The Melanie Avalon Podcast Episode #67 - Dr. Kirk Parsley
Kirk Parsley, M.D. has been lecturing on the health, wellness and longevity benefits of quality and sufficient sleep since 2009. In the 10 years he has been studying the deleterious effects of inadequate or poor quality sleep, he has come to realize that sleep impacts one’s overall health, disease and mortality risk.
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2:05 - SLEEP REMEDY: Sleep Remedy Is The Ultimate Sleep Supplement, Developed By Dr. Kirk Parsley After Years Of Research To Naturally Restore Sleep To The Sleep-Deprived, Insomniac Navy Seals. Rather Than Knocking You Out With Drugs, Sleep Remedy Provides The Necessary Neurotransmitters And Nutrients In The Perfect Amounts To Naturally Support Your Body's Sleep Process. Go To melanieavalon.Com/sleepremedy And Use The Code MELANIEAVALON For 10% Off!!
2:25 - IF Biohackers: Intermittent Fasting + Real Foods + Life: Join Melanie's Facebook Group At facebook.com/groups/PaleoOMAD For A Weekly Episode GIVEAWAY, And To Discuss And Learn About All Things Biohacking! All Conversations Welcome!
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The Melanie Avalon Podcast Episode # 3 - Dr. Kirk Parsley (Sleep Episode)
The Melanie Avalon Podcast Episode #35 - Dr. Kirk Parsley (Covid Episode)
The Melanie Avalon Podcast Episode #36 - David Sinclair (Covid Episode)
10:00 - Dr. Kirk Parsley's Background - Realizing The Importance Of Sleep
17:45 - Listener Q&A: Beatrix - What does optimal sleep look like? How Many hours of deep and REM sleep?
21:35 - Should You Track Your Sleep?
25:30 - Listener Q&A: Margaret - Is the Oura Ring Accurate, What Devices are best?
27:55 - Listener Q&A: Tamela - Thoughts On Fitbit Sleep Technology?
28:50 - Listener Q&A: Anna - I feel like I do better On Different Amounts Of Sleep?
29:00 - Listener Q&A: Jill - High Oura Ring Ratings But Feeling Awful?
30:30 - The Role of Cortisol and The Fight or Flight Response
36:45 - How Much Sleep Do You Need?
41:25 - Do The Elderly Sleep Less? The Role oF Sleep In Aging
45:40 - Listener Q&A: Sharon - My Mother Can't sleep; How to Keep the mind calm, blood sugar, Etc?
48:15 - Thinking About Sleep, Looking At The Clock, To Do And Worry Lists
57:05 - Inside Tracker: Get The Blood And DNA Tests You Need To Be Testing, Personalized Dietary Recommendations, An Online Portal To Analyze Your Bloodwork, Find out Your True "Inner Age," And More! Listen To My Interview with The founder Gil Blander Here! Get Started Today At Insidetracker.com And Use The Coupon Code MELANIE30 For 30% Off All Tests Site wide!
59:45 - Listener Q&A: Rosalie: How To Shut Your Mind Off?
1:01:30 - Counting Sheep, Nursery Rhymes, Meditation
1:04:05 - Word Visualizations
1:07:50 - Listener Q&A: Charlotte - What Do You Think About Apollo Neuro?
1:08:00 - Listener Q&A: Sofia: Is It Ok To Use Apollo Neuro Every Night
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1:11:45 - The Role Of Dependence
1:13:15 - Listener Q&A: Monica - How To Put Down The Phone?
1:16:35 - Sleep Fears
1:21:15 - sleep deprivation And performance perception
1:23:30 - Listener Q&A: Amy - How To Stop From Waking Up In the Middle Of The Night?
1:23:40 - Listener Q&A: Wendy - Why Can't I sleep All Night?
1:23:45 : Listener Q&A: Christine - I Can't Fall Back Asleep When I wake Up
1:28:00 - Stress Hormones And Sleep Pressure
1:30:40 - Men Vs Women, Sleeping And Insomnia
1:32:15 - Bioptmizers: Get BiOptimizer's Ultimate Immunity Stack, With 3 products which contain over 18 natural herbs and probiotic blends formulated to fight and eliminate bad bacteria And repair compromised gut lining. Go to www.bioptimizers.com/melanie and use The coupon code MELANIE10 to save an extra 10% on the Immunity Protection Stack
1:34:15 - Why Do You Wake Up At Specific Times On The Clock?
1:34:20 - Listener Q&A: Anna - Is There A Circadian Reason For Waking Up?
1:36:30 - Do We Wake Up Between The Cycles?
1:40:00 - Split Night Sleeping
1:43:30 - Listener Q&A: Emily - How Does Sex Affect Sleep? Why Is The Bed Ok For Just Sleep And Sex?
1:43:40 - Listener Q&A: Victoria - When To Have Sex For Best Sleep?
1:47:30 - How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep?
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1:51:35 - Listener Q&A: Colleen - Recommendations For Children Who Don't Sleep?
1:51:45 - How Does Sleep Remedy Work?
1:53:20 - The Role Of Vitamin D3
2:01:05 - Kids Formulation
2:03:40 - SLEEP REMEDY: Sleep Remedy Is The Ultimate Sleep Supplement, Developed By Dr. Kirk Parsley After Years Of Research To Naturally Restore Sleep To The Sleep-Deprived, Insomniac Navy Seals. Rather Than Knocking You Out With Drugs, Sleep Remedy Provides The Necessary Neurotransmitters And Nutrients In The Perfect Amounts To Naturally Support Your Body's Sleep Process. Go To Melanievalon.Com/Sleepremedy And Use The Code MELANIEAVALON For 10% Off!!
Melanie Avalon: Hi friends, welcome back to the show. I am so excited about the conversation that I am about to have. This is a first for this podcast as much as a third can be a first. I am here with a repeat guest for the third time. A little bit of a backstory. So, when I first started this show, when it comes to health, fitness, dare I say, biohacking, there's diet, there's food, there's light, there's relationships, there's a lot of things.
But one could possibly argue that one of the biggest factors and all of that is our sleep. And so, when I first started this show, I knew I had to do a foundational episode on sleep, and I knew it had to be with one of the top go-to sleep experts. I probably about five or six years ago-ish, I heard an interview on Robb Wolf's podcast, who I have now also had on the show, I'll put a link to that in the show notes. But it was with a Mr./Dr. Kirk Parsley, who developed a sleep supplement called Sleep Remedy. But I heard that interview, it blew my mind about sleep.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: That was well before Sleep Remedy, I think. Yeah. But if you heard the first podcast Robb and I did, and that was--
Melanie Avalon: I did.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: Yeah, that was a couple of years before the product, I think, at least a year.
Melanie Avalon: Well, that's when I first heard you. That's when I became a fan/very much interested in your work. And then, when you came out with Sleep Remedy, which was when?
Dr. Kirk Parsley: This paleo effects would have been the fifth year to this past May or so, would have been the fifth year. And if you remember, we started as Sleep Cocktail.
Melanie Avalon: Sleep Cocktail. I see, I'm an original.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: Which was the worst marketing name ever, proving why I'm a doctor and not a marketer.
Melanie Avalon: I remember being really sad when you changed the name because I really liked the name Sleep Cocktail, but I understand the [unintelligible [00:02:08] issues, all of that. So, I've actually been taking Sleep Remedy/Sleep Cocktail probably since the day it came out. So, one of the few consistencies in my life. I was thinking about this since for the past five years, it's one of the few consistence in my life. And so, I brought you on for, I think, like the second or third episode of this show to do a foundational interview on sleep, and my audience loved that episode. They often say that it's their favorite. A lot of them got turned on to your Sleep Remedy supplement and have said that it's a game changer as well. And, yeah, so we had that episode. It was incredible. I brought you back, like in March for an episode, not about sleep, on COVID actually.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: Oh, that's right. I forgot we did that on COVID. And you didn't get canceled.
Melanie Avalon: I did not. My mom told me that-- She told me my show was going to get taken down. But then, I did actually a follow up. I did two COVID interviews. I did you and David Sinclair. In any case, Sleep Remedy, I've been getting a lot of questions about for kids specifically. So, when you recently released your kids' supplement, I was like, oh, my goodness, maybe it's time to bring you back on and maybe it's time to do a sleep Q&A episode because I get so many questions about sleep. So that's what this is about to be. I have so many questions from listeners. So, I hope you have a lot of time to spend right now and thank you so much for being here.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: Thank you for having me. I always take the opportunity to stand on any soapbox I'm offered.
Melanie Avalon: Well, here's a soapbox for you.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: I appreciate the use of your soapbox.
Melanie Avalon: Oh, you're welcome. And so, a little bit about Dr. Parsley. A lot of you guys probably are pretty familiar, but if you are not, he has quite the resume. So, he served as an undersea medical officer at the Naval Special Warfare Group 1 from 2009 to 2013. He developed and supervised the group's first sports medicine rehabilitation center. He's a former SEAL with a medical degree from Bethesda.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: No, so the actual name of the school is Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, which they pronounce as USUHS.
Melanie Avalon: Okay, yeah, you can just say that.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: But it's in Bethesda, and that's easy thing to remember. It's attached to Bethesda Hospital, essentially, right behind it.
Melanie Avalon: And you've been a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine since 2006. You've served as the Naval Special Warfare's expert on sleep medicine. You've got a TED Talk on sleep. You're certified on hormone modulation. Yeah, so thank you.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: Let's see if I can live up to that intro.
Melanie Avalon: I'm sure you can, you already have. So, like I said, this is going to be listener Q&A, but I'm going to sprinkle in my little questions.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: Of course, you will. I expect nothing less from you, Melanie.
Melanie Avalon: To start things off, I do have a lot of questions from listeners, but would you like to tell listeners briefly about your story? I'll put a link in the show notes to the first episode that we did because I think you give a really nice story about how you came to what all you do with sleep medicine today, but would you like to tell for listeners who are not familiar a little bit about yourself, and why you're doing what you do?
Dr. Kirk Parsley: And I'm crushed that somebody might not know who I am already, but I'll get my way through it now. So, sort of the well-told story from all the lectures and podcasts and media and all that so forth. Basically, the Reader's Digest version of it is that I was always interested in sports medicine when I was thinking about going to medical school and actually while I was in college, I worked at a sports medicine facility as a PT assistant. And then, I had always planned into go, and I always planned to either go into sports medicine or orthopedic surgery. I went to the military’s medical school. I was a SEAL, I got out, I went to college, then I went to the military’s medical school, primarily because they would pay me to go to medical school instead of the other way around. And I was already married and had kids and so, it was the responsible and smart thing to do.
The way the military contracts work, of course, is they train you, they pay you to train, but then you have to use that training for them for an appropriate amount of time. And so, it's a two to one exchange, essentially. So, if you go to the medical school, you have to give them eight years as a doctor. The way they get general practitioners out in the navy so that everybody doesn't just go for medical school and then specialize and then end up in a specialty to where there wouldn't really be of any much utility out in the fleet, is they let you do your first year of residency and then they send you out to do what they call an operational tour, which is the navy, usually on a ship or something attached to a ship. And you can avoid the ships by doing flight surgery. So, you go to flight school, and then you become a doctor for the air wings of the navy, or you do a residency in undersea and hyperbaric medicine, which is submarines and divers. And then, you can go to dive commands and submarine commands. And, of course, I did it so that I could go back to the SEAL teams and be the doctor for the SEAL teams, those are my people, my brethren and gave me an opportunity to go give back to that community.
When I went there, when I got the job I wanted there, I get there at a very opportune time when they were building-- everything in the military takes multiple years to get done and so, they had had funding requests for a long time to build a rehab facility because we didn't have our own. So, the SEALs have their own base and so it's quite a drive to go to the hospital or to other medical clinics, whatever. So, if nothing else for time efficiency, we should have our own. And, of course, the SEALs have a lot of orthopedic injuries and a lot of surgeries, so why not have our own facility? I got there right when that got funded.
Of course, having worked as a PT assistant for five years when I was an undergrad, I had a great foundation for that. I was really interested in sports medicine and ortho, so it was a perfect fit. And they put me in charge of building out this facility. Then, we hired first nutritionist and our first strength and conditioning coach and our first exercise physiologist and our first PT and our first PT assistant and athletic trainers and all this stuff. And then, we brought in pain rounds and orthopedic rounds. We built this amazing complex for guys to rehab from their injuries.
But then, I was the dumbest guy around because we'd hired all these experts who had their little niche in this and so when you're the dumbest guy, they just put you in charge of everybody and they say, “Well, you're in charge and you just run it.” What would happen is the SEALs-- because my office was in that facility, the SEALs would come to my office and I'd been a SEAL recently enough to where there were still plenty of guys in the SEAL teams that I had been a SEAL with, so plenty of people out there who knew me, I had a good reputation, they trusted me and so they would come in and they tell me their problems. Usually, they don't share their problems with people, with medical professionals because the doctors can disqualify them from a job. Just like as a professional athlete, you can put them on the bench if you say they have too severe of a medical issue or something that needs to be evaluated or treated to go back into their job and so they'd hide it all. They came in and they told me all their problems.
And I won't go into all the details of it but basically, they didn't have any medical disease. They just weren't performing to the level that they felt they should be able to perform to. It felt like something was holding them back. They were losing muscle. They were getting fatter, they were getting weaker, they were getting slower. They weren't necessarily old enough for that to be justifiable somewhere and that was a component of it. But their attention was gone, their our concentration, their verbal fluency, their problem-solving abilities, like all these cognitive, emotional, and physical complaints that just were, I'm not where it should be, I'm not quite where I feel like, I feel like I'm-- even their motivation, they're motivated, it's a highly motivated group of guys. And they'll still get up and do the job, but they're forcing themselves to do it, whereas they used to just love to do it.
I was a western-trained medical physician, so I knew how to diagnose and treat disease, and they didn't have any disease. So, it led me down this whole sort of integrative functional alternative pathway, just looking for something that could explain all of these symptoms, and I expected it to be several things. And I really just from the patients, taking patient histories, and patient after patient telling me that they were using sleep drugs, after I'd heard hundred people say that, I thought, “Well, maybe we should evaluate if sleep drugs have any side effects that could be causing this,” and I didn't really know. So, I started learning about sleep drugs and then I started learning about sleep, and I was like, “Wow, this one thing could really explain 90% of their symptoms, or maybe even 100% of their symptoms.”
I just really dove really deep, fast, hard into learning about sleep and trying to change the culture, the community's beliefs around sleep, getting people off of sleep drugs, doing some mild supplementation, because I can't just take away their sleep drug and say, “Go sleep.” So, that's how the product-- the sleep supplement that we have now, that's how that got created was just basically just piecemealing it together, supplement by supplement, things that were helping guys sleep and then figuring out the right quantities of all that. And that led me to sharing stages with Robb Wolf and Chris Kresser and Dave Asprey and all those types of people who had this internet presence and some notoriety or I don’t know whatever would call that. They're influencers, and just kind of got sucked into the jet stream of all that, and then ended up lecturing all around the world and writing a book and doing a TED Talk and producing my own sleep supplement and all that. And that's how I'm here.
Melanie Avalon: Here we are.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: Here we are.
Melanie Avalon: Here we are. It's a wonderful journey, because I'm super grateful for the sleep supplement, as is the rest of my audience, and I'm sure we will dive deep into it. Okay, so now we can jump into the questions because I have so many questions from listeners. I asked on my Facebook group, which everybody should join if you're not there. It's called IF Biohackers. Definitely join that community. There's a lot of fun stuff in there. So, I asked for questions for you, and we got a ton. To start, this is just to get a general sleep concepts down. Beatrix says, “What does optimal sleep really look like? How many hours of light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep should one get for optimal rest and recovery?”
Dr. Kirk Parsley: It depends. So, it depends on your age. Children need a lot more sleep than adults, they have different ratios of deep to-- Well, let's just say non-REM and REM. There's lots of different ways to categorize the levels of sleep or the stages of sleep. We will be simple and say non-REM and REM. So, the non-REM is usually-- I'm assuming that the woman who asked the question is probably using some sort of tracking device, an Oura Ring, a Garmin Watch, or I don't know, what all, Fitbits and WHOOP bands and there's tons of things that you can use to track. There's varying technology amongst these things, varying accuracy, that's why it depends. My personal view on it, and when I work with clients, I'm primarily interested in your subjective experience of sleep, your objective, like how do you feel like you slept? Which is ironic, because the whole definition of being asleep is that you're not aware of your environment, so how can you be aware of how well you sleep? Did you fall asleep easily? Did you sleep without waking up, at least to your knowledge, not waking up? Did you feel refreshed and well rested when you woke up? That's the primary thing.
Now, secondly, how is your performance? So, if you've been chronically sleep deprived, and you get to where you're sleeping like I just described, are there any performance metrics that you can pick up, that you can notice? Are you less emotional? Do you feel you have better concentration? Are you a runner, is your running time getting faster? Do you lift weights, are you getting stronger? Do you notice? Are there any noticeable changes in you? That's sort of the second metric. If you're wearing a wearable device because they track different ways, you're going to end up with different ratios, because some of them are just pure actigraphy, which means that if you don't move, it's calling that deep sleep. While you're paralyzed during REM sleep, you're not paralyzed during deep sleep. So, technically, I don't know what we're really calling it. I don't know what we're calling what at that point. But some of them will break it down and say, “Well, this was non-REM and that was REM.” There's varying degrees of accuracy with that.
Basically, the overall answer to that question, if you had, let's say, a polysomnograph, like a real sleep study every night, it would approximately be equal parts non-REM and REM. And then, at certain component of that is going to be transitional sleep, what we call stage two sleep. What happens is your first sleep cycle is 80% to 90% deep sleep, 10% to 20% REM. If you sleep your full eight hours, the last sleep cycle is the opposite of that, 80% to 90% REM sleep, 10% to 20% deep sleep. If you just progress through that phase, from mainly deep to mainly REM, you're going to end up with approximately, the same amount.
Now the problem is you have to-- there's that transition period of sleep when you're not in either one of those you're in stage two. And that can eat up an hour of your sleep, that can eat up two hours of your sleep, and it could be perfectly normal that it's eating up two hours of your sleep or an hour of your sleep or 30 minutes of your sleep. So, non-REM and REM approximately even. The best use of wearable devices is consistency because none of them are 100% accurate. Nothing is 100% accurate. But the best reason to have one of those devices is and I think the only reason to track your sleep is if you're planning on doing something about it, if your sleep isn't as good as you want it to be. The primary benefit of those, like if you wear the Oura Ring, which I think is a really good product, whether it's 50% as accurate as a sleep study or 100% accurate, it doesn't matter. What matters is that from night to night, if you're getting quality sleep that I described earlier, if you're getting that quality night's sleep, from night to night, it should look approximately the same. If you start noticing, “Wow, half of my night was stage two to sleep,” then there's something wrong with your sleep. And that's really what you can use them for. But I couldn't say you should sleep 8.2 hours and you should have 3.4 hours of deep sleep and 2.7 hours of REM sleep and you should have this much-- that really can't be done. But the approximation is non-REM-- if we just lumped non-REM into one category and REM into another category, about equal parts of those two.
Melanie Avalon: Okay, awesome. I'm already going off track because you touched on so many things. It sounds like-- because right now I'm wearing a CGM and I am questioning the accuracy of the measurements, but it doesn't change the trends that I can see at least. So, it sort of sounds like that maybe, but with the sleep tracking that you can see the trends.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: I don't know what the term for all of those things are, all the wearables and all the biometrics that people are collecting on themselves. Again, unless you're an expert in that field or you're working with an expert in that field who's telling you, “We're going to do interventions to get to this place,” what you're really using that for is a historical record and a consistency thing. So, if you know your sleep is terrible and you don't feel good, and you're going to improve your sleep, well, why not wear wearable that then shows you that you're improving your sleep and then you find out what a good night's sleep looks like for you. It may not be what it would look like for me or somebody else on your wearable device. We might look totally different. Both get a good night's sleep, but we know what a good night's sleep for you looks like, and now that can be your foundation. When you don't get a good night's sleep, you can evaluate it and say, “Did I eat too late? Did I eat too many refined carbohydrates? Did I drink alcohol? Did I drink alcohol too close to bed? Was I more stressed? Did I overdo my exercise? Did I not exercise for a while?” And you can then use that as an assessment tool to be like, “I want to get back to what I know a good night's sleep for me is.”
The same thing with something like your CGM. Are you just interested into how much your blood glucose rises and how quickly it comes down to look at sort of what is my insulin sensitivity? Or are you like, I have a number that I want to keep it out because I want to decrease like hospitalization on my red blood cells and I have this goal and I want to get there, so I want my HbA1c to be 4.2. And so, I'm going to drive it, I need my blood glucose to average 74, whatever. You can use it either way. Or you can just say, “I'm observing what I look like when I eat well, comparing it to what I look like when I don't eat well.” And that could be the motivation, or that could be the metric for knowing, like sort of our thing, or your interventions working. The devices themselves aren't the intervention, the devices are just a way to measure it, and you can't improve anything you can't measure.
Melanie Avalon: Exactly. So, you already answered these questions, but I'm going to throw them in so that they can know that it was answered and be represented. So, you just answered, Margaret said, “I'm curious if you have thoughts on the effectiveness and accuracy of the Oura Ring for sleep data? And also, what devices do you think are most accurate for analyzing sleep?” So, do you think a certain one is more accurate?
Dr. Kirk Parsley: I think, and this isn't my personal knowledge, but I have friends who are sleep researchers who are specifically studying these devices. In fact, I know a woman who's studying these devices on SEALs, coincidentally. It looks like that the Oura Ring is probably the most accurate. I don't think it's a landslide victory, but I think it's a significant victory, as far as like comparing it to a polysomnographic, like what we consider the gold standard for sleep studies. The Oura Ring seemed to be the closest. I think the WHOOP bands are on par with Garmin watches. And interestingly, I think she's done some research, this one woman in particular I think has done some research where she could combine the Garmin and the Oura together to get better data. But I would say those three are probably the top. But again, I don't think it really matters. It depends. That not the question she's asking, but just for me to throw my two cents in there. You can have the app that's on your iPhone when to track your sleep, I forget what it's called, and you can use that. Just as long as you have some metric. I have older clients who don't have any interest in any kind of gadgetry, and they just have a journal, and they write down depending on how much work. They might write down what they ate for dinner, if they drank or not what time they went to bed. And then when they wake up in the morning, they say how long they think they were awake before they fell asleep and how long they slept and how they feel. They write that down in a couple minutes and that's it. That's how we're tracking their sleep. And that works too.
Melanie Avalon: Well, first of all, for listeners, that's good to hear about the Oura Ring, because I am actually bringing on the CEO of Oura and listeners are actually usually surprised to know that I haven't tried an Oura Ring yet, because that seems exactly like something I would do. So, I'm really excited to try it out. I'll be trying it out soon and doing an interview, so stay tuned for that. You also answered Tamela's question she was wondering about Fitbit and their sleep technology. But I feel like we covered the devices pretty well.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: I think those are all kind of-- I mean, the only unique one that I'm aware of is the Oura Ring and I think the reason is the most accurate is because it can measure our arterial, because of where it's placed and nothing on your wrist is going to be able to measure your arteries because the artery so close to the skin, it can measure the order itself. And it requires way less energy so they can monitor more frequently. So, I think that's why it's the best, I think, like the technology is very similar to the other devices, they were the ones that came up with the idea of like, “Well, why don't we put it on the finger and see if we can get arterial blood instead of venous blood.” And then they have actigraphy built-in and heart rate variability and all these other things too.
Melanie Avalon: This is so helpful. I'm taking notes for that interview. This sparked another question that was sort of related because you're talking about how the perception of sleep is really important. Anna says, “I always felt that I do better with five to six hours.” But then she says in the past few years since doing IF, her sleep is all over the place. And more recently, it's been more like eight to nine hours. That seems like a perception thing. And then similarly Jill said her Oura Ring gave her really high readings, but she felt horrible all day and it's happened before.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: Yeah. Jill needs to figure out what a good night asleep looks like for her on her Oura Ring. Whether or not Oura says this is your best night or not, if you feel like it was a really good night's sleep, take notes. Figure out what did I do tonight that was different than what I've done in the past. Or if you feel like you got a really bad night's sleep, and I can almost guarantee you, although I can't 100% guarantee you, I can almost guarantee you that once you figure out what feels like a really good night for you sleep-wise, it's going to have a pattern on that data and you'll know that that's your pattern, and then that's your ideal. That's what you're going for your ideal even if Oura says that's not your ideal, that's what your ideal is because that's when you feel and perform the best and you've done everything correctly, that becomes your gold standard.
Melanie Avalon: I love that, that's empowering. So, what about Anna's question about like, in the past, she felt she was great on less sleep and now she feels like she needs more?
Dr. Kirk Parsley: Yeah, so what that is, I'm sure we talked about in the first podcast. The exact opposite of deep sleep is fight or flight. I'm sure most people in your audience know what that is. Fight or flight is essentially the highest stress response you can possibly produce, and causes the highest levels of stress hormones to be secreted from your adrenals that can possibly be secreted. During that time, you become superhuman, you become physiologically really powerful, you get stronger and faster, your reflexes get better, your endurance increases, your pulmonary artery dilate, you can take bigger breaths, your pupils dilate, you take in more light, your reflexes get faster, your pain threshold increases, you become this machine that's driven to get away from a single threat. That single threat, whether it's somebody with a gun or a tiger or whatever, snake, whatever it is that's causing a fight or flight, you are programmed, over millennia, that 100% of our resources right now are going to energize this body.
We don't care about the brain, we don't care about any of the organs other than the organs that are pumping blood or oxygenating blood. So, essentially, all of your physiologic functions suffer unless it's making you faster or stronger. Like all those things that I just said. Now, the exact opposite of that happens during deep sleep, the whole another story. But that's all what's called anabolic, meaning, we're taking small particles, when we're building more complex structures with them. You can think of it as like anabolic steroids is what they've always called what bodybuilders take their muscles get bigger. So, they're taking in food, they're exercising, their physiology is turning that food into these protein structures called muscles, and they're getting bigger.
When you're in fight or flight, you're catabolic, which is the opposite. We're now using those complex structures and breaking them down to make fuel for the rest of our body. When you're starving, your cortisol levels go up. We'll use cortisol is the simple one to talk about stress. When you're starving, your cortisol levels go up, which is why a lot of people when they start a calorie-restricted diet or intermittent fasting, they have problems sleeping, because cortisol keeps you awake. The whole purpose of cortisol is to keep you alert in proportion to your environment. When you're in deep sleep, you have almost no cortisol because you don't need cortisol, you're not paying attention to your environment. You don't need to be awake, you don't need to be alert, which need to be as super anabolic.
Now, the reason we can put people in caves with no light, and they'll still sleep about the same amount of time and they’ll wake up almost about the same amount of times because it's not like the sun isn't technically waking anybody up. It's this cycle, what's really waking you up is your cortisol level, you have the lowest cortisol, when you first go to sleep and you go into your first deep sleep cycle, almost all your cortisol is gone. It's like the lowest it's ever going to be, and you're the most anabolic you're ever going to be. And then throughout the course of the night, as you repair and you do more REM sleep, which is more cognitively active, you're having dreams and your body system becoming slightly more and more awake because your cortisol levels are coming up. And with no light or no alarm clock or no intervention, at some point, your cortisol level will be high enough to wake you up. And then your cortisol levels creep up throughout the day, and they peak somewhere around 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon and then they start coming back down and at some level there, once they get low enough, you can fall asleep.
So, it's a really long-winded way of answering this question, but if you don't get enough sleep, and I don't know if I said this on your podcast before, but the easy way to think about it is your body is designed to be awake for 16 hours. And it takes eight hours to repair, rejuvenate, replenish that body to be ready for 16 more hours of wakefulness, that's just the way it is. You can argue with that, you can not want that, you can dislike that. I don't care. It's true. There's no controversy on it. So, really the purpose of sleep today is to get you ready for tomorrow. So, at the end of tonight, everything that I did today, my body's going to use the template for what it wants to get better at, so that tomorrow I can be at least as good as it was today, ideally, maybe a little bit better.
Now, if I don't sleep eight hours, and I sleep six hours instead, well, I still have to do tomorrow. So, how am I going to do tomorrow? I didn't completely repair and replenish, so what am I going to do? What's my compensatory mechanism? Stress hormones. Not fight or flight, not that high, it's not going to drive me crazy, but it's going to drive my stress hormones up, it's going to drive my stress hormones towards that fight or flight, maybe 10% that way or 20% that way. And what do you feel like when you're in fight or flight? Like, yeah, you might feel scared, but man, do you feel alert and powerful and concentrated and [unintelligible [00:30:49], like, man, I am on it. You are the best you can possibly be.
So, when you're under-sleeping because the whole definition of sleep is that we're not at all-- we're not paying any attention to our senses. So, we're not paying any attention to our environment. So, we don't have a good objective experience of sleep. We just don't. We can only say how-- "Well, I don't remember anything. I remember getting in bed, I don't remember anything. And then I woke up right around sunrise and I just feel great." That's the best possible metric you can have for sleep, without wearing some sort of device and validating and all that other stuff. So if you only sleep five or six hours, you're going to use these hormones and these hormones are going to be high, because unfortunately, when you don't sleep, you become more catabolic, you have to have higher stress hormones to get through the day, which means that your stress hormones are going to be higher when you go to sleep as well, which means that they're going to creep up earlier in the morning, and you're going to feel like six hours is the right amount of time for you because your stress hormones are going to be high enough to wake you up after six hours because that's what you've been doing to yourself.
Melanie Avalon: This is my question. You said there's no controversy that we need eight hours that that's what we need. If it's about repair, wouldn't that be dependent on the amount of damage occurring and also the efficiency of your repair processes? Couldn't some people need less?
Dr. Kirk Parsley: Absolutely. I wasn't being glib, as much as I was just generalizing. So, of course, age is a huge factor. Newborns, it's normal for them to sleep up to 20 hours a day. Adolescents need probably 10 to 12 hours per day, unfortunately, they're all getting like sex, but it's a whole other story. What I was referring to is the generalized idea averaged over time, adults, fully formed adults, so let's say at least 25-ish. Let's see, somewhere around 25, you become what we call just an adult physiologically, neurologically, your prefrontal cortex is fully developed, and everything that's going to grow, and get better, has grown and gotten better.
Melanie Avalon: Wait, 25 is when you technically become an adult? I actually didn’t know that.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: I'm thinking of cognitive development, the prefrontal cortex is the last area of your brain to fully develop, which is why we don't treat teenagers like adults, because they don't have a good prefrontal cortex. And that's what makes us smart. That's what allows us to understand the consequences of our actions and predict the consequences, our action to be able to think through stuff. If you're 16, you need to jump off the roof into the pool to see if you can do it. When you're 25, you're like, “Oh, I don't need to do that.” I could probably make it, but I can look at the risk to reward ratio, and say, that's not a good idea. And that's why not as many 25-year-olds do stupid stuff like that. And so that's why we treat people like children. In women's brains become fully mature, their prefrontal cortex becomes fully mature slightly earlier than men. So, most women, their prefrontal cortex is fully formed by, I want to say 20 to 21. But I think as early as 18, but I think the average is somewhere around 20 to 21. And then for men, it's like 23, to 25. And that's why women say men are less mature because they are, up until their prefrontal cortex is fully developed. And that leads to more impulsive activities and so forth. And then, of course, there's evolutionary theory that's part of evolution, that it's selected for people whose brains are like that, so that you could get people to go to war and chase big dangerous animals and fight off other tribes and all those other types of stuff, but that's neither here nor there. It happens a little later in men.
That's a total tangent, but let's say, like once you're fully formed, you can call it whatever you want to. I'm just going to use early 20s is the guideline, your brain is fully formed, your body's fully formed. If we measured your sleep, let's say over the course of a month or a year, about eight hours is roughly yet, I heard it be super specific 8.12 hours, 8.2, whatever it's like. But to your point, yes, if I go out and I run an ultra-marathon today, first of all, I couldn't. But let's say I could, if I could run an ultra-marathon today, I would be exhausted. And I would need more sleep tonight and probably the next night, the next night for a while, I'll need some more sleep because I’ve put my body through a lot, I’ve done a lot of damage. Or if I got up super early, say yesterday, looked over spreadsheets for 12 hours to get all the last-minute tax information I needed, really stressed my brain, well, then I'm going to need a little more sleep. I said eight hours plus or minus half an hour, that's the gist of it. But again, it depends on what you're doing, how hard you're training your body.
So, yes, if you're a serious athlete, even if you're just a weekend age group or but something you take very seriously, and you really want to do well and perform well, and you're measuring yourself and competing, you probably need 9 or 10 hours asleep, to be honest. I mean, unless your sport is, I don't know, Batman or something, but if it's something there's pretty rigorous-- I shouldn't say that I've heard Batman actually could be pretty tired. But you get my point, the harder you push yourself, the more recover you need. But the overall average across all the literature for the past 50 years is that it's approximately eight hours of sleep per night.
Melanie Avalon: Don't the elderly sleep less?
Dr. Kirk Parsley: I believe that's primarily behavioral.
Melanie Avalon: I was wondering, like the body was consciously just choosing not to repair things anymore, which would be really sad.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: The reason old people shrink and get hunched over and lose muscle and all that, they are in a catabolic phase. Essentially, pretty much all aging is caused by inadequate sleep and the most generalized way of saying it. What I mean by that is when you're young, obviously, you're going to bed one way, you're getting, let's say it's ideal, and you live in a great environment where you can optimize your sleep and your teenager and get 12 hours of sleep, you're waking up the next day, actually better, bigger, smarter. You've actually improved yours, you're not aging in the way we think of age is being a disease, like a declining. You're still on your way up. Somewhere around that 25-year-old thing, you peeking and you can hold on to that for 5 or 10 years, 15 years, maybe in which you can use your body and your brain to your desired level code to sleep for eight-ish hours per night. And then wake up the next day, and be just as good as you were when you went to bed. But over time, what happens is, don't sleep quite enough, your anabolic activities, I'm using this as though it's a simple thing. There are thousands of biochemical reactions that are determining whether you're more-- what tissues are anabolic, and which tissues are catabolic. But as a general sort of global thing, you're very anabolic when you're young, you have a stasis somewhere in the middle where you can slightly improve, maybe flip flop, go up and down a little bit.
Then, at some point, it seems that eight hours of sleep isn't quite enough and so you're going to bed-- if I go to bed tonight, I'm 100%. 100% of who I am today, I'm 50 years old. And so maybe my sleep isn't quite as great as it was when I was 25 years old, my anabolic stats aren't quite as good. So tomorrow, I'm not waking up the same as today. Tomorrow, I'm waking up 99.996 or something, like I've lost a bit. Maybe I've gotten better in selective areas, maybe I learned some stuff, maybe whatever. But over the course of your life, your ability to be anabolic and repair through your sleep diminishes. So, eight hours isn't quite enough to repair. But you don't have any physiologic mechanism that's allowing you to sleep longer than say that eight hours. So, that's really all your body's going to do. And it's not quite enough to repair. So you're waking up a little bit worse, and you start becoming catabolic and you lose protein structures, you lose collagen in your skin and your skin starts to sag and get thinner, you lose muscle mass, you start to put on a little bit of fat, you don't clean out your brain completely and there's some protein structures in there that are kind of impairing your cognitive functioning and then you're what we call old.
I have worked with people in their late 70s. I want to say she was 81 or 82. She hadn't slept more than four and a half hours in 20 years. And she lived alone, she lived on, not quite a farm, but she had property, she garden, she had some work to do around her place every day. She said, “Well, I just can't, this is how much I need to sleep.” I worked with her for about six months and it was just purely 100% lifestyle changes and sleep hygiene. She did start to supplement, I don't know if she still takes it, but she started sleeping eight hours a night in her 80s. She felt a lot better and she felt a lot smarter. And every everybody else noticed differences in her too.
Melanie Avalon: That will be good news for Sharon because her question was pretty much that. She said, “My mother is 82. And no matter what I do for her, I've tried everything, she cannot sleep for more than two hours at a time. She wakes up and stays awake for hours. It's been going on for years. And she's declining quickly because of it. She is in really good health with no cognitive decline, but she's only sleeping a total of four to five hours at night. I believe her mind cannot stay still once she wakes. Is there something that will keep the mind calm or still upon waking so she can get back to sleep?” She says, “She doesn't eat after dinner because of acid reflux. I think she would do better if she-- a small amount of protein and fat to keep her cortisol from waking her up. She's underweight and I think blood sugar is playing a role. What does Dr. Parsley have to say about that?”
Dr. Kirk Parsley: That's a smart listener right there.
Melanie Avalon: Sharon is an assistant for us. So, I was like, I'll make sure her question gets in.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: That's a really good question. Okay, so I have on my site, if you've never been to my site, I think you might have to opt in to get this downloaded. But I know it's on my site and it's called Stress Free Sleep Worksheet. And it basically teaches people how it's not magic, it takes a lot of behavioral changes, and a lot of work on your end and a lot of motivation on your end. But I basically teach people how to get rid of that problem. That problem meaning that their brain is really active, and it's actually their cognitive functioning, they may not even have really high-stress hormones. But the more awake you are with it, as I just said earlier, your stress hormones are secreted in proportion to your environment. When you're asleep, you don't need very many stress hormones, when you wake up, if you start thinking about things, even if they're not necessarily strict, not even stressful things, it can be pleasurable things, you're thinking and as you're thinking, it could be something physical in your body. So, your muscles are actually slightly rehearsing it. That's like the whole idea of visualization, you can like practice movements without even moving and you're laying in your bed and you're thinking about jujitsu or something and you're actually moving around to such a small degree, you can't notice it, but your muscles are firing, nerves are firing, okay, we're simulating this, or you're thinking about maybe something stressful, maybe you're thinking about your taxes, or whether or not your kid's going to get in to the college she wants to get in, or whatever. It can be things cognitive activity on its own can wake you up.
Melanie Avalon: What if you think about sleeping?
Dr. Kirk Parsley: The most common cause of insomnia is what we call psychophysiologic insomnia, which means you can't sleep because you're worried about not being able to sleep. So, what this worksheet does, and I'll summarize it, is basically we categorize all of your worries. This is the work you have to do and you have to be thorough with this, and you have to be honest, nobody else is ever going to read this, this is just for you. And you're going to categorize all the things that you think about. All your to-do list, then you also have what's called a to worry-list. The difference between the two is there's nothing you can do about the things you're worrying about them, but you still want to worry about them because if you don't put them on the sheet, then you might forget to worry about them. And maybe worrying was going to solve it somehow and so then you're going to worry about it not being on your list.
There's some sleep hygiene at the beginning of the night. This work needs to be done during the day, it's going to take probably multiple days, multiple blocks to get all of that really thoroughly down. And then there's this agreement that you make with yourself. And it basically comes down to the summary that I said earlier. The entire point of sleeping tonight is to make me ready for tomorrow. So, if I have a bunch of stuff to handle, the most able I will ever be, my highest capability is going to be after I've had a good night's sleep. I'm going to be the smartest, I'm going to be the strongest, I'm going to be the fastest, I'm going to have the highest creativity, I'm going to have the highest attention and the best problem-solving skills that I'm ever going to have, after a good night's sleep. So, if I have challenging things to deal with, why wouldn't I want to show up with 100% of my resources? So, then you commit to these eight hours are for sleep, they're not for that list, they're to get ready for that list. None of those things are allowed, you can't think about any of those things. So that's why we have the list.
When you wake up in the morning, you're going to handle your list. You set an alarm clock to tell you when it's time to get ready for bed, preferably like an hour before bed, you have this alarm clock. And once that alarm clock goes off, that's just as important as the morning alarm clock. They're exactly the same importance. You do your nighttime rituals, whatever those are, and then you get into bed and you don't need to look at a clock then either because you just do your ritual, you do your nighttime ritual, you get ready for bed, and then you get in bed.
The only reason you're going to get out of bed is if you need to go to the bathroom, or your alarm clock goes off. There's no other reason to get out of bed because you've dedicated those eight hours to sleep. Those eight hours are for getting ready for tomorrow. And so, if you wake up in the middle of the night, you don't look at the clock, it's best to not even have a clock, why does it matter? It doesn't matter what time it is, because you're dedicating all of this time to being asleep. If you look at the clock, then you start thinking about what if I don't go back to sleep, I've only slept 3 hours in 30 minutes, and I need to be ready for tomorrow. Kirk says I need to be ready for tomorrow, what if I'm not ready? Then you start stressing yourself out, or maybe wake up an hour and a half early and you're like, “Well I actually feel pretty good. I might as well just get up and get going. I have a lot of stuff to do, my list is really heavy. All of these things defeat sleep. You have to make these eight hours, this is non-negotiable. These hours are for sleep. That's all they are for.
So, you get in bed, and you do whatever you need to do to relax, de-stress. You can do progressive muscle relaxation, breathwork, meditation, whatever it is that your thing is. And you're just going to lay there, and let's just pick one. So, you're going to lay there, and you're going to meditate until you fall asleep. And if you wake up, you're just going to lay in bed and meditate until your alarm clock goes off or you fall back asleep. Let's say you wake up 30 minutes before your alarm clock goes off, you wouldn't know it because you're supposed to have a blacked-out room and you and you didn't look at the clock. So, how do you know if alarm clocks going to go off in 3 hours or 30 minutes? You don't know. So, you just lay there and meditate. Well, you might meditate for 30 minutes and then alarm clock goes off, then you get out of bed. You're going to get eight hours of sleep, but you got seven and a half hours of sleep and 30 minutes of meditation. That's way better than just seven and a half hours of good sleep. There's more detail though, there's more detail than that. But I'm just trying to cram it in because I know we're on limited time.
Melanie Avalon: Okay, so I love lists. I just wrote worry-list on my list to start that list. So, the worry list is at night and the to-do list is in the morning.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: No, you have to make both of them during the day because the whole idea is to not let this list stress you out. So, you don't want to be doing this list-list at night. This is something you could maybe do over a weekend or come home on a Friday night, early night, have a dinner and a glass of wine and just start working. I think there's under PDF., there's like a printable version of this even and you can just-- the left-hand side of the paper is just your to-do list. And those are just mechanical things that have to get done that you can check off your list. And then, the right side is your to-worry list. And you'll find that while somebody like you, maybe the left-hand side changes a lot, day to day, but most people, the left-hand side won't actually change that much. And the right-hand side will almost never change at all. It might not change for years like you might be worrying about the same things for years. So the list can be updated daily and it should be updated daily because the last thing that you want to do is wake up in the middle of the night and think about something and go, “Yeah, I forgot to do that. And I really need to make sure that I do that tomorrow. I know it's not on my list or I don't think I put it on my list.”
So, you have your list next to your bedtime and that's the only caveat where you're allowed to do anything other than go to the bathroom is you can add something to your list. You can just go, “Oh, I've got to remember to do that.” And now you can't think about it again. It's like is on the list. Now it's on the list. The most important pact is that you believe and you have to convince yourself of this that you believe the best you will ever be at handling your list is after you've got a good night's sleep So, that means even things you enjoy on your to-do list, they're going to bring you more joy, they're going to be more pleasant because you're going to be the better version of you. And if they're really strenuous things or they're really stressful things, you're going to be able to handle them better. If they're really confusing things, you're going to be able to handle them better, you're going to have the best brain, the best emotions, the best body, you can possibly have to handle all that stuff on that list. And that's nonnegotiable, man. That’s like filling up my car with gas, driving cross country and I'm almost out of gas, I stop and I go, “You know what, I'm just going to put in a quarter of a tank, half a tank, I'm going to try to drive as far.” You know it won't work. It can't work. It's machine. Your body is really kind of really, really complex machine.
It takes eight hours to get ready. That's all there is to it. You can hate it or like it, but it's true. Like I said, there's some variations if you say 7 hours and 15 minutes is perfect for you. go ahead. You say you need nine, go ahead. Yeah. But in general, it's about eight hours. And you have to do a little bit of experimentation with yourself.
Melanie Avalon: Okay, I'm going to start doing this. And I actually have the perfect book for it. I think it's literally for this sort of, it says like, Write It Down, Let It Go. And you should just write it down and let it go. And I was keeping it on my bedside for this purpose, but I haven't done this. I just need to make it a nonnegotiable, like you said, because everything else about my sleep is non-negotiable. Like the blackout curtains, the blue light blocking glasses, the ChiliPAD, everything else. So, I need to start doing this too.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: The irony is of all of the interventions that I can do with people, all the way up to pharmaceuticals. Like everything I do for people, this really simple, ridiculously simple thing is the most powerful thing. Almost everybody who has insomnia. When I say almost everybody, I'm just saying almost to cover my butt. But I can't remember a single person I've ever worked with who's done this and hasn't cured their insomnia.
Melanie Avalon: So, for listeners, I will put links to all of this in the show notes. The show notes for this episode will be at melanieavalon.com/sleepquestions. So, you answered some other questions for people. Like Rosalie, she said, how to shut her mind off, I can't fall asleep. So, something like this worry-list.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: That's a big component, but then you have to figure out something that you can do. Keep in mind, perfect is the enemy of good. If you need to put an audiobook on and that's the only way you can distract yourself to that as much as you have to, put a little timer on it, have it shut up earlier and earlier, turn the volume down and work your way out of it. If you need guided meditation to meditate, do that. If you want to learn how to do breathwork, do you want to learn how to do progressive muscle relaxation, if you want to learn how to do anything that can decrease stress hormones. So, pretty much all of the metaphysical tie-dyes, hippie beads, chakra stuff, that's all built around the central nervous system, the balance of your autonomic nervous system because it means the same thing, you could just call it the automatic nervous system. So this isn't things you're thinking about, like I'm moving my hands right now, that's not automatic, I'm doing that. But my heart's beating, and I'm breathing. There's all these things that are going on that I'm not thinking about, and that's autonomic, it's automatically happening.
Like I said, when we're under stress, your body behaves one way, that's the sympathetic. When you're not under stress and your deep sleep state, it's very parasympathetic, it's the opposite, to have exactly the opposite things going on. All of this stuff is built around decreasing the sympathetic nervous system. It's decreasing the stress hormones, and then the consequences of those stress hormones, which are the consequences look closer and closer to fight or flight. Whatever you can do, it just depends on you. Everybody has their own preference, that's what counting sheep is about. If you actually visualize the sheep and you think about the sheep, you're trying to be really vivid with this and you're counting your sheep, you can't think about something else.
You and I have had this conversation before, there's no such thing as multitasking, there’s serial tasking. You can go back and forth between them. But if you really concentrate on something, you can't think about anything else, by definition, that's what concentration means. And then you quit worrying. You decrease your stress hormones because you're counting these fluffy, harmless animals, like no one tells you to count cobras, that wouldn't be calming because the whole idea is something that's completely inert, something that's completely benign, just to take your mind off of it. It's a very simplified version of meditation.
Reading kids' books, like especially Dr. Seuss books that have these rhythmic rhyming, this tone that's just in the story that just follows, and your kid's brain just picks up on that. And it's this comforting little backstroke of, “I would not eat green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-am.” This whole kind of thing repeats and actually, the more familiar your kid is with the story, the more likely he or she is going to go to sleep really well with that story because it's better for them not to be thinking about, it's better for them to know it super well, unlike this whole process of reading them stories when they go to sleep is to get their minds off of anything else, to get their mind off of the fact that they don't want to be asleep, get their mind off-- if they're old enough to have stress, depending on your kids or whatever it is, it's like to get their mind off of it, you read them this rhythmic, lovely rhyming, entertaining, non-threatening book. That's sort of in the lines of meditation. It's kind of why we're doing meditation. I mean, that's kind of what mindfulness is about, we're concentrating on being in the moment, we're concentrating on one thing, we're focusing on our breath, transcendental meditation. I love the description that putting my body to sleep and keeping my mind awake.
The whole thing, I'm going to do my little mantra, whether I'm actually singing or not, I'm just going to imagine how that feels to my body, that's what I'm going to think about. I'm going to think about that mantra over and over and over and over again, until I'm in the lowest sympathetic state I can possibly be. I already told you that when you sleep.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, the mental technique that works the best for me, and I thought it was just me, but I shared it with listeners, and people said it was a game-changer for them, too, is where you think of a random word. And then you go through each letter and you think of three things that start with that letter. So, if it was like summer, you'd start with S and you picture a sandbag and a sandwich and a shoe. And then you do, A-- I can't spell. Then you do U. But when I first read that they said it was because it mimics the falling asleep brain state. Does that make any sense to you? Or do you think it's more the focusing on one boring-thing thing? Or, doesn't really matter?
Dr. Kirk Parsley: I imagine if that was anything other than just like a marketing soundbite. I could imagine that perhaps if you did functional MRIs on people say like, you've studied people's brains while they did that, you study people's brains while they were asleep and you might notice that the activity in the various regions of the brain look very similar. Now, do they know if the chemistry is the same? Absolutely not, they'd have no idea, unless they're biopsying every region in these people's brains and shoving needles out to their skulls and into their brains. So, I would say, it wouldn't surprise me if you could come up with some sort of mental technique that would look a lot like your brain. And what we call the stage one, which is like the stage one, sleep is really pre-sleep. So, for most people, you have to go back to when you were younger, but the definition of sleep is that I'm not paying attention to my environment. My eyes still work, my ears still work, I can still taste, I can still smell, I can still feel touch, I can still feel hot and cold and sharp, and everything still works. It's just my brain is going to quit paying attention to it. Once my brain is not paying attention to it at all, we're going to call that sleep.
Pre-sleep is when you're laying in bed, and you're aware of what's going on, but you are also aware that you aren't processing it, like you normally do. You can hear people in the other room, I can hear people talking in, I can hear a television, or I can hear my neighbor, dog or whatever. But I'm not really processing. It's not like quieted to where I'm dreaming about it. I'm aware of what's going on, but not really paying attention to it. So, you would be able to look at that brain state with something like a functional MRI or something as simple as just an EEG or you're looking at the brainwaves and you could say, “Well, this is what stage one sleep looks like.” And so, it wouldn't surprise me if you could do mental techniques that look a lot like that. And now we guess if this has been done, that meditation and breathwork and progressive muscle relaxation, and all of these types of things probably look similar.
Melanie Avalon: Well, listeners, try it and pick a really long word, and you'll be surprised because you'll be like, “Oh, okay, this is not going to work,” and then you wake up the next day. It's incredible.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: I'm not sure if I can spell well enough to do that.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, just do supercalifragilistic, whatever, and it'll be good. We good to go.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: Just trying to come up with that word might put me into sleep.
Melanie Avalon: Probably. Okay, so you actually touched on this a second ago, you were talking about how with the stories to kids that it's actually better if it's more familiar to them. So, I've had on the show before, the founders have a device called Apollo Neuro, which is a soundwave therapy to help with the stress response. And I found it really, really beneficial for sleep, it has a Sleep Mode. A lot of my listeners have found it really helpful. And Charlotte wanted to know, while she was talking about the different devices and specifically the Apollo neuro, which she's on the brink of purchasing. And then the reason I said it relates is Sophia wants to know about the Apollo using it every night. She says, “Am I stealing something from my own ability to regulate my sleep? Or is it okay, as long as I'm getting results?” Say a person's using a device like that, where they're finding it really helpful to help them fall asleep? Does that mean they're becoming dependent on it? Can they use it every night? What are your thoughts?
Dr. Kirk Parsley: I would say that if that thing works, and it's like a game-changer for you, just keep using it. I mean, I don't see any long-term detriment. The question that she's asking is very valid, if I do this every night, and what happens if I lose my watch and I can't do it? Will I be able to sleep? Well, you might struggle a little bit, I don't know. So there's two possibilities. It's a lot like fitness. When I work with clients, I work with all aspects of their health, sleep is one of them. And then there's nutrition and then there's exercise, and there's stress mitigation, which is part of the sleep. So, we work on all these things and how everybody has their strengths and weaknesses, some things are more difficult than others for other people, I do an annual program with these people. What happens is work at the beginning of the year is very, very intensive. It feels very restrictive, it feels laborious, it feels a little too technical sometimes, confusing, frustrating. And it takes a lot of discipline to do it. But once you get past all of that, and you start reaping the physiologic changes of that, your body and your brain becomes so much higher functioning, that all of that stuff becomes easy. And then once you're well-practiced that, it becomes even easier.
When I work with somebody who wants to lose 30 pounds, as part of their annual program, and they're just like, they haven't worked out in 10 years, whatever. So, that person needs a lot of guidance and training. There's ideal and then there's reality. So, we can't all do what we know we should do ideally, and still do everything else in our lives that we have limitations. So, there's ideal and there's reality. Then that bridge in between, ideal and reality, we bridge that with supplements. I would consider this a supplement. It's a supplemental way to help with your sleep. So, if you can't build an ideal sleep routine, and there's just a gap. I'd done everything I can possibly do, but because of my schedule, because of my work, because my kids, because of whatever it is, this is not ideal, and we bridge that. We bridge that with nutritional supplements, we bridge that with gadgets and devices and techniques and all this other stuff. And I would consider those the same thing.
Now after my patient gets in good shape and loses 30 pounds, do they have to do all the stuff that they had to do at the beginning of the year to keep that weight off, and just staying in shape? No. They can go into a maintenance phase. So, it's just as possible that this device could help you really train yourself to get to sleep well. And then as you get better and better sleep, your body becomes more and more accustomed to sleeping well, you might need to this thing less and less and less.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, that's actually what I personally have experienced with it. For listeners, I'll put a link in the show notes to the interview that I did with a developer and founder. But it's basically that, and that's what he said was that, because I asked if it was addictive, does it become more or less effective with use? Basically, in the studies they done, they found that because it's changing your system and helping with all of that, you just get better without it. So, and that's what I've experienced, but of course, everybody has an N of one.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: Yeah, and if anybody's ever worried about dependence on anything, then use it as your supplement, as your supplemental behavior technique device, for whatever you're using it for. Use it until you're at the stage you want to be and then try tapering yourself off at that right. It would be no different than anything else. My clients essentially do an elimination diet at the beginning because we don't know, it’d be anything. And so, then we start adding things back super, super slowly. But so what they did at the beginning was very restrictive. And over time, we could loosen things up and it's still have even better performance. It could be true with any kind of supplemental thing you're doing. Using that Stress-Free Worksheet that I was telling you about. You have to use that every night for the rest of your life to get good sleep. Teach yourself that concept, you really familiar with that, you're really good at that, then you'll find that you've probably not that important to you, and then you'll go through some stressful periods. And you might want to get back to it because you realize your sleep is suffering, and you need to-- I need to kind of hone in my skills again. It's like our body weight fluctuates, our fitness fluctuates, our sleep could do the same. You just have to be mindful and watch yourself and be honest with yourself about how you're performing.
Melanie Avalon: What do you say to people who struggle with their non-sleep supporting electronic devices? Monica says what are some tips for how to put down the phone, so I can actually go to sleep, just put it down?
Dr. Kirk Parsley: I might be making this up. But I feel I just heard, if I could picture who told it to me, I'd be more confident. But I feel somebody just told me, there's an app, you can put on your phone that will basically shut your phone off at certain times of the day. And you have to do something really complex to get it back. Like plug it in, and use certain buttons or something.
Melanie Avalon: I have that for the computer.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: So, I mean, what I tell people, the number one key to all behavioral change, is convincing yourself that it's really important. So, I give this example a lot. If I were to offer you $10 million, and you knew that I was good for it, and you believed me, and I said I'm going to give you $10 million if you can sleep eight hours a night or 30 nights in a row, I'll give you a year to do it. Do you think you'd be able to do that? Almost certainly everybody would figure out a way to do it. The $10 million has nothing to do with your ability to do it. It's just your motivation for doing it. So, the motivation is by far the most important part. So, you have to know if you're really addicted to your phone, which diet is obviously a very real thing changes your neurochemistry the same way other addictive things too. It is a true addiction, to really addicted to your phone and you need to break that addiction. the very first thing that you need to do is figure out your why, like you need a really good why.
Around sleep, I tell people, go to PubMed, go to Google Scholar, and put in sleep, and anything that's important to you. Sleep and emotions, sleep and strength, sleep and energy, sleep and concentration, sleep and memory, sleep and financial success, anything you want to do. Sleep makes you better at everything. So, with the device, I would say go scare yourself, get on a scholarly site of some type and just start reading about how much-- I heard there's this great documentary. I haven't seen it, supposedly there's this great documentary about how social media affects your brain and how it's causing everybody to be addicted. I can't remember the name of it.
Melanie Avalon: I literally was going to watch it this week. The Social Dilemma, I think.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: Yeah. Do things like that where you have a really big why. Once you have a really big why, you'll be able to figure out the how. For me, personally, the thing is just like nothing’s allowed in my bedroom. My bedroom has a bed and two nightstands and a dresser and closet. And that's all it has in it. That's all it'll ever have in it. I don't bring my phone into my bed, my computer never comes into my bed, like never, never, ever, ever, ever. Chargers out there.
Melanie Avalon: Is there an argument to be made for-- Okay, it's like food, because with food, a lot of people have like food fears. And they're really scared of eating certain foods because of how they're potentially going to react to it. But then there's this whole idea that it's probably potentially better to eat foods that might not be the best for you, but in a loving social environment where you're enjoying it, compared to the healthiest foods in a state of fear or restriction. And I feel like I personally in my sleep history, I read a book called Lights Out, which scarred me for life. And up until reading that book-- before reading that book, I always saw myself as like, “Oh, sleep when I'm dead and I'll get sleep and it'll all be okay.” When I read that book and I flipped to the other side, it's like, “Ohm everything has to be perfect with sleep, and I have to get on my sleep.” I think there's a healthy balance in between the two. So, what are your thoughts on that, your perspective of sleep? Is it possibly better to enjoy yourself and not be worried about sleep and get up and get less sleep at night compared to getting more, but--?
Dr. Kirk Parsley: We're really wading into deep waters here and I'm going to have to get a little philosophical and a little psychological. So, there is, of course, the balance of life. There's the yin and the yang, good and evil. Everything about the human experience requires the opposition for it to make any sense. It doesn't mean anything if there's no down, and right doesn't mean there's no left, and all those types of things. So, there is a balance, as I was saying earlier, the anabolic and catabolic, those are exactly opposite. Those are the yin and yang, but you need both of them. It's not like one of them's always good and one of them's always bad, you need both of them. Catabolic activity is part of normal, sort of cleaning out your body and changing things over. So, you need both. I can't philosophically say, “Well, this is what you should think about how I view it may not resonate with you.” And primarily because if not immutable, pretty darn close to immutable, personal characteristics, and neuroticism is very important one.
If you're high neuroticism, you basically worry. You're motivated by the idea of failure of the goal, so to speak. So, you're motivated to sleep because you don't want to fail at sleeping. You want to fail to get a good night's sleep, because it's really important. You're kind of a worrier-- and I'm not saying you specifically, I'm just using that as an example. The higher you are in traits of neuroticism, that's going to change your balance because there's the opposite. There's the surfer/stoner in California, that's life's a beach, and like, “Whatever, bro,” nothing stresses them out. Well, that's probably not a healthy way to go through your life either. And then, counting all, and then think of something like OCD. It's a classic neurotic behavior. It's like, “I have to brush my teeth 76 times this way, and 76 times that way, and wash my hands a certain way,” and do like all these things. It's like, “I have to, have to, have to do all that.”
So, there's a balance in between there, and I can't say what that is for each person. But what I can tell you is that if you feel like something is stressing you out, it probably is because, as humans, we're not that good at interpreting our own stress levels. I know I'm horrible at it. People who are close to me will say, “Oh, my gosh, you must be so stressed.” I'm like, “No, I'm fine. It's not that big of a deal.” And they're like, “Are you sure because this really seems like a bad deal.” I'm like, “Oh, no, I'm good. I'm totally fine.” But then two weeks later, once everything has been resolved, I'm like, “Holy smokes, I was a mess. I was so stressed out. I didn't even really know it.” And so, we're not that good at it. We just aren’t that good at our own introspection. And what gets worse is when you don't sleep well, your self-assessment, your ability to assess yourself gets even worse.
So, it's sort of like being drunk. Sleep deprivation has been compared many times to intoxication and they've measured performance levels, and there's a whole body of literature on all of that. And one of the things that they find is if you consistently sleep deprive somebody-- as one of the earlier questions was, if somebody has been sleeping really well for a long time, we call that sleep adapted, so they've had a really healthy sleep for a long time and their sleep is great, perfect. They're performing great. They've got no complaints. And then, you take away two hours of sleep, and then you have them in the morning, after their short sleep, you have them do something, like whatever it is you've been doing and it can be cognitive or physical, doesn't matter. You test them, and then you say, “How do you think you did?” And they go, “I didn't do very well. I was tired. I didn't get enough sleep. I was tired today.”
Then day two, same thing, day three, same thing, maybe, but definitely day four, you say, “How do you think you did?” And they go, “I think I did as well as I've ever done. I feel I'm totally adapted to this sleep schedule and I think I did as good as I ever did.” And the results are actually worse. They're actually getting worse at a faster rate at that point. At first, I want to say, 20, 22, 24 days or something, you're declining performance is accelerating and then it plateaus after a while, after three to four weeks, and you don't get progressively that much worse every day or you'd be dead in a year. The point being is we're not good at assessing ourselves. So, I would say get people who care about you or close to you to help you figure out if you're going a little too far, if you're becoming obsessed with this. If you feel there's a possibility that it's stressing you out too much, then you have to figure out your balance. Some people thrive on stress, some people hate it, some people don't want any, very individualized.
Melanie Avalon: Some people flip like me, feel like I thrived, and then it all crashed and burned. So, going back to because you talked about this whole sleep routine of going to bed, not looking at the clock, waking up when the alarm clock goes off. In the in between for people who are waking up, so does it even matter, like Amy says, “How do you keep from waking up in the middle of the night?” Should you focus on that? And then, Wendy says like, “Why can't I sleep all night?” So many questions about that. Or Christine says, she's unable to fall back asleep when she wakes up.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: The most common reason that they can't go back to sleep is because they're worried about not being able to go back to sleep. So, it goes something like this. You wake up. Tomorrow is an important day. You have something to do that you really want to do, really need to do and your performance is important. And you're going to go to bed and you're going to get your eight hours of sleep, so you'll be really ready for this. And then, you wake up four hours later and you're going to look at the clock, you go, “Oh my God, I didn't even sleep for hours. I feel so wide awake. What if I don't go back to sleep? Man, my presentation isn't for nine more hours, I'll be totally exhausted. And what if I did this? What if I didn't?” Or, you just wake up and as you're laying there, you just start thinking about what happened today or what do you need to do in the morning, or the argument that you had about the dirty dishes in the sink, and somebody said something nasty to you. "Man, I wish I would have said this instead of that," like this whole conversation in your head, you start waking yourself up.
Your brain will wake you up, your brain will cause your adrenals to start secreting more stress hormones and you'll wake up. It'd be almost impossible to go back to sleep because, as we've talked about before, it takes about three hours for all of the physiologic neurochemical changes in our brains to happen before we feel falling asleep. And that's how our ancestors evolved. If you look at hunter-gatherer tribes that exist today, there are a lot of people, and this is surprising to me but there are a lot of people in the world who have never experienced electricity. They have nothing to do with electricity, they've never even seen it, and they're still hunter-gatherers. And that's what they do, they get up and they collect food, and they kill food, and they fix their tools and weapons, and they eat and they drink. That's it. They talk, and that's their lives.
When we look at those people, they all-- I mean, a lot of areas, I wouldn't want to hazard a guess as to how many different regions I've seen that study in, but it's quite a few, and the same thing happens. And if you've ever gone camping, you probably recognize the same thing. The sun goes down, it's not like you fall asleep when the sun goes down. Sun goes down and you start feeling like you're sleeping, you want to go to sleep about three to three and a half hours after the sun goes down. And as I said, part of that is your cortisol level dropping. So, then if I wake up in the middle of the night and I raise my cortisol up-- and the cortisol doesn't come alone, it comes with epinephrine and norepinephrine, which are adrenalines, and you have adrenaline in your brain and that starts changing your neurophysiology and now your brain chemistry isn't really set up for sleep. And you're worrying, and you're creating stress hormones.
And something I want to make clear is that stress hormones doesn't, like I said, it's not negative. It doesn't mean you don't want it. It doesn't mean that you're feeling anxiety. It's putting stress on your system. Even if it's just something you're trying to figure out, something you're thinking about, like how to say a sentence in Spanish? And you're going over it in your head like that's a stressor, doesn't mean it's a negative thing, but needing to get up and go to the bathroom, that's a stressor. It's something that's going to require more stress hormones than sleeping. Anytime you wake up in the middle of the night, it's almost certainly that you either are running continuously high stress hormones. Man, that's going to be a whole another topic. Let me tell you this other one first. The most likely thing is that you're waking up and your thought process itself, doing the mental math, thinking about, well, if I don't fall asleep for another hour and a half, I can set my alarm clock 30 minutes later, and I could not do this, or I could not do that, or whatever and you start-- you just start doing a bunch of things, a lot of mental activity that gets in your way.
Now, there's another side of that, which is related. So, as I said, if I need eight hours of sleep, and I only get six, I still have to do tomorrow, how do I do tomorrow, I do it with more stress hormones, which means by definition, I'm going to bed tomorrow night with more stress hormones than I went to bed tonight with let's say if tonight was a good night. And the thing that makes you feel like sleeping, what we call sleep pressure. Sleep pressure is caused by a molecule called adenosine. And adenosine is the backbone of the fuel cell of every cell in your body. They all use something called ATP, adenosine triphosphate. And every time you cleave a phosphate group off of this molecule, it releases this burst of energy that can be used by the cell. So, it goes from three to two to one. So, that's ATP, and ADP, and then it's AMP, mono, and then it's just A. And then, when you have a high amount of adenosine, what that essentially means is that you're using energy faster than you're producing energy. And you're being left with a lot of adenosine that you can't build back up into ATP to start being used for biological systems again. That adenosine in your brain binds to receptors in your brain, and the more adenosine that's in your brain and the more your brain's perceiving it, the more sleep pressure you have. And that's that drive to go to sleep. That's the part where you say I feel sleepy, I feel like going to sleep, that's been caused by adenosine.
If you're running high enough stress hormones throughout the day, let's say you're not getting enough sleep, you're not treating your body well, you're just in a super stressful environment, you're overtraining, whatever it is, and you're running really high stress hormones all the time but you're also burning through a ton of energy, and you're producing a lot of adenosine, you may have enough adenosine to cause enough sleep pressure to just knock you out. You can't overcome it. By the way, if your listeners don't know, that's what caffeine does, is it blocks adenosine receptors, your brain doesn't perceive adenosine, that's all it does.
And if you have enough adenosine, where there's just so much pressure on your brain, you might be able to just like lay down and fall asleep, like, “No problem. Bam, I'm going to pass out.” Now, once you cleanse your brain and restore that ATP, if you still have high-stress hormones, when you're in a lighter phase of sleep, you're more likely to wake up and you may already have too high stress hormones to go back to sleep because whatever you're doing is leading to not sleeping in the first place. So, that's another possibility. And one of the big reasons, there's a substantial difference in male and female insomnia. Women usually can't initiate sleep, that's very common. They’d lay in bed and their minds race, and they think about a billion different things and they have a hard time falling asleep. Men typically fall asleep really quickly, so quickly that their wives usually complain about it, especially if they're snoring and they're like, “He falls asleep in 10 seconds, and then he snores and then I can't sleep,” because she's thinking about his snoring. But one of the things to remember is the male and female brains aren't really that different in size. Like a really big man and a really small woman would be a drastic difference, but if you look at the average man and the average woman, the brains are maybe 5%, 10% percent difference in mass, but the man probably has 30% to 40% more muscle mass especially upper body muscle mass, and all of that produces ATP.
So, men produce a lot more adenosine during the day, and they have a higher sleep pressure. And men are much more likely to be able to come home and just pass out on the couch, and then wake up after maybe one sleep cycle, which is only 90 to 120 minutes, and they feel wide awake because they're still running around totally stressed out and everything else is still wrong. But they just had enough sleep pressure to get them to go to sleep. They didn't recover all the way, but they got through that to where there wasn't enough sleep pressure to keep them asleep and their stress hormones were too high to allow them to go back to sleep.
Melanie Avalon: This is so fascinating, and you touched on so many things. What about waking up at very specific times on the clock? Northern Belle says, "Why do I always wake up at 3 AM, no exceptions?" And then, Anna wanted to know if there was a circadian reason for why people wake up at certain times. And I experience that as well, waking up at the exact same time.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: There's a couple of possibilities. If you're running around with excessive stress hormones, and you just need to clear enough waste products out of your brain to be awake again, you might wake up after one or two sleep cycles, if you're going to sleep about the same time every night, and your sleep cycles are consistent, you could wake up approximately the same time every night. If you're waking up at exactly the same time every night, my best guess is that there's something externally that's doing and there's something you're sensing is doing that.
Great example, I had a client, he was a super technical computer, graphic artist designer, did all this website design, graphic arts and coding and programming. He's just brilliant guy and he had all these computers in the room next to his room. And then he had some sort of backup system, where at a certain time of the night, everything downloaded into this external hard drive, this is a long time ago when external hard drives were big things. It took us about a month to figure it out. But he was waking up at exactly the same time, every single night. And eventually figured it out that he's waking up exactly when his computers started to backup. Now whether or not that was creating a sound, whether that was just enough EMF to wake him up, I still don't know the answer to that. But he may have figured it out and he tested it by changing what time he had to do it. He shifted it an hour later, an hour earlier. And he woke up an hour later and an hour earlier. So, we're like, “Okay, this definitely it.” And then he just had to put some shielding up and do some other, whatever, he handled it. But if it's exact, and you can go to sleep at different times and that’s exact, I would suggest that there's probably something external causing that. There's a foghorn going off somewhere or something that you could sense.
Melanie Avalon: This is a question I have and have had for quite a while. So, say that you have a certain amount of sleep cycles per night, do people naturally wake up between the cycles, should you wake up between the cycles, doesn't matter if you wake up between the cycles, if you immediately go into the next cycle? I was reading something about hunter-gatherer tribes, and it was saying that they wake up in between cycles, but they just go right back to sleep and it's okay.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: There's a whole lot of possibilities in that, but I'll just say the most general stuff. So, it's a lot easier when I have my PowerPoint. I can point to a histogram and I can say like, “This is what sleep looks like stages, stages 1, 2, 3, 4. Stay in 4, you come back out of 4, 3, 2, you go through wakefulness to get to REM. REM is actually a higher frequency brain state and being awake than the stage one sleep was, which was what we're talking about earlier, like the pre-sleep when you're still aware of it, just feeling a little groggy. Actually, going back pass through that to go into REM. And then once you finish your REM, you're going back past that, again to get into the deeper sleep, get back at you. You're going down this rabbit hole, and then you're coming back up, and you're going all the way out of the rabbit hole, going across the ground and going back into another rabbit hole. And so, like it is completely normal, and it depends on what you mean by being awake.
So, if we're talking about a polysomnographic, sleep study, when we're looking at your brainwaves, and we're measuring your brainwaves and your heart rate, respiratory rate, your movement and all these things. We put them all together, we make this histogram, and we say this is sleep and this is not sleep. Are you waking up? Well, what that really means is, do you have a physiologic state that looks to us, like you're awake? Do you have the basic brainwave patterns that you would have if you're awake? Do you have the basic muscle tension, respiratory heart rate, all of that, that you would have if you're awakening? Are we calling that awaking? And that gets really technical. There are people who specialize in reading dose studies, and that's really to diagnose sleep diseases. It's not important for our purposes. But, yes, you essentially go through wakefulness what could technically be called wakefulness by EEG, by scientific standards.
Now, as I said, the whole definition of being asleep is that you're not paying attention, not aware of your environment. So, if all of those things add up, and physiologically measuring you without being able to see you, we would say, it looks like that guy's awake. If your eyes are so closed and you're not aware of your environment, technically, you're still asleep. But the short answer is, yes, everybody wakes up during the night, everybody wakes up multiple times during the night. But it only matters if it's interfering with the quality of your sleep. So, if you're waking up 35 times per night, but you feel you get a great night's sleep and your performance is a great memory, everything's going just the way you want it to be, then alright, you woke up 35 times if you woke up and you're aware that you're awake 35 times, that's probably a problem. But did you technically wake up 35 times a night? Yeah, but you don't remember it, you didn't experience it, it's not an issue.
Now there's the other thing, which I thought you're going to say, and maybe you were alluding to, as we move farther from the equator during the winter, of course, the nights get a lot longer in the Northern Hemisphere, at least. And so, we don't need 12 hours of sleep when we're adults, but it's dark for 12 hours. So, the sun goes down, and then three hours after the sun goes down, I feel like sleeping, because my neurochemistry has changed. Or maybe well, that wouldn't happen because your circadian rhythm to be slightly different. So maybe it takes four hours. And then I fall asleep. I don't need to sleep the whole rest of the night to get my full night's sleep. And so, what we know, basically through journaling, and because most of the hunter-gatherers, as I was talking about earlier, that have never experienced electricity, most of them are pretty close to the equator, we don't have good research on this, but we know it through journaling in the northern hemisphere, there just really is-- for hundreds of years, it's been really common pre-electricity for people to sleep, I'm going to call it half-sleep. As I said, the beginning of the night is primarily deep sleep and then the last thing in the morning is primarily REM sleep.
Once you get to the midway point of that, where REM and deep are equal, that's the midpoint of sleep, so you've done your primary deep sleep, now you're moving to REM sleep, people tend to wake up in sort of the middle of the night because the nights for so long, and they had plenty of time to get to sleep and because they all lived in one room, shacks or whatever, then that was like the time that mom and dad could have sex and have some privacy or whatever. People started doing things in the middle of the night, it was pretty common for people to be up for two or three hours in middle of the night, go back to sleep, wake up right around the sun coming up because they're so far from the equator, the night so long. It's much longer than eight hours and they didn't have electricity. So, there wasn't a whole lot they could do. Is that normal? Or was that something learned from moving further from the equator, that’s a whole very long, slippery, evolutionary, philosophical conversation. It's beyond my expertise.
Melanie Avalon: Well, I was wanting to talk about that anyway, so I'm glad you brought it up. The thing I was referring to, I was reading Siim Land’s newest book. You say something about what I just said, like hunter-gatherer tribes would wake up in between sleep cycles, but they would go right back to sleep. And it's like, “Okay.”
Dr. Kirk Parsley: I'm completely making this up as I say. What I thought initially when you said that it was, that would make sleep, that would make sense because you're living in a hunter-gatherer world, you don't live in a safe world. You can become the hunted pretty quickly. Most hunter-gatherers live in areas where there are predators that will eat them. So, sleep is a very vulnerable period. So, it's completely possible that evolution favored those who woke up for a few minutes and checked their environment and felt safe again before they fell back to sleep. Like, “Yep, no lions, no cobra, sorry, I'm going to bed, going back to sleep.” Like I said, I'm totally making that up, but that just occurred to me when you said at night and would make sense.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, because he was comparing it to the difference with how today we wake up, and there's a chronic worry, so that we can't fall back asleep. So, that was the context of all of that. While we're talking about sex, I have two questions about that. Emily says, “I often hear that the bed should only be reserved for sleep and sex. I understand sleep, but why sex? Besides the fact that a bed is conducive to that, how does sex affect sleep?” And then Victoria says, “For the best sleep, when should I have sex, morning day night? None of the above? All of the above?”
Dr. Kirk Parsley: Good questions. So, couple layers to that. One, I have very bad joke, I only say during this, but most people in this state are familiar with the love hormone oxytocin. oxytocin is the bonding, loving hormone. After orgasm, your brain secretes a huge amount of oxytocin and it's very soothing and relaxing, and it makes you not worry and think about other things because you're in this blissful state. But I think over time, women somehow evolved to make them want to talk when oxytocin gets secreted. That's my bad joke. But I've been saying that for a really long time. I don't know if I came up with that. Was that in Lights Out? I don't remember when I added that to my lecture. But I said that for a long time. So, I don't know if I read that phrase. Or, I might be the originator of that saying, I don't know.
Melanie Avalon: Of the talking from oxytocin?
Dr. Kirk Parsley: No, about the bed is for sleep and sex only.
Melanie Avalon: I was thinking about that. I was like, “Where did that--?”
Dr. Kirk Parsley: I mean, I've been saying that for 10 years. But it's probably been around longer than that. I probably read it from someone else.
Melanie Avalon: I'm going to have to research this. That's actually a really good question.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: What I've always said, so if it did come from me, people aren't finishing the phrase. I say, “Your bed is for sleep and sex only, but to be clear, I'm not saying you can only have sex in your bed.” The point being is that people too have sex in their bed. Couples have sex everywhere, and that's okay. So, we're not saying that the bed is designed for sex, what we're saying is that the bed is a commonplace to have sex. So, that's okay. It's not okay to bring your computer into bed. That's a totally different thing. If you're one of the behavioral psychological concepts around sleep rituals and sleep hygiene, all of that, is that you associate your bed with sleep. But you can also associate your bed with sex. And depending on how you do your thing, maybe that's really relaxing, maybe that's really vigorous, I don't know. But the point being, we don't want to say that you shouldn't have sex in your bed, but the ideal thing would be that your bed is just for sleep. But we're allowing sex in there because it's a commonplace where adults get to bond and get some private time and they're naked already or nearly naked, and so it's fine.
And like I said, if you do have the neurophysiology after sleep, or after orgasm is very calming. It's very parasympathetic. The entire act of like a male erection requires him to be parasympathetic dominant. If he's stressed, he can't get an erection, that's why things like cocaine and Adderall and stuff like that or fear of not performing well makes guys impotent or gives them erectile dysfunction is because there's too much stress hormones. Women are very similar, like, the lubrication and blood engorgement, all of that comes from parasympathetic, you have to be relaxed to be able to have sex. So, you're getting into relaxed state, the actual orgasm is sympathetic, but then in place to this parasympathetic flush afterwards with a lot of neurochemistry that can be very conducive to just feeling safe, non-worried, connected, loved. And that's a good state to be able to fall asleep in.
Melanie Avalon: What about alcohol before sex?
Dr. Kirk Parsley: When you look at the histogram, as I was referring to earlier, like the diagram that comes out of the sleep study, once we combine all the information, and we go through the stages of sleep, the most destructive sleep drug that you could use, and I will include alcohol as a sleep drug because it's commonly used that way. The most destructive sleep drug to deep sleep is alcohol. The most destructive drug that I'm aware of, or REM sleep are the pharmaceuticals, the Z drugs, Ambien, Lunesta, and benzodiazepines, like Valium and Xanax and that classic drug. So, if you take both, you get the detriments of both. But, actually, any drug that you take interferes with your sleep cycles, it will change your sleep architecture. If you use a wearable device, you'll usually notice that you'll have a increased heart rate of your average resting heart rate will probably be anywhere from 5 to 15 beats per minute higher just after a couple of alcoholic drinks, because alcohol is essentially toxic. Any toxin in our body gets bought off by the immune system and then the sympathetic nervous system tone is leading to that. So, it's just sort of a metabolic stress or a tad of alcohol.
Now, with that said, I'm not saying that you should never drink and the ideal would be to drink far enough from your bedtime to where you've had time to flush all the toxins out. So, Robb Wolf will probably say, “Drink as far from your bedtime is possible,” but that would mean you start drinking when you wake up. But we don't want to do that. So, what you want is plenty of time for the alcohol to clear system and to rehydrate because alcohol does dehydrate whether you recognize us doing that or not, it is. It will dehydrate you and it builds up some toxins that all have to be filtered through your liver in your kidney and process putting your bladder, all that stuff has to be excreted. If you use alcohol as sort of a way to relax after a hard day at work, whatever, like, do that immediately, when you come home. If you get home at 6:00, do it right then. Don't wait and do it till 8 or 9 and then try to go to bed at 10.
Melanie Avalon: Okay, I might need to work on that one.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: Interestingly, people perceive that they sleep really well when they drink. But when you do sleep studies on them, they sleep horribly.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah. Can you tell listeners and then maybe, we'll just touch on it again, in the part two, just in case people only listen to one of the episodes? How does your Sleep Remedy supplement work? And you did recently release a kid version, which is really exciting because people have been asking me about that. And Colleen, for example. She said, “Do you have recommendations for toddlers and children who don't sleep or stay asleep?” And parents, I have said children, who don't get sleep either. So, your Sleep Remedy supplement, how did you develop it? And what's the update on the kid's version?
Dr. Kirk Parsley: Sleep formulation itself came from the SEAL team story I was talking about when I became a doctor for these guys who are really just coming to me for help with their performance and not with disease. I figured out sleep to be one of the major factors because most of them were using sleep drugs and alcohol. And they were just getting a few hours asleep and saying, “Oh, I get up really early tomorrow,” or they wake up really early. I can't go back to sleep, I’ll go to work or work out really hard or work all day, I won't take any naps, and I'll come home, I'll go to sleep tonight and I'll sleep great. And then, they keep doing that for years and it never works.
When I coerced them into not drinking and not taking their sleep drugs, I had to give them something to replenish that. And so, like I said, I was very naive about sleep. I never had a single class on sleep in medical school. I don't know that anyone does. So, I had to learn all those myself. I was in a good position of being able to call up experts and say, “Hey, I'm a doctor for the West Coast SEAL teams. Could you help me with this? Could you teach me this? Can I consult with you? Could I come [unintelligible [01:42:57] can I learn from you? Do you have suggested readings?” Whatever. And so, people were very helpful, and I got to learn a lot really quickly. And this was 2009, which was the sort of right at the beginning, maybe about a year earlier than that, Robb Wolf and sort of paleo crowd, the lunatic fringe, health-obsessed were really into this new thing, vitamin D3. This was so important and all these effects of vitamin D3, and how much should you be taking? I was exposed to that.
One of the things I learned when I was learning about sleep was that vitamin D3 was part of the production pathway for melatonin. And then, all these other effects of vitamin D3 and that it had been associated with poor quality sleep and [unintelligible [01:43:43]. Well, maybe, okay, let's see, because SEALs work at night and sleep during the day. And if they do go outside during the day and train, they're usually covered from head to toe, and camouflaged uniforms and helmets and goggles and gloves and like all sorts of stuff. So, they're all vitamin D3 deficient, I had all their labs, I knew they were deficient. So, I'm like, “I'll just give him vitamin D3. I'm going to fix everything, and I win. Of course, it became more complex to that, vitamin D3 requires magnesium for every action it does, so started learning about magnesium deficiency. That's a huge thing. So, we added that. Added in some melatonin because we know that's sort of the initiator. That's like the cascade, that's the starter pistol for the whole thing to your brain to start getting ready for sleep, is the secretion of melatonin. Put in a little bit of that, we massage that around a little bit.
And then, started thinking more about the production of melatonin, just reversing on pathway, and the pathway, most people are familiar with the-- what would they call it? The tryptophan coma, like a turkey Thanksgiving Day coma. Meat has an amino acid and it's called tryptophan, and turkey doesn't have especially high concentrations of tryptophan, just most people don't overeat steak. They overeat turkey, so they get a big whack of that because they're having Turkey and ham, or whatever. So, they're eating a lot of meat and they get a lot of tryptophan. And then they also have lot of carbs, and so that's part of it, they're getting glycemic burst and then crash. But dystrophin is leading down the melatonin production pathway, and with excess, you can drive that pathway and start producing a lot of melatonin and then you get your glucose spike and crash, and people take a nap.
So, the pathway for that is tryptophan becomes 5-hydroxytryptophan. 5-hydroxytryptophan with the help of magnesium and vitamin D3, then becomes serotonin. Serotonin then becomes melatonin. The melatonin, like I said, that initiate the cascade. One of the main things that it does to keep your brain from paying attention to your environment is it causes the increase in the production of a neuropeptide called GABA, gamma-Aminobutyric acid, that sort of works across the entire neocortex, which is what we think of when we picture a human brain, kind of that whole region, it makes it harder for those neurons to fire. That's the region of our brain that's involved in perception. And so, all of our senses and all of our movement are all coming from that region of our brain, or we're sort of quieting that area of the brain down.
So, my product tryptophan, 5-hydroxytryptophan, magnesium, vitamin D3, a little bit of melatonin, but I don't want to-- I'm not trying to give you all the melatonin you need. I'm giving you a dusting of melatonin and I'll explain why in a minute. And then I have a GABA in there because GABA is doing the job that we-- like I said that we need to do. L-theanine increases, that's another amino acid and that increases the activity, the effectiveness, let's say of GABA, and then I wasn't doing this in the SEAL teams, I have subsequently added it a couple of years after. So, I still had SEALs taking them, but I'd never put those in the original formulation, that was phosphatidylserine. And phosphatidylserine, again, they're a normally occurring biological molecule, but it decreases the production of cortisol. Cortisol being the stress hormone. So, if excessive stress hormones are one of the reasons you're not getting sleep, that's just kind of like an added benefit. But the whole idea of the formulation was, if we picture the hunter-gatherers as our evolutionary counterparts, the sun went down, the blue light decreased in their eyes, that sparked this pathway down their brain to eventually the back of their brain, to be called the pineal gland. And then the pineal gland started to secreting melatonin. And then melatonin led to increase GABA and lots of other neurophysiologic changes. Melatonin actually shifted to brain chemistry to produce more melatonin as well.
And so, the whole idea is, if that takes three hours, and most people are maybe spending an hour getting ready for bed or half an hour. How can we compress that three hours? That's again, the difference between ideal and reality is like most people don't have three hours to get ready for bed and then sleep eight hours as well. So, how can we compress it? And so, the idea really is, well, let's concentrate everything in your brain that would have probably to the point where it probably would have been after about three hours. So, let's give you about as much melatonin and as we think your brain would have had, I’ll just give you the GABA, let's give you the L-theanine to make sure that the GABA is working well because it doesn't cross the blood-brain barrier super well. And then let's make sure you have the magnesium and the vitamin D3 to be doing your normal production. And then we're going to bring in the substrates from making melatonin so that we know all the ingredients are there. And then we're just going to prep your brain to say, hopefully, this is an approximation of where your brain would have been had you spent three hours getting ready for bed instead of an hour or 30 minutes.
And then, your brain has to do all the work from there. So, there's nothing in my product that actually makes you sleep. It's just trying to set the brain state up to where it should be when you're ready to fall asleep. But then your brain has to keep doing the work to keep you asleep. So, when I do trade shows and stuff, I get people come up to me all the time and they say, “I take your product and I slept for 12 hours, and I haven't slept more than four hours in 10 years,” or something. That's absolutely fantastic, but my product did not make you for 12 hours, because there's nothing in it that lasts anywhere close to that long. Everything will be used and/or disposed of in your bladder, your colon, except the vitamin D3 that gets stored in fat, but everything else will be out of your system in three to four hours. So, there's nothing in my product that will actually keep you asleep. If we initiate good quality sleep, if we do everything right around it, the behaviors are right, correct. And then we can preload, frontload the brain with what it should have and make sure it has all the substrates to do its work. And you get really good sleep quality and good quality sleep leads to continued sleep. Quality sleep leads to more quality sleep. Poor sleep leads to more poor sleep. Very unlikely that you start the night with poor sleep and end with good sleep or start with good sleep and end with poor sleep. It's very unlikely. Usually, if you initiate with high-quality sleep, you finish with high-quality sleep.
And then, the kids' formulation was simply an idea. I had a lot, just a lot of customers saying, “Can I give this to my kid?” And of course, we don't do unnecessary research on kids. So, there's not a ton of nutritional supplement research on kids, but there are some, and basically, I went through and I figured out what would be the most likely nutritionally deficient compounds in a kid versus adult versus elderly? You can extrapolate along that curve and say, the ratios of certain ingredients, certain substrates, the ratio should be slightly different because their brains are different, their brain chemistry is different, there's regions of the brain that actually have the exact opposite effect when they have GABA, when they're younger. And so, you don't want a lot of GABA in there. It was just a lot of tweaking, thinking about, what's going on with the kids and decreasing the dosage because, of course, the dosage were all built around the SEALs, like that's how we figured it out. And so that's all adult dosing.
We backed everything down to what we figured out was the minimal viable product, the minimal dose, that's the whole idea. For all this is like, it just meant to initiate, so it's part of the sleep ritual. I mean, it tastes really good so that kids will want to take it. And then it becomes part of the bedtime routine. And then it encourages bedtime routine, and then that encourages better sleep. So, we've had the idea for a long time and Shayla, my COO, just finally said, “I'm doing this. Whether you want me to do it or not. I'm doing it.” And I'm like, “All right, go ahead, do it.”
Melanie Avalon: Well, that is all brilliant. And congratulations.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: I'm sure you put this in your show notes. The regular product is sleepremedy.com, and that's all lowercase, that’s the adult formulation. And then really cleverly, we named the kids URL is, sleepremedykids.com, all one word.
Melanie Avalon: Is it a different website?
Dr. Kirk Parsley: It's a different URL that links to the same website, just a different page on my website, but it's a different URL. So, if you go there, there's like a guide for creating your bedtime ritual for your kids. Kind of a how-to thing. And then you can link to the products too and you can actually look at the sleep product if you want to also.
Melanie Avalon: Awesome. So, for listeners, I will put all of that in the show notes. I know at least for the adult one, you can go to melanieavalon.com/sleepremedy and use the coupon code, MelanieAvalon, and that will get you 10% off. So, that's very exciting. Thank you for that. Well, thank you so much. So, I knew we weren't going to get through everything, and we didn't. So, we're going to have to do a part two. I know you have to go. I can't let you go though before I ask you the question that I ask as last question for every guest on the podcast. I don't know if you remember it, you might, what is something that you're grateful for?
Dr. Kirk Parsley: I'm grateful for my health and that I'm still alive. I've already lived much longer than I thought I would. I'm grateful for my good health.
Melanie Avalon: Well, I think that's fantastic. And thank you, I am so grateful for everything that you're doing. Grateful for your supplement, grateful for how you are bringing so much attention to this huge thing that is so elusive for so many of us and providing the tools to really get there.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: The good news is, I mean, it's a much, much more common conversation now. When I started this in 2009, people looked at me, like I had two heads, when I was telling them that their hormones were all regulated while they were asleep and that's when they were getting better in growing. I literally got laughed out of rooms, people just say, “Oh my God, that's ridiculous. You're a doctor? Wow, quack.” I mean, most people know that now. I was talking about blue-blocking glasses back then and everybody was like, “What?” That's a dumbest thing I've ever heard of, that doesn't make any sense.” I'm like, “No, really.”
Melanie Avalon: Back when you had to get the goggles.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: What I've had people do is buy gaming glasses because they already had gaming glasses. And the intention of gaming glasses are just to reduce the eye strain, but the way to reduce the eye strain is put a filter in there for the blue light because blue light is the most common and most refractive and so wasn't what they were designed for, but they worked for it. I mean, they didn't do it as well as like the ones that are intentionally designed for it now, but it was at least a 50% solution.
Melanie Avalon: Well, here we are today. So, keep on keepin' on. I'll talk to you in the future.
Dr. Kirk Parsley: I look forward to part two. Yep.
Melanie Avalon: All right. Thanks, bye.