150: Shawn Stevenson – Elevate Your Creativity While You Sleep

Health & Wellness, Podcast

“The human mind is the most powerful pharmacy on the planet.”
– Shawn Stevenson

Did you know that your sleep can massively impact your ability to be creative?

It’s true. Our minds and bodies depend on getting good, quality sleep to do everything from produce hormones, process memories, and lower our stress levels. It’s more important than you may think! But thankfully, my guest today is here to share a ton of great information about the power of sleep.

When he was just 16, Shawn Stevenson broke his hip running. Suddenly, his dreams of an athletic career were dashed, and he spent the next four years feeling hopeless. But eventually, he realized that he didn’t want to live in hopelessness and poor health. He decided to do some research and discover ways to heal his body, and since then, he’s made it his mission to communicate his research to the world and help us all achieve better sleep.

I’m thrilled to have Shawn Stevenson here on ONKEN RADIO (formerly NION radio) today! Shawn’s story is inspiring, and his thorough scientific knowledge is impressive. I’m excited to get into our conversation — I hope you learn as much from it as I did. 

Who Is Shawn Stevenson?

As one of the world’s foremost authorities on the science of sleep (in a world that’s constantly struggling with it), Shawn Stevenson has increasingly found his insight very much in demand. But he wasn’t always an authority on better sleep, though. 

Shawn set out to become an expert on all things fitness, health, and wellness after suffering some severe pain and mobility issues at 20 years old. His doctors told him he had degenerative disc disease, that it was progressive and incurable, that he had the spine of an 80-year-old man, and that he could only expect to get worse as time wore on.

But instead of accepting the doom-and-gloom prognosis of his medical team, Shawn decided to take matters into his own hands. He started taking a more holistic view of his health, and incorporated some significant lifestyle changes — everything from a better diet to increased physical activity and to the one thing many treatment plans overlook: proper sleep. 

By applying a total-body treatment plan, Shawn was able to not just halt his condition in its tracks, but in some cases, even reverse some of the effects. At that point, he knew he had a mission: to educate the masses on the importance of diet, exercise, and getting better sleep. 

Today, Shawn is the host of the #1 podcast on Apple’s “Health and Fitness” chart, The Model Health Show, which covers everything from diet and exercise to relationship advice. His books have consistently topped bestseller and audio download charts. And he’s been hired as a keynote speaker to deliver his message of total-body health to companies such as Hilton, US Bank, Google, MasterCard, and Whole Foods.

Shawn offered so much wisdom and practical knowledge in this interview. We talked about everything from sleep cycles and brain waves to the effect of physical activity on your creativity and the massive positive effects of meditation. This is an interview you don’t want to miss.

Shawn’s Story: From Degenerative Disc Disease to Sleep Expert

Have you ever heard of the placebo effect? It’s a term often used in medical research, and it refers to the effect we see when someone believes they’re taking a real medication or receiving a real treatment, but in reality, they’re not. It happens all the time — researchers have seen blood pressure drop and even cancer cells die just because the patient thought they were taking an effective medication.

But here’s the thing — the placebo effect works in reverse, too. That’s called the no-cebo effect, and it’s where the patient thinks they have no chance of recovery and so their condition actually starts getting worse. That’s what happened to Shawn Stevenson when he was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease.

“[The doctor] kind of looked at me … and [said,] ‘There’s nothing you can do about this. And I’m sorry, this is something you’re just going to have to live with.’ … I believed that there was nothing I can do about this and that I was going to be stricken with this disease for the rest of my life. … Two years went by, and … I gained a lot of weight … [and] not only [were] my bones atrophying, now the rest of me was atrophying.”
– Shawn Stevenson

Shawn’s body was breaking down. His health was deteriorating, and he didn’t know what to do. But then he decided to get proactive. That’s when he started learning about how sleep affects our health.

“When you make a real decision about something, that’s from the Latin ‘de’ meaning ‘from’ and ‘cidere’ which means ‘to cut.’ So when you make a real decision, you cut away the possibility of anything else but that thing happening. … I decided to get well. … It was changing the way I was eating, … movement, … and the third thing, the final thing in this … transformation that took place, was my sleep.”
– Shawn Stevenson

When was the last time you made a decision and cut off the possibility of anything else? Whether you’re on a health journey like Shawn was, you’re hoping to start a business, or you just want to commit to exploring your creativity in new ways, make the decision. It takes a split second, and you have the power to completely transform your life.

What Sleep Does for You

Sleep is an important part of our overall health, and it has so many effects on the mind and body that I definitely don’t have time to cover them all here. If you want to learn more, definitely check out the full episode! But for now, I’ll give you a preview… 

According to Shawn, sleep is the anabolic state for humans. That means it’s the state of “building up.” It’s when your body creates things like human growth hormone, HGH, to help your body grow, repair injuries, and create new muscle tissue after a workout. It’s also possibly the biggest factor at play when it comes to your body composition.

Shawn described a study where researchers placed their subjects on a low-calorie diet and observed changes in their percentage of body fat as they got eight and a half hours of sleep per night. Then, they took the same people, put them on the same diet, and observed them as they only got five and a half hours of sleep per night. You might think that sleep wouldn’t make much of an impact, but the difference is huge.

“And they found that when folks were well-rested, … they lost 55% more body fat just by sleeping. Not cutting more calories, not exercising their face off, just sleeping. And by the way, I said body fat, not weight. They actually lost fat from sleeping.”
– Shawn Stevenson

So sleep helps you lose fat. It’s also when your body produces HGH, which gives you energy and helps you heal. And if you need one more amazing reason to love sleep — it’s also when your brain processes your memories. 

“REM sleep, so this is that rapid eye movement sleep — this is when you’re doing a lot of dreaming. But something else really cool takes place during REM sleep … called memory processing. This is where things are getting converted to your short-term memory. So this is like stuff people are learning right now. … It becomes more of a part of you during that phase of sleep. And if your REM sleep is disturbed, guess what. You’re not going to remember as much.”
– Shawn Stevenson

Sleep is essential for our bodies and our minds. You know that deep state of sleep, when you’re truly dreaming? That’s when our minds process our experiences and the things that we’ve learned — that type of sleep is essential for our memories and our ability to learn and be creative.

Sleep has numerous benefits. It’s an essential part of our health and wellbeing! If you want to be the strongest and most creative person that you can be, make sure you’re getting the right amount of sleep that makes you feel rested and ready for the day.

Brain Waves During Sleep and Meditation

Sleep is also defined by the patterns of our brain waves. According to Shawn, when we’re awake, our brain waves are in an alpha state. Then, when we’re going to sleep, they lower to a beta state, followed by theta, and finally delta. This is when we’re in that REM sleep. All four types of brain waves serve a purpose, and all four are necessary for a healthy night’s sleep.

“Now we know that eating 300 calories of Twinkies is very different from 300 calories of kale. [It’s] very different — the impact of it has on your neurotransmitters, on your organs and organ systems, on your cells. Overall, [it’s] same thing [with sleep.] There are a lot of people getting Twinkie hours of sleep … where the quality is so much lower because of not cycling through those brain waves properly. That’s the key … cycling through our brain waves.”
– Shawn Stevenson

So how can we make sure to cycle through those brain waves every night? It turns out, there are a lot of things we can do. We can keep it cooler in the room — Shawn mentioned a particular study that shows that people who sleep with caps that circulate cool water on their heads sleep better. I know that I personally sleep much better with my chilliPAD, which also circulates cool water under my sheets. We can also pay attention to the optimal number of hours we need to sleep, and then make sure we give ourselves the opportunity to get that amount of sleep every night.

And by the way — that may not be exactly eight hours for everyone. Shawn says that everyone is different, and everyone’s optimal amount of sleep is different, too. Find out how many hours of sleep you need to feel well-rested and creative, and do your best to get that amount of sleep every night.

But there’s another way we can circulate through our brain waves — meditation. Experienced meditators can actually cycle through those lower brain waves without actually falling asleep. I know that when I do my Vedic meditation in the morning, I can feel my mind getting into those theta and delta states — it’s really powerful. Meditation has the ability to calm your mind and spirit, and that is absolutely necessary for getting into that good creative flow.

“I remember the first time [my mother-in-law] said this … she was like, ‘If I can give everybody in the world one gift, it would be meditation.’ … And so the very first meditation she taught me, it was a class … and this one was for the heart chakra. … When we were done, like I had this huge revelation, like I had never had a conscious thought in my life. … I did that meditation — it was a 32-minute meditation — every day for two years. … It changed me, man.”
– Shawn Stevenson

Shawn went on to say that his friends and the people around him started saying things like, “There’s a calming presence when you’re around.” That shocked Shawn — he grew up in a pretty hostile environment, and he wasn’t used to being the calming guy. But regularly meditating and cycling through those different brain waves helped him to become a calmer person.

Do you have a mediation practice? If not, I’d encourage you to give it a try. Set aside a few minutes each day to sit still and quiet. You can write in a journal, say some affirmations or mantras to yourself, or just sit quietly with your thoughts. The idea is to get your mind into that calm state and ultimately open the doors for your creativity to shine through.

Be a Creative Alchemist with Shawn Stevenson

Alchemy is defined as the process of taking something ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary, sometimes in a way that cannot be explained.

With that being said, I define Creative Alchemy as using the process of creativity to create a lens of which to perform alchemy. These principles not only apply to artists and creatives in their own creative processes but to anyone who wants to create an extraordinary life in color for themselves — Shawn Stevenson is one of these Creative Alchemists. I’ve found that 80% of creating is alchemizing the thoughts, emotions, and other inner blocks that keep you from putting the pen to the paper. Navigating to the act of creation takes alchemical processes.

Shawn Stevenson shared a ton of incredible information with me today. I learned so much that I didn’t even have time to write about here — including the effects of sleep deprivation on our minds and a new technique called “grounding” that might help us achieve better sleep. Make sure to check out the full episode to hear about all that and more!

Before I go, I want to share with you Shawn’s definition of “live inspiration” —

“That’s why I do what I do. … I’m creating a model for people with the way I live my life. And so whether we want to or not, like we all are being a model and inspiring people in a positive or negative way with everything that we to. … Living a life of inspiration is really … having success … in all areas of life. And we’re going to struggle in different areas at times, … [but] demonstrate [success] by the way you are now, with the stuff you say, [and with] how you’re living your life.”
– Shawn Stevenson

It’s so true. We’re all setting an example for the people around us by the way we choose to live our lives. Choose today to take care of yourself, get enough sleep, and let your creativity shine!

Thanks for joining me today, guys. I hoped you enjoyed this episode as much as I did. If you did, please let me know on Instagram! Tag Shawn, @shawnmodel, and me, @nickonken, and post a screenshot of the episode with your biggest takeaways.

And if you want to check out more of Shawn’s work, remember to listen to The Model Health Show! You can also click over to his website here to learn about his books and other resources.

Until next time — get some sleep, guys! Remember to alchemize your health and wellness with your inner artist, and create your life by creating every moment.

Nick Onken

You can Subscribe and Listen to the Podcast on Apple Podcasts. And please leave me a Rating and Review!



“After just 24 hours of sleep debt, there is about a 14% reduction in glucose getting to your brain. So basically your brain starts to starve and you become dumber.”
– Shawn Stevenson

Some things we learn in this podcast:

  • How Shawn’s career went from professional athlete to where he is today [4:03]
  • The power of the human mind when it comes to healing or hurting itself [7:11]
  • When Shawn decided he would heal and how he did it [11:36]
  • All the amazing things sleep does for the human body [16:19]
  • Why sleep can be an even bigger catalyst for weight loss and body composition than diet and exercise combined [22:33]
  • Why meditation and sleep both help us recover, and how they help in different ways [27:38]
  • How our ability to be mindful of our breathing could be an evolutionary adaptation [30:48]
  • The consensus on sleep debt and if you can actually make up lost sleep [33:19]
  • The difference between quantity and quality of sleep and how it affects us [36:06]
  • What the data shows on the blue light spectrum from screens and its effect on our sleep [38:41]
  • How sleep and physical exercise affect our creativity [40:54]
  • Shawn’s top three ways to sleep smarter [46:40]
  • How our core temperature and our sleep are connected [55:10]

Links Mentioned:

Connect with Shawn Stevenson on Instagram | Twitter | The Model Health Show

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