Dr. Greg Wells

Be Better Blog

Be Better Blog

Use Science to Become a Sleep Master

March, 16th 2017

The other day, a friend of mine who used to work crazy hours told me about his desire to become a true Sleep Master. He had at long last accepted the science of sleep, which I talked about a few months ago in this blog. Exhausted all the time, his health and relationships were suffering and he was making a change.

He now knows that sleep reduces the risk factors associated with heart attacks, strokes and cancer, strengthens the immune system, boosts problem-solving and creativity, reduces stress, builds muscle, regulates appetite, and helps us to manage mental and emotional health challenges.

My friend’s understanding of the facts is awesome. And his sleep-wake balance is a lot better. But we then talked about another challenge he faces every night: not getting into bed at the right time to clock 7 to 8 hours of sleep, but falling asleep and staying asleep throughout the night.

Sleeping soundly gets harder as we age. You may have noticed that you take longer to drift off or wake up more frequently than when you were younger. With age comes wisdom: we have learned from our mistakes. But with age also comes disrupted sleep, which is the last thing we need to stay healthy, succeed at work and be the best for our families.

So what can you do? Below are three science-based methods to become a true Sleep Master and improve your performance at work, at home and with your loved ones.

Sleep Master Method 1: Defend Your Last Hour

Set up a routine that starts an hour before bed that allows you to decompress and relax. Many of my clients who have trouble staying asleep are the ones who work or manage the household right up until they collapse into bed. You can avoid this by finding a calming activity you love and doing it before bed.

Ideally, stay away from screens like your TV, computer or smart phone. Melatonin (a hormone that helps regulate sleep) is produced by your pineal gland, which is located deep inside your brain and is very sensitive to light. The brightness of screens stimulates your brain and prevents the pineal gland from releasing the melatonin you need to be drowsy. Read a novel, take a bath, listen to relaxing music. Choose low-stress, non-pulsing light activities. You will enjoy that hour immensely and benefit from a regular daily rhythm.

Sleep Master Method 2: Keep Your Sleep Cave Dark

Staying asleep requires a dark room. Really dark. As in, no hall light outside your door, no light in the ensuite bathroom, and no alarm clock beaming from the table beside you. As indicated above, light in our environment signals the brain to wake up. As the sun rises, our melatonin levels drop and we pop out of sleep.

If your sleep cave is not dark enough, your brain is signalled to wake up. If you get up to use the bathroom in the night, turning on any lights will disrupt your rest. Other small changes in your bedroom can make a big difference: get blackout blinds, switch off lights around you, and cover your alarm clock. If you would like to use a nightlight, find one that emits red light in the night and blue light in the morning. Red light stimulates melatonin production (think sunset) and blue light turns it off and wakes you up (natural daylight contains blue light).

Sleep Master Method 3: Be Cool

In the evening, increased melatonin levels in the body cause the blood vessels in the skin to dilate, releasing body heat into the environment. This cooling promotes drowsiness and helps us fall asleep. Basically, a cool environment tells your brain and body it’s time to knock off. So keep your bedroom cool — at about 19 degrees Celsius or 66 degrees Fahrenheit. Being cool should help you stay asleep during the night.

Embracing the science of sleep is one thing. That’s when you accept that sleep is needed to maintain mental, emotional and physical health. Embracing the science of the sleep environment is another. But with the knowledge of both, you’re well on your way to becoming a Sleep Master and living a high-performance life.

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CBC.ca: What you should know about the drug that cost Usain Bolt an Olympic gold

January, 28th 2017

This article originally appeared at CBC.ca. Click here to access the article.

Jamaican teammate Nesta Carter tested positive for methylhexaneamine

By Wendy-Ann Clarke, CBC Sports Posted: Jan 26, 2017 1:19 PM ET

Jamaican sprinter Nesta Carter tested positive for a banned substance, but Usain Bolt is taking the biggest hit.

News broke Wednesday that the Jamaican 4×100-metre relay team that won gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics is being stripped of its medal after a re-analysis of Carter’s sample turned up the banned stimulant methylhexaneamine.

The failed test by Carter, who ran the opening leg of the relay, spoiled Bolt’s perfect “triple-triple” record — he won gold in each of his three events at three consecutive Olympic Games.

Meanwhile, the ruling by the International Olympic Committee has raised several questions, including: What is methylhexaneamine? How much might Carter’s use of the drug have affected the results of the race? And is there a chance for a successful appeal?

We went to the experts for some answers.

How does methylhexaneamine work?

Blue Jays star Marcus Stroman, former Jay Chris Colabello, boxer Brandon Rios and South African discus thrower Victor Hogan are among the athletes who have been disciplined for methylhexaneamine use in recent years.

According to Dr. Greg Wells, a kinesiology professor at the University of Toronto, the stimulant is similar in composition to drugs like ephedrine which can be found in a number of over-the-counter medications, as well as in athletic supplements that don’t always list every ingredient on their packaging.

The physiological effects of the drug can be compared to those of a non-drowsy cold formula.

“It feels like you have a bit of adrenaline surging through your body,” says Wells. “The effects of that type of stimulant become especially significant in a sport like track and field where hundredths of a second can make a difference.”

While not to be confused with an anabolic steroid, which causes significant structural changes inside the body, Wells says the stimulant can be dangerous, and can put athletes at an advantage because of its ability to:

open airways in the lungs, making it easier to take in oxygen
narrow blood vessels, which increases blood pressure, helping push oxygen to body tissue cause water to be expelled from the body, which can lead to weight loss

Although stimulants like methylhexaneamine can cause an instantaneous boost, Wells says if the drug was in a supplement Carter was using on a regular basis, “he would incur a consistent advantage in training, meaning he could work harder, more often, more easily, which may be a significant benefit.”

Why did it take so long to catch Carter?

Methylhexaneamine was not specifically named on the banned substance list back in 2008, but being caught using it is still considered a doping infraction because the properties are associated with other substances in the stimulant class.

Paul Melia, president and CEO of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, says the creators of designer drugs are always one step ahead of drug detection labs, making the ability to test athletes retroactively very important.

“Designer drugs are created in clandestine labs that have the ability to make changes to the molecular makeup of a drug,” Melia says. “The drug-test laboratories need to know the molecular structure of a banned substance in order to detect it.

“Fortunately, now the IOC is storing samples for up to 10 years, giving we in the lab time to identify these new substances that are coming onto the market. Since 2008, the lab has identified this stimulant, giving us the analytical techniques to detect it.”

Can Carter appeal?

Carter could face a ban of at least two years, which may be a crushing blow to the career of the 31-year-old sprinter.

Melia says that if it can be proven that a drug was deliberately and intentionally used to enhance performance, the sanction can increase to as much as four years. But if Carter can demonstrate that he took the drug unknowingly, his punishment can be argued down to as little as a warning.

As far as Carter’s (and Bolt’s) relay medal goes, Melia says that although Carter will have the opportunity for a hearing to presumably try to reduce his sentencing, it won’t have any impact on the decision to strip the gold from his relay team.

“I think it’s a really powerful deterrent for athletes who might be thinking about using designer drugs that can’t be detected today,” Melia says. “It’s not going to give them much comfort when they hear a story like this that goes right back to 2008.”

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Entrepreneur.com: The Science Behind How Sleep Makes You Smarter

January, 17th 2017

This article originally appeared at this link on Entrepreneur.com.

A good night’s sleep is the foundation of physical health and mental energy.

I’m a science geek. I like to know why a particular approach to life or technique for success works. Otherwise, I tend to glaze over when faced with another “X Ways to Achieve Y Results” article. In the absence of research or evidence, I’m less likely to pay attention and less motivated to make a change in my life.

Maybe that’s just me. But I’ll assume you’re also a “but how do we know that really matters?” person and lay it out for you — on the subject of sleep.

Sleep is free, available to all, beyond good for us and largely ignored as the foundation of physical health and mental energy. It’s the first thing that gets cut when life is busy and the last thing we add back in when a chunk of time comes our way. But if we were smart, it would be our main priority, and the rest of our lives would be built around it.

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Entrepreneur.com: Are You Single-Tasking Yet?

October, 31st 2016

This article originally appeared at this link on Entrepreneur.com.

You sure should be. Focusing on one, important item at a time will make you more competent and productive.

What are you doing while you read this? Are you dipping into your email while texting, reading tweets and partly listening at a meeting? Do you have your mobile phone, a desk phone, a tablet and a laptop all on the go at once?

Probably. We all tend to do it, some more often than others. After all, multitasking is the sign of a highly effective and efficient mind — right?


It’s time for a reminder about the power of singletasking.

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Rio 2016: The Science of Michael Phelps

August, 10th 2016

This information first appeared in my book Superbodies: Peak Performance Secrets from the World’s Best Athletes.

Michael Phelps is obviously an incredible athlete, but the adaptations of his body may be even more amazing than his performance. His arm span is 2.03 metres wide, longer than average, giving him a greater distance per stroke. This means he has to take fewer strokes than his competitors, which increases his efficiency and saves energy during races. Height and arm length (unlike waist size) are characteristics that are largely determined by genes, but Michael’s commitment to training has had a powerful long-term effect on his body that is not genetic. Most swimmers at the international level will have a lung capacity that can be as much as two times the amount of a normal person’s lungs. No one has published lung-testing data from Michael Phelps yet, but I’d be willing to bet that his lung capacity is beyond limits even for swimmers. So is Michael a product of genetic talent or consistent training over an extended period of time?

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Rio 2016: The Science of Usain Bolt's Speed - Part 2

August, 10th 2016

This information first appeared in my book Superbodies: Peak Performance Secrets from the World’s Best Athletes.

Here is part 2 of my post on the Science of Usain Bolt!

With the Olympics in Rio underway I thought it would be cool to explore some of the physiology of the most legendary athletes. Usain Bolt certainly fits into this category. He’s aiming for 3 gold medals in 3 consecutive Olympics. Now, while you might normally think that his performance is powered by his muscles (and it is), there is one deeper level of physiology we can explore that will help you to appreciate how incredible his performances are. Let’s take a look at the what happens to the nervous system during the 100 m dash.

Let’s look at Usain Bolt’s world record 9.58-second 100-metre dash. Exploring “the start” is fascinating when we consider the lighting storm of electrical activity involved. There are  two critical stages of the run itself: the acceleration phase and the speed maintenance phase and that is what we will be exploring in this post.

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Rio 2016: The Science of Usain Bolt's Speed - Part 1

August, 8th 2016

This information first appeared in my book Superbodies: Peak Performance Secrets from the World’s Best Athletes.

With the Olympics in Rio underway I thought it would be cool to explore some of the physiology of the most legendary athletes. Usain Bolt certainly fits into this category. He’s aiming for 3 gold medals in 3 consecutive Olympics. Now, while you might normally think that his performance is powered by his muscles (and it is), there is one deeper level of physiology we can explore that will help you to appreciate how incredible his performances are. Let’s take a look at the what happens to the nervous system during the 100 m dash.

Let’s look at Usain Bolt’s world record 9.58-second 100-metre dash. Exploring “the start” is fascinating when we consider the lighting storm of electrical activity involved. There are three steps to the start: the “On Your Mark,” “Get Set” and “Go” steps. Let’s take a look at each of these steps.

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Toronto Star: Ice swimmers defy death for the thrill

August, 3rd 2016

Read article at Toronto Star.com

Ryan Stramrood’s “ice mile’” in sub-zero water off Antarctica set the standard for ice swimming.

As he swam against the current in Antarctica’s Southern Ocean among leopard seals and icebergs, Ryan Stramrood’s body went numb.

He looked down, pulling his arms one stroke at a time through the -1 C water, and he thought about how clear the ocean was that day.

“You don’t want to see very far down. It can be quite eerie,” he said.

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Redbull.com: The Learning Curve Episode 3

July, 25th 2016

On this week’s episode of The Learning Curve, we find Drew Bezanson putting in time at the Joyride 150 bike park warehouse, near Toronto, in Canada. With the mercy of a foam pit, Drew hucks his way to perfection as he prepares for competitive action.

Using the foam pit is key because of how fast I have to learn this stuff. If I was going to do it the old-fashioned way, on a regular jump, we probably wouldn’t be filming right now!

Drew Bezanson

The Learning Curve 3


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RedBull.com: The Learning Curve Episode 1

July, 13th 2016

Check out a new web series I’m helping with called The Learning Curve.

In episode one of The Learning Curve, we catch up with Drew Bezanson a few months after his release of Uncontainable.

Still riding the high from the success of the film and his own sense of accomplishment, Drew begins looking towards the next challenge – slopestyle mountain biking – and coming to terms with the uphill battle he’ll face if he wants to shred slopestyle with the best of them.

Here’s Episode 1 “Watch Drew Bezanson’s journey to Joyride begin”.


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Latest fundraising efforts for our research @SickKids

June, 29th 2016

Memorial hockey tournament raises $30,000 for Toronto SickKids in honour of 11-year-old Alex Shapiro, ‘the fighting eagle’.

The Fighting Eagle Memorial hockey tournament raised an estimated $30,000 for The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) over the June 25 and 26 weekend.

Since its inception three years ago, the organizing committee estimates the event has raised $100,000 for SickKids Foundation. The two-day tournament, which brings together players of all skill levels, is held in memory of Alex Shapiro, a son, brother, friend, and loyal teammate of the Toronto Eagle’s Hockey Association. His love of hockey persevered even after he was diagnosed with Undifferentiated Sarcoma, a rare form of childhood cancer, in the summer of 2012.

As a member of the Toronto Eagles’ Minor Peewee AA team, Alex caught the attention of The Sports Network (TSN) when he was supposed to get chemotherapy, but instead, when there wasn’t a hospital bed available, he went home, grabbed his hockey gear and joined his teammates on the ice to score the first goal of the year. It was on that day that he earned the nicknamed ‘The Fighting Eagle’ (watch the clip here: www.bit.ly/1IoP7L9).

Alex continued to play hockey throughout his treatments any chance he could. In April 2013, his cancer returned and he passed away just two weeks after he played his last hockey game at the age of 11.

Established not only to remember and honour Alex and his love of hockey, friendship and competition, the Fighting Eagle Memorial Tournament also raise funds to support research by Dr. Greg Wells, an Associate Scientist in the Physiology & Experimental Medicine at SickKids. Wells is currently focusing on the benefits of physical activity for cancer patients during and following cancer treatments.

Funds raised will help Wells hire and train researchers and other professionals, cover research operating costs, such as MRI time, exercise testing, and to purchase new research equipment.

To find out more about the tournament and how you can donate, visit www.fightingeagletournament.wordpress.com.

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Entrepreneur.com: The Power of 1 Percent Better

June, 24th 2016

This article originally appeared at this link on Entrepreneur.com.

One of the best approaches I have seen for achieving a dream is to focus on being 1 percent better.

I work with a lot of incredible athletes, but it isn’t always talent that drives achievement. What sets the best performing athletes apart is their dedication to training at a consistently high level. And among that group, there is a factor that sets even the elite athletes apart: lifestyle.


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Entrepreneur.com: The 3-Step Process for Countering Negativity

June, 8th 2016

This article originally appeared at this link on Entrepreneur.com.

Running your own business has its fair share of nerve-wracking moments. Some people feel the most anxious and uncertain before they take the entrepreneurial plunge. Do I have a chance of succeeding?

Others come across bumps in the road well after the business is established. Perhaps the market is changing or a fierce competitor arrives on the scene.

It is natural to feel worried or nervous at different times in the life of your business. But it’s another thing to make important decisions from a position of anxiety. The problem with negative emotions is that they’re so powerful, they can dominate our thinking and actions.


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Entrepreneur.com: 6 Happiness Tips to Boost Your Health and Performance

April, 14th 2016

This article originally appeared at this link on Entrepreneur.com.

As an entrepreneur you probably know that constant, high stress levels undermine your performance. When highly stressed, you don’t sleep as well, your concentration suffers, your patience bucket shrinks to the size of a teacup, and your ability to generate strategies and solutions plummets.

So one way to become a better business owner, leader and visionary is to be happier. Why? Because happiness has been shown to lower stress, increase well-being and boost daily energy. No surprise, perhaps, that feeling good creates a better work performance.


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Entrepreneur.com: 6 Ways to Curb Jet Lag and Travel Fatigue

January, 14th 2016

This article originally appeared at this link on Entrepreneur.com.

As an entrepreneur, you likely travel a lot, and you already know that jet lag (which science geeks call “flight dysrhythmia”) can cause all kinds of unpleasant symptoms: insomnia, loss of appetite, depressed mood, upset stomach, fatigue and mental fuzziness, to name a few.

And the farther you travel, the worse your jet lag will likely be. Why? Because crossing time zones throws your internal rhythms out of sync with your external environment. It’s like your body stays back in New York as you head off to your first meeting in London!


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Toronto Star: Cross-country running on uneven ground

November, 23rd 2015

What happens to girls and women when their feet touch grass?

That’s the question increasingly being asked in cross country running circles where old biases about what female athletes are capable of persist.

On the track and on the road, male and female athletes run the same distances, whether it’s the 100-metre sprint or the 42.2-km marathon. When they step on the softer, undulating ground of a cross-country course, that equality vanishes.


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#Chimborazo2015 Expedition Post 10: Gill’s Blog - Summit night and the birth of Las Chicas

October, 22nd 2015

Around the Chimborazo Lodge, Sara and I became known as Las Chicas – The Girls. The only ones who made it. Apparently, when our guide Paül radioed the other teams to tell them we made it to the summit, the response was just laughter. The other guides, the other climbers, the kitchen boys – everyone thought it was the most incredible thing, the dark horses, a total long shot. We surprised the hell out of everyone else staying and working at the climbing lodge. In fact, the only two people not surprised by it were the two of us. There was never any talk of turning around, not making it, being too tired, too thirsty, too cold. Every break was a pep talk, and while we moved, the only direction you looked was up. It took us between 8-9 h to climb ~1.5 km vertical from 4800 m to 6300 m and not a single minute was easy (or even moderate). My heart beat 108, 042 times to get us up and down that mountain and averaged 140 bpm for 14 h. I burned over 4000 calories, which somehow outweighs all of the chocolate I ate to fuel myself (like that ever entered into my decision making…).

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#Chimborazo2015 Expedition Post 11: Sara’s Blog - SUMMIT!!!

October, 22nd 2015

In my last post, I discussed how we had acclimatized well and how we were as prepared as we could be for climbing Chimborazo. If only I could warn my past self for what was to come. To say that reaching the summit of Chimborazo was hard is a gross understatement. Despite our weeklong acclimatization and training, we were extremely unprepared for the difficulty of this expedition. I swam competitively for 14 years, during which time I trained 8 times per week and completed numerous intense training camps, and nothing can even come close to how hard that mountain climb was.

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#Chimborazo2015 Expedition Post 8: Sara’s Blog - The Calm Before the Storm

October, 22nd 2015

Today we had a much-needed day of rest before we start our final ascent tomorrow. Gill, Greg and I performed another submaximal exercise test on ourselves to assess our readiness for the climb. As mentioned before, the submaximal test is designed to estimate maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max) based on the amount of oxygen breathed in, carbon dioxide expired, and ventilation. More importantly, we can use this test at different levels of altitude. The idea is that even though the test is identical during each performance, you are working closer to your maximum capacity the higher you are. We performed the test at sea level, when we arrived in Quito (2700m), and our first night arriving at camp (4000m). We wanted to do another test when we reached the summit at 6300m, but we realized this wasn’t going to be as feasible as we hoped. Apparently finding a place to perform a step test on top of a glacier after climbing for 10 hours isn’t ideal. Such is field testing. So we made the decision to do another test at 4000m before the climb to see how our bodies have adapted over the past week. We will perform an additional test after our final ascent, and then again when we’re back at sea level.

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#Chimborazo2015 Expedition Post 9: Gill’s Blog - What’s wrong with my blood?

October, 22nd 2015

So I’ve finally stopped being sick and am feeling, dare I say, something that resembles acclimatized. Living at 4000 m and making daily trips to >5000 m is starting to feel manageable, if not normal. I’ve noticed that when we’re climbing uphill, if I focus on my climbing rhythm, despite the incessant pounding in my chest and heavy breathing, I am finding a steady state that is bordering on enjoyable (or in my aside to Greg “some sick part of me is actually enjoying the climbs”).

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