A few years ago GQ magazine asked fitness expert Jim White a question: If a client came to you and said they have 30 extra minutes per day to spend on either exercise or sleep, which would you recommend they spend it on? Jim’s answer? “Well, I’m a fitness guy, so you’d think I’d say fitness. But I always take sleep first.”
It would be in Jim’s best interests to advocate the opposite. As the national spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics and in his role as an advisor for Men’s Fitness magazine, he reinforces the value of eating well and exercising every day. But here’s the thing: Jim White is a very nice guy. I don’t mean that in the way that a slick, talkative, used car salesman is a “nice guy.” Jim is a decent person – a straight shooter with a sterling reputation. He comes across as forthright and sincere. When I spoke to him last week, he enthusiastically answered all my questions with patience and precision, even though he’d just returned from an exhausting jaunt to Peru. That same affirmative spirit has helped him successfully run three different locations of his own Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios in Virginia Beach, VA (yup, also home to Leesa). In order to get thousands of loyal customers to return week after week and faithfully follow your instructions on physical training – especially when you’re probably causing them pain – you’ve got to know how to get results, yes, but you’ve also got to be good at delivering encouragement.
At Leesa, we agree with Jim on the importance of sleep. But we also wanted to know the story behind why a businessman (and a business, man) would reach so far beyond his own interests to give such an honest answer in the international press. Obligingly, Jim agreed to talk to us and let us publish his answers in the Q&A below. I hope you appreciate reading it as much as I enjoyed speaking to Jim.
And for the record, here’s some reciprocal advice straight from the sleep experts: Do a few push-ups after reading this, ok?
Sharon: Thanks so much for talking to me today! Could we start with a little on your background, where you’re from, why you came to Virginia Beach, and your career?
Jim: Of course. I’m originally from Youngstown, Ohio, where I studied nutrition in college. I’ve lived in Virginia for about 15 years now. I came here because I read some research about how it’s one of the fittest cities in the country. It’s a beach town – people value their health here. I opened my first fitness studio here about 10 years ago.
Sharon: How did the GQ interview come about?
Jim: Well, I’m the spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, so I often get calls from publications looking for advice on how to eat right and be healthy in general. This was an interesting question, because both things [exercise and sleep] are so important to your health. It was a hard choice, but when it comes down to it, there’s just so much research behind the idea that sleep is beneficial. When you’re tired you’re less likely to work out, and your body produces more of the hunger hormone leptin, which can lead to overeating. Your muscles recover during sleep – you can’t get truly to a high level of fitness without enough sleep.
It’s interesting, I’ve been getting so many more questions about sleep lately. It’s a hot topic, but I think the research is getting to a point where it’s just so convincing. I don’t think you can deny the importance of quality sleep anymore.
Sharon: How much sleep do you get each night?
Jim: Some people need more than others, but I function best at eight solid hours. If I go down to six hours, I lose my cognitive edge and end up eating more carbohydrates. And I don’t have nearly as much willpower if I get less than seven.
Sharon: Do you think naps are helpful?
Jim: Twenty to 30-minute power naps can be helpful during the day. If you sleep for two or three hours, it’s not. I don’t nap, but many people do.
Sharon: What’s your bedtime routine?
Jim: Well, there are a few things. I keep the room at 66-68. When the outside temperature is too warm or hot compared to your body, it can wake you up. For me, if it’s at 72-75 it’s too hot. I also black out the room and my wife and I use white noise from a fan. We shut off all electronics – especially anything with access to social media. Cut those off and grab a book. Some TV shows can keep you awake by stimulating stress or fear, but by shutting off those electronics you decrease that likelihood.
Sharon: What do you consider the most important benefit of sleeping well?
Jim: There are so many! Sleeping well can decrease your appetite, and getting really fatigued puts you at an increased risk of obesity and cardiovascular issues.
Sharon: You mentioned earlier that you’d just recorded an episode of your podcast (Really, Truly, Fit) about sleep. What kind of information did you cover?
Jim: We had a great conversation about how to personalize your environment for your best sleep, and some outside factors that affect how well you sleep: stress, health, a partner’s snoring. The fact is that in America, many people suffer from sleep problems.
We talked about our best advice for insomnia is that it can be improved! A lot of it is about stress. We’ve got to be careful what we eat late at night. For example, if you drink a ton of water you might wake up and have to go to the bathroom several times. Having a small snack like a protein shake is fine, but no large meals within three hours of going to sleep.
No exercise within three hours of sleep either! Especially when it’s intense exercise. Your body temperature can stay elevated for 3-6 hours after exercise, which can keep you awake.
Sharon: Good tips! Last question: What’s on your nightstand?
My wife has lotion, essential oils, lavender – she puts that [the oil] on her temples and feet. I have my glasses, I always have a bottle of water, and our fan that we turn on for white noise.