I Can't Sleep Cause I'm Stressed and I'm Stressed Cause I Can't Sleep… How to Break the Cycle with Nick Elvery

Episode #16
January 2, 2019

Who doesn’t have a problem with stress and sleep? All of us, at some point in our life, have been stressed or have a problem sleeping and that is why today’s episode is critical to our journey to a healthier and more agile life. Jon talks with Nick Elvery, a peak performance coach and a sought-after speaker, to discuss stress and sleep. Together Nick and Jon discuss the source of our stress and how we can cope with it. One big factor for us to become resilient to stress is to have good quality sleep and Nick shares, among other things, some tips on how we can achieve a deep and good night sleep. You don't want to miss this one! 


“We live in probably the most stressful time ever designed.”

-Nick Elvery


01:05 - Nick's background and why he became a peak performance coach

03:38 - Why we are almost always stressed

07:13 - The biggest problem that we're facing in today's modern world of technology and how to address it

12:53 - How technology has become addictive in many people's lives

14:48 - Having good quality sleep to cope with stress and the importance of balancing life activities so you can have that good night sleep

21:40 - Are devices or applications that helps tracks our activity and/or our sleep valuable or harmful to us

25:02 - What we can do to mitigate the problem of device radiation while we're sleeping plus tips to have good quality sleep

31:53 - Doing meditation to fight stress and a great meditation app to use


Connect with Nick:


Intro: Welcome to Agile Living, The Entrepreneur's Journey. A show dedicated to discovering how entrepreneurs and digital leaders are doing more with less. I'm Jon Voigt, your host and CEO of Agility. And we're on a journey across the country to learn from top digital entrepreneurs on how to live a more agile, adaptable, and fulfilling life. Thank you for joining me today. And let's dive in.


Jon Voigt: Hello everyone. I'm leaning back into the health side of being more agile. As I mentioned in previous episodes, you can't be ready for change and adapt if you're fighting yourself. Two of the biggest ways to do this is have an abnormal amount of stress and not get enough sleep. Because it's so critical, I brought Nick Elvery on the show. Nick is a peak performance coach and speaker based just outside of London. Nick, it's great to have you on the show.


Nick Elvery: Thanks ever so much for having me on Jon. I'm really looking forward to this.


Jon Voigt: Perhaps you can give the audience a little bit of background about yourself and then we can kind of dive into this topic that I know you're such an expert on.


Nick Elvery: Yeah. Cool. So, let's give it a little bit of background, sort of in a nutshell. It's a combination of things that happen in my life that really brought me to the modern version of myself, if you like. And one of those, was watching my father, actually, his health deteriorates quite dramatically over my entire lifetime. He actually had MS (multiple sclerosis) and watching his health deteriorate going from someone who's a very capable man and in good health and very successful in business and everything that he did to not being able to fend for himself. And then eventually actually passing away five years ago now, gave me a very different perspective on the importance of health. And alongside that the mechanism I used to escape from the pain of what was going on with my father was to use drugs and alcohol and eventually that became a full-blown addiction for you know just over a decade. And the combination of those two events really shaped who I became and interestingly running in parallel to this experience for whatever reason since I was about 15 or 16, I've always been fascinated with the human experience and understanding what makes people tick. And you know why do some people go out and live an amazing life and create what they want and then other people struggle and go through addictions or you know whatever it is for them and there's this underlying sort of passion that I've had since I was a little boy. And you know it's interesting to see turning to be a peak performing person and doing drugs obviously doesn't really go hand in hand as you can probably appreciate. So, it's that that's the sort of really quick sort of nutshell version of my past and sort of why I do what I do now and you know for me it's really about helping people live optimally and it's oftentimes it's just a case of changing and adapting and upgrading lifestyle.


Nick Elvery: Yeah. Parts of our lifestyle that actually makes a profound difference to our energy, our health, our happiness, and our productivity. You know I want to help as many people as possible to deliver the most optimum performance so they don't have to go through what I went through. And you know maybe they don't have to go through the path of to hide from that pain via using drugs and alcohol and all the things that come with it.


Jon Voigt: Right. Well we all know we're not getting enough sleep and we all know we're living a stressful life. You know so many people are like there's nothing you can do about it, right? There is just the way the world is. But you know maybe you can dive into your thoughts on that and how you'd be able to improve those and help others improve those.


Nick Elvery: Of course, absolutely. Yes, stress and sleep are two of my favorite topics. We live in probably the most stressful time ever designed. And you know the modern man and the modern women are living in a world where we're constantly attached to these devices, these mobile phones that are causing us a huge amount of stress and we don't really realize that social media being one of those the big ones. And we actually, instead of being in a relaxed state, the majority of the time we have this sort of underlying stress, that sort of permeates us throughout our life and permeates every sort of facet of our life if you like. And we're very unaware of the impact of that these days.


Jon Voigt: Right.


Nick Elvery: And to the point where the problem we're finding is actually that a lot of people, we have two nervous systems in effect which is the parasympathetic and sympathetic. So, the parasympathetic is very calm and chilled and relaxed and then the sympathetic is the fight or flight response. And what we've actually started to see is that people are staying in that sympathetic or fight or flight response way more throughout the day than we should be.


Jon Voigt: And it's meant to be in that mode where it's supposed to be like a temporary thing, with a saber tooth tiger is coming around the corner or something.


Nick Elvery: Exactly. Exactly.


Jon Voigt: Yeah.


Nick Elvery: So, what we're finding is actually the modern world because of EMFs (electromagnetic field) and because of poor sleep and because of society's challenges and demands and the nutritional, you know the nutritional aspect to it and our exercise and all of these things that make up the modern world are putting a huge amount of pressure and stress on us. And we are unable to perform at our highest level. And the story you know that I like to all this sort of that I like to use in this respect is the, who wants to be a millionaire.


Nick Elvery: Most people have seen a version of that program and you know we we've all seen or most of us are seen someone sitting in the stage in the studio getting sort of question 2 or 3 you know a fairly straightforward question out of the grand scheme of things and everyone in the audience knowing the answer and everyone at home knowing the answer and for whatever reason they get it wrong.


Jon Voigt: Right.


Nick Elvery: Question two or question three and one of the easiest answers are questions of the lot. And the reason they get it wrong is because they're in this fight or flight state. They're in the studio, their heart beat, music and they've got millions of people watching around the world and you know there's this incredibly stressful environment. And it's a good sort of example to use because it has a lot of parallels to how we live in the modern world. Right. Because when you're in that fight or flight state, as you as you rightly pointed out you know just a minute ago, when we're trying to run away from that saber tooth tiger, our brain goes right what resources do we need to use to help us run away. Well let's put more blood into our muscles for our legs as an example.


Jon Voigt: Right.


Nick Elvery: So, we can run away and it takes away the functions of being able to perform you know the sort of the reasoning and the logic and the parts of the brain that we need to perform at a high-level form you know reasoning and logical perspective. So, it just puts us in such, it puts us on our back for you know it puts us at such a subpar optimal level when it comes to the cognitive side of things. That it's you know it's amazing that we actually get anything done at all today.


Jon Voigt: Right. Interesting. So, we're constantly firing that off pretty much because there's things left right and center, just come at us all the time.


Nick Elvery: Mm hmm. Yeah. And that's the problem. You know I gave a talk yesterday morning to a group of CEOs and Data Directors in London and you know one of the things we're talking about was the difficulty with switching off these days. You know one of the CEOs was saying that the hardest thing he found was actually getting rid of his mobile phone and switching off and actually having time for himself. You just think how much damage that's doing to us as human beings. Right? You know this inability to be present. And all people bounce the idea around of being present and being focused on all this stuff. And yes, there's great benefit from that. But the majority of people don't even know what that is in the modern world.


Jon Voigt: Right. So, what is the answer? You know, I don't think the easy answer is to abandon technology. I don't think we can get rid of all of stress. But you know how do you help people overcome this. Is it just you know habits that are daily habits? Is it you know a cheap way is to slowly do it all cold turkey? Like what is your kind of recommendation?


Nick Elvery: Yeah. So, it's a good question actually. So, we're never going to be able to get rid of all of these things. Right. So, sort of saying let's throw the mobile phone in the river and go and live in a tent in the middle of nowhere. It's you know, it's not realistic for most people. Okay. So, it's about how can we work synergistically with the technology and utilize the power of it but minimize the issues that is causing us the harm that's causing us. So, to answer your question whether you go cold turkey or you go step by step, my precious is always step by step. It's about having a look at the big picture. What you want to achieve and then habits are best built you know bit by bit over time. Right? So, I think the key thing to get started is to think about the day you wake up at a morning time is a really good time to say right, I'm not sure gonna have my mobile phone on until a certain time. Right?


Jon Voigt: Right.


Nick Elvery: So, we can actually start putting boundaries in place to say, Okay I don't need to wake up and the first thing I do is look at my Facebook feed. Right? I don't need to check my emails at 6:00 in the morning. I don't need to, you know jump on Instagram and you know record a story or a you know put a post up at six o'clock in the morning. So why can't I, you know why don't I put a boundary in place that says, okay look I'm actually gonna have my mobile phone off and in a drawer downstairs, which is what I do. And I'll use something else as my alarm to wake me up.


Jon Voigt: Yeah.


Nick Elvery: Right? There's a whole range of other options to use as alarms rather than our mobile phone. So that could be a good start. It can be, you know let's set some boundaries up and put in place that we're actually going to say right, I'm not going to touch my mobile phone until 8:00. And that's instantly, you've stepped away from technology and the negative aspect of it for a period time.


Nick Elvery: So, I would start there and then I would probably put things in place. A really great thing to do actually is to install apps. I know the iPhones have now got in settings, they've got screen time which gives you a real time data of how many times you've picked up the phone, how many hours you've used certain apps and all of that stuff. So, it can raise your awareness for your actual current habits around your phone and it's staggering. I know that some people bounce around this statistic. You know, you pick a phone up 150 times a day, it wouldn't surprise me if it's double that for some people if not more. You know and I you know we can all fall prey to this. I know when I used to use it a lot, you know a while back, I could easily put two, three sometimes four hours on the clock, for instance and you know and then only be pick it up and have a quick look here, there, and everywhere. But actually, if that got combined, compounded amount of time spent on these things is it can be hours. And you know speaking to this group yesterday, we talked about focus, which is something that seems to be a modern challenge for all of us. Me included. And one of the things that we train ourselves to do and one of the reasons that we don't focus so well is because you look at an Instagram feed, you flip and look at a post full of half a second sometimes and then look at the next one the next one then the next one.


Jon Voigt: Yeah. You know, just think of it.


Nick Elvery: Yeah. And all you're doing is you're training your brain to get very good at focusing on something for half a second. Right? To when it comes to actually putting down, land down a half an hour or an hour task of deep work and getting into a flow state, well you know, it becomes very difficult. So, to answer your question, yes, I think step by step we build boundaries and put them in place and you know it depends on your situation if you've got family and kids. When you get home why not have a rule to say, ok cool well we're going to spend family time now for the next two hours before the kids go to bed or whatever and let's put our phones in a box or in a drawer. Turn them off for two hours you know and start building those boundaries back in. And I promise you, I mean if you put these boundaries in place and maybe have a day here and there where you actually spend time with the family and you have mobile phones away completely, you'll start to see a very different way of living life and it's interesting because I noticed that when I'm you know, when I'm, if I let myself get in sort of in enthralled and into the grips of technology, when I put it down and put it away it's like, oh what do I do now. Right?


Jon Voigt: Right.


Nick Elvery: It's a real demonstration of how sort of fused that is into our lives and these applications have been designed to be addictive. There's no doubt about it. So much information on that now and so many people coming out, who used to work for these or I mean these organizations and stories of some of the founding people of these you know creating these things and I think the most interesting one is when Steve Jobs spent 90 minutes explaining the wonders of the new iPad when it first came out. And you talked about all these wonderful features and how it was going to help the world and all these things but he refused to let his kids use them.


Jon Voigt: Right.


Nick Elvery: You know it just it just that sort of that. And it really sums up how dangerous that can be.


Jon Voigt: Right. Yeah, it's interesting. I've had lots of different people on the show and they talk about different topics, but it often comes back to our devices and how we're just being, some and all the time by people and technology and just like these, you know you're drawn into these things you know they're built to keep you occupied and involved. So, either whether it's marketing or whether it's you know, if you're obviously using some app that company is making money from it somehow you know so. So, it's like that engines that are more addictive they can make it the better it is. But I've seen all these different problems keep looping around back to that to the phone or you know technology in general just trying to you know pop up messages and constantly barraged us with things.


Nick Elvery: Yeah. I actually don't have Instagram or Facebook on my phone anymore. I completely removed them and I feel a lot better for it for sure.


Jon Voigt: Yeah. It's a good idea actually. I haven't gone that far, but you know what, I think that's a great idea because I rarely am on those things deeply on my phone. But every once in a while, I get sucked in and there's no reason why I can't wait till I sit down on a laptop or something when I'm actually focusing on work. So.


Nick Elvery: Yeah absolutely.


Jon Voigt: Are there other things in this, you know that are really contributing to our stress. I guess you know the second part of the topic is kind of around sleep. I'm almost thinking the lack of sleep is actually one of another funnels of stress in our body. Not being recharged and reset properly can obviously a lot of stress.


Nick Elvery: Yeah. And for me it's the, and this is actually the conversation I had, the talk I gave yesterday to the CEO is was you know how to be more productive. And the first thing I said is you need to just you need to master your sleep. Because it's the foundation you know, we sleep for a reason. If it wasn't important, we probably wouldn't do it as a species or we wouldn't need a 7 to 8 hours or whatever is required for you personally. And it's such a crucial crucial aspect there. There are two books to read on sleep. One of them is called Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson, who's actually coming on my show fairly soon and we've got another one called Why We sleep by Mr. Walker. I forget his first name. Both of those books are phenomenal. If you want to learn, though the Why We Sleep is much more of a geeky sort, so if you are like me who wants to have a little science stuff. And then the Sleep Smarter is much more of a practical guide. Those two books really really do make a profound difference. One of those two books I really recommend blanket sort of advice to everyone. But steepest is fundamental for so many things in our life. You know, if we wake up exhausted like most people do most of the time in the modern world, it's like having a battery full of energy. You ideally want to wake up with 100 percent energy so you can go and do what you need to do in the modern world. Right? And when we're waking up exhausted, like a lot of people do, then you imagine waking up with your battery only full with 20 percent of energy as an example. Right?


Nick Elvery: And you're then going out into this world which we've already acknowledged is way more stressful than it needs to be. And way more stressful than it ever has been. So, you're being bombarded by all the stress. You're waking up with this low level of energy which reduces your level of resilience to everything that happens in your life right. Your mood is lower. They have actually discovered that even just having a few nights of deprived sleep and what I mean by that is an hour or two of less sleep of what your body actually requires, has they've actually shown that the blood glucose levels have changed from non-diabetic to pre-diabetic, just by having a lack of sleep. Right? I mean that one fact alone just demonstrates how important it is. So, it has such a knock-on effect and you know things like carb cravings. If you're waking up exhausted your body craves more glucose, carbs, and sugar and obviously where'd you get that sort of stuff from normally, in the modern world, from crap quality fruit that's you know full of all sorts of rubbish.


Jon Voigt: Yeah.


Nick Elvery: So, you're just, you're off on a losing, you know a losing star when you wake up exhausted. And there's obviously huge health implications from sleep and now they've shown that nightshift workers as an example, is one of the deadliest jobs to have. Because it upsets your sleep rhythm and there's sleep deprivation and all the things that come with that. So, it's just such a critical thing and unfortunately in the modern world, like humans where we're very resilient to most things, you know you don't just have one bad night's sleep and then die right.


Jon Voigt: Yeah.


Nick Elvery: Yeah, we can spend decades.


Jon Voigt: That's good though or we would have been gone a long time ago.


Nick Elvery: Absolutely. Most of us would wouldn't know, but it's, my point is this, it's like we can eat crap diet. We can have poor sleep. We can you know not exercise. We can have poor relationships. Do a job we hate, not be in financial or have financial stress as well but still live 80 years of our life, right? And that's the problem, is we become used to it, become conditioned to it, becomes the norm, it becomes the default and then we just accept it.


Jon Voigt: Plus, the fear of missing out to you know. If I go to sleep an hour earlier, I'm going to miss this event or I'm not going to finish up some emails I wanted to do or whatever that may be. We always want to get sucked into it and the other side of it is, I know for myself when I'm having really stressful times for whatever reason, that affects my sleep. I don't sleep as well. And then when I don't sleep as well, I'm more stressed out.


Jon Voigt: Yeah.


Nick Elvery: So, these things have become a cycle. At times we just feed off each other.


Nick Elvery: Absolutely and then you know we put on top of that sort of five, six, seven, sometimes as one of the gentlemen at the meeting yesterday said you know, seven cups of coffee a day. Right. And I said to them, look if you're drinking any more than three or four, there's no point in your life when you're not caffeinated.


Jon Voigt: Yeah.


Nick Elvery: You know caffeine has a half-life of six to eight hours depending on your, you know on your metabolism and you think about that. That has a huge, has a profound effect on your deep sleep. And people say, well I can I can still drift off to sleep fine. Yeah you probably get to sleep fine, but that's not the point. It's the actual quality of sleep when you're sleeping. People often ask the question of how much sleep do I need? Such an individual question is impossible to answer. But what I do know is, is the quality of sleep that you require. That really is the key thing and the question I always ask them is, you know ask people is, when was the last time you woke up and you stretched your arms and you felt really refreshed and what other way can and ready to tackle that day.


Jon Voigt: Is that possible?


Nick Elvery: Exactly. If you can't answer that, right? Just like most people can't. Then that's your body telling you something. There's a sign there saying that you're not living up to your optimal. And you could go back to your point about missing out everything in life is a balance. There's always gonna be a sacrifice one way or the other and I'm not suggesting that everyone is be tucked up in bed by 9 o'clock every night. Right. You know there are going to be nights when you want to go out to a concert or you want to go out for some drinks with some friends or whatever. Right. Yeah but you just got to understand that there is a consequence to that and there is, there is. You know you're going to have to put strategy if performing at a high level is important to you in maintaining health and having the energy to do things and having that resilience to stress and all the things that I believe are important. Then you're going to have to think about life and have a strategy for life a little bit more than most people do.


Jon Voigt: Right. So, what's your take on all these new devices whether it's, you know it's not that new anymore, but you know there's a lot of other devices coming out that are very focused on sleep, a lot more analysis of your stages and you know comparing your hours of sleep. Obviously, this is a tool. Do you think this is you know maybe the first step for a lot of people because if you can't really track what you're doing and what you're not doing how do you kind of improve it?


Nick Elvery: Yeah, it's a good question. So, from a device standpoint, the only one and I haven't used it yet and I'll talk on why about that shortly. But it's the Oura ring, it's becoming fairly popular these days. I don't know if you have one yourself?


Jon Voigt: I actually was just talking to a friend who has one a week ago and I just put it on my Christmas list for it. So, fingers crossed I'll let you know in in a month or so.


Nick Elvery: Perfect. Yeah, I know the guys from Oura ring quite well. I like that product. I haven't used it yet because I'm actually a believer a lot of technology can actually get in the way of actually being intuitive and listening to our body. That said, if I was going into and I will be at some point, because this and testing, I want to do around a certain supplementation and a certain exercise and all sorts of things that I like to test and I want to use a device that I think is effective for that, then it would be the Oura ring. There's a number of reasons. I believe the quality of data for the Oura ring is way better than the Fitbit and the other devices. But also, the Oura ring doesn't admit EMF. it doesn't admit Bluetooth consistent constantly and other frequencies. I think it's mostly Bluetooth for these types of devices. So, think about it.


Jon Voigt: You can turn it on and off while it's on you. It records everything and then you can connect it and download everything.


Nick Elvery: That's right. Exactly and I think the version 2 of the ring has like a week-long backup or something along those lines. Whereas, I believe all the Fitbits and those modern sort of other versions of those sorts of things, emit Bluetooth radiation the whole time at least if not other frequencies. I'm not hundred percent sure. But I don't want to be sleeping with something that's emitting radiation next, you know on my hand and next to my body all night.


Jon Voigt: Which is often by your face

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