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We share a personal story of  Wade Lightheart, a co-founder of BiOptimizers whose mission is to alleviate human suffering by optimizing digestion and activating awesome health. 

Wade is a certified sports nutrition advisor, a three-time Canadian All Natural National Bodybuilding Champion, someone who won 13 titles in five different weight categories , a former Mr. Universe Competitor and author of the book Staying Alive In A Toxic World. 

Read the other posts in Wade's series on Gut Health and Optimal Brain Performance

In this post, Wade dives into the stress-cortisol-sleep-cycle that rapidly ages your brain and how to reverse it. You'll hear about his personal experience with stress-related issues, as well as his recommendations on how to lower chronically high cortisol and improve performance, sleep, vitality and focus.

First and foremost, as a brain optimisation hack, number one is:

You've got to defeat stress.

Anytime that you've been in a prolonged period of stress, in other words, you have elevated levels of cortisol for extended period of time, something needs to change.

Before continuing, let me give a little bit of background on caffeine. I love caffeine. I probably always will. I think it is a great ergogenic aid. I think it's a great stimulant. I think it's something when used properly can really augment cognitive performance, deliver the results that you want and optimise your life. But you can overdo it and I've done it. I'm going to get into my story in a little bit, but the thing is, is you need to find that optimal balance. If you've had adrenal fatigue or excess stress, you might have to go off caffeine for a little bit, or at least go to Bulletproof Decaf, which is what I did.

But the bottom line is, if you love caffeine like I did, but you may have got a little bit burned out from it, i'm going to show you how to come back to it and be able to leverage it in a way that you never thought possible. A way that's going to help you optimise your diet, your presentation, and as well as your physicality, as well as your performance.

Plus, I'm going to share with you some natural lifestyle shifts that are going to allow you to have some nutrient hacks that you can get a super brain nootropic boost without taking caffeine. Next, I'm going to share some insights on how to monitor your cortisol levels via testing.  I always work with doctors, naturopathic physicians, nutritionist, epigenetics, the whole team to really optimise myself. And I encourage you to learn from what I did and maybe target a few things that you can ask the professionals in your life. This is, of course, if you think your adrenals are a stressor or a problem, if it's not, don't even worry about it.

Everything I'm going to share with you works effectively with caffeine. And I'm happy to say that I use Bulletproof Coffee almost every single day now because of what I've learned. And so let's dive into it:

Cortisol is public enemy number one - Psychology Today

Keep in mind, you need cortisol. It's an absolute essential component component to get your body in the right states. But too much of anything is the problem. There are some studies that were done on obesity and two of these new studies actually connected cortisol levels to mental illness and decreased resilience. (1) (2)

My Personal Story

I consider myself a high performer. I consider myself someone who demands a lot from myself. I had a background as a high performance athlete. I've been an executive in a number of different companies. I maintain a rigorous fitness program and the bottom line is, a lot of us are like that.

I think if you're reading this, you're probably one of those people that demands a lot more from yourself. And I'm one of that people too. And the thing is, is being, you know, we're like, like, Hey, let's go do it. Let's kill it. Let's keep going. Let's push pass it. I decided to take on a little bit more than I could handle.

Basically what happened is I was running three businesses. I was working from literally 9 in the morning till 9 - 10 o'clock every single day. No days off. I did this for a number of years. I was living in a foreign country, going through all the stresses of moving to another place. I was in a relationship. One of my business partners that I was in another company, you know, had some big issues and things got out of hand.  Plus being part of an exciting brand that am with Bioptimizers, we were experiencing explosive growth and building all the new teams. On top of that, I was maintaining another business that was a cashflow business.

So the bottom line is I had a lot going on and I just kept going. And one of the things that I did, was I started to rely a little too much on stimulants. I was using excessive amounts of caffeine every day and pushing myself further with nootropics - all these kinds of things that we all like to do. I started it to get a level of physical fatigue, and mental fatigue, as well as losing a zest for life.

I'm a really positive, upbeat high energy person. And it all came to a head one day. I was having trouble with my relationships. I was having trouble in one of my businesses. I was stressed out and tired and didn't have any energy. And of course I was just saying, you know what, I'll push through it. I'll keep going. And you might be able to relate to this.

But at the end of the day, I remember sitting down with my business partner, Matt Gallant at Bioptimizers one day. We lived literally a five minute walk from each other and I had only seen him maybe three or four times in a period of three or four months. I was so locked into this digital world to kind of hit these benchmarks that I set.

We went out for dinner and he said, ‚ÄúHey man, how you doing?‚ÄĚ. And I said, ‚Äúyou know, I'm living in hell‚ÄĚ.

How Constant Stress Impacted My Brain

This was the 'Come to Jesus' moment where I had to recognise that I couldn't spin a positive optimise kind of idea out of it. I had to recognise where I was physically, where I was emotionally and what was happening in life in that moment. So what he did is he hooked me up to some neuro-feedback technology, just to take a look at my brain.

We were really into neuro-feedback. By the way, if you haven't gone to 40 years of Zen, I highly recommend it. It's a great technology and was very helpful.
But the bottom line is, he looked at it saw that

my energy and my brain was like a 70 year old man.

It was terrible, it was rotten. And I realised why I didn't have the energy. No wonder I wasn't feeling the juice.

Next, I went out and I did some tests with my naturopathic doctors. And I found out that I had some significant deficiencies in nutrients in a a number of things needed in my brain.¬† One of those things was magnesium. And what was interesting about that is the deficiency in magnesium is because of the up-regulation of hypothalamic‚Äďpituitary‚Äďadrenal (HPA) axis. These things actually work correlated together. And this leads to anxiety and high cortisol.

Stress response HPA axis hypothalamus pituitary adrenal CRH AVP ACTH cortisol
Image Source: https://biologydictionary.net/hpa-axis/


Now, i've always been a very good sleeper. I've been blessed. I don't need that much sleep like a lot of people. I wake up early, I generally feel clear and get to sleep easily. But during a time of high stress and high anxiety, I was having trouble sleeping.  And when I was waking up, I had my wheels kind of go. I think if you've been through a really stressful time, you can relate to that. 

The first thing I was able to get from my naturopath in my epigenetic team was to get some ashwagandha, probably the most clinically proven adaptogen for
cortisol. So that would be one of the first hacks that I would go right into.

Now I knew my cortisol levels So we did a hormone test (the Dutch test), you might be familiar. It showed that my cortisol levels were through the roof!

a diagram showing the changes of cortisol levels during the day
Example of cortisol levels changing during the day
Image Source: https://experiencelife.com/article/the-cortisol-curve/


Now, this of course is correlated with sleep issues.

The studies show that cortisol increases with sleep deprivation, which increases cortisol the next day. And then that just starts to build up slowly.

I was able to leverage cortisol for a while and kind of push through it. But staying in that state started to offset this whole access.

Cerebral spinal fluid is what flushes the waste out. And this is what cleans the brain during deep sleep. It's one of the most powerful nootropics there is. One of the reasons I feel that I wasn't getting enough energy is because…Guess what? I wasn't getting that flushing out that cycle. And that what was leading to the low energy inside my brain. 

So How Do You Improve Sleep?

In order to lower cortisol levels, I needed to add magnesium, which needs to be full spectrum which can also help with deep sleep. 

I had attended the Bulletproof conference a number of years before, where one of the speakers was the late great Charles Poliquin - the strength sensei, who coached 27 gold medals in 27 different professional sports.

He had used different types of magnesium to alleviate the nervous system stress, to increase contractual strength to increase recovery, improve sleep, and reprove neurological function. He said that it was one of his big hacks that he did.

But beyond basic sleep hygiene, you’ve got to do all the things that Dave Asprey is talking about: getting rid of the blue light in your life, using blackout low EMF, cool environment night and avoiding food at least four hours before bed to maximize autophagy. 

The Deep sleep component is what activates part of autophagy. This is cellular waste cleaning. And this is a really huge factor and something that the whole fasting component is, but also making sure that you don't eat too late and trigger these things. If you haven't checked out Dave's new book, Fast this Way, he's going to go deep into that. I'm looking forward to grabbing a copy myself, but we did have some some back channel conversations with Dave and he was talking about that. So I'm really excited.

One of the things that when you have high cortisol, often times you'll stimulate during the day and then you'll kind of binge at night. These are some of the things that I was dealing with. 

The other thing is that autophagy does and deep sleep does, is it helps the brain by correcting the misfolded proteins in defective mitochondria. And what that does is that slows the synaptic damage and increases the neuronal saliva.

I was just literally not clearing the toxins out of my brain, and that was slowing my cognitive stuff, slowing my mood blocking my neurotransmitters and not allowing me to make those connections that make me feel happy and healthy.

Looking for more biohacks on how to improve sleep? Find out how to optimize your lifestyle to achieve better sleep quality.

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Guest Author

This article was contributed by a guest author with expert knowledge in their field.

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