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Episode 23: Snooze | Learning to Improve Your Sleep

Posted by Manoj Perumal on

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About This Episode

Snooze | Learning to Improve Your Sleep

In this episode of Discover with Dr. Dan | Proactive Health, Dr. Dan discusses the importance of a good night’s sleep and the impact it can have on our mental and physical health. Listen to the full podcast below to learn more. 

Sleep: What’s the Big Deal?

Having quality sleep is an essential part of living a healthy and long life. We’re just now getting a better understanding of the impacts of sleep within recent years and still have so much more to learn because the brain is extremely complex. The average person needs seven to eight hours of sleep every night to function at peak performance during the day, yet many struggle to hit that target. For some, this is due to a busy work schedule, stress, insomnia, health issues, and a plethora of other reasons. According to Dr. Dan, “Not sleeping for eleven consecutive days will kill you. Not sleeping is a big deal and the longer it goes, the more the body shuts down.” Recent studies suggest that a lack of sleep can be linked to developing Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and obesity. Studies also suggest that a lack of quality sleep affects cognitive function, attention span, memory, and the ability to learn. So with this being said, it’s easy to see why good sleep is vital to a healthy life.

Raising Energy and Clearing Out Toxins

It’s interesting to see how the topic of sleep is somewhat trendy. CEOs used to brag in interviews about how they function off of only two to three hours of sleep a night and use their extra time to get work done. Now, many CEOs have come forward and talked about how getting a full night’s sleep is an integral part of their routine for success because it energizes them enough to stay on top of their demanding jobs. Those who say they can function off of minimal sleep every night might be able to stay awake during the day, but internally, it’s a different story. When the human brain rests, it clears out damaging toxins and when we don’t sleep well, the toxins can’t be cleared as effectively. “In our brain, we have channels that are filled with cerebrospinal fluid and this circulates in the brain, and they found that when we sleep, these channels expand four-fold… When these canals expanded, it increased the expulsion rate of toxins.” On top of the threat of excess toxins in the brain, not getting enough sleep can actually cause your insulin levels to spike, further raising inflammation and the risk of disease. 

The Essential Ingredients to Quality Sleep

With all of these threats to our health from not getting enough sleep, Dr. Dan assures listeners that many plants contain sleep-promoting compounds. Through the study of thousands of plants, he and his team discovered that plants like hops, asparagus, lemon balm extract, and valerian root have been used traditionally to support sleep. Hops aren’t just used in beer making. In some cultures, hops were put in pillows before bedtime to treat factors like insomnia and anxiety. “Drinking [hopped] beer in itself is not going to help you sleep…When we pull humulene out of hops and we enrich it, that’s where we see the sleep-inducing powers.” Dr. Dan offers some tips beyond consuming natural products that can help you to fall and stay asleep. The environment is key to quality sleep: keeping the bedroom cool, using noise-canceling items such as a fan or a white noise machine, and a clean bed can all contribute to a restful night.  

To learn more about sleep hacks and Brilliant Snooze, check out the Discover | Dr. Dan Proactive Health podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Tuesday. 


Dr. Dan Gubler: (00:09)

Welcome to Discover with Dr. Dan | The Proactive Health Podcast. This podcast is sponsored by Brilliant, an innovative proactive wellness company that helps people to live a healthier and happier life by discovering and using natural compounds from plants to make products that help people unleash their innate brilliance. See for more information.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (00:35)

Today we’re going to talk about how to snooze the night away. We’re going to talk about sleep and its importance and what we can do to be better. The running joke in my family is that I sleep like a baby. I wake up every two hours and cry. I don’t sleep very well and so I love this topic and there’s a lot of things I’ve been able to do to sleep better. So we obviously need about seven to eight hours of sleep a night. Not sleeping for 11 consecutive days will kill you. Not sleeping is a big deal and the longer it goes, the more the body shuts down.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (01:11)

If you haven’t slept well for two or three days, it’s the same as being severely intoxicated. Cognitive function is significantly impaired. The world is different when you don’t sleep. There’s a myth that some people, due to genetics, need to only sleep three or four hours a night and they could still function while other people might need seven, eight or nine. That is false. That’s a myth. When you look at the scientific literature and there’s thousands and thousands of papers published about sleep, sleep science, not one paper has shown that to be the case. So why do we need to sleep? Evolutionary speaking, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that humans would need to lay around for seven to nine hours a day while under the constant threat of being eaten or attacked by predators. We still don’t know exactly why we sleep, but a really cool paper in 2013 published in science, found that when we sleep, the canals or the channels in our brain, in our brain, we have channels that are filled with cerebrospinal fluid and this fluid circulates in the brain, and they found that when we sleep, these channels expand four fold. Kind of like the canals in Venice expanding. And what they found is that when these canals expanded, it increased the expulsion rate of toxins. When the body is functioning full tilt, obviously the brain is a command center of the body, and so the brain is churning through organic compounds and it produces these metabolites, these toxic byproducts that need to be cleared out of the brain. And these aren’t cleared when we don’t sleep well. And so this paper showed the increased clearance of metabolites happens when we sleep. And they actually showed that beta-amyloid, which is one of the proteins that can cause Alzheimer’s, that’s what we think – it can cause Alzheimer’s, is cleared more quickly when we sleep. So sleep is a big deal and the public is starting to clue into that.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (03:18)

It was five or ten years ago that CEOs would boast about, “I only get two hours of sleep. I only get four hours of sleep and I work all the time.” And it’s refreshing now to hear CEOs of these fortune 100 companies saying, “I get six to eight hours of sleep.” So society’s changing a lot and that’s a good thing. We’re starting to become more cognizant and aware of the importance of sleep to the point that some people are sleeping in hyperbaric oxygen chambers, which costs about a hundred thousand dollars to sleep. And so we want to talk about how to sleep better. Let’s first talk about how sleep impacts overall health.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (03:58)

In 2007, there was a paper published showing that sleep deprivation affects attention, learning, memory, and all other aspects of cognitive function, which is a no brainer. We feel that when we don’t sleep, we see that firsthand. There’s an interesting paper published in 2018, showing that people who don’t get enough sleep, especially women, are more prone, six times more prone to have osteoporosis. In obesity-related research, a 2001 study showed that in children, a consistently later bedtime was directly associated with obesity and in adults, there was a definite link with sleep deprivation and obesity. They found that adults who sleep less than seven hours on average have a four time higher propensity for obesity than people who sleep seven or eight hours. There was a 2016 article published about insulin and this study found that depriving the body of sleep one to three hours a night for three consecutive days, increased insulin levels and reduced insulin sensitivity. Insulin is one of the drivers of inflammation. When insulin levels are high, inflammation is high and inflammation is a root cause of all disease. So when we don’t sleep well, it increases insulin levels, causes inflammation, which affects every single aspect of the human body.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (05:32)

There’s been a lot of really interesting papers published about lack of sleep in the workplace and workplace performance. A 2016 article found that the total cost of insomnia exceeded a hundred billion dollars a year due to poor workplace performance, increased healthcare costs and increased risk of accident. Sleep is related to cancer. A 2018 paper found that people who slept shorter amounts of time had an increased risk of colorectal cancer. And this was done in an Asian population. Another really interesting study on cancer in women found, and it was published in 2018 on 133,000 women, and found that shortened sleep duration was associated with an increased risk in breast cancer. Alzheimer’s – a study found that sleep deprivation caused these beta-amyloid plaques to build up, which increased the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. So sleep deprivation basically makes everything worse. So we need to sleep better.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (06:40)

How do we sleep better? One of the biggest tools that’s used today is cognitive behavioral therapy. It’s a method where we train the brain and we train the body on principles of how to sleep better. We’re not going to go into cognitive behavioral therapy a lot. We’ll do that in another podcast episode, but some of the themes are stimulus control therapy. We want to be able to control what the bed is used for. And the bed is usually only used for sleeping and sex. Another principle of cognitive behavioral therapy is sleep restriction. It’s restricting the amount we sleep each night. So if we’re drowsy and we didn’t sleep well the night before, the tendency is to sleep longer the next night. Sleep restriction is to decrease the amount out of time we sleep. 30 minutes to an hour each night until the sleep cycle resets and gets better.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (07:34)

Sleep hygiene is another interesting thing. We need to make sure that the bed is only used for certain things. We don’t lay in bed and read for long periods of time. We make sure that there’s noise cancellation that the bedroom’s cool. We make sure the environment’s good. A big part of cognitive behavioral therapy is relaxation, mindfulness, meditation, and there’s a lot of other things related to CBT. And so it’s a great thing to try, recommend you to look at it. If you have trouble sleeping, look at it and see the principles there and see what can help you. Nutrition plays a big role in sleep. Now when it comes to nutrition and every aspect of nutrition, weight loss, and so forth, the key is caloric restriction. When we simply eat less, everything usually gets better. And that’s the same with sleeping. Many clinical studies have found that when we reduce caloric intake, sleep quality, sleep duration, and all factors of sleep go up significantly.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (08:35)

Exercise is a big deal. A classic study done in Finland on a bunch of Finnish men found that chronic insomnia was significantly better and all qualities of sleep, sleep behavior, sleep latency, which means the time it takes to fall asleep, sleep quality, meaning your cycles, REM, light sleep, deep sleep, all of these were significantly improved with exercise. Prescription sleep aids like Ambien and Lunesta are used. They’re useful short-term for short-term bouts of insomnia, but using them long-term can have detrimental effects. There’s a lot of crazy stories about people sleepwalking, driving in their cars and having accidents while on Ambien and Lunesta. The other really interesting thing is that several clinical studies have shown that people who chronically take sleep aids are more likely to die. There’s a higher mortality rate than people who don’t. And this study went for five years and they found that the mortality rate of chronic sleep aid users was four or five times higher. So that’s something to think about when we take sleep aids.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (09:53)

Melatonin is the most used supplement for sleep. Melatonin helps to regulate the circadian rhythm and the circadian rhythm basically means the points in time where the functions of the body are turned on and turned off. For instance, when we eat, normally the body knows that we’re going to eat at the normal time that we usually eat and so it produces enzymes and other things that help us eat. When it’s time to go to bed, the body produces melatonin to help us go to bed. So melatonin can help if, and this is a big if, if our sleep cycles are regular, our circadian rhythm is imbalanced, or it needs to shift a little bit. Many clinical studies, all clinical studies, have shown that melatonin doesn’t really help with insomnia. It can help with jet lag. It can help with sleep in children with epilepsy and autism. There’s good literature there, but as far as helping adults sleep, melatonin really isn’t that effective. So new technologies are needed. We need to be able to sleep well.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (11:00)

We need to be able to sleep despite stress and anxiety and other things that can really reduce quality of life. So science needs to come to the rescue. Science is not stagnant. It’s always changing. It’s always developing. And so we need to find new ways to sleep. One of the things I’ve always been interested in is a class of molecules called chaperones. Chaperones. In the body, we have enzymes and enzymes catalyze all the reactions in the body. Enzymes are proteins. And these enzymes, these proteins, are folded into a certain shape so you have these long, linear molecules and then they’re folded up. They’re packaged up. And they only work when they’re in a certain shape.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (11:49)

One of the central features of all of biology is that shape determines function. When the body is under stress, when cortisol levels are produced, when anxiety is high, what happens is proteins can start to degrade. And that’s a bad thing. When proteins degrade, they lose their shape. They lose their function and human health suffers particularly sleep, where there’s large amounts of these proteins that are vital for sleep. So the thought was, could we find natural compounds from plants that could help support these enzymes and reduce their chance for degrading? And in the body there are proteins and molecules called chaperone proteins that actually bind to the proteins and prevent them from unfolding and losing their function. It’s similar to when someone is injured. They’re injured on the soccer pitch and they’re hurting, and then you have the trainers that come on either side, the soccer player puts his arm around both of the trainers and they carry him off the field. They support him.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (12:56)

And that’s what these chaperone proteins do. Chaperone proteins though, can be missing when human health is out of whack. And so we wondered, could we find natural ingredients from plants that could help to turn on chaperone proteins to help support enzyme stability, or are they chaperone molecules themself? And in screening thousands and plants and doing our research, we found that there were some interesting ones. One of the biggest ones is called gamma aminobutyric acid or GABA. G-A-B-A. GABA is one of the most well-known sleep compounds in the world. There’s been a lot of clinical studies on GABA. It’s a neurotransmitter. It was first discovered in potato tubers 50 years ago or so. It helps to reduce the stress response in the body. And it’s a chaperone molecule. GABA binds to chaperone and proteins and helps to stabilize those proteins, which then stabilize the enzymes that help us sleep.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (13:55)

It’s a required ingredient to make melatonin. Now, we said melatonin doesn’t directly help with sleep when taken as a supplement, but regulating GABA and regulating melatonin is a useful thing. Another really cool ingredient that we found, asparagus of all things, that food that you eat. One interesting thing about asparagus that you’ve noticed is when you eat asparagus, your urine has a distinct smell to it. And that’s because of sulfur containing natural products in asparagus. When you eat it, the body metabolizes is sulfur products and makes a small molecule called methyl sulfide, which is the molecule responsible for the stinky urine. But in asparagus, there’s a lot of really cool ingredients and compounds. One of them is a class of compounds, we don’t really know, but it’s a class of compounds called turpines. They actually help to increase relaxation in individuals and more importantly, this ingredient binds to the chaperone proteins and helps them become stable.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (15:02)

This ingredient also raises quality of sleep, raises cognitive performance, reduces fatigue and improves the stress response. So we’ve mentioned it a little bit, but when we talk about sleep, there’s different parameters that we want to target. There’s sleep latency, which is the time it takes to fall asleep. There’s sleep quality, which is the different cycles, light sleep, deep sleep, REM sleep. There’s sleep duration, which is the time that you sleep. And so these are the different parameters for sleep that we want to improve. So GABA helps. Asparagus extract helps. Another really important ingredient that we found helps with this novel function of chaperone stability and increased sleep is lemon balm extract. Lemon balm comes from the mint family. It’s called the elixir of life by Swiss physicians who have used it for a long time. It’s used in perfumes. It’s used as a tea and an essential oil to help with gastrointestinal issues. It’s used as a sleep aid.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (16:10)

And science has found that this product increases the amount of GABA in the body, which GABA is a neurotransmitter that we talked about before. Lemon balm also improves mood and cognitive function. One really cool ingredient that we found that we were surprised when we did our screening was compounds in hops. Hops, as you know, is used in the brewing industry. It’s how you make beer. It’s used as a bittering agent. It helps to reduce the amount of bacteria in the brewing process. And it’s critical for brewing beer and other alcoholic beverages. Hops is used traditionally as a treatment for anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia. In traditional cultures, they would take a pillow and they would fill it with hops and you would sleep on this pillow as a remedy. And that was used in many different cultures. So in hops, we found that there’s a particular compound called humu, which we selectively pulled out of hops.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (17:11)

And this compound is a chaperone stabilizing molecule itself. It binds to these proteins and helps them from degrading. So this was really interesting, no other sleep ingredient or no other sleep formula uses hops. And this is an example of natural product discovery. Who would have known that in hops, you have this molecule? That drinking beer in itself is not going to help you sleep. But when we pull hops out of, when we pull humulene out of hops and we enrich it, that’s where we see the sleep-inducing powers. Another really cool ingredient is honokiol in magnolia bark. Honokiol and magnolia have been used in traditional medicine in China, Korea, and Japan to treat anxiety and mood disorders. It was used by Native Americans as a pain reliever for a sore throats and tooth aches. It really helps with cognitive dysfunction. Clinical studies have shown that people taking magnolia bark, these natural products, honokiol and magnolol, have a significantly reduced risk and incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and seizures.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (18:19)

Magnolia bark helps to reduce time to sleep. It increases overall sleep quality and it increases the number of sleep cycles. Sleep cycles is also important thing in sleep. The more sleep cycles we have, the better the sleep. So in addition to these that bind to chaperones, there’s some other really interesting and standard ingredients for sleep. One of them is L-theanine. L-theanine Is found in tea leaves, tea leaves of all types, of the Camellia sinensis species, theanines there. Theanine though, is only present in large amounts in tea that’s been shaded. So when tea is in a lot of shade, the amounts of theanine are significantly enriched. Theanine counteracts the jittery effects of caffeine. That’s why when you take beverages with theanine in it, the buzz that you get is not as strong when you have theanine and caffeine together, rather than just caffeine alone.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (19:14)

Theanine can reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality. It increases the amount of serotonin in the brain. Now, when we want to sleep well, having high amounts of serotonin is critical. Serotonin levels. As they rise, it helps to induce sleep. That’s how it works. Melatonin with the circadian rhythm, serotonin increases and sleep induction occurs. Valerian root is another really interesting medicinal herb that’s used since ancient Greece and Roman times. It’s prescribed as a remedy for insomnia. It stimulates receptors in the body that cause drowsiness and reduce anxiety. It’s a good ingredient. Using a valerian supplement just by itself, the literature shows that it’s not as effective for sleep, but when you combine it with other ingredients, it’s a really solid supporting ingredient. Zinc is important. It’s found in foods such as meat, shellfish, eggs, and dairy. 2 billion people worldwide are deficient in zinc. It’s a big deal. Low amounts of zinc are associated with depression, anxiety, sleep disorders of all different types.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (20:22)

Another really interesting compound is magnesium. Magnesium activates this chaperone molecule GABA. And it decreases the amount of time it takes to go to sleep and also quality and duration. So when you look at the scientific literature, standard sleep ingredients, the best ones are the ones we mentioned: theanine, valerian root, zinc, and magnesium. And we have this novel mechanism that no one has tried before with chaperones and chaperone stabilizing. So I ran a clinical study and we ran it on 20 people. And we found that taking this formula 20 minutes before you went to sleep, 20 or 30 minutes before you went to sleep, increased sleep latency, it helped people fall asleep 30% faster. It helped people sleep on average an hour longer and people woke up feeling refreshed. And the reason why they woke up feeling refreshed was we saw that there were more sleep cycles in this seven to eight hour sleep period.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (21:26)

And so we were excited. What that shows is that this new chaperone technology is working and it’s more effective than the traditional sleep aids that we had in that formula by itself. So this was a great formula. We put it together. We were excited. We tested it extensively. We purified it. We showed that there was no toxicity. We showed that we can manufacture it on large scale, and it’s a product called Brilliant Snooze that we’re going to launch here real soon. And we’re excited about it. So sleep is something that’s essential to target. We need to be able to sleep well. 60% of people would rather take a natural product, natural-based formula rather than take a pharmaceutical drug. And so this technology represents an attractive option. There are still other things that need to be discovered about sleep. It’s a fascinating topic. We still don’t know everything that’s involved with sleep and brain chemistry, but we’re making some good progress. And the technology we talked about today is a good step forward in that regard. Thank you, my friends. Please leave a review if you like this podcast. Tell us how we’re doing. This is Dr. Dan signing off.

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