’t say my name but it was a good experiment.
Cain: That’s fantastic. So there was the Dolphins and the Jets. They were playing that was in London, correct?
Cain: That’s outstanding. Oh man. As you get older – so right now I’m 38 years old and as you get older do you need less sleep and can you survive as an athlete? I just finished my first Iron Man and trying to build in the training for an Iron Man and then the work I’m doing in Peak Performance I was trying to set my sleep schedule to go from 10:00 PM to 4:00 AM, get 6 hours of sleep and then train from 4:00-9:00 or 10:00 and then go to work for the whole day. Is that healthy? Can you get by as you get older on 6 hours of sleep if you’re going to sleep and waking up at the same time? Or do you still need at 38 to try to get the 9:15?
Maas: Well you won’t be able most likely to get as much as 9 hours. Counting powernaps you might be able to do that. As we get older there is hardening of the arteries and less blood flow to the brain, all sorts of things that can interfere with our sleep – rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, cancer, so it’s a struggle. But the fact is that when you are 65, a senior citizen, you need just as much sleep as you did at middle age but you can’t get it in one block of time. So you have to kind of fight that as best you can. But if you want to start winning Iron Man contests you’ve got to do something about it.
We have top athletes – Roger Federer for example gets 10-12 hours every night while he is in competition. Lebron James gets 12 hours a night. Tom Brady is in bed between 8:30 and 9:30 every night. You look at the really outstanding athletes and that’s where they’re at. They become less injury prone as well.
I think maybe Tiger used to brag about how little sleep he needs. Well when people do stupid things like President Clinton said every time he did something really stupid was when he was sleep deprived. I would love to be able to have the opportunity to talk to Tiger and say “we all know you did some stupid things, maybe if you weren’t sleep deprived you wouldn’t have done that or maybe that affects your golf as you’re trying to get back and win tournaments.” Maybe he’s one of the greatest athletes of all times but perhaps he could have even been better had he paid attention to sleep.
Cain: I remember there was a running back for the Denver Broncos – god this is back when I was in high school – Terrell Davis his name was.
Cain: And Terrell Davis was tremendous. I remember them talking about how he would get 10-12 hours of sleep a night and I just remember being blown away. I probably was in high school watching a Broncos game on TV and they were talking about how his number one hobby, his favorite thing to do when he’s not playing football, is to sleep. I was blown away by that. In listening to a book – or reading a book about endurance athletes somewhere I think it was in Africa, the best runners in the world how they basically run and eat and sleep and get hat recovery.
Maas: Yeah somebody was saying fairly recently that sleep is the new sex. A huge drive for it. Nothing can substitute.
Cain: Yeah I think my wife read that book a couple times. That’s awesome. Let’s see, other things with sleep. Melatonin. You can buy it on Amazon. I know I’ve seen on your website Power On Power Off. Could you talk a little bit about supplementation like let’s say taking melatonin every night to try to get yourself into sleep? Is it addictive? Does it become harmful? What are the benefits?
Maas: Well first of all you want to avoid with all your might any prescription sleeping pill. They make you drowsy during the day. You become addicted to them. They block your memory. They can give you depression, even suicidal tendencies. So be careful. If your doctor prescribes Ambien or any of the other ones – I don’t want to just pick on Ambien – they don’t give you that normal flow from deep sleep to light sleep to deep sleep, the normal rhythm. They’re a drug and they’re not healthy. So you don’t want to go cold turkey. You want to wean yourself off them.
But there are alternatives. Melatonin is harmless. Sometimes we give placebos to people and we say “okay here is some new melatonin, this is great, try it” and they come back and they say “oh I want more of that stuff, it’s great.” Well it’s not melatonin at all. It’s nothing. Because so much of insomnia is due to stress and if you feel you need a crutch you say “okay I’m taking this pill, that means I’m going to go to sleep” and you relax. But that’s not to say melatonin is no good but in the quantities that it’s available commercially, 5 and 10 milligrams, that’s way too much. It’s counterproductive. 1 milligram would be enough.
There is a new supplement out that’s mostly vitamins, all natural, approved by the International Olympic Committee, developed originally for contestants for hockey and for football. It’s called Power Off. It’s nonaddictive. You can take it every night. You can take it once a month. It really helps you fall asleep and gives you that natural rhythm. I think it’s a godsend.
You can get it at www.PowerOnPowerOff.com and I think these people who have tried it, Olympic teams, the Canadian football team had it. I’m sorry, the Canadian hockey team had it when they went to Sochi. I have two pilots in my family who fly a lot of international flights and they swear by it. I take it when I travel or I’m stressed out. It’s very helpful. It does contain as the last ingredient, meaning it’s the least of all the ingredients, is just a little bit of melatonin.
Cain: So the commercial products that you can buy on Amazon. You can get 10 milligram melatonin. Way too much to take and that’s going to keep you sleepy during the day you think?
Maas: Yeah. And it’s counterproductive. It drives the system into more problems. You just don’t want it. We don’t. It’s treated as a food supplement so it’s not regulated so we don’t know its purity, we really don’t know its long term effects, but recently people who are in the know say it’s just too much.
Cain: So your suggestion for a sleep aid if you’re for example I was out – I went to Tahiti which is about a six hour difference from where I live down in Dallas or Southlake, Texas, and when I got back I just couldn’t. It took me about a week to feel normally again. So I went online and I bought some 10 milligram melatonin because it was the highest that they sold and I started taking that. Then it sounds like – I had 1 milligram before and it sounds like the 1 milligram melatonin but the Power Off would be even better as a supplement for athletes.
Maas: Oh much much better.
Maas: And going eastbound is much harder to adjust to than going westbound. So you’re going against your biological clock and it’s shifting.
Cain: Okay. Let’s see here. Other key questions. This is fantastic. One of the best podcasts we’ve had. You mentioned the sleep cycle. You go in, you go out. I’ve seen the diagram – I believe it was in one of your books – where you mentioned a V where it kind of takes like 45 minutes or so to get into a REM cycle then you come out so you’re kind of coming in and coming out, coming in and coming out, and within 9 hours and 15 minutes you get I think it was six REM cycles in. Am I accurate in that? Could you talk a little bit about kind of that in and out stage and what happens when you go into deep sleep.
Maas: Yeah. The well rested sleeper takes about 20 minutes to fall asleep. A few brag and say “I can sleep anytime anywhere and I go to sleep the minute my head hits the pillow, I’m asleep the minute the bus starts to roll or the airplane takes off.” That’s a sure sign of serious sleep deprivation. So 15-20 minutes to go to sleep.
After 20 minutes we’re in the deepest sleep of the night. The brain waves are delta waves and it sounds like you’re deeply asleep but if you amplify the brain waves it goes “cchhhchhhcchhccchh” then 90 minutes after sleep onset – just like clockwork because it is driven by your biological clock – we’re in the first REM period of the night, the period at which about 85% of dreams take place, but also it’s a period in which body and brain cells are restored and connections are made cognitively so it helps you academically, athletically, on the job.
So you spend about 9 minutes in REM sleep and then you go back once more into deep sleep and 90 minutes later you’re in your second REM period which is twice as long as the first one and this cycle repeats itself throughout the night 5-6 times. So by the morning which is the longest REM period, as long as an hour, you will have been in REM sleep anywhere from 2-2 ½ hours which is so important for body and brain cell restoration.
Cain: The first sleep cycle, the REM sleep portion of that is how long again?
Maas: The first one will be about 9 minutes.
Cain: 9 minutes.
Maas: Then REM increase in the depth of sleep as we go along the night and becomes lighter and lighter and lighter. We should mention that there is something that happens in your brain after about 6 ½-7 hours of sleep. It’s in stage two sleep which is one of the lighter stages there is something called “sleep spindles.” It sounds like this: “chchchppst, chchpst, chchchpsst” and in 1952 we discovered sleep spindles but we didn’t know what they were for. We knew they existed.
Well years later we found out that those sleep spindles are the key to your athleticism. What they are is they represent a cascade of calcium into the motor cortex of your brain. You cannot take the calcium in pill form. It’s naturally produced in the brain after 6 ½-7 hours of sleep. So if an athlete is only getting 6 hours or 6 ½ hours of sleep they’re not getting any calcium into the motor cortex.
Well what is this calcium? What does it do? Let’s say that you want to improve your golf. There are only about 186 things you have to do in a second and a half, from the time you draw the driver back to the moment of impact. Now your pro is going to tell you “look you’ve got to cock your wrist at a certain point, you’ve got to turn your hips, your head has to stay still, you want to rotate around your spine, you want to come down slowly on your fore swing and increase, accelerate, as you get toward the ball, and then you want to release your wrist, roll your hands, blah blah blah.”
So you go to the pro and the pro says “what’s your problem.” You say “I’m slicing.” Well that’s everybody’s problem. He says “okay why don’t you hit a few balls for me” and sure enough you’re hitting banana balls. He says “look I can’t correct everything, I can’t give you 186 things today, but let’s talk about 1 or 2 or 3 swing thoughts and we’re going to get it down to one but I’m going to correct a few things.” He corrects a few things and you start hitting the ball perfectly and you say “I can’t wait till the weekend, we have a corporate outing, I’m going to take some money here, I’m going to win, this is fabulous, I’ve never been on the fairway for years.” Saturday morning comes, the tournament starts, and you’re worse than before you took the lesson. You’re mad at the pro, you’re mad at your clubs, you’re mad at everything.
What happened? What did or did you not do? What you didn’t do the night that you took the lesson was to get 8 hours of sleep. You got less than 6. You never had sleep spindles which transferred from short term memory into the motor cortex all of the things you were doing when you were hitting the ball in short term memory knowing what the coach said. You never rehearsed it at night so it never formed memory traces in your motor cortex. If you had had eight hours of sleep the next day you have had at least 20% if not 40% improvement overnight doing nothing but sleep.
Cain: So when you’re learning a new skill it’s critical to get especially that eight hours of sleep plus that night to build those sleep spindles so you can retain that.
Maas: Right. The basketball coach says “you’re not hitting three pointers enough so let’s see why” and you spend the afternoon changing your arc, changing all sorts of things, and you say “wow this made a huge difference and two days later, two nights later, at the game you can’t hit a three pointer for anything. That’s because it didn’t become part of motor muscle memory. The beautiful thing is that when it is in motor muscle memory all you have to do is start the golf swing, start the arc, and everything else happens automatically.
My favorite story (and I’m going to end with this) is a student of mine 38 years ago at Cornell, the captain of the hockey team, calls me up and he says (this was in 2002) “prof we have five kids” – I said “yeah John I’ve been keeping track of you” – “and they’re pretty athletic but one in particular right now, our 15 year old, we think she’s got great talent, she wants to be and always has been since she was little an Olympic figure skater, she has the finest skating coach in North America, she has the finest sport psychologist in the world, Bob Rotella University of Virginia, but she has hit a plateau, she is not getting any better, she says it’s a waste of my time, I’m going to give up.” “We’re not pushy parents,” John said, “but we think she’s really got what it takes, will you talk to her?”
So I met this charming 15 year old young lady and I said “what is your schedule?” She said “well every morning I get up at 4:00, we’re at the rink at 4:30 for two hours, I then have breakfast, go to school, 4:00 in the afternoon we’re all back at the rink for another two hours and then I have dinner, do some homework, and I crash.” “How many hours of sleep are you getting?” “I don’t know.” Well it was about five hours. I said “do you want to get better?” She said “yeah but nothing will do any good.” I said “I want you to read my book, keep a log of your sleep, and follow all these things about no caffeine after 2:00, go to bed at the same time every single night, use the light book, etc.” She said “well I don’t want to read your book but my parents are both your students so they’re going to make me, yeah, I’ll read it.” I said “good.” Then I said “no more early morning practice.” And she started to cry. I said “why are you crying.” She couldn’t even talk to me. She was hysterical.
I looked at her dad. I said “I’m so embarrassed, what did I say?” He said “let me tell you, the first day she doesn’t’ show up at an Olympic tryout practice she’ll be the laughing stock of the skating world by noon, word will be out on the internet worldwide that she’s a joke, she’s sleeping in.” I said “look she needs 9 ¼ hours of sleep if she is going to do a triple jump or something and if she has to think after the second rotation where are my blades, where is my head, where should everything be, she’ll be on the ice, she’ll be on her fanny, she’ll never do triples, but if she gets 9 ¼ hours of sleep she’s going to start to be able to do this because all of this will be automatic, she won’t have to think, she’ll just do.”
Well the Olympics come up. She is put on maybe as the last person on the team as kind of a must because somebody got injured or whatever. They go to Salt Lake City and what does this little girl do? She wins the Gold Medal. Skating once a day. Sarah Hughes.
Maas: It changed her life.
Cain: That’s unbelievable.
Maas: And it can change yours too as an Iron Man, as an athlete, as a coach, as a prolific writer of great books. Just think, you could become the person that your mom had hoped she’d given birth to.
Cain: That’s outstanding. Dr. Maas, thank you so much for your time on this podcast. What a great story about Sarah Hughes. That’s unbelievable. And she went on to win a Gold Medal in the Olympics yeah?
Maas: Yeah. She won the Gold Medal.
Cain: So for people who want more – because obviously we’ve only got just about an hour here on the podcast – for people who want more on sleep they can go to your website www.JamesMaas.com. They can get more information there. If they go to YouTube and type in “James Maas” they’re going to find plenty of lectures and other videos on there, educational episodes, things that they can get. Then are you on Twitter?
Maas: We’re just coming on now.
Cain: And is your name on Twitter @James_Maas?
Maas: I’m going to have to check that with my staff.
Maas: But it’s just all of the blogs and things like that are going online.
Maas: Hopefully by the first week in January.
Maas: If they go to – I guess the best thing – www.SleepForSuccess.us is the best website.
Cain: Www.SleepForSuccess.us and then you’ve got www.JamesMaas.com and we will update the show notes here with social media information once we get it. Dr. Maas thank you so much for your time, for your gift of education about something that everyone does every day. I’ve been saying I think since we met that one day for breakfast in Keller I’ve been telling everybody that if I could do life over again I probably would have gotten more into nutrition and sleep because everyone on the planet eats and everyone on the planet sleeps. So if your mission in life is to help as many people as you possibly can locking in on those two things you’re going to make a huge impact as you have made in my life and you’ve made in many people’s lives. So thank you for your contribution.
Maas: Thanks. I should have mentioned that I have an NHL hockey player, Colin Greening, he plays for the Maple Leafs, who is going and lecturing with me because he has become very knowledgeable about nutrition and sleep and the relationship between those. Also, pillows are very important. If you go to Bed, Bath & Beyond take a look at the Dr. Maas pillow collection because they were built to give you longer, deeper, better sleep.
Cain: Actually the day we met I went to Bed, Bath & Beyond and bought every one that they had. So if people go to the one in Southlake, Texas, they’re going to be out. I bought five of them. My wife and I love them.
Maas: Oh they restocked. They restocked. Watauga has them too. Southlake has hundreds of them.
Cain: So definitely for the listeners totally 100% get yourself a Dr. Maas Sleep For Success pillow. They’re tremendous. Then check out the Power Off. I know for a lot of athletes who have a hard time falling asleep the night before a game or with travel, guys going to spring training, etc. so check out those two things and get yourself some more Dr. James Maas.
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