The 1% Podcast

Pat Byrne



  • 01

    Pat Byrne

    Performance Improvement Lessons from a Leading Sleep Expert


My guest today is Pat Byrne.


Pat Byrne has pioneered sleep and fatigue programs for athletes, sports teams and workplaces. He is the co-author of ‘Inconvenient Sleep: Why Teams Win and Lose’, where he uses his expertise to outline the impact of sleep on performance using history of sleep science and decades of research in the area. The book explores the facts and myths behind sleep, sleep science, and sleep monitoring. 


He has over 30 years of experience in risk management, performance optimisation and health and safety. The sporting Organisations Pat has worked with include the National Olympic Committee, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, Australian Football League and the National Hockey League.


Tune in as we explore the evolution of sleep science, how to improve sleep quality and how understanding your body’s natural rhythm can help you to improve your own performance, whether personal, business or athletic.


Show Summary


2:32 Lessons from growing up in Fort Nelson Canada – an extremely cold and sometimes harsh environment

  • 1,000 miles north of Vancouver
  • 1,500 inhabitants
  • First watched TV aged 14
  • Stargazing and the Northern Lights


4:42 The negative reputation when first entering occupational health and safety

  • Worked first in the occupational hygiene subfield: “recognition, evaluation, control” 
  • Learnt the devastating impact of sleep and fatigue after his nephew died in a car crash asleep at the wheel
  • Working for the Canadian Registration Board of Occupational Hygienists
  • “Nobody was talking about sleep and fatigue as a workplace or sports issue”


8:13 Pat was the first to design a watch for use in sports performance

  • Marrying together pieces of available technology
  • It took ten years to make the technology, through his company of engineers


10:07 Attributing the impact of sleep on performance

  • “Humans are a complex and integrated system”
  • Controlled factors when conducting research in sleep labs
  • Correlating between length of sleep and reaction time


11:10 The development of sleep science and why it took so long to evolve

  • The 1950s with Nathaniel Kleitman, aka the Father of Sleep Research
  • In 1992 a leading sleep researcher William Dement commented that America was a ‘vast reservoir of ignorance’ about sleep.
  • Systems to measure brain waves that were developed by Dement are still in place today
  • Lack of interest in the 1950s
  • Technology has enabled the development of sleep science


12:14 How to best analyse sleep

  • Depends on the population size you are studying
  • For athletes, the end goal is performance. Sleep is a way to increase their reaction time
  • “Poor sleep is not a disease, it’s a symptom”
  • There needs more research being diagnosing the issue behind an individual’s poor sleep 
  • Poor sleep typically comes from biological sleep disorders (e.g. restless leg syndrome), mental health issues, organic diseases (e.g. diabetes), lifestyle choices, medications, etc.


18:31 The types of mental health issues that poor sleep can indicate

  • Covid-19 has revealed how our mental health can impact sleep
  • Typically depression, bipolar disorder, manic depression


19:54 Advice for people who sleep badly due to factors beyond their control

  • Lack of sleep training for medical doctors
  • Comprehensively review the factors
  • A sporadic nature of your work schedule 
  • Pat is currently researching into how AI can help diagnose poor sleep quality


22:51 What is Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep and why it is so relevant

  • Eugene Aserinsky’s discovery of REM
  • It’s the period of time in your sleep when you dream and your body freezes


27:41 How do you approach treating something complex like paradoxical insomnia? Is there a way to convince the brain otherwise?

  • Paradoxical insomnia: spending hours lying awake at night, even though, to others, they appear to be sleeping
  • Impact of LED lights in urban environments, which contains blue light
  • Humans are diurnal: conditioned to sleep at night and be awake during the day
  • Melatonin is produced to help us fall asleep. Blue light stops this secretion of melatonin.
  • Blue light triggers you to stay awake


32:36 Sleep supplements

  • Little research in sleep science supplements, “what they’re trying to do is sell you the dream”
  • Sleep supplements aren’t regulated because they are considered benign
  • “People are often looking for solutions when they don’t know what the problem is”


35:20 Wearable sleep technology

  • Treat it like a bathroom scale: how often do you want to stand on your bathroom scale?
  • Main issue is that they’re not individualised
  • Cheaper consumer models haven’t done the rigorous testing
  • “You still have to do the work and figure out the problems”
  • It’s helped raise awareness around sleep


39:40 How much sleep do you actually need?

  • It’s very rate, but some humans can get by sleeping four hours sleep a night
  • Every human is different
  • Typically 7.5 – 9 hours sleep is the most sufficient amount
  • Taking reaction time tests
  • Sleeping too much indicates there’s a health issue that needs to be explored
  • A simple indication is if you’re feeling tired during the day


44:01 Learning from high performers and how they develop good sleeping habits

  • Middle management supervisors tend to be the poorest sleepers in the workforce
  • Executives value sleep quality to think better


45:42 Impact of fragment sleep and napping

  • “You’re better off with a period of shorter good sleep than a longer period of bad sleep”
  • Afternoon naps is very effective in building up your sleep bank
  • The downside with napping in the afternoon is that it can push back your evening sleep time


47:51 The impact of shift work and your sleep

  • Being awake at night is not normal, it goes against our DNA
  • Solution is education and managing your time
  • Avoid dangerous work at night


51:29 The body’s circadian rhythm

  • Everything goes in cycles with our body
  • Sunlight plays a role in our natural circadian rhythms, so we need to avoid disrupting our biological systems
  • Researching into how dark and light affects our decision making


56:56 Can we manage our body’s temperature rhythms to improve our performance day to day?

  • Kleitman discovered the correlation between body temperature and performance
  • “The better reaction time you have, the higher your temperature, the better you’ll perform”
  • Key is to recognise what time of day you perform at your best
  • Be more body aware
  • Envisioning sleep science being taught at school


1:00:22 Early bird vs night owl

  • Some research shows that most athletes are early birds
  • “Don’t fight your biology: you are what you are”


1:02:41 What advantages sleep has on athletes

  • 80% of all research on sleep in athletic performance has been done in last ten years
  • Work one-to-one with individual to identify their ideal sleep length


1:06:51 Habit and routines coaches can instil in their programs

  • Have consistent sleep times


1:08:18 What to look out for in fatigue amongst your athletes

  • Monitor their reaction time to then drill down the factors


1:09:46 The current state of sleep: are we on the right track to better wellbeing?

  • Treat it as an evolution
  • It’s like how strength training was a new concept in the 80s, yet normal today.
  • “We’re learning something new everyday”


1:11:17 How can companies optimise performance using fatigue management?

  • Started his research on the business side before he got into sport
  • How is the work scheduled and are workers given enough time to recover?
  • Sleep screening tests
  • Set examples and policies, e.g. napping