Ian Dunican - Sleep In & Win!

I talk to Dr. Ian Dunican- host of the Sleep4Performance Podcast, BJJ practitioner, Ultra-Marathon runner, and sleep researcher. Dr. Ian has worked with elite combat sports athletes at the Australian Institute of Sport on strategies to help optimise sleep, recovery, and performance.

We discuss sleep cycles, optimising training load and dealing with nighttime jitters after a workout and sleep tracking gadgets like the Oura ring and Whoop device. Finally, why do martial artists try and cheat the sleep system and how instead they can Sleep In And Win!

Listen To Ian Dunican



[00:00] – Introduction to Ian Dunican Interview

[01:47] – Dr. Ian’s backstory

[05:23] – Study on Water Loading in Combat Sport Athletes

[06:53] – What influenced him to do a PhD in sleep performance

[11:49] – Is get up early, rise and grind the right strategy to follow

[13:34] – Basic sleep cycles that combat athletes should know

[15:10] – His podcast : Sleep4Performance Podcast

[19:30] – How is the sleep cycle related to boxing, MMA, or Jiu-Jitsu?

[23:46] – Why do athletes struggle to sleep at night after training?

[26:50] – The ideal optimal strategy for professional athletes

[31:00] – Biggest errors that people in combat sports are continuously making

[34:41] – The best recovery modality for your body

[37:39] – The best way to ensure that you are dropping your weight successfully

[39:33] – Active recovery vs. sleep

[42:37] – Do sleep tracking devices cause more harm than good?

[46:26] – What should an average consumer do with the sleep graph or data?

[49:01] – Netflix, YouTube, and Sleep Disorder

[54:00] – Does night mode or computer glasses help?

[55:16] – Stop Biohacking

[56:16] – How does polyphasic sleep affect you?

[01:00:27] – Why is there a drive for people to try polyphasic sleep?

[01:05:25] – Benefits of sleep for learning

[01:06:35] – Salvadore Dali and the Hypnagogic State

[01:09:58] – Why do we dream?

[01:14:09] – The sleep ritual


Study on water loading for combat sports athletes

There is one such study done by Reid Reale and others. Reid had collected pilot data, and his research specifically looked at the benefits or the issues around water loading (the consumption of large fluid volumes for several days before restriction). Whether it be water loading or a low residue diet, he collected data from a Judo camp where the Judo athletes were from Japan, New Zealand, and Australia. The study concluded that weight loss through a low residue diet, both with and without water loading, is an effective means of manipulating body mass in the context of sleep.

Is get up early rise and grind a suitable strategy to follow

Ian says that this is something that has permeated our culture. And he loves the tour to get up and train hard. But it’s not a good strategy. He says, “Let’s pare it back and talk about why sleep is required and why it’s important. Just because other people do this, or we see it in a movie (Rocky Movie), or people talk about this doesn’t mean it’s right. And, there’s a big difference between being fit and being healthy. And the third thing I’d say is, you might get away with it for a short period of time. But is it what you really want to do for a long term? So if you really want to be a long-term martial artist, whether it be a fight or even a recreational MMA, Jiu-Jitsu, Judo athlete, these are the things that you need to incorporate into your daily life to give you that longevity as well.”

Basic sleep cycles that everyone should know.

Sleep is required for everybody. This is the way you are designed. You might have some variation of what we call chronotype. Some people might like to get up early and go to bed early, and then some people might want to go to bed late and get up late. This is called a chronotype and is typically referred to as a lark pretty early on the outfielder layer. You will change all of your life with those Chronotypes. And generally, most people know which chronotype suits them. We can never adapt to the nighttime people cause we are not designed to be awake and function at night. We can’t just flip what’s called our circadian rhythm. We are designed to be up and out when light is about.

Now the circadian system is about a day, roughly about 24 hours. The circadian rhythm is controlled by a little group of cells called the FCN, which sits in the base of the hypothalamus in the brain. And what happens is we all have eyes and our head, light comes in through our eyes, the receptors there, the photoreceptors taking the light to send a signal to the FCN that it’s light outside, and the FCN sends the feedback to the pineal gland.

The pineal gland is also responsible for the release of Melatonin. So when we have light coming through our eyes, FCN sends a signal to the pineal gland not to release the Melatonin, and in the absence of light, then Melatonin is released. So what you have is this inverse opposite relationship when we’re awake and there’s light outside. Melatonin will not be released. And Cortisol may be artificially spiked. Now, due to stress, in the absence of light, Melatonin will be released. And generally, that starts getting secreted sort of after 10 pm for most individuals. And this is basically what people call the sleep hormone or sleep-promoting properties of Melatonin. So this is basically what happens when you go to sleep. You will go through several stages of sleep as well, i.e., stage one, stage two, stage three, and then come back up into REM.

He further breaks this into 2 phases.

  • Non-REM sleep, which is the Non-Rapid Eye Movement with stages one, two, and three.
  •  Rapid Eye Movement, or REM, is the second phase of sleep.

Stage one, stage two, and stage three all have different characteristics that we see in Polysomnography. It’s like wires on people’s heads.

In Polysomnography, we extract what’s called sleep architecture (sleep stages). So it’s pretty normal for people to fall asleep around stage one, stage two, and then Deep sleep, which is stage three.

Stages One and Two are essential for physical repair and recovery.

Stage Three is crucial for the release of growth hormone.

Advice for athletes over 30 years of age

For those who are probably the older athletes,i.e., over 30, the most significant way you can naturally increase testosterone is to improve your stage three sleep or improve the quantity you’re getting. One of the easiest ways to do that is actually to allow more time for sleep.

Struggle to sleep at night after training

He talks specifically about workout powders. Many of these things are laced with caffeine. When we look at pre-workout drinks laced with caffeine. Caffeine in your drink is another reason why people will be feeling quite jittery at night. He recommends people consume their caffeine an hour before they go to training.

 Sleep is a better option than cryotherapy

He says people try cryotherapy, hot and cold baths, massage, pads that electrically stimulate your legs, taking herbal supplements, getting stem cells hanging upside down from inversion tables. They want to do everything, except the one thing. And that’s 100% free and has always been shown in the scientific literature in sports to be the number one recovery modality. It’s sleep. But nobody seems to want to adhere to this. He further says, “I’m not saying you should stay in your room for 12 hours every day, but at least allow an opportunity, for at least eight to nine hours to get that sleep. And if you can’t sleep, just relax the time as well, it’s good.”

Short Sleep Impacts On Your Body

The shorter you sleep, the higher your BMI, the higher your BMI, the more metabolic conditions you have, such as type two diabetes. So if you increase your sleep, your wear comes down. And the more you increase your sleep, the more you have your way under control. So in a fight camp, another way to ensure that you’re dropping your weight successfully is to focus on your sleep as well.

Are sleep tracking devices beneficial?

Ian breaks scientifically validated methods of assessing sleep into two levels.


  • Gold Standard of sleep assessment
  • Done in Laboratory
  • Costly and not always accessible


  • Look for validated ones
  • Oura Ring is good to use

He also tells people not to waste their time on cycle tracking apps on your phone. “We have stand-up debates in scientific conferences in the world of sleep, about even the actigraphy trackers such as the aura ring and other devices, while even about their validity. And I can tell you what we all agree on, which is not very common within sleep science, is that all these apps are shit. We all agree on that.

Night mode and computer glasses

These things may help but don’t expect that you can totally eliminate and improve your sleep. So just because you got a pair of glasses on doesn’t mean that someone can’t smack you in the face and you want to get stressed out. They might reduce the blue light, but it’s not going to be the answer.

Polyphasic Or Short Sleep Impacts

You may feel good or bad practising Polyphasic sleep. But what you’re doing here is not just short-term stuff. It’s also a long-term thing because we know that short sleep or sleep disruption are associated with negative factors underlying cardiovascular disease, respiratory issues, the development of cancers, and so on. This has been shown by the World Health Organization as well. So you can cheat the system. And if you look at people who don’t sleep more than five or six hours a night, generally, they have poor performance.

Ian Dunican Resources

Ian Dunican Quotes

“There is a big difference between being fit and being healthy.”

“It’s unrealistic to think that you can work a full time job, train two or three times a day, and be adequately prepared for a fight because all you’re going to do is just completely burn yourself out.”

“We have to sit back and look at what’s the true goal. And the goal here is to fight and be healthy and to be healthy for the fight.”

“The more you increase your sleep, the more you have your way under control.”

“The activities that we’re doing on those devices will probably have a bigger impact than the devices themselves.”

Ian Dunican Links

Ian Dunican Interview - Sleep In And Win!