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Chris Winter

Expert Answers: Sleep Specialist W. Christopher Winter, MD

In this new franchise, we’re asking trusted experts all our wellness and finance questions and sharing our top takeaways. Next up: W. Christopher Winter, MD, a sleep specialist based in Charlottesville, Virginia.

First Things First: Meet Chris

Dr. Winter is a sleep specialist and neurologist. He is the author of The Rested Child and The Sleep Solution, and he has worked with various professional sports organizations to help athletes optimize their sleep. He is also the host of a podcast, Sleep Unplugged with Dr. Chris Winter.

The Top Takeaways

What does wellness look like to you? 

My definition of health would be controlling all the variables in your life that you have control over: when you go to bed and when you wake up, [exercising] regularly and in the right ways, putting good, nutritious foods in your body in the right amounts [and at] the right times, and paying attention to your psyche.

I think that if you’re doing those four things properly and diligently without going so far as to really stress about them, that middle point, I think, is perfect health—where you’ve controlled it, but you’re not scared of it. 

What’s your advice for a pre-bed routine?

An hour before bed, move around your living space and start turning off lights. If you can get it down to one light, that would be great, [and] preferably a dimmer light. [It’s also] a good time to walk over to the thermostat and drop the temperature down a little bit. 

I think it’s important to have clothes that you actually change into at night. And ideally it’s different from the clothes you’d wear during the day.

[Also, take a] bath or shower about an hour before you go to bed. Right before, I think it’s nice to have a cup of tea, like chamomile tea or something that’s got a great smell to it. It kind of triggers your brain into thinking, ‘this is the ritual we do before we go to bed.’ 

I like reading in bed, not necessarily television in bed. If you’re somebody who likes to pray or meditate, that’s a great time to do it. [You can also put a] little lavender pillow spray on your pillow. I think that trying to create that routine that starts about an hour before you go to bed is a really positive thing.

What should you avoid before bedtime?

I think alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, and probably exercise.

Is there a cutoff time for exercise before bed?

I don’t think there’s anything better than AM exercise. It sets our circadian rhythm and provides an anchor for it. So I think that exercise in the morning can really set the tone for good energy during the day, but also better sleep at night.

Can you change your natural chronotype? In other words, can night owls become morning people? 

I don’t think it’s possible to change the chronotype, but I think that you can change your response to time. Meaning that [if] I’m a natural night owl, if I am disciplined and every morning get up at five o’clock and go run for 30 minutes, eventually I will find that all of a sudden at 4:55, I start to spontaneously wake up and start to feel a little sleepier in the evening earlier than I would ordinarily. Now, as soon as I stop working out at five o’clock and start to sleep in a little bit, those natural tendencies [will] start to come back. 

What does financial self-care mean to you? 

When I was younger, I did my own taxes. I thought it was always interesting to learn. But I felt like at some point they could do it better. I really liked unloading that responsibility onto somebody who was going to do a much better job with it.

What’s been your best personal finance decision?

I think everybody should choose a hotel brand [and] an airline and really try to make them primary. So I went with Marriott. And when you really are focused about that—you only stay there and accumulate those points—it’s amazing how it, number one, starts to add up very quickly, and number two, it facilitates travel.

Speaking of travel, what’s your number one tip for fighting jet lag?

There are some great online tools and references that you can use. One of them is a free thing called Jet Lag Rooster. So depending on where you are, what your schedule is, and when you’re traveling, it’ll spit out a plan for you to implement prior to leaving, once you get to your destination, and then even coming back. It can really make a big difference in terms of giving people a sense of when [they] should be exercising, eating, going to bed, waking up, [and] seeking light leading up to the trip.

What’s been your best wellness-related investment?

I’ve got a device that sits on my bed that cools my bed. I’ve had a few of them—I had a ChiliPad at one time, [and] now I have a Dock Pro. I’m somebody who does sleep a lot better in a cooler environment. And I find it to be wildly helpful in terms of my sleep. So, from a sleep perspective, that would probably be the investment I’m happiest with.

In terms of exercise and fitness, it might be a pull-up bar. After I see a patient, if I take some recycling out of the house or go water some plants, I can just go and do 10 pull-ups. One day I tried to do 15 pull-ups between every patient I saw. And one day I tried to do 500 pull-ups in 24 hours. I feel like pull-ups are kind of like swimming in that the one action seems to work a lot of things. Plus I feel better being able to do a pull-up or two versus struggling to do that.