Kayla Barnes of Brain Upgraded: “Optimize your surroundings for quality sleep”

Optimize your surroundings for quality sleep — Your surroundings are influential on the quality of your sleep. Ensure that you have light blocked out as light even on the skin can confuse brain chemicals into thinking it may be time to be awake. I use blackout shades or a blackout screen. You can also use a sleep […]

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Optimize your surroundings for quality sleep — Your surroundings are influential on the quality of your sleep. Ensure that you have light blocked out as light even on the skin can confuse brain chemicals into thinking it may be time to be awake. I use blackout shades or a blackout screen. You can also use a sleep mask to block out light. Keep your room cool. I keep mine at 65 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are too warm during the night, this can cause sleep disturbances.


Getting a good night’s sleep has so many physical, emotional, and mental benefits. Yet, with all of the distractions that demand our attention, going to sleep on time and getting enough rest has become extremely elusive to many of us. Why is sleep so important, and how can we make it a priority?

In this interview series called “Sleep: Why You Should Make Getting A Good Night’s Sleep A Major Priority In Your Life, And How You Can Make That Happen,” we are talking to medical and wellness professionals, sleep specialists, and business leaders who sell sleep accessories to share insights from their knowledge and experience about how to make getting a good night’s sleep a priority in your life.

As part of this interview series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Kayla Barnes.

Kayla Barnes is a certified brain health coach trained under the renowned brain doctor, Dr. Daniel Amen. Barnes has studied Universal Sciences and is currently the CEO of Brain Upgraded, a concierge brain optimization company. Barnes has been featured in Forbes, Thrive Global, and Be Well.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your backstory?

I began my journey into health and wellness when I was 18 years old. I always had an interest in the body and began studying science. Later, after launching two of my own successful companies (a PR and marketing firm for health brands and a line of adaptogenic blends), I dove deeper into cognitive health and the overall optimization of our bodies. I brought on a team of ND’s and nutritionists to educate me on my health, and then I decided to train under Dr. Daniel Amen to become a Certified Brain Health Coach. I have immersed myself in research, science-backed methods and protocols for optimal health, and I often include “biohacking” into my practice.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this particular career path?

I grew up a notoriously “sick kid.” I was on antibiotics every few months growing up. Later, after years of being an entrepreneur, the long hours and stress took even more of a toll on my body and brain, and I began to experience health issues and discovered I have an autoimmune disease. I wanted to improve my health, but traditional western medicine was not leading me to the outcome that I desired, so I began to explore functional medicine and quickly learned that finding the root cause of disease is imperative to optimal health and longevity.

Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the sleep and wellness fields? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?

I have worked with a plethora of clients to optimize their sleep. I have extensive education and knowledge on the topic. Specializing in brain health is my unique contribution to the wellness world. In many ways, we are just beginning to learn how to optimize cognitive function, what hurts and helps the brain, and how to prepare the brain for greater longevity. Being primarily focused on all the above sets me apart from other wellness practitioners.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

My favorite book is Boundless by Ben Greenfield. It is essentially a biohackers handbook. I appreciate Ben’s body, mind, and spirit approach. He also dives deep into brain health. It is a lengthy read, but I can guarantee that anyone who reads this book will benefit.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

“If it won’t matter in 5 years, don’t spend more than 5 minutes on it.” I love this because humans are one of the only species that can induce a stress response for events in the past or that may occur in the future. Too often, we stress over things that we can not change or that have not even happened. For optimal health and a clear mind, it is best to concern yourself less with something that won’t matter in 5 years.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Let’s start with the basics. How much sleep should an adult get? Is there a difference between people who are young, middle-aged, or elderly?

A general rule of thumb is between 7–9 hours of sleep per night for adults. If you are an athlete, you may require more sleep to recover fully.

Here is a complete breakdown of sleep requirements based on age:

Newborns 0–3 months: 14–17 hours

Infants: 4–11 months: 12–15 hours

Toddlers: 1–2 years: 11–14 hours

Preschoolers 3–5 years: 10–13 hours

School-age children 6–13 years: 9–11 hours

Teenagers 14–17 years: 8–10 hours

Adults 18–64 years: 7–9 hours

Seniors: 65 and older: 7–8 hours

What matters more in my opinion than simply just the number of hours you are sleeping is the quality of your sleep. If you achieve optimal deep and REM sleep levels, you will require fewer total hours in bed. If most of your sleep is “light sleep” and you are not spending much time in the most restorative phases of sleep, you will require more hours in bed. You want to get 20–30% of your night as deep sleep, 20–30% as REM, and 20–30% as light. You need a sleep tracker like the OURA ring or Whoop to know if you are hitting these numbers. If you’re feeling sore, tired, and lethargic after 6–8 hours of sleep, then you may not be getting enough deep and REM. If you can optimize your sleep, you will be far better off in the long run.

Is the number of hours the main criteria, or the time that you go to bed? For example, if there was a hypothetical choice between getting to bed at 10 pm and getting up at 4 am, for a total of 6 hours, or going to bed at 2 am and getting up at 10 am for a total of 8 hours, is one a better choice for your health? Can you explain?

Going to bed before 10 is preferred, but consistency is critical when it comes to sleep. It depends less on the time you go to bed as long as it is consistent. For example: either go to bed at 9 pm every night or 11 pm, do not go to bed at 9 pm one night, midnight, another night, and 1 am another night. Ideally, it is best to go to sleep and rise with the sun, following an optimal circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms are biological rhythms inside your body connected with the day and night cycles of the environment. Humans are diurnal creatures, which means we’re active during the daytime and sleep at night.

Here are some key points in the typical 24-hour cycle:

6 am Cortisol levels increase to wake your brain and body

7 am Melatonin production stops

9 am Sex hormone production peaks

10 am Mental alertness levels peak

2:30 pm Best motor coordination

3:30 pm Fastest reaction time

5 pm Greatest cardiovascular efficiency and muscle strength

7 pm Highest blood pressure and body temperature

9 pm Melatonin production begins to prepare the body for sleep

10 pm Bowel movements suppressed as the body quiets down

2 am Deepest sleep

4 am Lowest body temperature

These numbers may be different from person to person and their environment.

As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for our readers. Let’s imagine a hypothetical 35-year-old adult who was not getting enough sleep. After working diligently at it for six months, he or she began to sleep well and got the requisite hours of sleep. How will this person’s life improve? Can you help articulate some of the benefits this person will see after starting to get enough sleep? Can you explain?

Getting an adequate amount of sleep would improve every area of this individual’s life. They would improve their memory, energy, mood stabilization, appetite stabilization, brain function, athletic or exercise performance, healthspan, and contribute significantly to extending their lifespan. Overall, they would be happier, more focused, and find it much easier to attain their goals. They would also be protecting their brain and bodies against ailments later in life. Lack of sleep has been connected to many neurodegenerative diseases and a lengthy list of other health conditions.

Many things provide benefits, but they aren’t necessarily a priority. Should we make getting a good night’s sleep a major priority in our life? Can you explain what you mean?

Sleep is the restorative phase of our day. Our bodies and brains rest and clean house, essential chemicals such as BDNF (Brain-derived neurotrophic factor) are released, and memories are stored. Proper sleep is one of the most critical components of overall health. Poor sleep can contribute to increased blood pressure, higher stress hormone levels, greater risk of diabetes, heart attacks, and irregular heartbeat. Even one night of poor sleep can increase your blood sugar levels, equivalent to a person with type-2 diabetes. Just four nights of sleeping about 4.5 hours can reduce insulin sensitivity by 16% and make fat cells 30% more insulin sensitive. This means your body will have a much harder time metabolizing carbohydrates and is more prone to store them as fat.

Sleep deprivation mirrors physical stress. It weakens the immune system, which makes us more prone to illness. Deep sleep has an essential role in strengthening immunological memories of previously encountered pathogens in the same way as memory consolidation.

The most profound physiological changes during sleep happen in the brain. Compared to wakefulness, sleep reduces the brain’s energy demands by decreasing the cerebral metabolic rate of glucose by 44% and oxygen by 25%. Despite comprising only 5% of your total body weight, the brain uses about 20% of your overall energy during the day.

People with insomnia have a 90% chance of suffering from another health condition due to DNA damage that occurs with continued sleep deprivation. Sleeping less than 5 hours a night increases your chances of dying by about 15%.

Overall, sleep is the most fundamental component of optimal health.

The truth is that most of us know that it’s important to get better sleep. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion, what are the three main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives? How should we remove those obstacles?

Daily life is demanding, and social media and Netflix or other streaming platforms can steal our time. I believe that social media/streaming services, stress, and blue light are the primary culprits. It easy to keep scrolling at night or watch “one more episode.” Stress can keep you awake because we live in an endlessly connected world, and we always feel that we should be doing more. I have had many clients that even when they find their way to bed at an appropriate time, they cannot fall asleep because they have too much on their mind. I always recommend meditation before bed or other tactics that can quiet the mind. If you can take your mind off of the stressors that are keeping you awake, even for ten minutes, your body can relax and fall asleep. Reading before bed is also a great strategy (an easy read, nothing stress-inducing.)

I don’t think that we can entirely remove these obstacles, but we can manage them. I recommend setting up screen time limits on social media, sticking to it when your time is up, and committing to only watching a few hours of TV each week. Writing down these goals is vital. As Jim Kwik says, “reason reaps results” when you write down and reflect on WHY you need to prioritize sleep, you will be significantly more likely to adhere to your set goals.

Blue light is easier to control than stress. I recommend red, blue light blocking glasses for the evening hours. These will completely block blue light, whereas the yellow are for daytime and allow some light. I like the brand TrueDark. There are also apps for your phone and computerthat can reduce blue light in the evening hours, these are good, but I still recommend wearing blue light blocking glasses. I also recommend putting away electronics 30–60 minutes before bed.

Do you think getting “good sleep” is more difficult today than it was in the past?

Indeed, there are many more distractions and stressors now than we had in the past.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share “5 things you need to know to get the sleep you need and wake up refreshed and energized”? If you can, kindly share a story or example for each.

1. Set your sleep cycle — Commit to a specific time that you will go to bed each night, your body will then acclimate to this schedule, and you will find it easier to fall asleep over time.

2. Optimize your surroundings for quality sleep — Your surroundings are influential on the quality of your sleep. Ensure that you have light blocked out as light even on the skin can confuse brain chemicals into thinking it may be time to be awake. I use blackout shades or a blackout screen. You can also use a sleep mask to block out light. Keep your room cool. I keep mine at 65 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are too warm during the night, this can cause sleep disturbances.

3. Don’t eat too late and prioritize nutrition — If you are consuming large quantities of food before bed, your body will need to digest that food and will keep you out of deeper sleep cycles. Your active digestion can also make it more difficult to fall asleep. Also, I am a prominent advocate of hydration but try to stop a few hours before bed to eliminate having to wake up to urinate. What you eat throughout the day can also influence the quality of your sleep. I recommend a nutrient-dense diet with brain-healthy foods such as wild-caught salmon, antioxidant-rich berries, healthy fats such as avocados, ghee, and organic extra virgin olive oil, dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and swiss chard, and organic nuts and seeds such as walnuts and pumpkin seeds. Junk foods, sweets, or highly processed foods can spike your blood sugar and cause chronic inflammation in the body. It’s also vital to eat magnesium-rich foods or supplement with magnesium. (Test your magnesium levels to know if you are deficient or not, most individuals are deficient.)

4. Manage your stress — As I mentioned, stress is a significant disruptor of sleep. Either the inability to fall asleep or stress may wake you up during your sleeping hours. Try to reduce stress by walking outside and exposing yourself to vitamin D, grounding or earthing (walking on the earth with bare feet), meditating, practicing breathwork, and ensuring that relationships in your life are positive and do not evoke feelings of anxiety, fear or stress.

5. Limit or reduce alcohol — Although some may think that alcohol puts you to sleep, the alcohol will metabolize and spike your blood sugar, which ends up being detrimental to the quality of your sleep. I’ve witnessed it firsthand through sleep tracking. Not only do my deep and REM sleep cycles diminish, but my HRV (heart rate variability) also declines by 50% or more. Your heart rate variability is an indicator of stress and recovery. A lower score is suboptimal. If you plan to have a drink or two, have it earlier rather than later, and drink at least one glass of water for every alcoholic beverage.

What would you advise someone who wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep?

Upon waking, do not check your phone or turn on the TV. The blue light from these devices will further disrupt your sleep. Instead, listen to a meditation or soundscape. There is also the trick of counting sheep (it works!). When you are focusing on the cute sheep jumping about, it takes your mind off the stressors that most likely woke you in the first place. I also recommend adaptogens to help manage your stress levels. Adaptogens are ancient herbs that can improve adrenal health (your adrenals are responsible for cortisol production). If you are looking for a supplement to help you fall asleep, I recommend Qualia night. I also take Lions Mane daily. It has significantly improved my REM sleep.

What are your thoughts about taking a nap during the day? Is that a good idea, or can it affect the ability to sleep well at night?

Of course, it is best to get all of your sleep at night and wake up rested, but if that is not possible, I recommend taking a short nap (25 minutes) to rest your brain and body. If you are considering taking a nap in the evening hours, I would recommend heading to bed earlier that night instead of taking an evening nap.

Wonderful. We are nearly done. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Elon Musk! He is truly changing the world, and I admire his work with Neuralink. I also appreciate the fact that he is honest and genuine. He says what is on his mind and is committed to the views that he has. Elon, if I can contribute to Neuralink in any way, it would be an honor!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I post brain health content daily on my Instagram page @KaylaBarnes, and you can learn more about my company (and book a free consultation!) at www.brain-upgraded.com.

This was very meaningful. Thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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