There’s plenty of advice out there about how to have a better daily routine. But what’s just bunk and what actually works to improve the quality of your day and your overall life?
My guest, medical-doctor-turned-science-educator Stuart Farrimond, took a deep dive into the research to find the authoritative answers to that question, and he shares them in his book Live Your Best Life: 219 Science-Based Reasons to Rethink Your Daily Routine. Today on the show, we walk through a daily routine, from morning to night, and Dr. Farrimond shares some best practices to make the most of it. We discuss why waking up to an alarm clock feels so terrible, why you shouldn’t drink coffee first thing in the morning, the ideal length for an afternoon nap, how to improve your commute, the best time of day to exercise, and more.
Resources Related to the Podcast
- AoM Article: What Every Man Should Know About Sleep
- AoM Article: The Digestive Power of an After-Dinner Walk
- “It’s Not Just What You Eat, but the Time of Day You Eat It”
- AoM Article: How to Stop Your Snoring
- AoM Article: Unleash the Power of the Nap
- Sunday Firesides: Your Routine Needs Rites of Passage
Connect With Stuart Farrimond
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. There’s plenty of advice out there about how to have a better daily routine, but what’s just bunk and what actually works improve the quality of your day and your overall life? My guest, medical doctor turned science educator, Stuart Farrimond, took a deep dive into the research to find the authoritative answers to that question, and he shares them in his book, Live Your Best Life: 219 Science-Based Reasons to Rethink Your Daily Routine. Today on the show, we walk through a daily routine from morning to night, and Dr. Farrimond shares some best practices to make the most of it. We discuss why waking up to an alarm clock feels so terrible, why you shouldn’t drink coffee first thing in the morning, the ideal length of an afternoon nap, how to improve your commute, the best time of day to exercise and more. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at aom.is/dailyroutine.
Alright, Dr. Stuart Farrimond, welcome to the show.
Stuart Farrimond: Thanks for having me.
Brett McKay: So you started off your career in medicine, but then you made the jump to science writing, particularly you writing about health and science for a lay audience. Why did you make that jump?
Stuart Farrimond: Yeah, so originally I was a medical doctor. I was working in a UK hospital, so I’m based in the UK and we’re talking about 15 or so years ago, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor, so it was just kind of completely out the blue, unexpected. I was having some tests for some other stuff. It was discovered and I actually had the scan and the result whilst I was at work one day and essentially it was a cancerous and malignant brain tumor that I had to have surgery on pretty much straight away. So I guess what was I was 25 or so, yeah, about 25 when I was diagnosed with it. So I had the surgery, it went well, but it left me with epilepsy afterwards. And because of the epilepsy, it basically meant that I couldn’t carry on with medicine because part of the, as I’m sure you appreciate part of the job of being a hospital doctor is that you gotta do hours of hours on calls, night shifts, things like that.
And basically I couldn’t really do that and not risk having a seizure in my profession. So that led to me having to step down from medicine, sort of take basically long-term sick or they always sort of say, well, keep the job that you can always come back at any point. But basically I don’t really… How can… My epilepsy is never gonna go away. My brain tumor’s never gonna go away. So I’ve never been able to go back. To be fair though, I don’t miss it because after I left medicine, I got a job in teaching and I taught for three years in a further education college in the UK and further education colleges, they’re like a halfway house between school and university. And I ended up teaching science themed topics to young people who were interested in going to some kind of health profession.
And I just really fell in love with teaching and then busting people’s ideas of what science is, because I don’t know about you, but at school for many of us, science was this really dull and dry subject. And actually for me now, I find that science is a thing that helps us understand the world and actually makes me more amazed about the world around me, how my body works and I wanna share that with other people. And I discovered the joy of doing that when I was doing this teaching job. And then it kind of evolved into doing things more broadly. And I realized that actually these 16, 17, 18 year olds, they don’t really appreciate the science of the every day and they reflect pretty much what the average Joe on the street appreciates. And so I realized actually if I can reach more people, then I can touch their lives in ways that help them actually appreciate the world more and appreciate how science can inform pretty much every area of your life. And that’s where I am now. So I write books about lots of different themes. I do quite a bit on the science of food and cooking, as well as this book that we’re gonna talk about today, which is about health and wellbeing, about pretty much every area of your life.
Brett McKay: And what’s the state of your brain cancer today?
Stuart Farrimond: So my brain tumor is that it was a low-grade glioma. A glioma is basically the name for these tumors. Probably the most common types of these malignant brain cancers, although that said all brain cancers are quite rare. It regrew a few years ago, it came back and it’s now more aggressive than it was. It’s gone from what’s called a grade 2 to a grade 3. So it’s more aggressive than it was before. And I’ve had to have more surgery and chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which happened, I guess about three or so years ago. And I finished off my chemotherapy during the COVID lockdown. So the first lockdown, so we’re talking 2020 February time, that’s when I sort of, I finished the treatment of most recently and I just have three monthly scans for the tumor. And thus far since then, it’s not been growing, which is pretty good.
I think that’s sort of, it’s unexpected. So I’m doing pretty well things considered. So that’s where I’m at. So every three months I go through the mill of, is it growing back? Is my life gonna just turn upside down with one day, one results? So just sort of always living under that cloud. But it does make you really appreciate every day. And so when I write my books, when I do talking, when I’m on this podcast with you, it matters because I may or not be here for, well, nobody’s gonna be here forever, but I appreciate that life is very, very temporary and very fleeting. So you wanna make everything count.
Brett McKay: Yeah. And you mentioned in the forward of this book we’re gonna talk about, Live Your Best Life, you were finishing this while it was during COVID and you were doing your treatments and you said that… You know, the questions you ask, you answer or seek the answer in this book. Things like how to get the best sleep, what’s the best breakfast, what’s the best way to not be stressed out at work? A lot of people will think, “Well, that’s kind of mundane and straight” but for you, you mentioned like, “Well, no, actually this stuff’s really important.” ever since your diagnosis, like you said, you have an appreciation for these really small things. These little small things add up to make a life well lived. So your book, Live Your Best Life, it’s organized around questions, but then you organize these questions about our daily routines. So you start off in the morning, work your way to the afternoon and then to the night. So let’s start off with the morning and take a look at some of these questions you answered, one question I think some people might have had is why is it that sometimes when we wake up we feel refreshed, ready to take on the day, you just feel awesome, but other mornings you just feel super groggy and it takes like an hour to fully awaken? What’s going on there?
Stuart Farrimond: Yeah, so that groggy sensation that you get in the morning when you sort of feel half drunk, almost kind of zombie-like we have a name for that and that’s called sleep inertia. And basically what’s going on in your brain is it’s not fully switched on yet because waking up in the morning, you’re going from this comatose unconscious state into the land of the living and it takes a while for your brain to switch on for all those cogs to get going, like getting a car start on a cold morning, that sort of thing. And that’s called sleep inertia. Whether you get sleep inertia varies on how well rested you are and also interestingly how you woke up. So when we sleep, we go through different stages of sleep, we cycle between going through deep sleep and light sleep. During deep sleep is when we’re snoring and that’s when all the restorative work goes on, in light sleep that is when we’re dreaming.
That’s when if you were to lift some of these eyelids up, you’d see their eyes darting left and right. And sometimes that’s when we speak, when words sort of escape from our dreams. And if you wake up from the deepest sleep, from the deep sleep, then you will wake up quite groggy. Whereas if you wake up from the light sleep, from the dreaming sleep, which is the natural way for you to do, in the early hours, you dream more and then you naturally come out of that into waking. But if you wake up from the deep sleep, you will generally wake up with that grogginess. So several factors, one of which is if you are poorly rested, you’re more likely to have it. If you are stressed, you’re more likely to have disturbed sleep and you are more likely to have this sleep inertia.
A lot of us though, do just get sleep inertia in the morning. And so I would always say, and part of what I put in the book is that don’t check your smartphone first in the morning because regardless of how well you slept that first 30 minutes, you will be experiencing some sleep inertia. When you look at people’s brain scans during that time, your brain actually looks like you are slipping back into sleep again. So you are only actually half awake, which is why you shouldn’t really make any decisions first in the morning. You should just get yourself up, get yourself going, get yourself in the shower, whatever your morning routine is, and then hold off checking emails, all the other stuff, all the Jesus of the day, up to later on and interesting I think that is why, because we can’t make decisions very well first thing in the morning.
Why I think we tend to have the same thing for breakfast everyday because we can’t cope with making difficult decisions first thing in the morning. So sleep inertia lasts about half an hour can last up to 2 or 3 hours depending on all those different factors that I’ve mentioned. There’s no solution for it. You’ve just gotta ride it out. But just be aware of it. So let yourself ride out. You guys be very wary about jumping in the car straight after waking up because you will be suffering from this and so you will be at higher risk of making mistakes when you’re in the car during that time.
Brett McKay: Well, another thing you point out too is the sleep inertia that’s caused by waking up during a deep sleep is one of the reasons why you don’t wannna hit the snooze button on your alarm because you’ll fall back to sleep and you might fall back into that deep sleep and then you wake up and you’re all groggy.
Stuart Farrimond: Yeah, absolutely. So alarms, ideally, in an ideal world you would wake up naturally and that is when your body is naturally used to waking up. You’ll find this out is that if when you’re on vacation and there’s no pressure, you’ll find out what your natural waking time is and that will give you a good gauge. And if you have a job that lets you, and if you can have any capacity to change your job so that you can have it so that you wake up at your natural waking time, that is the ideal. Unfortunately, many of us have to have alarms ’cause alarms aren’t very good ways of waking up because they basically stimulate our primitive vital flight response. We wake up as if a panther has just, or a tiger just walked into our room. It’s that there’s this part of our brain called the amygdala, which is alert to threats all the time, even when we’re asleep.
And so when you have a loud noise, it fires off the amygdala, gets adrenaline going, gets you fired up, you wake up with a jolt basically because your primal brain thinks there’s a threat. So you’re not in a great place when you wake up. You’re not waking up relaxed, calm, ready for the day. You hit the snooze button and you’re quite right, 10 minutes or so on the snooze button is just about the right time to start slipping into the deep sleep. You then can wake up back into a jolt again. And so actually you feel increasingly groggy And actually all those sort of rude awakenings, they kind of add up. And so they all increase your stress levels in the morning. And furthermore, if you wake up naturally or you just wake up, you just get up. When you wake up naturally you’ve got a natural chemical boost from a hormone called cortisol, which is a stress hormone that is released when you wake up. It’s been building up slowly in the early hours, getting you ready for waking up. When you wake up you get this surge like a jab in the arm of this hormone called cortisol. It’s the stress hormone. That’s what gets you going. If you stay in bed, if you keep hitting the snooze button and that will fade away and so you’ll lose your natural get up and go hormone.
Brett McKay: Okay, so we wake up, we might be having that sleep inertia, feeling groggy, I think the first thing that a lot of people do to counteract that is like, “Well, I’ll just have my morning caffeine.” Whether that’s coffee or tea or some other type of caffeinated beverage. But you’ve found research that suggests drinking coffee or caffeine first thing in the morning, you’re actually not doing anything. Why shouldn’t you drink your caffeine right when you get out of bed?
Stuart Farrimond: Yeah. Answering this question, if I’m gonna give an answer to the best time to drink coffee, if it’s different to what you do, most people don’t like to hear it ’cause everybody thinks their way of drinking coffee is the right way of doing it because they find that helps them. In reality, when you look at the science, if you find out how caffeine works, then you can understand when the best time should be to have coffee. Caffeine works by blocking a naturally sedative relaxing chemical in the brain called adenosine. And this is a substance that is produced naturally throughout the day. When you wake up in the morning, it’s very low.
Throughout the day, it builds up and it builds up. It’s sort of like a waste product of your brain throughout the day. When you sleep at night, your brain gets rid of it all and it’s adenosine that makes you sleepy. Not the sleep hormone called melatonin that people so often know about when people… People take melatonin supplements because they think it’s gonna help them sleep, most of the time it doesn’t do anything at all. The thing that makes you sleepy is this brain hormone called adenosine and caffeine works by blocking that substance, that adenosine. And that’s great because in an evening or if you are driving in an evening and you need to sort of a pick me up to keep yourself going, then having some coffee, that will keep you going, that will keep you on the road because it knocks the edge of this adenosine that is making you feel sleepy and wanting to make you to go to sleep.
But first thing in the morning, that is the time when you have your lowest levels of adenosine. So you have your coffee first thing in the morning and actually it’s not gonna be doing much. It’s like you’ve already got this get up and go hormone called cortisol, getting you going first in the morning. Having coffee on top of that is basically like throwing a couple of matches onto an already raging bonfire. It’s not gonna do very much. And actually first in the morning, strong coffee is more likely to make you jittery and give you the side effects of caffeine, make you more uptight, make you a bit more anxious rather than when actually if you’re gonna have coffee, you’re gonna have caffeine and you want to have it so that it picks you up and it gets you going. So a sort of a nice way of doing it is to wait an hour, hour and a half, maybe a couple of hours into the morning. So the cortisol shot in the arm has started to fade and Adenosine has started to come up, so that mid-morning when you’re starting to feel a bit sluggish, and that will be a time when to have your coffee that it will actually… You get much more bang for your buck if you have your coffee then.
Brett McKay: Okay, so shift to two hours, or wait an hour to two hours.
Stuart Farrimond: Yeah.
Brett McKay: Let’s talk about breakfast. Is there an ideal breakfast that will help us get going in the morning?
Stuart Farrimond: Now breakfast is interesting one ’cause that’s, it’s a meal for which we have breakfast foods for, and we don’t really have lunch foods or evening meal foods, but we have breakfast foods, which is kind of a curious thing, across the world there will be breakfast foods. And you tend to find that if you take a step back and you look across cultures that breakfast tend to be based on starches, on carbohydrates or what you call carbs. They’re the things that provide the… And I know that they’re sort of, they’re seen as a bad thing these days, carbs are, but actually they’re the main fuel for your brain. They’re the main fuel for your muscles. So if, especially if you’ve got an active job, if you’re a kid, then breakfast is really important and ideally it should be based on carbohydrates ’cause they’re the main fuel that your body and your brain likes to use.
You can get by without it. And interestingly, if your body, if you’re not a morning lark, if you wake up in the morning and actually you don’t want breakfast, it doesn’t feel right for you, your body isn’t asking for it, then there is no benefit in forcing yourself to have a breakfast. Skipping breakfast does not make you put on weight. There is no evidence for that. And actually when they’ve done the studies and they’ve got people to skip breakfast, they actually lost weight compared to putting it on. So it’s a myth that the breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Many people will need a breakfast because of their lifestyle, because of their body clock, but it’s not the thing that it’s made out to be.
Brett McKay: It’s interesting your observation about there being special breakfast foods across cultures and that they’re usually carby foods. There’s been some research coming out that our bodies metabolize carbohydrates and just food in general better in the morning and we get less efficient at it as the day wears on. And so maybe there’s like some wisdom into how people used to schedule their meals, right? Like today, our biggest meal for most people in the west, it’s dinner and we eat that late. But a couple centuries back, the biggest meal of the day was, well they called it dinner but it was like at midday, right? So they had a really big, what we would call lunch and then they just have a very light supper in the evening. So it might be better for you to eat more of your carbs and calories earlier in the day.
Stuart Farrimond: And there is some evidence for that. And I think eating big and late at night that that is linked with poor sleep. There is definitely evidence for that because at nighttime everything shuts down. The whole intestinal system goes into sleep much like the rest of you. So if you have a big meal at night, it’ll just be sitting there largely overnight and actually that’s not very good for you really because it’s gonna more likely to give you indigestion, it’s gonna disturb your sleep, as you process the food your intestines generate quite a lot of heat in that process of digesting the food. So especially protein, that’s something that generates a lot of heat. Your body has to work quite hard to process that, to digest it, which is why you’ll get meat sweats at nighttime if you had a big meal in an evening.
So whether it’s bad for putting on weights, that’s a controversial thing, but generally speaking you’re probably best avoiding a large meal on the evening. That said in the Mediterranean they eat really late and people only sit down for the evening meal about 8 o’clock in the evening oftentimes. And I don’t know how they do it, typically you’d have it like a pastry and a coffee first in the morning as your breakfast, then you’d have have a lunch and then you’d have a big thing in the evening meal. And that’s the way they’ve always done it. And I don’t know how they do it because generally, the evidence would say that’s not the ideal way of doing things. So yeah, you’re quite right is that a big meal in the evening is probably not ideal for most people.
Brett McKay: Okay, so you’re eating breakfast in the morning, maybe. You don’t have to eat breakfast necessarily, but you’re probably, hopefully definitely brushing your teeth. So what’s the best time to brush your teeth? Is it before you eat breakfast or after?
Stuart Farrimond: It depends what you have for your breakfast. If you have anything citrus for breakfast. There’s pros and cons of each of them. If you have anything with citrus for breakfast, then avoid brushing afterwards because citrus and indeed carbonated drinks are quite acidic and if you have something acidic, then you brush your teeth, there is a risk that you start to brush off the enamel, which is the super hard, very white protective coating that’s on the covering of your teeth. So I would say typically it’s better before because it means that you can get rid of the detritus from overnight. We often wake up with very bad breath in the morning and that’s because there’s been an overgrowth of bacteria in the night because we produced less saliva over the night and saliva has antibacterial properties in it. And so overnight we’ve had this overgrowth of bacteria. So it’s good to… You could brush before and afterwards that would even be better providing that you haven’t had anything citrus for breakfast.
Brett McKay: We’re gonna take a quick break for a word from our sponsors.
And now back to the show. So let’s move on to our commute. A lot of people commute’s like the worst part of their day. Why does our commute make us so miserable? And then anything we can do to improve it.
Stuart Farrimond: Yeah, yeah. And research shows that an extra 20 minutes onto your morning commute can impact job satisfaction as much as a 20% pay cut. And what happens is that we associate our commute with our job. Psychologically we see it as one and the same thing. So if we don’t enjoy our commutes, it means that our job satisfaction overall will be lessened. So likewise, if you can improve your commute, then you can improve the quality of your job experience. 90 minutes of total commuting time a day seems to be the turning point for when it starts to impact our health. So if you are commuting 45 minutes each way, then that’s a point at which you gotta be very careful that it may be impacting your health. Because if people have a total commute of more than 90 minutes every day they tend to be… They weigh more, they’re more likely to have diabetes, more likely to have higher blood pressure. All the things that we associate with the ills of the day, they are linked with longer commutes.
And that’s largely if you… Because most people commute, they do it sedentary, they’re doing it in a car or they do it on some kind of public transport. To improve your commute, in any way you can, make it as active as possible. So walking, cycling, anything that moves your legs and that will improve your commute or make you healthier and also put you in a better place when you get to work. So that’s one thing that you can do. If you’ve got a journey that has multiple stops, try and simplify your morning commute because a lot of the thing that makes the commute bad and stressful is stress on the journey. It’s holdups in the traffic, it’s delays, it’s somebody cutting you off in the traffic. It’s something getting in your way. It’s roadworks. These are things that… And if you add to that, if you’ve gotta drop the kids off at school and you’ve got to do another errand on the way to work, that makes it all the more stressful. And so that will negatively impact your commute. So make your journeys as simple as possible, try and make them active. And yeah, I guess the thing is to try and see if there are ways in which you can make it less stressful and possibly shorter, especially if you have a sedentary form of commute.
Brett McKay: And what’s counterintuitive though is you found the research that suggests that some people, like they need a commute for their job to make that transition. Right? The commute itself can act as a transition from home life to work life and work life to home life.
Stuart Farrimond: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. And we discovered this now. We’re working from home and some people’s mental health has worsened as a result of this. And because we have commuted since Neanderthal times, since stone age, there’s good evidence to show that we’ve always moved away from where we live and where we sleep to go and do our daily work. And there’s something really important in that, and it seems to be the ideal commute is about 15 minutes. And that gives you just enough time to mentally move yourself away from home life and into work life. And conversely, when you’re coming back, it’s really important that we switch off from work and that we reengage to what’s going on at home. We start thinking about our family, our spouse, so that when we get home we’re interested in them and we’re not preoccupied by our work. And so having that physical distance helps mentally with having that mental distance. And so it is good for our mental health to have a commute, and 15 minutes, research points to being the optimal length of time.
Brett McKay: Let’s take a look at our work life. We’re at the office. Is there anything to the idea that there’s certain types of work we should do in the morning or the afternoon?
Stuart Farrimond: Yeah. And this comes back to your body clock and what you find is that there are differences because obviously night owls is flipped a little bit and they work better in the evening. But for most of us, something like 75% of us, the first 2 or 3 hours of our working day, and when I say our working day, that’s from 9 o’clock in the morning, I’m assuming that that’s the sort of the standard time of the working day. Those first, that morning is our brains primetime. That is when we need to prioritize the most important tasks. So I don’t know about you, Brett, but sometimes I sit down at my workstation first thing and I start work and I go, “All right, I’m gonna clear out my emails or I’m gonna do something on social media.” But in reality, that’s probably not the… You really shouldn’t be doing that because those first 2 or 3 hours, until you get to about 11:00 midday, that is when your brain is, the computing and the thinking powers of your brain are at their maximum.
So you should first thing prioritize that thing that you’ve been putting off, that project, that assignment, whatever it is that work, sort of bite the bullet and get on with it. Because after that time, after those first 2 or 3 hours after lunchtime, whatever you do, no matter how much coffee you have, you are not getting that back again. It’s a one hit deal. You’ve gotta make the best of it the first thing in the morning. Some people say they work especially in stateside. I know people like to boast about how many hours they work and how they got up so early in the morning and they stayed at work till gone dark. But actually people who do that, they’re not productive as they think they are. And it’s about understanding how your body works and you can actually work smarter and not harder. So that is one way of doing it is realizing my most productive time, my mentally my most productive time is gonna be in the morning before 11 or 12 o’clock when things will naturally start to slow down. So yeah, that would be what the science would point towards.
Brett McKay: Well, let’s talk about just being at the office this day. Most people have jobs where they’re sitting down, it’s sedentary. Anything we can do to alleviate some of the, I don’t know, it hurts like, it doesn’t feel good to sit down all day. And then also I think it’s a mental stressor. Anything we can do throughout the day to maintain our health and mental sharpness?
Stuart Farrimond: Yeah, it was once fashionable to have Standing work stations, which some people get on with and they’ve not really taken off in the way that it was once imagined. It’s often said that sitting is the new smoking. It’s nothing as bad as smoking. But yeah, there are high correlation between sitting a long time and poor health, weight gain and all the things associated with Western lifestyle. So a good way to do it is to try to make yourself stand up and do something. If you work from home, then make yourself a cup of tea every, or whatever it is, or a cup of coffee, maybe not coffee, but get yourself a glass of water or something regularly. You may even set yourself a timer just to get up, walk around and…
Yeah, and that will help. The thing is that you can’t concentrate for very long periods of time anyway. Between 60 and 90 minutes is the maximum capacity in which you can focus on a task with complete concentration, and actually be performing well. So, when your concentration starts to fade on any given task, swapping to something else is good. Taking a break is even better, and using that as an opportunity to stand up and walk around. Another thing that I heard, which I thought was quite a smart thing, is get yourself some dumbbells or a dumbbell, and put it somewhere maybe by your kettle or by your fridge somewhere that you’ll often go to in the daytime. It’s maybe a little bit more difficult to do in office space at work, but you could do it. You could put a little dumbbell somewhere, and whenever you go there, you can do a few sort of arm curls with it.
And you’re not gonna become really masculine or become Arnold Schwarzenegger from it, but it will just help. Any kind of physical exercise will help combat the overall fatigue, because fatigue will worsen as we’re lots of times sedentary. So, any of these things, take the stairs if you can, anything that you can. And it’ll be specific for you, be it for your working environment. You’ll know things that you can do, if it involves setting a timer on your phone every 45 minutes from now saying, “Stand up now.” That will help.
Brett McKay: Oh, let’s shift to the afternoon and evening. Some people get sleepy, naturally sleepy, like 1 o’clock, 2 o’clock. Is it okay to take a nap in the afternoon? And if so, how can you do in a way so it doesn’t disrupt your sleep in the evening?
Stuart Farrimond: Yeah. Again, something that’s become quite trendy is having an afternoon nap, having this… And the siesta is, as you probably appreciate, is very much ingrained in Mediterranean culture and in Chinese culture. There used to be a law in China that meant that workers were entitled to an afternoon nap. It was a right that they could have their, I think 90 minutes or something like that in the early afternoon where they could have a sleep. And actually having an early afternoon nap is something that seems to be a part of our biology, because we evolved in the Savannah. And if you’ve ever been to equatorial regions, you will know that the middle of the day after about 1 or 2 o’clock in the afternoon, it’s absolute… I did my medical elective in West Africa, and those hours of the day, you had to retreat inside, you couldn’t do anything. It’s utterly, utterly stifling.
People in the states who live in the southern regions, as you all know this very well, that you can’t do very much. And so our body is geared to actually taking… Is just lying down and resting during that time. S, even now it’s in our genes that during that time we naturally get sluggish. We have the post lunch slump that isn’t actually entirely to do with the lunch itself. It just happens to be our body clock is geared towards slowing down, actually having a nap at that time. So, yeah it’s a difficult thing to get your head around because we have this whole thing, “I’ve got to work 9:00 to 5:00, having a sleep is lazy.” But I know a lot of the tech companies are now getting onto this ideal, they have been in recent years of having your sleep pods where you can go and have a nap.
And if you can work that into your day, you may well find that energy, mood, learning and productivity are boosted by a 10 to 20 minute nap in the early afternoon. If you go longer than that, if you go to about 60 minutes, then that’s the time where you will… Over more than about 20 minutes to 60 minutes, you may well find that when you wake up, you have that groggy thing again, that sleep inertia. So, you wake when you feel worse than before and you think, “I’m never gonna… Why do people do this nap thing? I just feel wasted for the rest of the day.” And that’s because you’ve gone into deep sleep. If you gonna do longer than half an hour, then you should do 90 minutes, ’cause 90 minutes is enough time to go into deep sleep and out again, and you’ll come out feeling refreshed.
Problem is that if it goes much longer than an hour and a half, it obviously eats into your day and it can affect your nighttime sleep. So, ideally 10 to 20 minutes. And another way that I’ve heard people do is to have a coffee before you have your nap, and it takes about 15, 20 minutes for the full effect of the caffeine to kick in. So, that will… When you wake up again, you’ll have the combination of the feeling refreshed from the nap, and the sort of the extra boost from the caffeine. Personally, I don’t do that one because I find that the caffeine will affect me before I get to sleep, but that’s a tried and tested thing that many people do.
Brett McKay: Alright, let’s talk about exercise. When’s the best time to exercise or it doesn’t matter?
Stuart Farrimond: Any exercise is good, but when you look at people’s physical performance, you find that it is best eight to nine hours after waking. So, that we’re talking early, mid-afternoon for most people. It’s geared towards your body clock as well, so you tend to find that people who are in their early 20s and teens, ’cause their body clock is shifted forward by a couple of hours. They will tend to be in their prime in the early evening time, which I’ve… My theory behind this is that most world records are broken in the early evening time. Some of that is gonna be because things are televised in the evening time that’s when they put on events, but I think that large part of that is that world records are broken in that time. Olympic world records are broken that time, is because people who are athletes, they’re generally in their early 20s, so they have a body clock that peaks later in the day. And so their prime physical time for exercise is in that early evening time when they’re performing at their best.
But it’s the same for you and me, Brett is the best exercise time will be in the mid-early to mid-afternoon. You can try this, I don’t know if you do much exercise, Brett, but if you go for a run first in the morning and then you do another run at 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening, you will find that the one in the afternoon, evening time will be easier. And you’ll probably find that you can do better times than you did first in the morning. And that’s just a nature of the fact that our body takes awhile to warm up, it’s like a locomotive. It just sort of takes away everything, all our muscles, all the chemical processes and the enzymes that power our muscles, which are just the chemicals that work within our muscles to get them going. They take a while to get going throughout the day. I think they warm up throughout the day. But that said, any kinda exercise is good and morning exercise is still good for you, but generally speaking, it’s better to do the most vigorous exercise later in the day because going at it too hard in the morning, you’re much more likely to have a risk injury.
Brett McKay: Yeah, I’ve noticed that. So I do power lifting and when I first started, I trained first thing in the morning, so I had like the sleep inertia thing going on, I was really groggy so I didn’t perform as well. I think the other issue too was I didn’t have time to eat before I trained. So I was training in a fasted state and that’s not good if you’re doing explosive strength stuff. And then when I shifted to training later in the afternoon, things got better and my performance started improving. And I still notice the difference today, right? Like sometimes I can’t train in the afternoon for whatever reason. So I have to train in the morning, and there’s a big difference between afternoon training and morning training. And it’s interesting that given people perform better or do better later in the day that competitions, things like 5K races, I’ve done weightlifting competitions, amateur ones, they’re usually in the morning, and my wife, she’s a runner and I think she’d do more running races if they were later in the day because she likes to run but she doesn’t like to run at 7:00 or 8:00 o’clock in the morning. She’d much prefer to run late in the afternoon or early evening.
I think it’s interesting. We need more competitions later in the day, I think. Okay, so we’ve covered waking up, commuting, working, exercise, and then comes nighttime, right? It’s time to sleep, and in the book you suggest, the kind of sleep hygiene tips that I think most people are familiar with if you want to get better sleep, but what about snoring? Snoring can disrupt your sleep and possibly other people’s sleep. So what can we do to stop snoring?
Stuart Farrimond: Yeah, four in 10 blokes snore. It’s one of those things like you never know you do it until somebody tells you, but yeah, it is a problem. I know a couple that they can’t sleep in the same bedroom anymore because he snores so loudly and he doesn’t like being woken up to be told. I mean I snore sometimes when I roll onto my back, but yeah it can be really problematic. How can we stop it? The reason why we snore, you can either have nasal snoring which is because of the configuration of your nasal cavity or you can have mouth snoring or throat snoring, which is probably the most common type of snoring. And that is because at nighttime when we go into this deepest sleep, the deep restorative stage of sleep, we become very floppy. Every… The tone of the muscles drops a lot so everything becomes relaxed.
And of course that means that the muscles at the back of the throat that keep our windpipe open, they can relax so much that it starts to close our airways and it becomes like a flapping door in a breeze as it vibrates and you have this snoring sound, it’s more likely to happen in people who are bigger, people who are overweight. So people often find if you lose some weight then the snoring will stop. Lying on your back is also more likely to cause snoring. Something that people have done with great success is in their night wearing their pajama top. They’ll sew in a tennis ball into the middle of the back so that it’s impossible for them to lie on their back. And they find that is quite a drastic thing to do. But they find that that is enough to stop them snoring ’cause it stops them rolling into the back. There’s lots of different things, lots of different aids that you can buy.
There’s like nasal strips, things that you can put into your nose. There’s chin straps, there’s pillows, there’s some evidence that pillows, antis-snoring pillows can help because they align your neck in a certain way so that you keep the airways open more and you’re much less likely to snore. The thing is that if you snore and you are very, very sleepy in the daytime, then you could be experiencing, could be suffering from what we call obstructive sleep apnea or OSA. That’s very, very common, more common than I think we appreciate, and that is actually very harmful for your health, not least because your sleep is so unrestorative that you will drift off in the daytime and your risk of having a car accident while driving are very, very… Are magnified hugely because you’re not getting restorative sleep. What happens with people with OSA is they’re snoring and as the muscles relax even more and more, eventually it blocks off their airways.
So you start to suffocate, you then wake up with a jolt but it’s so brief that you don’t realize that you’re awake. ‘Cause interestingly in those very lightest layers of sleep between awake and being asleep, you have no memory of it. You may have noticed this Brett, you’re sat on the sofa, you’re watching a movie or something, your partner drifts off, falls asleep and you wake them up and say, you fell asleep, they will swear blind, “I was not asleep.” And that is because in those periods of very light stages of sleep, you have no memory of it. So when people wake up with a start very briefly, they’ll have no memory that they’ve had a very disturbed sleep. Every time they go into that deep restorative sleep, they’re being woken up at the very deepest part of it.
So they’re not getting the benefits of sleep. So throughout the daytime they’re constantly fatigued and that has long-term impacts, much like doing night shifts, actually unfortunately no matter what we do seems to… When you’re working against your body clock, it has negative effects, causes your arteries more likely defer process called atherosclerosis, increases likelihood of having diabetes and other such conditions by having long-term disturbances to sleep. And this is also the case with OSA, obstructive sleep apnea. So if you feel exhausted, if you find yourself falling asleep when you’re waiting for the lights to go from red to green, or you’re woken up because somebody’s sounding the horn behind you and especially if your partner says that you snore, then it’s worthwhile getting an assessment for that because it’s something that’s very treatable.
Brett McKay: Well Stuart, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about the book and your work?
Stuart Farrimond: Yeah, sure. The book is called Live Your Best Life. If you are outside of North America, it’s called the Science of Living. So the Science of Living or Live Your Best Life. You can find out more about me on all the socials. My name is Dr. Stuart Farrimond or Dr. Stu Farrimond. My handle is realdoctorstu, all one word. R-E-A-L-D-O-C-T-O-R-S-T-U. And that’s what I’m on, on Twitter and Instagram and all those things. I’m not a big social media user, but I will do updates of books and things. I’ve got a book out recently, which is all about gardening believe it or not. So it’s a completely left field thing for me. But that’s selling very well as well. It’s just another one of my missions of using science in the everyday in ways in which you wouldn’t have thought.
Brett McKay: All right, well, Dr. Stuart Farrimond, thanks for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Stuart Farrimond: Awesome. Thanks Brett.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Dr. Stuart Farrimond. He’s the author of the book Live Your Best Life. It’s available on amazon.com. You can find more information about his work at his website, stuartfarrimond.com. Also, check out our show notes at aom.is/dailyroutine. Where you can find links to resources where we delve deeper into this topic.
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