Q&A: Gareth O’Donnell, Best life starts on your bed

Q&A: Gareth O’Donnell, Best life starts on your bed

Meet Coach G, otherwise known as Gareth O’Donnell, Product Director at The Edison Clinic and Founder of Sleep Loop. As a health and fitness coach, Gareth lives, breathes and sleeps what he preaches. He believes that the foundation to achieving your best life starts on your bed. As a Dad of three, he believes in instilling good habits early by teaching our kids healthy sleep habits. Here we chat about common myths associated with sleep with a particular focus on kids and their sleep.

1. Tell us about your health journey and how you came to be a coach?

My personal health journey kicked off in the military in 1999 when I joined to become a field engineer. My goal was to serve others in need, specifically East Timor, but in doing so I found a new passion for fitness. For me it was the discipline of exercise and the feeling of being the best version of myself that got me hooked. Later on, I would turn this into my career in the fitness industry which provided the platform to learn about all of the other aspects of health: sleep, nutrition, psychology. 

2. You have a passion for sleep, as well as educating people about its importance, why sleep?

Sleep was the last bastion of health I hadn't properly explored. I listened to a podcast with Matthew Walker, Author of Why We Sleep and it set me off on the path of learning all I could in regard to helping people achieve better sleep outcomes. "Sleep predicts all causes of mortality" that was the quote from Walker that got my wheels spinning. Once I understood sleep was the foundation of health, I knew I had to redesign the way I was creating health programmes. It all starts with sleep optimization.

3. Tell us about Sleep Loop?

Sleep loop is a scalable corporate health solution, designed to systematically improve sleep. We developed a sleep coaching system that educates and implements key circadian strategies to realign clients circadian function and drive better sleep outcomes.

4. There seems to be this myth that the older we get the less sleep we need.. Is this true or are we just brainwashed by grind culture?

We’re totally brainwashed! It's true that as we age we can experience sleep decline but it's not a given. Having said this, it's also true that you can override the effects of ageing and sleep decline when you apply the appropriate strategies, of which there are many.

5. Lets talk about sleep for school-kids and teens. What are the implications of sleep debt or bad quality sleep on children and teens?

One of the key functions of sleep is to store memory as well as recall memory, which is very important for kids – infants and toddlers who are learning how to engage with the world and older kids who spend most of their days at school studying a lot. This happens specifically during the REM phase of sleep, which occurs later in your sleep cycle. One thing we know with school going children's sleep requirements go up to 9-10 hours during growth and heavy learning cycles, so any short change of sleep impairs learning performance, mood regulation and dietary selection and probably most concerning, mental health.

6. What would you say is the biggest obstacle for Kiwi kids getting enough good quality sleep?

  • Over-committing our kids to before or after school sports or extra-murals. Kids need downtime too, moreover, we are not built the same. Sleep cycles vary vastly from person to person and child to child. Night owls will need a later bedtime and a later wake time, likewise, kids who are early risers need an earlier bedtime. What would be great is if we let kids nap at school the same way Thomas Edsion did to improve his creativity and cultivate his ideas for electricity.
  • The adage of ‘sleep when I’m dead’ especially for teens who think it's cool to stay up and play games, text, and whatsapp needs to be handled firmly. The idea that you can catch up on sleep is false. The damage will mount and their health will suffer. 
  • Discipline with devices is paramount! Text neck, blue light stimulus, emotional overwhelm and the mental health implications of this for kids is becoming concerning. 60 mins before bed is the minimum shut down time.

7. What tips or advice would you give parents to get their kids into better sleep habits/ routines?

Tech box- 60 mins before bed all tech into the tech box.

Exercise - If you have a night owl, a short burst of exercise after dinner is key; walk, play, sport, anything to burn off their energy. Morning birds can do this earlier in the day.

Diet – Make sure your child is eating a well-balanced, wholefood diet with minimal sugar, preservatives and processed foods. A healthy diet is fundamental to good sleep maintenance.

Introduce 1-2 habits to wind down before bed. Good ones to implement are: stretching activities, breathing exercises, reading a book, journaling, a hot shower or warm bath, cooling their pillow case and listening to auditory meditation. Do it with them, kids learn by our example.

8. If there is one piece of advice you’d give about sleep to anyone reading this what would it be?

Remember this acronym S.L.E.E.P.S

Schedule: Adjust your schedule to include a balance between Sleep:Wake, Eat:Fast, Move:Rest. The more consistent your habits the better your overall health. The body and brain loves routine.

Your eyes are the key. 30min of sunlight before 12pm every day, without sunglasses, helps balance your circadian rhythm and gets your Vit D stores up. Dark exposure in the evening (use candles and dimmers) will increase melatonin. Remove junk/blue light 60min before bed.

Your bedroom should be a sanctuary, beautify it, remove the tv, computer and regulate the ambient temperature which is key for deep sleep. Cool room + a Comfi bed = great sleep!

Eat and drink:
No eating after 7pm and no sugar in the evening either. Avoid caffeine or try to limit it as much as possible and aim to consume 2 litres of water before 2pm daily. Look after your gut health. Gut bugs are responsible for providing the precursors for sleep. They signal the brain to secrete the hormones that activate neuro transmitters that keep us mentally well and drive positive sleep outcomes.

Physiology: Cardio improves total sleep architecture, strength exercise improves deep sleep and physical skill acquisition activities improve REM sleep.
Stress: Decompress! Engage in a regular gratitude practice using a journal tool to help reconcile thoughts and to take positive action. You have 80 000 thoughts a day, most of them are useless, practicing engaging in the right constructive thought process is a skill we all need to practice.

Tell us about your bed routine and what your go-to sleep aids are?

5 steps for me:

1) 7pm darken the whole house

2) 8.30pm 250mg magnesium threonate,

3) Room: Ventilation fan, cooled pillow, eye mask if i remember it

4) 9pm in bed meditation app or podcast asleep by 9.30pm

5) 5am morning routine, feeling like a million bucks, let’s go!!!!

Find Gareth @Sleep Loop and @Edison