Banishing Burnout

by Dr. Michael Breus, PhD

Struggling with feeling exhausted and run-down? Look around. You’ve got plenty of company. Burnout, low energy and poor sleep are rampant in our society.

Maintaining high energy and restful sleep— consistently—can feel like a mystery, or a roll of the dice, especially when things in life are stressful and unpredictable, and we’ve had a lot of both over the past couple of years.

Maximizing energy and achieving plentiful, restful sleep isn’t actually a mystery at all. There’s an abundance of science that shows us how to achieve both. But it does take a game plan to bring the science of optimizing energy and sleep into our daily lives.

The remedy for chronic tiredness, low energy and poor sleep is found in our DNA. Because our genetic identity is unique, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the energy trough so many people find themselves in. Real change—the durable, sustainable kind—comes from using our DNA to our advantage, to unleash energy and achieve great sleep.

There are two major forces that drive our daily energy: chronotype and body type. And both are determined by our genes.

Our chronotype is our genetically predetermined sleep schedule, regulated by our circadian rhythms. There are four primary chronotypes, and each has a unique set of preferences and needs for the timing of sleep and activity throughout the day:

  • Lions, with clocks synced for early-in-the-day activity and early rest
  • Bears, with middle-of-the-road timing for nightly sleep and daily activity
  • Wolves, with an evening-slanted schedule that pushes sleep late into the night and activity later in the day
  • Dolphins, with distinct circadian biology that leads to nighttime alertness, insomnia and light sleep, and morning tiredness.

Our body type is also genetically predetermined, and it usually dictates our metabolism, and what forms of exercise we enjoy most. There are three distinct body types:

  • Endomorphs, thicker body types with weight at the hips and core, with a slow metabolism
  • Mesomorphs, V-shaped body types with a medium metabolism
  • Ectomorphs, long and lean body types with a fast metabolism.

Most people live out of sync with their chronotype, sleeping and waking at the wrong times. Most people don’t move and eat in alignment with their body type. As a result, most people are exhausted—mentally, emotionally and physically—and not getting the abundant, high-quality sleep that fuels happy, healthy, productive lives.

Using an understanding of chronotype (optimal schedules for sleep and activity) and body type (metabolic profile and movement preferences) as the foundation for daily routines is how we can unlock the body’s energy stores and finally get the plentiful, consistent sleep we need.

In my latest book, Energize!: Go From Dragging Ass to Kicking it in 30 Days, with my coauthor, Stacey Griffith, a founding instructor at SoulCycle, we unpacked the latest science and developed personalized daily routines for sleeping and movement, based on eight different combinations of chronotype and body type.

Nearly all adults will find themselves in one of these combinations—we call them power profiles. In addition to creating hyper-personalized profiles for sleep and movement, we explore sources and solutions for deficits in four main types of energy— resting energy, eating energy, moving energy and emotional energy— that we all must maintain to lead healthy, productive, emotionally vibrant and connected lives.

1. Boost your Resting Energy: Be consistent with your sleep-wake routine

Consistency in your sleep routine—going to bed and, in particular, waking up at the same time every day—is the single most important factor in maintaining a healthy routine of high-quality sleep. Your chronotype determines your optimal bed and wake times, so the first and most critical step in creating an ideal sleep schedule is to identify your chronotype. You can take a quiz at chronoquiz.com to find out yours.

  • Lions’ optimal bedtime is 10 p.m. and wake time is 6 a.m.
  • Bears’ ideal bedtime is 11 p.m. and wake time is 7 a.m.
  • Wolves do best when they bed down for the night at 12:30 a.m., and wake at 8 a.m. (That wake time isn’t possible for all Wolves—get as close as you can, given the demands of real life.)
  • Dolphins’ optimal bedtime is midnight, with a wake time of 7 a.m.

Here are a couple of additional tips for all chronotypes and body types to protect and enhance your sleep throughout the year.

Maintain a moderate indoor climate for sleep. Bedrooms that are too warm or too cold will interfere with your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. An optimal sleep temperature for most people is 68-72 degrees F.

Take vitamin D. Across the U.S., an estimated 50 percent of adults and kids have a vitamin D deficiency. In addition to its broad benefits for health (stabilizing mood, supporting healthy bones, strengthening immune function), vitamin D supports healthy sleep. Studies show a lack of vitamin D reduces sleep time and worsens sleep quality, making sleep more restless. Vitamin D is also involved in the body’s production of both melatonin and serotonin.

The best source of vitamin D is the sun. Getting sun exposure every day (try for five minutes in the morning and 15 minutes at midday) does double duty, helping strengthen circadian rhythms and stimulating alertness during the day, leading to more restful sleep at night.

2. Boost your Moving Energy: Mini workouts are a major WIN

Short bursts of movement—throughout the day, every day—are key to sustaining energy, boosting strength, power, flexibility and endurance. We’ve been conditioned to think that long, grueling workouts are the way to get in shape. Not so. Our movement plans are based on what we call the Daily 5x5: five-minute movement sessions, five times a day. They cover the whole body, and the timing and type of movement are aligned to individual pairings of chronotype and body type.

The Daily 5x5, and short workouts in general, are ideal for weaving into busy, unpredictable lives. When you’re taking a few minutes to move at several points throughout the day, there’s zero pressure to dedicate 30 or 60 minutes for a workout. At home, all you need to do is snag five minutes at a time for some focused, intentional movement.

3. Boost your Eating Energy: Use intermittent fasting informed by your chronotype

Amid all the attention being paid to fine-tuning the composition of our daily diets—vegan, keto, paleo, macrobiotic, Mediterranean, you name it—there’s a critical piece of information that often gets lost.

When it comes to eating for energy, when you eat is more important than what or how much.
Most people don’t know that our individual DNA offers us an optimal schedule for daily eating and fasting windows. Daily intermittent fasting—eating over a duration of 8 to 12 hours and fasting for 12-16 hours (6-8 of those being sleeping hours), allows the body to burn fat for energy rather than storing it. Intermittent fasting also:

  • Increases metabolism, accelerating energy expenditure
  • Reinforces circadian rhythms
  • Activates cellular repair and regeneration
  • Helps us make healthier food choices

Every chronotype has different daily rhythms for hunger and appetite hormones, and different optimal times for eating throughout the day. And each body type has a different ideal eating window and fasting period.

  • Endomorphs, with typically slow metabolisms, gain the most energy from an 8-hour eating interval and a 16-hour fasting interval
  • Mesomorphs, with typically medium metabolisms, do best with a 14-hour eating interval and a 10-hour fasting interval
  • Ectomorphs, with typically fast metabolisms, derive their optimal energy from a 12-hour eating interval and 12-hour fasting interval

Keep in mind these other eating-for-energy strategies that apply to every chronotype and body type:

Stay hydrated. We lose a full liter of water during our night of sleep just by breathing. Start your day with 16 ounces of room- temperature water to rehydrate.

Fill up on fiber. Focus on fiber-filled foods that keep insulin in check, energy levels high, and set you up for a restful night of sleep. Kale and broccoli are excellent sources of tryptophan, a chemical that helps regulate melatonin. Mushrooms are full of vitamins D, B2 and B3, all essential circadian reinforcers.

Take your time. Eating slowly gives your digestive system a break and gives your brain time to receive the message that you’re full.

4. Boost your Emotional Energy: Understand, accept and work with—not against—your emotional chrono-rhythms

Setting out to feel a certain way, or putting high expectations on how we should feel, drains energy and pushes us toward exhaustion and feelings of self-recrimination when we don’t achieve the unachievable.

Chasing happiness sets us up for disappointment and, paradoxically, for feeling low. You won’t find it on a greeting card, but seeking a positive affect is what leads to abundant emotional energy and a deep sense of purpose.

Positive affect—feeling good about how we engage with the world, with ourselves, in our relationships—becomes more achievable when we live in sync with our chronotype and body type. Emotional energy rises and falls throughout the day—and research has established that these daily emotional rhythms differ by chronotype. Morning types tend to feel most upbeat and on an emotional energy high early in the day, and evening types hit their emotional energy peaks at night.

Living in sync with chronotype and body type, for sleep, play, relaxation, pleasure and productivity, eating and movement, builds emotional resilience and elevates emotional energy. A life that’s aligned to our chrono-rhythms and our genetically determined needs and preferences for movement and nutrition enables us to live more fully as our true selves. That’s a natural pathway to joy, and the deepest, most powerful source of energy we can harness.

Michael Breus, PhD, is a double board-certified sleep specialist, founder of TheSleepDoctor.com, author of three books on sleep, including the latest, Energize! with Stacey Griffith, and has been in practice for 23 years.

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