The energy flows where the attention goes, says Shawn Stevenson, author and creator of “The Model Health Show,” the number-one-rated health podcast on iTunes.
To be successful with anything in life, you must approach what you want with a relentless attention to detail and zoom in on it with extreme focus. This applies to your business, your finances, your family and even your personal wellness. And it especially applies to something as important as your sleep, says Stevenson.
Fighting an epidemic that’s not so sexy
According to Stevenson, right now 60 percent of people in the United States say they have trouble sleeping every night or every other night, which indicates a true epidemic. But sleep isn’t exactly a sexy issue, he admits. In fact, it’s hardly regarded at all. Stevenson refers to popular songs with lyrics about not sleeping and hashtags like #NoSleep and #SleepIsForSuckers commonly found on social media, which make out sleep to be something only for the weak. However, Stevenson is here to say that sleep is one of the most important parts of wellness, and it’s also a gateway to improving your metabolism, burning more fat, increasing your energy and even pumping up your brain power.
“People think they can throw down in the gym, beat themselves up, cut their calories, work hard every day in a high-paced world and get by with no sleep, but they don’t realize sleeping is how the body heals and grows,” says Stevenson. “High-quality sleep improves your brain function, your memory and more.”
It wasn’t a coincidence that Stevenson decided to write his latest book, “Sleep Smarter,” all about sleep. He too had dealt with sleepless nights and was able to remedy them through specific and focused methods. It was hard work, which he approached with attention to detail, ultimately changing his life.
“There’s nothing more impactful on how we feel, how we look or how we perform than our sleep,” explains Stevenson.It is the real key here.”
“Sleep directly impacts our hormones, even more so than nutrition or exercise.”
Finding his own path to wellness
Struggles with sleep were by no means the only obstacle Stevenson had to overcome. His path to wellness was a long one, starting with an injury he incurred as a high school athlete. Alone on the track at the age of 15, Stevenson broke his hip during time trials and began a several-year process of going in and out of doctors’ offices, seeking relief from a chronic and debilitating condition that completely sidelined him from sports and from the athletics scholarship he hoped to get one day.
At one point, a doctor told Stevenson that there was nothing he could do about his degenerative bone and spinal disease. For years, he continued to take prescribed medications, put on weight, remained inactive, suffered from depression and was unable to sleep. Then one day, Stevenson made the decision that he couldn’t go on living how he was. He needed a way to get his life back. Slowly but surely, he did research and put together a plan to change things in his life. He altered his diet, got outside to walk more and learned, finally, how to properly rest and recover through better sleep.
“Once I got my own sleep dialed in, it’s like the floodgates opened, and I began to get the results that I was really looking for with transforming my own body and health,” says Stevenson. “If you’re not sleeping, you’re not healing. And I soon figured that out.”
When Stevenson was in college and further down his path to healing, people around him started to notice. He gained attention from his college professors, who saw his amazing transformation and wanted to learn about what he did. And that’s how he began working with others and eventually birthed the career that he has today — reaching millions of people as a wellness expert.
“It started off with my own struggles, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” he says. “What I had to go through with my illness is actually the best thing that ever happened to me, even though it was the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
“What I had to go through with my illness is actually the best thing that ever happened to me, even though it was the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
Turning his passion into a top-rated podcast
Ecstatic about his own recovery, Stevenson jumped right into a career in health and wellness. For more than 10 years, he had a clinical practice, where he would continually help patients overcome chronic issues that ranged from type 2 diabetes to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and more. Through his coaching and wellness tips, patients were able to get off a lifetime of medication and deal with their diseases. While Stevenson greatly enjoyed his work, he knew that he wanted to reach a wider audience, so he began packaging up his knowledge into audio files, which eventually turned into “The Model Health Show,” a program that now has more than 150 episodes available for downloading.
The secret sauce that has made Stevenson’s show so successful is how he delivers information in his podcasts via a “master class.” Rather than preaching demands to listeners, Stevenson is known for how he deconstructs diseases and complicated subjects like illness and boils them down to easy-to-understand information that not only is engaging but also gives people a way to reverse engineer solutions in their own lives by looking at the big picture. Listeners can walk away feeling empowered and smarter, with a new and holistic approach to life.
“I take the approach that if somebody is dealing with a particular health issue, and they need to be educated about all parts of it,” explains Stevenson. “Every facet of that illness or that struggle should be shared with them, and whether or not they’re going to accept that piece of information or brush it off is up to them. They can understand it and deal with it much better if it’s not a vague, scary thing that they don’t have a connection to.”
While Stevenson does invite the best of the best in the health space to join him on his show as guests (he has featured Dr. Sara Gottfried, Natalie Jill, Gretchen Rubin, Chalene Johnson, Lewis Howes, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Dr. William Davis, Jonathan Bailor, Abel James and Jim Kwik, to name a few), 60 percent of his podcasts feature unique content he creates. And Stevenson has a lot to share. After many episodes of the podcast, Stevenson knew it was time to put pen to paper, and that’s when the idea of “Sleep Smarter” began to grow. The book is currently for sale, and Stevenson has been on a mission to share his work with the world and get his book into the hands of as many people as possible.
Put it in action:
Shawn’s tips for better sleep
Sleep is a critical component to recovery in nearly every health struggle, and what Stevenson really wants people to know is that it’s not about the quantity of your sleep, it’s about the quality. While it does take work to implement his recommendations, the focus you put on your sleep will improve so many aspects of your life, it’s a worthy investment.
Take it from the guy who has been there. “If you take time to fill yourself up and take care of your own health and well-being, you’re going to be overflowing and able to give so much more to the people who really need you,” he shares. “Make sure you are taking care of yourself first, so you can show up better for everyone else.”
Here are a few tips for sleeping smarter that you can put into action today:
- Drop the AC to cool your brain. Our bodies have a process called thermoregulation, in which body temperatures change, and there is a natural drop in your core body temperature when it gets dark outside. This drop helps facilitate enzymatic repair and hormone production. Because your body temperature starts dropping automatically in the evening, if the environment is too hot, it puts more stress on your body to cool off. That’s why you toss and turn at night in a hot room. According to research, the best sleeping temperature is between 62 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit for optimized sleep. Studies show that cooling down the body and the brain can even fix chronic sleep issues.
- Keep light away from your body. Even if you wear an eye mask at night, light in your bedroom can be picked up through your skin via photo receptors that send messages to your brain, says Stevenson. These messages tell your brain that it’s still daytime, which keeps you awake and disrupts your hormonal patterns. Get some blackout curtains or shades to completely rid your room of artificial lights at night, and you’ll find deeper sleep.
- Work the sleep cycles. It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality, Stevenson emphasizes. Our sleep cycles are approximately 90 minutes each and include circulating through REM and non-REM sleep. If you are traveling or know that you will not be able to sleep long, try to set your alarm to complete full cycles, which may mean sleeping six hours instead of six-and-a-half hours to optimize your cycles and keep your hormones in check.
- Take an inner bath every single morning. According to Stevenson, you get very dehydrated while you are sleeping and don’t realize it. Your body is going through metabolic processes, which results in metabolic waste in your system, and you have to flush it out each day by drinking 16-32 ounces of fresh water right away after waking. It creates new blood and gives your body an “oil change,” so you can start the day on the right foot.
- Don’t miss the core hours. The very best hours to sleep each night are from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., hands down, says Stevenson. Try to get in bed each night to make sure you are ready for shut-eye right at 10 p.m. so you can get the highest-quality recovery possible.
- Give yourself a screen curfew and stick to it. We are so surrounded by technology today, and it’s a huge part of our lives. But Harvard researchers have confirmed that exposure to the blue light from tech devices, like laptops and smartphones, suppresses your melatonin hormone for up to three hours, and you need melatonin to sleep. Put down the technology at a certain point each evening (about an hour before bed, if not more), and instead spend time with your loved ones, read a real book or do something else in bed with a significant other. You can also push the Night Shift button on your iPhone, which will remove some of the troublesome spectrum of light until the next day based on the time zone where you are located.
- Exercise in the morning. A great night of sleep starts the moment you wake up in the morning, and to reset your cortisol rhythm, you need to activate and elevate it with movement first thing. Cortisol and melatonin (the sleep hormone) have an inverse relationship, and exercising in the morning elevates cortisol and lowers melatonin, so your cortisol goes down naturally by the evening and melatonin can rise up to help you get to sleep. If you can’t get in a full workout in the morning, get in at least 10 minutes of movement to reset your cortisol. Bonus points if you can do that in the great outdoors with sunshine.
- Get more magnesium in your diet. Magnesium is responsible for more than 300 of the body’s biochemical processes, which include reducing anxiety and calming down your nervous system to regulate your sleep patterns. And because it’s a stress-reducing mineral, and people are so stressed today, magnesium gets zapped from our systems quickly. Stevenson recommends five servings a day of magnesium-rich foods like leafy green vegetables and superfoods like spirulina. You can even apply a topical magnesium oil directly onto your skin to up your intake. Getting your magnesium levels up can lead to faster recovery and an overall feeling of relaxation.
“Sleep Smarter” is currently available in major book stores and online. The book includes 21 essential and clinically proven strategies to immediately get some upticks in your sleep as well as a 14-day sleep makeover plan. “The Model Health Show” is available on iTunes.