058: Dr. Michael Breus on Improving Sleep Through Chronotypes

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The Wellness Mama Podcast
058: Dr. Michael Breus on Improving Sleep Through Chronotypes

When I met Oprah’s sleep doctor, Dr. Michael Breus, at a recent event, I knew I had to have him on the podcast to share his information. He’s the author of the wildly popular new book, The Power of When, and in this episode, he explains why “night owl” and “early bird” are outdated terms and how to know your chronotype (natural way you sleep).

The Power of When

I have read and researched a lot about sleep over the years and consider myself pretty well-versed in the basics of good sleep. Talking to Dr. Breus, I understand why both Oprah and Dr. Oz trust him with their sleep. He is not only incredible knowledgeable about how to get better sleep, but also how to use your sleep type to be happier and more productive during the day.

If you aren’t familiar with him:

Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., is a Clinical Psychologist and both a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine. He was one of the youngest people to have passed the Board at age 31 and, with a specialty in Sleep Disorders, is one of only 163 psychologists in the world with his credentials and distinction.

Know Thy Chronotype

According to Wikipedia:

Chronotype refers to the behavioral manifestation of underlying circadian rhythms of myriad physical processes. A person’s chronotype is the propensity for the individual to sleep at a particular time during a 24-hour period.

Take this fast quiz to find out what your chronotype is. This will make this podcast episode make a lot more sense, and will also shed some light on your own sleep patterns.

Instead of the outdated “night owl” and “early bird,” chronotypes, Dr. Breus has broken different sleep types into four chronotypes based on his experience with patients. These chronotypes are:

  • Dolphin
  • Lion
  • Bear
  • Wolf

Light Matters for Good Sleep

I’ve written a lot about how light impacts quality. This is the reason I personally wear orange sunglasses at night to avoid blue light and why my kids don’t have a night light (one of the posts I’ve gotten the most negative response to).

I asked Dr. Breus’ opinion on the issue and he provided some important insight and context.

In The Power of When, he says:

The most disruptive event in the history of biotime occurred on December 31, 1879 with the invention of the electric light bulb.

Pretty strong statement, huh?

In this episode he explains how artificial light directly impacts circadian rhythm and how light at night can suppress melatonin production.

Children and Sleep

In this episode, I also asked Dr. Breus’ opinion on much of the common sleep advice for babies and children, and some of his answers surprised me. Listen to the episode to hear them all, but we talk about:

  • How babies don’t make melatonin for the first 3 months. They get it from breastmilk but this is why they often need to nurse every few hours at night the first few months to get enough melatonin to keep sleeping.
  • The best time, based on sleep biology, to establish a sleep routine with babies. WM NOTE: I do not recommend giving infants rice cereal at 4 months to improve sleep!
  • Why children should NEVER be given melatonin supplements and the dangers of melatonin even for adults (did you know it is a contraceptive?)
  • The best time to drink coffee (and it isn’t first thing in the morning).
  • Why lunch should be the biggest meal of the day.
  • Why you should drink a quart of water (or lemon water) first thing in the morning
  • How sleep is more important than exercise
  • The reason you should probably let your teenager sleep in as long as possible

Resources We Mention:

More From Wellness Mama

[toggle title=”Read Transcript”]
Katie: Hello, welcome to The Healthy Moms podcast. I’m Katie from
wellnessmama.com, and I’m so excited that you’re joining me here
today. I’m also really excited that today, we’re gonna be joined by a
really fine guest, someone I met recently and was just very, very
impressed with. His name is Dr. Michael Breus, and he’s a clinical
psychologist. He’s a diplomat of the American Board of Sleep Medicine
and a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, which both of
those, in their own right, are incredibly admirable. But he was one of the
youngest people to have ever passed that board at age 31 with a
specialty in sleep disorders. And he’s actually one to only 163
psychologists in the world with his credentials, so he definitely knows the
stuff when it comes to sleep.

He is even on the clinical advisory board of The Dr. Oz Show, and he’s
appeared on the show many, many times. But the reason I wanted to
have him on and to chat with him is that he recently wrote a book called
“The Power of When.” And I’ve researched sleep a whole lot over the
years, and I feel like I’m pretty knowledgeable about the importance of
sleep and how to optimize sleep and even the role of light in sleep,
which we talk about a lot in this episode and I learned so much from his

So he has things called chronotypes, which we’re gonna talk a lot about
in this podcast. Basically, a chronotype is the way that you sleep, the
way that you naturally would have a sleep rhythm. He breaks it down
much farther than just early bird or night owl and provides some really
useful and actionable steps for any sleep problems you may have.
If you’re a mom, you’ll also be happy to know he really talks about how
to get a child to sleep in their own bed, the best way to do that that’s the
healthiest for the child and when that should happen. So take a listen,
it’s fascinating the info he has. And you can also go to
thepowerofwhenquiz.com, that’s thepowerofwhenquiz.com. He has a
really short quiz that lets you figure out your chronotype. And I’ll let you
know it’s not what I thought it was. All right, mine was not what I thought
it was gonna be, so it was really interesting to see how I actually fit into
that. So I will definitely encourage you to check it out.
His book is also available on Amazon and at all major retailers right now.
It’s called “The Power of When.” So without further ado, let’s join Dr.
Michael Breus.

Katie: Well, hey guys. If you’re just jumping on, I am here with Dr. Michael
Breus who I got to meet in person recently and was super impressed
with. And he is the author of this book I’ll show you guys, “The Power of
When.” And thanks to being a blogger, I got an advance copy but I
highly recommend getting this book because it was helpful to me. And
I’ve already done a lot of research about sleep.

He also has some small things in his profile sleep
doctor. He’s also just a genuinely great guy. So Dr. Breus, welcome. I’m
so excited to have you on.

Dr. Breus: Thank you for having me. That was quite the introduction.
Yeah, I was very fortunate I was able to work with Oprah actually back in
2005 on the show. And then I do actually a lot of work, if some of your
audience is familiar with Dr. Oz, I do a lot of work with him as well, and
so people can see me there. But I’m super excited to be here. This is
gonna be a lot of fun.

Katie: Yeah, I’m really excited because I’ve read a lot about sleep over
the years, and I think my own sleep was pretty dialed in, but I had not
ever really taken into account, based on my own sleep patterns what
that would mean during the day. I’d always separated those, like sleep is
at night…. But what you did is really tying together how your
sleep patterns and what sleep type you are really impacts your whole life
and how also you can almost hack your sleep with timing to be more
productive which I’ve been experimenting with, and it’s super cool. So
for anyone who may not be familiar, because I wasn’t actually with the
term, talk about what a chronotype is and what chronobiology is.

Dr. Breus: Absolutely. So first of all, I’m excited to hear that you took the
quiz, and you’re changing things about your life. That’s really cool. I think
people will really get a lot out of that experience as well. So I’ll back up
just for a second to give people just a little bit of background on me and
sort of what I do and how I came to learn more about chronotypes, if
that’s okay.

Katie: Yeah, perfect.

Dr. Breus: So I’m an actively practicing sleep doctor. I’ve been practicing
sleep medicine for 16 years. I have a PhD in Clinical Psychology, and
I’m board certified in clinical sleep disorders. So I actually took a medical
specialty board without going to medical school and they said, “Holy
crap, you passed,” and so I became a sleep doctor. There are about 160
of us that have ever done that. And it’s been really a fun, interesting,
fascinating journey along the way.

You know, sleep is such a bizarre topic, and there’s so much mystery
behind sleep. It’s been really fun to really start to really learn about the
literature, really start to understand the process of sleep and sort of what
happens there. And so understanding that for yourself is one thing, but
for your children, it’s also something that can be incredibly important. So
I’ve had the unique experience of treating both adults and children
throughout my career. And we actually just finished a sleep summit
where we had multiple pediatricians on, where we were talking about
kids sleep, so I’m very excited to be able to talk about that with your
group of people because I think children’s sleep is certainly something
that affects our sleep, our adult sleep in many, many different ways.

I came across chronotypes, I’ve known about them, but they actually
started showing up in my practice. So I’m an insomnia specialist. That’s
my area of expertise within the world of sleep disorders. And I started
having people show up, and they would say things like, “Well Dr. Breus,
I don’t have a hard time falling asleep, and I don’t have a hard time
staying asleep. I sleep at the wrong time.” I’m like, “Hold on a second,
are you a shift worker? Are you in the military? Are you a police officer/
fireman? What’s going on?” and they would say, no.

They’d say, “On the weekend, if I can go to bed for example at midnight,
1:00 and sleep until 8:30, I’m fine. I wake up, I feel refreshed, I feel
good. Everything’s awesome.” I said, “Well, why don’t you just do that in
general?” and they said, “Oh, by the way, I have a job,” or, “Oh, by the
way, I have children that wake up at the crack of dawn and so it doesn’t
work within my social world. It may not work within my employment
world, and so I can’t do that, you know. Can you help me? What can we
do here?”

So that was kind of unique. That wasn’t something that I was expecting.
With shift workers, there are definite techniques that we can do to push
their clock forwards or backwards. But that’s because they’re already
trying to sleep when their body says that they should be awake. This
was a very different scenario. These are people who are saying, “I can’t
sleep when my body wants to sleep.”

So we actually did the experiment where I asked one of my patients if I
could speak with their boss, and I did. And I said, “Hey, what’s the
chance that we can get this person to come in late for a week and a half,
two weeks but they’ll stay late. And let’s take a look at their productivity
and see how they do.” And lo and behold, it worked like a charm. Not
only was she more productive at work, but her kids liked her more, her
husband was happier with her, you know. It was like it all started to kinda
flow because she was a night owl.

And that’s really what we’re talking about here when we talk about
chronotypes. Many people might not have heard the term chronotype,
but you’ve all heard of an early bird or a night owl, right? And so those
are two of the chronotypes. But it turns out that there’s four of them.
When you look in the scientific literature, there are all these assessment
tools where you can take a quiz or an assessment tool, and you can
learn are you a morning person or a night person? But that didn’t kinda
work for all of my patients because I got people that are in the middle
that needed timing expertise, and then I got people with insomnia and
that didn’t fit either of them.

So I started to delve even deeper, and we found over 200 studies that
are quoted in the book about timing and understanding if you’re one of
the actually four different chronotypes. They didn’t have good names for
them all, and so I renamed them because I’m a mammal, not a bird, and
I wanted to choose animals that actually represented the different
chronotypes in their own life as well.

And so early birds turned into lions. We know that lions hunt at dawn.
They are leaders of the animal kingdom. They have a lot of the
characteristics of some of my lions. Bears, which is kind of in the middle,
these are solar creatures. They rise with the sun, and they go to bed
with the setting of the sun. They are eating all day long. They’re these
affable, really enjoyable, fun creatures that get along with a lot of
different things in nature.

My night owls turn out to be wolves. So wolves are very nocturnal
creatures. They hunt at night in packs, and they’re up in the evenings
late, late, late at night, and then they might be sleeping very late in the
daytime. But then there were my insomnia people. And I was trying and
trying and trying to figure out, gosh, what would be an animal that
represents them? And it turns out that dolphins do a really good job of
this. Most people don’t know, but dolphins sleep uni-hemispherically. So
half of their brain is asleep while the other half is actually looking for
predators and swimming. And I thought that was kind of a unique
representation of this kind of chronototype. So we end up with four.

And just to give you some more characteristics of each one, my lions are
my COOs. These are my operators. These are leaders. They’re up at
5:30, 6:00 in the morning, and they’re getting it done. They plan stuff.
They manage people really well. They’re not necessarily super creative,
but they are very good at problem-solving and working with people and
getting people to do certain things.

My bears are the fabric of society. They’re the glue that sticks us all
together. My bears are some of the most enjoyable people to be around.
They’re the life of the party. They’re the one hanging out at the keg point,
the beer or they’re the one who is buying different things when they’re
out at the bars at night. They’re like your fun, interesting people that
you’re gonna have a lot of fun with, generally speaking. They’re also
getit-done people. At work, these are the people that are completing the
tasks on time, getting things done, moving ahead and moving forward.

My wolves are very different groups. They represent only about 15% of
the population. And these are my introverted yet creative people. My
actors, my musicians, my authors. These people are the wolves. They
like to stay up late and you know, the party doesn’t get started for them
until 11:30, 12:00 at night. You can have great conversations with a wolf
at midnight whereas if you were talking to a lion, they’ve been asleep for
three hours.

My dolphins are kind of my very intelligent but a little on the neurotic side
kind of folks. They have a tendency to be Type A personalities, get it
done, get it done but they kind of can’t get out of their own way
sometimes. And they get so bogged down in the details that oftentimes,
they’re not as productive as they would like to be. But they’re also fun,
interesting people. They get along well with most people. And it’s
interesting to sort of see the interplay between all four of the

So now that we know what the chronotypes are, you can go, you can
take the quiz at thepowerofwhenquiz.com, and you fall into one of these
four buckets. What I did then which was really bizarre was I said well,
what’s going on with these people during the day? And could there be
times during the day where they do things better than others? Because
with this patient that I had that was a wolf, we found that there were
certain times of day that she spoke better with her children, that she had
more productivity, that she had more creativity. And so we started to
match up hormones.

So if you do a specific activity, there are certain hormones or
neurotransmitters that need to occur for you to reach the levels that you
need to perform that activity. Whether it’s an intellectual like
brainstorming or doing an analysis or it’s physical like yoga or you know,
strength training or running or something like that, there’s actually times
in your hormonal cycle that will change throughout a 24-hour period.
So I identified the activity, I identified the hormones, and then I matched
them to the chronotypes. It was a lot of fun actually, and it turned out to
be really interesting because I can tell people the best time to eat a
cheeseburger, you know, run a mile, have sex, ask their boss for a raise,
you name it.

Katie: Yeah, that’s so awesome. And it’s interesting because like,
reading the descriptions on the different types before I took the quiz, I
identify with parts of a lot of different ones, but I didn’t expect to be what
I was. So I ended up testing as a mixture of a wolf and a dolphin, the
wolf was the dominant one. And I don’t think of myself as being a really
creative, but I guess in a sense I am because I write all the time, which
is a somewhat creative activity.

Dr. Breus: Yeah.

Katie: But I’m also very type A and neurotic and OCD, but it doesn’t
affect my sleep. But the part that I identified with the dolphin was the
most. I’ve always said this, and no one ever made it make sense until I
read yours. I’ve have always said I only sleep with half my brain
because I’m my best…when I’m sleeping. In fact, I’ll read
stuff or go through my to-do list or problems I’m having before I go to
sleep, and I’ll wake up with answers.

And I’ve always felt like I’m only half asleep, like I’m always very
conscious of what’s going on. My sleep is never super deep, but I don’t
feel not rested. So I don’t have insomnia, but that sleeping with half your
brain, I’m like I get that, totally. I tested as a wolf. And it was really
interesting to see the results of that. I’m type A, not to be like no, I
wanted to be a lion.

Dr. Breus: Everybody wants to be a lion, it’s so funny. Everybody is like,
“I wanna be a lion. I wanna have that leadership role.” Here’s the truth,
is while there’s a lot of things that sound cool about being a lion, it’s not
all it’s cracked up to be. Lions have a lot of social issues because they’re
so doggone tired they can’t make it to dinner and a movie. You know, by
8:30, 9:00, they are done so unless they’re with other lions. And by the
way, lions only make up about 15% of the population, it can become
somewhat challenging.

It’s not too uncommon by the way, to have a wolf, dolphin kind of the
mix. So what it seems like is you have some of the OCD-ish, neuroticism
of the dolphin, but it doesn’t seem to affect your sleep. But it also sounds
like you could have some big creativity which I know you have because
I’ve read your blog, and it is actually super creative, and it’s a lot of fun.
And so you know, there’s lots of ways to combine those. And people can
be a hybrid, but you probably lean more towards the wolf side of things
than you do the dolphin.

Katie: Yeah, that makes sense especially because I’ve always been
most on at night and most creative. And like with the conferences, I’m
usually the one closing out the party but not party. I’m talking to
someone in an in-depth conversation at 1:00 in the morning.

Dr. Breus: Right. You’re a wolf, there’s no question about it.

Katie: Yeah, but I thought that was really interesting. And it makes so
much more sense than a night owl or an early bird. And I think there is
even something circulating online that says, “Forget night owl or early
bird, I’m some form of perpetually exhausted pigeon.” And I feel like
yours make a lot more sense for that.

But I loved how you also tied it to how people react to light and how
food, even the food you eat and the timing and the macros of the food
are dependent on your chronotype. So let’s start with food and then
move into light. So how does maybe your different type of your
chronotype affect what you should be eating and when you should be
eating it?

Dr. Breus: So it’s actually pretty fascinating. And so the different
chronotypes look at food in different ways. So as an example, lions don’t
tend to be very foody or food-centric individuals. Lions have a tendency
to be eat for fuel, if you will, right? I need something this morning to get
myself going, so give me my protein bar, and let’s rock and roll, right?
That’s where a lion is. They just don’t think about food that way.
My bears tend to have a tendency to be more foodie kind of people
because they’re social, right? They like to go out to dinner, have a
cocktail, relax. So they’re gonna have a tendency to actually eat
probably a little bit less healthy. Then my lions would be, my lions are
gonna be on it, super healthy, you know, give me the protein bar
because that’s what I’m supposed to have. And then give me my greens
and then I’m done. Whereas bears are much more like, “Hey, let’s hang
out. Let’s have a little fun. Let’s eat some new interesting stuff.” And so
they also have a tendency to put on a little bit more weight, which can be
an interesting factor.

My wolves are very interesting. My wolves don’t like to eat breakfast.
Their biggest meal of the day is usually dinner, but they also find
themselves snacking very late at night, like right before bed. And they
have these sweet tooth that are ridiculous. And so they’re like my ice
cream eaters and my cookie munchers and things like that. It’s either
salty or sweet, salty or sweet for them.

And they also have a tendency to put on more weight because they also
don’t like exercise. And they have a low pain tolerance which means
they feel pain earlier than my lions or my bears, and so when they do
exercise, it hurts. And they’re like, “Ah, this stinks. I don’t wanna do this,”
and so they stop and on the way home, they’re hungry. So they pick up
some fast food.

Because that’s the other thing is my wolves have a tendency to eat so
late that a lot of restaurants aren’t open or it’s a very tail end of the night,
and so they’re picking up whatever drive-through is available. And then
they’re trying to look for a healthy alternative there. It’s not there. And
then they’re just like, “Forget about it. Just give me the burger and fries.
I’m starving. Let’s go.” Because again, they’re not eating a whole lot
during the daytime because that’s just not how their brain thinks number
one, and number two, their brain isn’t ready to eat because they’re on a
later schedule. So you know, it would be great to have a world just for
wolves because we could do a lot of good stuff with them for that.
And my dolphins are all over the place. Because they have a tendency
to have a little more of the neuroticism but yet still highly intelligent, what
they have a tendency to do is investigate everything they eat, right? And
so it’s like, “What should I be eating this time and what…” and they’re
always trying to follow this path. And they almost get caught up in this
whole crazy thing of “Oh my gosh, I don’t know what I’m supposed to
eat.” I have a tendency to have dolphins open up the refrigerator and get
confused. They’re like, “What am I supposed to be eating now? Is it
greens? Is it protein? Is it carbs? Is it fat? What fat is good? What fat is
bad? Should I have butter? Is bacon okay?” Their mind just goes and
goes and goes and after a while they just give up, and they’re like,
“Screw it, I don’t know what I’m gonna do.”

Katie: That’s funny. And it’s funny that you said that about wolves and
eating late at night because I’ve always been that way, but I trained
myself not to be that way because I know it’s not good. And I try and get
to do protein and greens at night because I feel better. But I also,
because I’m late night person, I go grocery shopping at 10:00 at night
because the store is empty, and it’s a great time.

Last night, I was doing that, and I was driving home. And I have to pass
all these fast food restaurants, and I’m like, “What the heck is going on
at Taco Bell at 10:30 at night?” and they are all wolves.

Dr. Breus: They are all wolves, I guarantee it. And it’s really kind of funny
when you look at it just as an aside, when you start looking at business.
Like now, I’m starting to get calls from people to do consulting because
they’re like, “Well, tell me more about my customer base, could there be
items that we could be putting on sale at certain times that could actually
be beneficial for this demographic within your chronotype system?”

So we’re starting to see people utilize this in ways that we never really
knew that they were going to do. Actually, Dave Asprey, who is The
Bulletproof Diet guy and The Bulletproof Coffee, who’s actually turning
into a good friend, he’s like, “I want my entire crew to take the
chronotype quiz, and we’re gonna start setting meetings for creative at
certain times and analytic at others. And this is gonna be so cool,”
because you know, he’s like a bio-hacker extraordinaire. And so it’s
funny to see what people are doing but yeah, Taco Bell at 11:30 at night,
guaranteed wolves.

Katie: That’s so funny. Also you talked about in the book, which I thought
was really fascinating also, certain types can do okay with more protein
or more carbs at certain times. A universal recommendation even for
those who don’t love breakfast is eat breakfast and get protein, yeah,
and vegetables if you can. Can you talk about why that’s important?

Dr. Breus: Yeah. And so when we look at blood sugar across a day, one
of the things that we’re trying to do is keep these levels consistent.
Because as an example, my bears and my wolves have a tendency to
have more sweet tooth and go for high carb, high fat foods, by actually
having their blood sugar stay fairly stable, having a, you know, bigger
breakfast than they normally would which sometimes is really hard. A
decent-sized lunch and then a smaller dinner but yet keeping that blood
sugar consistent across the day, that has a tendency to slow down the
snacking at night, right?

And so in the mornings, I’m asking people to eat protein and greens, if
they can. So then the question is, “Well, Michael, how am I gonna get
spinach every morning?” Well, you know, you can put it in an omelet and
that’s kind of cool but how many spinach omelets can you eat in the
day? So for me, what I do is I actually have a protein shake that I have
every morning that’s got a plant-based protein in it and greens in it
combined. So I spin it around and throw in a little water and maybe an
avocado or something to get a little bit of that fat in there. Because that’s
brain food. That’s food that you need to put into the tank to get stuff
going during the day.

So whether you’re at a high power job, whether you’re doing
manufacturing or your high-powered children are running around and
you are trying to figure that out, right? Because that’s what we have here
at our house. I work out of the home for a large part of what I do. My
wife is here with me, and we’re constantly moving the kids back and
forth, getting things going. I wake them up because we’re actually both
wolves, but I have a tendency to wake up early in the morning, which is
very odd for a wolf. But I only need six and a half hours of sleep, so I go
to bed at midnight, and I’m up at 6:30. So that actually works out really
well for us here. And I’m getting the kids ready in the morning, and one
of the things I’m doing is I’m making sure I have my protein shake. I’m
making sure that I have a little bit of good fat in my diet because that’s
the brain food that I’m gonna need to be able to make my decisions
throughout the day.

Katie: That makes total sense. And I’ve kind of fallen into that rhythm as
well. Like if we don’t do omelets, I can do breakfast stir fry sometimes.
Like I’m constantly eating vegetables, but if I don’t and if I am short on
time, I just do the protein thing too and add greens to it. And then
speaking of Dave Asprey, sorry, I’ve got a whole post about my own
version of his book, “Bulletproof Coffee,” but I also like to do a tea
because I love tea for a lot of reasons. And it’s a little bit lower in caffeine
but still has that caffeine, and I’ll sometimes put the good fats in there
just to get the boost of energy.

And that all makes total sense. So my mom’s side of the family is
French, and I always heard…say the thing that you have in the book,
which is breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince or princess and then
dinner like a pauper.

Dr. Breus: Right.

Katie: We’re all pretty naturally thin even when our diets aren’t that
great. And that’s really interesting. And they also don’t really snack which
is un-American, but it’s worked well for them. So I love how you talk
about those as well.

Dr. Breus: Yeah, there’s a really interesting study in the book where they
actually took mice, and they gave them the exact same amounts of food.
But for one section, they could only eat during a certain timing and for
the other one, they were allowed to eat whenever they wanted. Same
diets. And the grazing whenever gained weight, and the eating the diet
within a certain period of time, weight loss.

So it speaks to the whole idea that our gut is another circadian rhythm.
It’s a whole another thing that we need to keep in mind when we’re
thinking about things. You know, some of the data would suggest if you
can keep your food intake into a 12-hour window, you could actually, by
changing almost nothing in your diet, you could actually end up losing
weight. Because it allows your body the consistency of metabolism,
allows your body to kind of get things going.

Katie: That makes sense. And I know people who have lost weight just
by like, “I don’t eat after 7:00 p.m. anymore.” And they lose weight. And it
makes sense that you’re giving the liver and your body and your
digestive a break also to regenerate. And I know for me personally if I
eat after 7:30 or 8:00 at night, I don’t feel like I sleep as well. It’s like my
digestion keeps me awake, kind of.

Dr. Breus: Right. And it can actually because your body is not meant to
digest lying down. Your body is meant to digest either sitting or standing.
And so when you eat too late and then you lie down, all bets are off, and
so your body says, “Well, we’re gonna just push all that into the storage
facility,” which turns out to be fat, “And we’ll deal with it tomorrow.”
Katie: That makes total sense. The other thing I loved that you really
pointed out and explains the studies is that it’s not always best to work
out first thing in the morning because that’s what every exercise guru
ever says. It’s like, if you’re gonna get your day started right, you need to
get up super early and exercise, high intensity. And I tried that with
Crossfit in the morning and wrecked myself.

Dr. Breus: Yeah. So first of all, as a wolf, you are destined to fail, okay?
Because your melatonin faucet is still going strong even after you wake
up as a wolf in the morning. And remember we’re talking about night owl
types of people here. And what we discovered is that you can actually
use exercise to help refine your circadian rhythm.

Now, many people who are lions say, “Oh, I’m up at 5:30. I might as well
go for a run.” What I would say is hold on a second. When you start to
get tired around 4:30, 5:00 in the afternoon, if you actually exercise then
it will give you an energy boost, and it will help bring you throughout the
day which is nice. For my bears, my bears can actually exercise more in
the morning if they want to. But my lions, I tell them, “You know what, I
want you to be creative in the morning. I want you to use that creativity
time to plan your day.” Because lions aren’t the most creative people in
the world.

Wolves, they just don’t like exercise, you know, because again, they
have lower pain tolerance so that it hurts more. And they’re not awake
enough to do it. If you get a wolf and you try to make them exercise at
6:30, your chance of injury is significantly higher. And just the whole
exercise compliance or the ability to stay with an exercise program is
very, very low. My dolphins however, are interesting. My dolphins,
because of that level of neuroticism, they may actually do well exercising
in the morning because it helps calm them down to start off their day.
Katie: That makes total sense. That’s the one thing I changed the most
drastically, is I now workout like, I’ll feed the kids dinner and then go
workout and just get out a rolling machine or ride my bike or walk or
something. And that seems to both help me sleep better when I do go to
sleep but also made me more creative at night. So I would love that little

Dr. Breus: Yeah, yeah, it’s fun and it works out really well, believe it or

Katie: Yeah, I love that. And I love that you really backed it up.
Everything actually you wrote you backed up with studies, which I think
can be really appreciated. Another thing because you are a doctor and
can back this up, I would love to talk about light and sleep because I’ve
heard of this from my own research and every single time I get told that
I’m crazy, and great, like now even our night lights are a problem and no,
my kids can’t sleep without light at night.

And I get called all kinds of names for suggesting that we should
probably sleep in complete darkness and that if you’re watching blue
screens at night, it’s messing up your circadian rhythm. So let’s talk
about light.

Dr. Breus: Sure. So number one, you’re not crazy, okay? I know,
awesome, right? So there is a preponderance of data to suggest that
light at night will affect your sleep. And so let’s talk about the science
behind why that’s true. So you have cells inside your eyeballs called
melanopsin cells. These cells are very, very frequency-sensitive and
light, particularly blue light, which is at the 460 nanometer range within
the spectrum, hits those melanopsin cells and those send a signal
through the optic nerve up to your circadian pacemaker, called your
suprachiasmatic nucleus, and it actually says, “Stop melatonin

So the light equals no melatonin. I call melatonin the vampire hormone
because it only comes out in darkness, right? And the darker it is, the
better it is for your sleep. Now, that being said, there are a lot of children
out there who don’t like to sleep in total darkness. And what do they do
about something like that? And I think that might be some of the
pushback that you’re getting from some of the moms out there. So there
actually are now night lights that are created without that blue spectrum.
They have filters inside the bulbs.

I work with a company called “Lighting Science.” It’s actually, I think their
website is lighting.science, and they have the good night…I think it’s
called “The Goodnight Baby Bulb” or good sleep bulb or something like
that. And it’s specifically a night light designed for children so that there’s
still illumination in the room, but the blue light isn’t there. So you can kill
two birds with one stone there and be able to, you know, have your child
not be fearful and go through all that rigmarole but yet still not affect their

But there is no question that blue light stops melatonin production. It’s
actually one of the most predictable things that we have in sleep
medicine as far as science is concerned. And blue light also by the way,
doesn’t just come from a night light or even an overhead light. And by
the way, you can change the overhead lights.

There is this company also has overhead lights that you can screw in for
your children’s bedroom as well. In my bedside table, I actually have
these goodnight bulbs in my bedside table for when I read and then I
have the opposite, which are like wide awake lights in my bathroom so
that way in the morning, I flip the switch it’s like, boom. It’s like the sun in
there, you know. It’s like coming in, and it wakes me up, and it helps me,
because again, I’m a wolf but I get up early. So I need that sunlight or
that extra light to click off the melatonin and let me get going.
Another source of blue light are your phones and your tablets and your
laptops. Now, Apple actually recognized this, and they actually have
included now in their OS update something called “Night Shift.” So if you
go into the general settings section, you can actually find in there,
there’s something called “Night Shift.”

Go ahead and turn it on and put in the times that you normally go to bed,
and it will actually change what’s called the light temperature of the light
that’s being emitted, and it will slow that down. Because here’s the other
problem, right, is where is your phone when you’re checking it? It’s
about right here, you know. It’s probably 18 to 20 inches from your face.
Very different than a television that’s across the room or a bedside table
lamp. You know, you’ve got that light source, and it’s right there. So I
would tell people that make sure that you’re using that.

There’s also something for computers called flu.x, it’s F-L-U-. X. I think if
you Google that, you’ll find it. It’s free. You can download it to your
computer, and it will actually change the light that’s being emitted from
your computer. I don’t know if they have it for tablets or not so we may
have to investigate that a little. But I also know that there are companies
that create these shields that you can actually put on there that will filter
that. I think it’s called, there was one called “The Sleep Shields” at some
point that on…

Katie: I’ll put links to all those for anybody who’s listening and maybe
can’t remember all that. I’ll make sure there is links, buy yeah, those are
all great.

Dr. Breus: Yeah. And so people need to just think through it. Like I ask
my patients to do an electronic curfew an hour before they go to bed
because sleep is not an on/off switch, okay. It’s more like slowly pulling
your foot off the gas and slowly putting your foot on the brake. There’s a
process that has to occur there. And you know, the more you understand
that whole process of sleep, the better off you’re likely to be able to do it.

Katie: That makes total sense. And I love how you said in the book that
the most destructive event in the history of biotime occurred on 12:31
1879, which is when Edison invented the light bulb.

Dr. Breus: Yes.

Katie: I’m such a geek when it comes to…I actually love reading medical
studies late at night. But if you look at the data, like if I look at the graphs
and I put a lot of stuff in graphs just to see trends. And to me, it does not
make sense that we’re seeing disease and obesity and everything else
because of food. Because food’s changed, but it hasn’t changed that
drastically in the last seven years but light has. Wavelengths of light and
electromagneticism, the works. Those two, that’s changed drastically
and those graphs look a lot more like the graphs of disease that we’re

So I feel like a broken record on my blog, but I’m like light is that
important, Mike. It’s more important than food.

Dr. Breus: I would argue that light is medicine, okay? And like lighting
science, that group that I was talking about before, they started putting
warning labels on light bulbs. So you know how when you have the food
and it’s got the ingredients and all that kind of label? They’re actually
putting those kind of labels on their products to alert people to the idea
that this is light that can affect you this way. This is light that can affect
you that way.

There’s no question in my mind that light is medicine. If you wanna look
at the frontiers of medicine, you wanna look at bleeding edge science,
it’s all gonna be about light and what does light do to the body. We’re
seeing studies now where light can actually kill bacteria. We’re seeing,
like there’s one study out there that showed that a very particular
frequency of light will kill MRSA which is a humongous problem in
hospitals these days. And there’s ways that you can actually use light to
activate certain things to help things out. It’s impressive what we’re
seeing out there from a scientific standpoint. So you know, for anybody
out there who says light doesn’t affect them, you’re wrong.

Katie: Exactly. I was sure everything, I mean, look at even our pool has
a UV filter and that UV light kills 99% something of bacteria.

Dr. Breus: Exactly.

Katie: Physical effect of light. But then you see these studies about
getting bright light, 30 minutes of bright light in the morning hours and
how that drastically changes your melatonin and just like getting blue
light at night, it will decrease. And it makes sense because in nature,
when would you get blue light? It’s when the sun is brightest.

Dr. Breus: Right.

Katie: But…when you tell people that’s why getting blue light at night or
taking Vitamin D at night, I feel like that always messes me up. But it makes
sense because my liver would only naturally get that
during the day. And so I look at the fact that we’re living in a world where
we’re all inside under artificial lighting all the time, not getting sunshine
or bright light to our eyes in the morning, wearing sunscreen and hats
and covered up all the time.

Dr. Breus: Absolutely.

Katie: And our bodies are suffering because that’s such an important
part of our biology. And I love how you really back that up.

Dr. Breus: Well, and here’s the thing, is you know, when you look at all of
these different aspects and you start to think about it, we can actually
use like to our advantage. So one of my top recommendations is right
when you wake up, you should drink an eight ounce glass of water
because most people don’t know, but while you’re sleeping, you breathe
out almost a liter of water. So you wake up dehydrated every single
morning. So that’s number one, people need to understand that.

But number two, do that while standing in front of a window getting 15
minutes of sunlight so it turns off that melatonin faucet. You’re gonna be
in so much better shape. I mean, you’re gonna feel so much better. It’s
all gonna work a lot smoother for you if you do something like that. And
you know, when you look at my new book, “The Power of When”
actually you can actually, if you want to you can, not change your
chronotype, but you can budge your chronotype to a certain direction by
using light.

And so if you’re a wolf and you’ve got to be up by 6:30 in the morning, I
suggest you get some of these bulbs or you get some direct sunlight
right when you wake up because that will help you adapt to your social
schedule even though it might not be your internal circadian schedule.

Katie: That makes total sense. And I think this is also a great segue into
an area where a lot of readers have questions which is about kids and

Dr. Breus: Sure.

Katie: You mentioned the night light thing which is super helpful. But I
also have noticed, at least with my own kids, that my babies who were
born closer to the summer months who I naturally had outside more
become better sleepers earlier. Which makes sense in reference to they
were getting bright sunlight and were getting darkness at night. Their
cues probably lined up earlier. But you also mentioned something that I
didn’t know which is that newborn babies don’t make melatonin.

Dr. Breus: Right.

Katie: And so I know so many people, I even get questions like, “How
can I make my two-week-old starts sleeping through the night?” and I’ve
always said, “Well, you can’t because they’re not supposed to.” But can
you talk about melatonin in kids and how it’s different than adults and the
chronotypes of children at different ages and how we can work with

Dr. Breus: Sure, sure. So first of all, great question from your group,
whoever was asking about melatonin. So let me tell you a bunch of
things just about melatonin in general for adults and then we’ll drill down
into kids, just so that people can have a basic understanding. So
melatonin is a hormone. It’s not a vitamin, it’s not a mineral, and it’s not
an herb. It is a hormone. And so you wouldn’t walk over to your local,
you know, vitamin store, health food store and say, “Hey, I’d like a bottle
of testosterone or estrogen please,” right? You know, because they
wouldn’t sell it to you. So you’d have to think through the idea that this is
not something to be trifled with. This is a serious substance that can
have pretty significant effects.

Ninety percent of normal average adults below the age of about 55
make enough melatonin, period. End of story. Melatonin
supplementation is more than likely not necessary. Once you go past 55,
we do start to see a decline in the production of melatonin, so for those
patients of mine, melatonin supplementation actually does make sense.
Also if you’re a shift worker like we were saying earlier in the show, if
you’re a police officer or a firefighter or a nurse at night or doctor at night
or what have you, melatonin can actually help reshift you. Jetlag is
another situation where melatonin can actually be very effective.
Travelling more than two or three time zones, melatonin can actually
help bring you back.

All that being said, there are some significant problems with melatonin.
Number one, it’s not regulated by the FDA. So if you don’t have
something that’s regulated by the FDA, which means I can make it in my
garage, I can sell it at the local health food store, and that’s a perfectly
legal thing to do. So quality of the melatonin is going to be key. You
wanna go to the websites, call the companies and say, “Hey, do you
follow pharmaceutical guidelines for the production of your melatonin?”
That’s gonna be an important factor of knowing the quality.

The quantity is another issue that’s fascinating. Ninety-five percent of
the melatonin that is currently sold is in an over-dosage format, 95%.
The appropriate dose for an adult is between a half and one milligram,
that’s it. Almost all of it is sold in three milligram, five milligram or ten
milligram dosages. And you could be putting, you know, three, five, ten
times the amount of melatonin in your system that you should be. So
obviously that is a big, big issue there.

The third thing that’s important for people to know is timing. It takes
approximately 90 minutes for melatonin to reach plasma concentration
levels to be effective for sleep. So it’s not a sleep initiator. It’s a sleep
regulator. So it helps with your circadian rhythm and your chronotypes,
like what we’re talking about now, but it is not a sleeping pill. So taking it
right before bed is highly ineffective, and it will give you a hangover the
next day because it’s still hanging on and making your brain think that it
needs to, you know, continue to produce melatonin.

Another thing that’s kind of interesting about melatonin is it’s by
prescription-only in Europe. Most people don’t know that. But you can’t
just walk into a store and buy it because most of the European countries
have said this is a serious substance that we need to regulate. But
here’s the kicker when you’re talking about melatonin for kids, is at high
dosages, melatonin is a contraceptive.

Katie: Wow.

Dr. Breus: It is a contraceptive. And I can’t think of anything worse than
adding melatonin to a young female developing body because we have
no idea what’s going to happen. I can guarantee you that my daughter
will never take melatonin, ever, you know, until she’s an adult that I
guess if she ever needed it. That’s part of the issue that you need to
start to think through here, is what are the long-term consequences of
adding a hormone to a child? That’s not something to be taken lightly.
That’s something that you should sit down, talk with your pediatrician.
And by the way, most pediatricians have no idea that at high dosages
melatonin is contraceptive. So you may have to bring that information
forward to them so that they know and understand what you’re dealing

Now, there is a caveat. I have seen melatonin be highly effective for kids
who are on the spectrum, so autism spectrum disorder, of that whole
gamut. It’s actually been highly effective even at higher dosages, like
three, five and ten milligrams, believe it or not. There’s been some good
research on that. I’m not advocating for it. I just am saying if you’re a
parent and you have a special needs child who is out there, that might
be something where you should start looking up the research because it
could actually be effective and might be a good use for melatonin. But
you need to talk with your physician, really work that through and so to
understand what’s going on there.

ADD is the other one. There’s been I think two research studies to show
that kids with ADD can actually benefit from a course of melatonin, but
it’s not something that they may be taking forever.

Katie: That makes sense. So if anything, you only ever wanna use it
working with a doctor who actually knows what they’re doing especially
with a child and only for a period of time, never at long term. And this is
definitely where you’re saying not something short term like, my kid
she’s having trouble sleeping, so I’m just gonna give them melatonin.
That will be a completely…

Dr. Breus: Bad idea. If you really came down to it and you were in a bind
and you just had to have something to knock your kid out, you’d be
better suited using Benadryl than you would anything else.

Katie: That makes total sense. And you also said in the book that babies
don’t, like because their pineal… I think I’m saying right…their pineal
gland isn’t fully developed, they don’t create their own melatonin
regularly until like three months old, is that right?

Dr. Breus: That’s correct.

Katie: And so they’re getting it through the breast milk, is that right?

Dr. Breus: That’s correct. And so what’s really interesting is right at age
four months is when you should start having your children, putting them
down in the crib by themselves while awake. So four months is a super
critical time because that’s when object permanence seems to set in.
And so just before, well actually just after that. And so what you want to
do is put the child in awake, swaddled preferably. Lay them down on
their back because the whole back to sleep to avoid reflux and things
like that, unless you have a reflux baby. Both of my children were super,
duper reflux babies so they were face down and they were fine.
Again, talk with your physician more about that. But you know, when
you’re starting to think about babies and what’s going on with their sleep,
four months is one of those critical marks because number one, they
start producing that melatonin again. Also right around age, it’s like
somewhere between 10 and 14 months they start to move out of the two
stages of sleep that they have and they move to four stages of sleep,
actually five states of sleep like what we have.

So most people don’t know this, but babies really only have two stages
of sleep. They go straight into REM, which is the mentally restorative
sleep. That’s because their brain is developing at such an incredibly
rapid pace. And then they just have the physically restorative sleep,
which is stages three and four. Those are the only two stages that
they’ve really got. However, right around that year, year and a half mark,
they start to develop stage two. This is where they start waking up in the
middle of the night which is not a lot of fun. Also by the way, that’s right
around the time that teething starts which is also not a lot of fun.
So you can start to really see how it can get somewhat tumultuous when
you’re trying to deal with children. And you know, let’s say you have
more than one kid and so you’ve got one kid who is already going to
bed, having issues going to bed at age four and now you’ve got a 18-
month-old and maybe you’ve got a newborn. There’s a lot of stuff that
can be going on there.

Katie: Yeah, that makes sense. It’s really interesting to see that make
sense about the melatonin too. I’m curious, do you know any research
on…like so the baby is getting the melatonin through the breast milk. To
me, it makes perfect sense in what I’ve seen in that they sleep great for
a little while and then wake back up because it’s like one off. What about
babies who are formula-fed, are they not getting enough melatonin or
does their body compensate for that?

Dr. Breus: So number one, I don’t know this literature backwards and
forwards, so I’m gonna tell you what I think, not necessarily what I can
point to data on. But I believe that actually that causes a quicker
production of melatonin in these children which I don’t believe is harmful.
One of the tricks that we used with our kids was with the breast milk,
breast milk is super thin and so while it’s jam packed with nutrients and
stuff like that, kids go through it, they metabolize it very, very quickly.
And so we actually added, you know that flaky, cereal type of stuff? We
actually added that in with the breast milk and what we found was within
a week our kids were sleeping straight through the night.

My wife had our kids sleeping seven to eight hours by, well actually no,
it’s longer. It was seven to eight hours and then there was a stretch of
like a three-hour nap. So they were getting 11, 12 hours. There were two
naps so actually they were getting closer to 15, by four months. We
were just like on it, like, “Let’s get it done.” And I was the sucker in the
whole thing. My daughter was crying in the middle of the night, like I was
flying across the house and my wife was like, “Stop,” you know,
grabbing me by the shirt like, “Don’t go in there.”

There’s nothing wrong with letting your child cry it out. It hurts. It was
painful for me to listen to it, but they’re not in any pain. There’s nothing
wrong that’s going on. Sometimes, they just have a lot of energy and
they need to figure out a way to expel it. And sometimes and especially
for infants, that’s really the only way that they can do that. So don’t worry
so much about your baby crying. But a couple of big hints is right around
age four months, put them down in the crib awake because they need to
be able to self soothe themselves to sleep. And you know, while breast
milk has a lot of advantages to it if people just aren’t going down that
path, your kid should actually be okay.

Katie: Okay, that’s really good to know. And my motherly instinct has
always told me when you’re talking of a baby less than four months, I
really feel it’s completely impossible to spoil them. Like they are very
physiological need to be held, you should respond to them, you should…

Dr. Breus: Absolutely.

Katie: All those things. But I also noticed what you said there by four to
six months they get restless. When they’re at zero to four months, they
wanna be on me all the time almost. I wear them a lot. I hold them a lot
and then they eventually do, like four to six months hit a restless phase
where…I’m keeping them from sleeping well because I move, we’re
getting distracted.

So we did that with my daughter and just, I would lay down awake and
really she didn’t cry much. She would talk and babble and eventually fall
asleep. But the part that was interesting for me since a lot of our other
kids, we waited till more like 8 to 12 months to make that transition, and
it was like a battle because they were old enough to say no. And she
really actually within two days learned to like sleeping by herself so
much more…. I’m like, “What’s the matter? Why won’t you
go to sleep?” and she wanted to be in her bed by herself. And as her
mom, I’m like, “She doesn’t need me anymore.” But it was really she is
sleeping great and she is sleeping longer. And it’s super cool.
So I think kids that are like that it’s tough for moms and I know it will be
controversial, probably get a big discussion about that in the comments
section whether to let them cry or not. But from a sleep perspective, that
makes total sense.

Dr. Breus: Yeah, yeah. I mean, you know, I’m not necessarily talking
about a closeness or companionship statement, but I’m saying just from
a pure sleep perspective, it’s important. And you know you can still find
unique times to spend with your children, cuddle time and things like
that, but for sleep, they really need to be able to do it on their own
because if they can’t, you have a big problem on your hands.

Katie: Yeah, totally. And so speaking of parenthood, another thing that I
thought was interesting that you talked about ways caffeine consumption
and when it should be. Because it was actually not like when most
people probably are consuming caffeine and for parents listening, it’s
probably not an optional statement, they’re going to consume caffeine.
So when is the best time to do that based on sleep biology?

Dr. Breus: So it’s interesting. Probably the worst time to ingest caffeine is
the very first thing in the morning. And there’s a couple of reasons why
for that. So first of all, your body actually creates cortisol which is a
natural stimulant in your system created by the adrenal glands. And this
is one of the thing that rises slowly as you’re asleep and when it hits its
peak, it allows you to wake up. So what’s great about that is cortisol is a
natural way to help you wake up.

Well, if you already have this natural stimulation due to the cortisol and
you try to add caffeine on it, here’s what happens. Cortisol is about five
or seven times more powerful than caffeine, so all you do is you give
yourself the jitters. And it takes even more caffeine to feel any
stimulating effect because you’ve already got such an incredible
stimulant on board.

After you wake up, between 90 and 120 minutes later, your cortisol is
starting to dip and it’s starting to go down. Have caffeine then. Have your
caffeine, you know, an hour and a half to two hours after you wake up.
So if you wake up at 6:30, you’re looking at a coffee break around 8:30
so maybe as you’re driving to work or bringing the kids to school or
something like that. Don’t walk into the kitchen, hit the coffee maker and
slug down a couple of cups before you wake the family up or do that
kind of thing because it’s just not gonna be nearly as effective.
The other thing is you wanna look at the amount of caffeine. You know,
caffeine is great as an energy producer when you have a little multiple
times. It’s not great when you down, you know, 12, 14, 16 ounce caffeine
drink because your brain and your body, all they wanna do is blow
through it because it’s a toxin. At the end of the day, there’s absolutely
no nutritional value to caffeine which by the way means no child needs
caffeine, none. I’m pretty firm on that one. I know there are people out
there who are like, “If they have a soda every once in a while, it’s fine.”
It’s not, okay? There’s absolutely no reason for that. My children are 12
and 14, and if they have a soda twice a year, it’s a miracle and it’s
usually something that’s non-caffeinated. I’m adamant about that
because we do know that it has growth something effects in kids, and
we do know that it can have some metabolic effects as well.

Katie: That makes total sense. So let’s walk through, maybe in light of
understanding sleep biology and melatonin and the difference with
caffeine, what would be an optimal morning routine? Am I correct in
guessing it would be more like waking up and getting bright light whether
it be from a wake up light or from the sun and then maybe some
movement but not exercise and then protein and greens and then
coffee? Or how would you tell an average person to work that in?

Dr. Breus: So first of all, you’re pretty close. You’ve obviously done your
homework, so that’s good. So here’s what I would say is number one,
waking, figure out what your chronotype is and try to have your wake up
time be somewhat consistent with what your chronotype wants you to
do. That’s number one.

Number two, as you’re lying in bed after the alarm goes off or you wake
up, start your respiratory system. So I’m talking five to seven good,
deep, long abdominal breaths. That’s gonna actually get your heart rate
going. Because when you’re lying in a recumbent position, your heart
rate is lower, and it’s harder to get yourself more awake. So sit up, swing
your feet over but stay seated and give yourself a good five to seven
nice, deep breaths.

When you do that, reach over, stand up slowly, reach over and grab your
glass of water. You should have a glass of room temperature water
that’s sitting right there next to you. Walk over to the window or walk out
onto the porch or patio, other way put on a robe if you sleep naked, we
don’t wanna scare the neighbors, and drink your water while getting
sunlight. You’re hydrating yourself because remember, you lose about a
liter of water each day or each evening, and that sunlight is helping turn
off that melatonin faucet.

Now, go back in, and there’s a lot of different potential things, but for
sure if you’re gonna eat breakfast, which I highly recommend that you
do, we’re looking at a protein, grains and fat breakfast, okay? Because
all of that is important energy food to keep you going throughout the day.
If you starve yourself in the morning, eating only a muffin or what have
you, it’s not going to be good for you later on. You’re gonna crash pretty

And then from there, I would say your daily grooming, hopping in the
shower or getting dressed, things like that. There are a couple of things
that I recommend there as well. So one of the best things I tell people to
do all the time is listening to music while you’re in the shower. It is
energizing. Pick something that’s fun, I mean, don’t dance around
because you might slip and fall, but have something that you can bop
around to and get yourself moving to because music emotes emotion.
And having a positive emotion first thing in the morning can actually be
very beneficial for somebody in the early morning time as well.
Also when you take a shower, you do not wanna take a hot shower.
There is data that suggests that hot showers actually make you more
sleepy. So you wanna take a cool shower. Not a cold shower but a cool
shower because a cool shower will actually help wake you up a little bit
more especially if you’re a wolf, and you’re having a hard time getting
going in the mornings.

Katie: That makes sense. And so I’ll definitely include links that people
can take the quiz and find out what chronotype they are. And I would
also definitely, I’ll have a link to your book because I recommend it really

Dr. Breus: Thank you.

Katie: I would like to also talk about with kids, do you have a really neat
session of, because I was reading in the beginning of the book going, “I
wonder how my kids fit into this,” and I had pinged my mom, my dad and
my husband, and I went like, “I wonder where my kids fall.” And then I
got to the section where you’re like based on age, kids are, they go
through the chronotypes.

Dr. Breus: They do.

Katie: And you…as an adult, into one of them. So can you
talk about that and how we can use this to support our kids at different
ages and how that looks?

Dr. Breus: Absolutely. And so our itty-bitty young kids, like ages zero to
about three, four years old, they’re lions. They get up at the crack of
dawn, they go, go, go. They’re asleep by 5:30. So very similar to a lionesque
schedule in terms of being able to do A to B to C, itty-bitty kids are
definitely lions. Then during the middle school years and just up until
teenage years, they turn into bears. And so they’re much more societal.
They can get up a little bit later, but they can still go to bed a little bit
later, still wanting to get them the appropriate amount of sleep. They
actually are a little bit different in terms of their availability mentally, and
they’re not necessarily the one, two, three steps. You can actually start
doing things a little bit more complicated with them again, based on their

Once you hit teenage years, everyone of them is a wolf. I have two
teenagers and you know, it is a heck of a time getting them to go to bed
before 10:00, 10:30 at night. And you know, I’m the sleep doctor, right? I
mean, I’m like, “Come on guys, this is ridiculous,” and they’re like,
“We’re just not tired.” And they’re not. There is a natural genetic
progression to being a wolf where 90% are teenagers.

And this is one of the reasons why schools at times have become such
an interesting conversation because data out of the University of
Minnesota, I believe it was, showed that if you actually started schools
an hour later, kids in their first period would actually go up one full letter
grade which is pretty amazing if you think about it. And it’s so crazy, the
bus schedules make no sense. So the bus schedules for teenagers
because they’re the ones that are picked up first then the middle
schoolers, then the small ones. It should really be the opposite. And
you’d find that it would be much healthier for kids, and they’d actually do
a lot better.

Katie: That makes sense. And I know it’s controversial. I’ve actually seen
a lot of that research myself as far as we should really let teenagers
sleep. And if any home school moms are listening, maybe that’s
something they could do is let the teenagers sleep till they wake up. And
I know there’s still a schedule so let them read at night or do something
calm so they’re not disrupting the rest of the family.

But I noticed that myself because I was actually homeschooled up until
high school, and I’ve said my parents were the best teachers I ever had
because they were way tougher than high school. But they did let me
sleep in. I think my mom instinctively realized that we were better
students when we got to sleep in, so her thing was as long as you’re
completing your work in time and you’re doing a good job, you get the
privilege of sleeping in.

Dr. Breus: Fair enough.

Katie: Yeah, any moms who can do that, that might be an easy way to
help teenagers.

Dr. Breus: Sounds like a good mom.

Katie: It was. She was really good. That’s really tough for the school
thing though. Are any of the things that help shift workers, can any of
that be used to benefit a teenager who is in school who has to get up

Dr. Breus: It is. And so one of the things that I do is we actually took the
window treatments off my children’s windows in their room so that when
the sun would rise, they would start getting sunlight fairly early on. We
did this once they hit the teenage years because remember light has an
effect. And it actually helps them wake up in the mornings. And so I’ll go
in and teenagers, you can let them snooze once or twice. Generally
speaking, I’m not a big fan of the snooze button, but for teenagers, they
kind of need that in order to get going.

And so when you walk in on the teenager, hopefully the room is already
fairly well lit. And then because of the sunlight that’s hopefully coming in
and then you gently progress them to, “Hey, it’s time to get up. I’m gonna
give you five more minutes,” “Oh good, whatever,” and then you come
back in three minutes later, not five minutes later and say, “Hey, five
minutes is up.” And they’re, “Oh, just give me five more minutes.”
“Okay,” and then you walk out. I mean you have to schedule it out but
you can actually get them going pretty well.

If you don’t have a situation like it’s winter time and there is not a lot of
sunlight out, I like light boxes. There are commercially available light
boxes. You can get them on Amazon. The one I like the most is like
“Golite”, G-O-L-I-T-E by Restronics. They make a really, I think it’s
Restronics, Philips, Philips. They make a great little light box that can be
highly effective. And it’s not like you have to put it right here in front of
their eyes. And so once you get them dressed and eating breakfast, just
put it right in front of them while they’re eating breakfast. You’ll be
shocked at how quickly they start to adapt to that schedule. But you
have to do it every day.

Katie: I can vouch for that because we actually have the Philips one. I
put on the alarm clock, and then I also have the bright, bright one, the
10,000 watts one.

Dr. Breus: Right.

Katie: While we’re eating breakfast and that really does seem to help
their focus and stuff. What about protein? Is that also gonna help? If
your kids, teenagers, if you can get enough protein in early does that
help with their rhythm as well?

Dr. Breus: It does. Remember, carbohydrates make people sleepy
because it elevates the level of serotonin which makes you feel calm.
And so what I’m doing in the mornings for my kids is I’m giving them a
protein shake along with what I’m having. And then my son, it’s
unbelievable how much food this kid can consume. It’s just staggering to
me. I can take leftovers from the night before, and I feed them to him for
breakfast. So he actually has, I mean, it’s not uncommon for him to have
salmon and broccoli and quinoa for breakfast. And he loves it. I mean,
actually he won’t even eat cereal or muffins or bagels in the morning any
longer. He is like, “I want a meal for breakfast.” And we find that in the
days that we can’t do the meal thing for breakfast, it has a pretty big
effect on him.

Katie: I am worried about, I only have an almost ten-year-old son and a
six-year-old son, and I call them hobbits because I have to feed them
breakfast while I’m cooking breakfast and then feed them…breakfast,
they eat their second breakfast. I’m like, “They’re not even
teenagers yet. Oh my gosh, when they’re teenagers, we have got to
brace ourselves for this food bill.” It’s crazy.

Dr. Breus: It’s nuts. You will be surprised. And it’s so innocent, you know,
like we’ll go out to dinner, and my son will say, “Okay, well, I’d like the
steak and the potatoes and the vegetables, and we’ll…are we gonna get
an appetizer dad? And what about dessert?” and I’m like holy cow.
These kids can eat \$26 worth of food, and none of us have eaten yet.
It’s pretty impressive.

Katie: It is impressive. But I love your tips about timing it. You also talk
about lunch being the biggest meal of the day. And I wanna talk a little
bit more about that because it seems like you get the other two
extremes. You get breakfast is the most important meal of the day which
I think it is, but it’s more about the macros then maybe, and possibly
dinner is the biggest meal of the day. But like I said, my French side of
the family, they’re all like, like lunch is huge. It’s a salad course followed
by a soup course or followed by foodstuff. And then dinner they like,
“Oh, I’ll have a little salad.” So talk about why there may be some logic
to lunch being the biggest meal of the day.

Dr. Breus: So when you look at your metabolic process, especially when
you look at it by chronotype, what you’ll discover is that middle of the
day is when your metabolism is actually the most active, and it actually
is looking for the nutrients that you’re feeding it. And at dinner time, your
body is not that way. Your metabolism is really starting to slow down. It’s
not as interested in the fuel sources that you’re putting through there
and so again, it’s bring into the storage, bring into the fat, you know,
making it so that you’re going to actually gain weight.

I personally would say that lunch is the best meal of the day that you can
have because a lot of people they just can’t, they don’t have the time or
they just can’t choke down a major breakfast of eggs and sausage and
whatever, whatever your thing is. And so lunch is the time to do that.
Obviously, you need to be able to get your greens during each one of
your meals. I always have a salad with protein on it for lunch, and then I
may even have a snack around 2:30 which is gonna be more of a
protein, fat-based snack like nuts or a big one for us like the raw
almonds and cashews and pistachios and things like that are ones that I
will do for sure.

You wanna also steer too clear of sugar and obviously processed foods.
And so it gets hard especially when your kids are in school, and they’re
eating school lunches or you’re trying to provide them with a healthier
alternative, and they’re saying, “But why does my friend have all the
Snickers and the juice boxes and all of that stuff and I don’t?” and you
know, you have to explain to them what your theory is on food and how
it’s gonna help them better in the long run for sure.

But lunch is, it turns out that lunch, just based on your metabolism, is
really the time when you should be pulling in as much fuel as you can
because your metabolism is up, it’s going, and it’s ready to use it.
Katie: Yeah, I love that. And when it comes to sugar, I’ll just echo that
because how you say it, we have really no biological need for caffeine.
It’s empty calories. There’s no nutrients. And that’s exactly how I feel
about sugar too. That’s one of my other soap boxes on the blog, is like
please don’t feed your kids sugar especially processed sugar because
there is zero biological need. I noticed my kids sleep great when I give
them little carbohydrates with dinner but not sugar so that might be…
Like they love having fruit for dessert and that’s…sugar or sweet
potatoes with chicken nuggets, they love that. But sugar
messes them up.

Dr. Breus: Yeah. And again, you know, the childhood metabolism
especially the complex sugars, what you’re looking for is more complex
carbohydrates and good carbohydrates. And by the way, there’s nothing
wrong with carbohydrates. I don’t know, people are always on this kick
like, “Oh my gosh, carbs are terrible for you.” They’re not. Just have the
right kind of carb and have them at the right time of day. Your body
needs carbohydrates. That’s probably one of the main sources that your
body focuses in on in terms of energy. But just have the right kinds, you
know, healthy fats and healthy carbohydrates, fruits, avocadoes, all
those different things can actually be great sources of both protein and
carbohydrates and taste really good.

Katie: Absolutely. Especially for kids, I feel like they really need that
because they burn through everything so fast. But a lot of people fall
short and don’t realize there are so many great natural sources of carbs
that nobody even thinks about. Sweet potatoes are an obvious one, but
you’ve got all these amazing root vegetables that most people would
never even think to cook that are a good source of complex carbs. Or
like fruit for dessert is an amazing dessert, and you don’t have to cook it.
There’s so many great options out there.

Dr. Breus: Right, absolutely.

Katie: Awesome. Well, I feel like you are just like a wealth of knowledge.
I have taken like three pages of notes while we’ve been sitting here.

Dr. Breus: Well, good.

Katie: So I’m gonna definitely put links that other people can figure out
their own chronotype and adjust…

Dr. Breus: There you go.

Katie: But what would be, from your perspective, the most important
take-home message? If you could only get people to implement a couple
of things that we’ve talked about, what are the most important ones?

Dr. Breus: So biasedly, I would say take the quiz. Because it’s less than
a minute, and you’ll learn a whole lot about you. And you can get your
family members to take it. You can figure out what’s going on with your
kids, and you can set up a schedule. Understanding and respecting your
chronotype can actually change a lot of the interactions that are going
on with your family.

And make sleep a priority. People think that exercise is more important
than sleep. I can show you 20 studies that would actually argue against
that. I’m not saying exercise isn’t important. I just got back from working
out. But at the end of the day if you are eating correctly and you’re
sleeping correctly, your body will function correctly. And quite frankly,
you’ll get more out of the exercise than you ever would have before. So
understand your chronotype, respect your sleep and get enough of it.
And you’ll be surprised at how healthy you become.

Katie: Awesome. That is wonderful advice. And like I said, I’ll make sure
that there are links below on everything we’ve talked about and…to the
quiz, that will be at the top so that people can check that out.
Thank you, for your time and for being here, for sharing with us.

Dr. Breus: Of course, thank you. I really love what you’re doing. And the
education that you’re giving to women out there is critical and moms
who are trying to figure it all out. you’re such a wonderful, wonderful
resource so thank you for putting out all that great information because
it’s really good stuff.

Katie: Thank you, Dr. Breus.

Thank you so much for listening to this episode of The Healthy Moms
Podcast. To get the bonus from the episode as well as a content library
of free health resources, join the community at wellnessmama.com/

Do you struggle with sleep? What has helped you?

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Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


22 responses to “058: Dr. Michael Breus on Improving Sleep Through Chronotypes”

  1. Alison Avatar

    Goodness, I took the chronotype test and came out as a Bear. NOTHING about Bear is even remotely like me! I am a type-A perfectionist introvert who rarely sleeps well — and I’ve NEVER been an early riser. I have to force myself to go to bed, but not too early, bc the insomnia is worse if I lie down too early. I do get along with others, but as a CEO, I’m not afraid of confrontation, either – clearly not the middle-manager, go-with-the-flow of the Bear category at all! I have a high risk tolerance, get bored with the same-ole-same-ole, and love change and new horizons; how on earth could that equate with the cautiousness of a Bear?

    I went back and took the test again, just to be sure, and even changed a couple answers that could have gone either way. Still came out as a Bear. Huh? Looking at the other chronotypes, I’m not even a blend of any of them. Personally, I think he’s probably off the mark when he tries to extrapolate personality types with sleep types. There may be some correlation, but nowhere near as clear-cut as he wants to make it.

    Clearly these tests leave a LOT of room for error, and the categories need to be expanded to include more variations. That being said, I loved the info about getting better sleep. Everyone else already commented about the bad advice regarding babies, so I won’t go there 😉

    1. Bonnie Avatar

      My results with the “chronotype” test versus my traits and sleep patterns sound exactly like your description – in fact, we could be behavioral twins 🙂
      Sounds like Dr. Breus needs to reexamine his results or, maybe, the options for the test questions.

      Bonnie – NOT A BEAR!

  2. Krystle King Avatar
    Krystle King

    Loved the information but you may want to add a disclaimer for anyone promoting cry it out- like include links or an after notes with the studies that prove it has detrimental long term brain effects. Additionally the addition of rice milk to a breast milk bottle is a whole other issue ???

  3. Katy Avatar

    This is so interesting. My husband and I both took the chronotype quiz. He is a wolf through and through, I was labeled as a bear, however, it didn’t suite me very well. We watched the videos on the other two and discovered I am a mix of all four pretty equally. Unfortunately, that leaves me unsure of my next step. Does Michael Breus have direction those with such a mix? Thank you,

  4. Eliza Avatar

    The chronotype information was fascinating. But I was surprised that Dr. Breus recommends rice cereal in bottles – this is extremely outdated information. Introducing solids before 4-6 months (at the earliest) can negatively impact the gut microbiome.

  5. Megan Avatar

    I took the test based on what I’m experiencing right now but I don’t feel like I relate to the personality profiles of any of these and also, what happens if my sleep pattern is not working at all for me? I’m exhausted all the time and am not sure when the best time to sleep is because my sleep has always been dysfunctional. I don’t feel like I’m ever at my best; I’m perpetually exhausted because I can’t sleep long enough to feel rested no matter when I try to sleep.It’s always been like this but I’m just not able to tolerate the fatigue anymore. I don’t know where to start – am I doing things at the wrong time and that’s messing up my sleep or is my sleep messing up my ability to do things at the right now?

  6. Kate Avatar

    This was a really interesting podcast. Although I COMPLETELY DO NOT agree with his view on babies/infants and adding cereal to get them to sleep through the night. So, I’ll take his advise on everything but that…we have 4 children who learned to sleep very well on their own by 4 months, or even earlier, no cereal needed. We know that adding cereal is not only unnecessary, but harmful to their underdeveloped gut.

    We also have a strict “no nightlight” policy in our home and enforce an early bedtime which is criticized by many parents but totally crucial to their getting enough rest. (Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child is a good reference for learning when to put your children to sleep to optimize their much needed rest)

  7. Marillyn Avatar

    Do you have transcripts for the podcast? I am deaf and podcasts are not an option for me. Thanks?

  8. Megan Avatar

    I love the information that you share. Just a quick suggestion. The music in the audio is actually louder than your voice. Maybe adjust that a little?

  9. Holly Avatar

    Thank you for the information Katie. Although he doesn’t seem very educated in the infant department, the other tips are insightful information. Babies are not meant to sleep through the night, they are meant to wake up and feed every few hours. Breast milk is digested fast, and a babies heart beat can be regulated by his mothers if co sleeping or during these wake cycles. Crying it out kills babies brain cells and their natural wake cycles help protect them form SIDS. I’m sure you know all this though.

    1. Debbi Avatar

      I just wanted to chime in too, Holly, that although Dr. Breus is a PhD and no doubt skilled, experienced and educated on all things sleep (and obviously a broader spectrum), I think his input on his personal ‘sleep coaching’ experience with regards to his own children is outdated and quite frankly dangerous offering it in the same breath (ok, podcast) as actual evidence-based sleeping practices. Suggesting solids- rice cereal no less- before 6 months is contraindicated to current research. Suggesting to an audience of mothers (many of which are likely new with infants) that it is okay (no really, he’s a sleep expert) to let their 4 month old cry it out makes my chest tighten. I enjoyed listening up until this point but unfortunately his unwise and untimely baby remarks left distaste in my mouth. Katie, I’m sure it was a fine line between mitigating your guest and your audience; I think you were very tactful. I know you didn’t want a bunch of remarks about this but it really stuck with me.

      1. Wellness Mama Avatar

        I agree, I definitely would not ever give rice cereal to a 4 month old and I don’t let our babies cry it out at that age. It is definitely a fine line when I have a guest like that… thanks for listening and for chiming in.

  10. Kristine Avatar

    I just took my chronotype quiz and the results make a lot of sense about where I am now. It seems like we are born with our chronotype and my question is about sleep patterns as we get older. Before around age 46 when I started to go into perimenopause I slept really well, very soundly but since then (15 years later) I have a very different sleep profile. I wonder if Dr. Breus addresses this in his book? I can barely remember how it felt to be that sound sleeper anymore!

  11. Olivia Avatar

    I was all on board until he said he added cereal to his 4 month old’s milk and let her cry it out. I understand people have different opinions on this, but there are plenty of studies that show the damages of both on such young babies in terms of their gut health and mental health. Maybe something you could address in the future?

      1. Louise wilkinson Avatar
        Louise wilkinson

        Hi, this is the first podcast of yours that I’ve listened to and I was a fan of the Power of When but the inaccurate information regarding cry it out doing no damage was shocking to hear on a wellness podcast and the adding cereal milk to make baby sleep.
        There are multiple studies showing how leaving baby to cry uncomforted causes disruption to development of the emotional brain and causes high volumes of cortisol in the blood stream. How can you say that a 3 month old baby needs to be comforted but at 4 months they can be left to self soothe without any detailed discussion about why or statement confirming this is opinion only? I am concerned that parents are looking to this podcast for accurate information and will take these statements as fact and would hope you edit this out if the podcast.

  12. Crista Avatar

    If you must have a night light and/or an alarm clock in the bedroom, use a Himalya salt lamp and a clock that uses a red light, these will not affect melatonin. Stay away from blue or green lights, these affect melatonin .

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