Top Menu

Dr. Kirk Parsley: The Vital Importance of Sleep for Performance and Health

By January 3, 2018 August 12th, 2020 One Comment

“I’ve taken labs from guys they had the lab of an 80 year-old, peri-diabetic or metabolic syndrome males. And they were 37 years old. And they were fit.” –Dr. Kirk Parsley

Dr. Parsley’s sleep remedy was designed to help Navy SEALs to overcome some of the sleep challenges that they have as hard-charging individuals. Doc Parsley believes that proper sleep and recovery is absolutely essential to maintain our ability to perform at a high level. His sleep “cocktail” includes a number of supplements to provide our bodies with chemicals naturally produced by the brain to encourage sleep. Commander Divine is a huge fan and encourages members his tribe to try it out for themselves. Enter “unbeatablemind” at the checkout on  to get 10% off.

Commander Divine talks to friend and former SEAL, Dr. Kirk Parsley, a physician who says getting enough rest at night is the single most effective performance – enhancing habit.  The doctor points out that the SEALs, entrepreneurs and other business people all approach sleep as a kind of “luxury” and that we’ve been brought up to think of sleep as merely an optional component of life.

Find out:

  • How Dr. Parsley’s initial investigation of adrenal fatigue led him to focus on sleep
  • How lack of sleep can hamper even the most physically fit individuals from performing optimally
  • The importance of getting proper sleep for both physical and mental ability

Hear about Dr. Parsley’s new Sleep Remedy and how it can help you get the proper sleep that you need.

The Halo neurostimulation system will help you to push boundaries and perform at your maximum capacity. Commander Divine is often testing new products, and Halo is the most recent that he felt his tribe needed to know about. It will improve your ability to learn physical tasks, and is as simple to use as putting on a pair of headphones. Go to and use the code “unbeatablemind125” to get 125 dollars off the Halo Sport system.

Ample meals are not just protein shakes. They are complete meals including fiber, fats and protein. They make eating healthy on the move a great deal easier. They are made from real food ingredients without gluten or soy. Commander Divine thinks of it as the new Meal Ready to Eat as they have in the military. Ample is offering podcast listeners a 15% discount off your first order. At use code “unbeatable15” to try it out.

Love the Unbeatable Mind Podcast? Click here to subscribe on iTunes.

We’d love your feedback, please leave a rating and review.

Transcript & Shownotes

Welcome back to the Unbeatable Mind podcast. This is Mark Divine and we are in Carlsbad, California. At the annual unbeatable Mind Summit. And I’ve got my friend Dr. Kirk Parsley here who is going to talk to us about all sorts of cool things. And before we get started, let me remind you that if you rate the podcast, it really helps other people find us. So just go to iTunes and click 5 stars. Start there… don’t think about anything else (laughing).

Kirk Parsley: (laughing) Minimum.

Mark: (laughing) Yeah, exactly. Just start there. And know that we really appreciate that cause when other people search let’s say for the Tim Ferris podcast, then the unbeatable Mind will pop up and they’ll listen to ours. And they’ll realize how great it is. And then the word will spread.

So hooyah. Thank you very much.

Also consider looking at the Unbeatable Mind online academy. The foundation course is the foundation for all we do here. And it’s pretty much of an epic journey. And that’s all I’ll say about that right now.



Dr. Kirk Parsley is a SEAL teammate buddy of mine. Went to medical school at Bethesda. Uniform Service Health council is what it’s called?

Dr. Parsley: (laughing) Yeah. I can’t even say it. Uniform Services… Uniform services health sciences. Ridiculous acronym…

Mark: Yeah, we love acronyms. You know what I mean?

Dr. Parsley: Bethesda. We just called it that.

Mark: program where if you’re thinking about… you get interested in medicine and you’re a Navy SEAL or you’re a ship driver or you’re a submariner, you can actually go to school. They lock you in for what… 8 years after that? You have to serve?

Dr. Parsley: It’s 7 years after internship. So it’s 8 years, yeah.

Mark: What an incredible deal. So then… what I loved about that with your history is then you got to go be a diving medical officer. Now I remember, I did some tours on some submarines. And there was a dive medical officer. Basically ran the whole safety of the ship. And making sure locking in and out of the escape hatches. Everything went according to plan. That must have been a pretty interesting assignment too, hunh?

Dr. Parsley: Yeah. And it’s actually one that I pursued. The way the Navy works… or the way Bethesda specifically works… Uniform Services University of the Health Sciences. How that one works is you do… you finish your medical school which is 4 years, and then you have to do your first year of residency and then after that…

Mark: So that’s gotta be like, hospital time…

Dr. Parsley: That’s in a hospital. You’re just like any other medical student except you’re spending your summers playing war-games and stuff. But apart from that, it’s like…

Mark: do you wear a uniform when you do that, by the way? Or are you in smock and stuff?

Dr. Parsley: Absolutely. Uniform. I started medical school as an ensign and graduated as a lieutenant. Of course, I was an enlisted guy before…

Mark: Yeah, so you were an enlisted SEAL. Where did you serve as a SEAL? Remind me.

Dr. Parsley: 5.

Mark: SEAL team 5? So right next door to me. SEAL team 5 always had the reputation as always like the bad guys, you know? The rough and tumble bad guys…

Dr. Parsley: We were the Hollywood guys. (laughing)

Mark: (laughing) You were the Hollywood guys, but you were the ones that started the whole tattoo revolution in the teams.

Dr. Parsley: Probably. It’s definitely its own culture.

Mark: For sure. All the teams have a little bit of their own unique sub-culture.

So then… this is cool. I don’t think a lot of people know this… but then you went to med school as an enlisted SEAL. Or it’s a commissioning process probably…

Dr. Parsley: So there is a program where you can go straight from the SEAL teams to… like you can go to college while you’re in. You can go straight to medical school there. Couple of SEALs who served under me as corps men did that while I was back at the teams.

I actually got out, went to college, went to UCSD. Wasn’t even planning on coming back in the military, until I learned that the military had their own medical school. I was already married, already had kids. Made sense to not go in debt, not have to have my wife work while I was going to medical school, so she could stay home with the kids. So I chose that.

And then you do your first year of residency, and then the only way Navy can get general practitioners… guys out in the fleet doing operational tours with the teams or on ships, whatever. Is to force them out of that residency. So your first year, you get a taste. Like, “Oh yeah, you can come back in 2 to 3 years.” You have to go out and do a utilization tour.

And you can just say, “Put me wherever you want…”

Mark: Utilization tour. That’s a great term. I love how the military… “We’re going to utilize you.” Like you weren’t being utilized before…

Dr. Parsley: Which is misuse of the word, “utilize.” And the military loves to misuse that word. If anyone in the military is listening it means… to utilize means you’re going to use something for purposes its not intended. I’m a doctor, you’re using me as a doctor. You’re “using” me.

You’d be utilizing me as a pilot. I’m not a pilot.

So anyway, when you do that utilization tour, you can just say, “Put me wherever” and they’ll put you on a ship. Or you can say, “I don’t want to be on a ship. I wanna go to flight school.” And then go be a flight surgeon. So you get to go to flight school. Just like a regular pilot would.

Or you can go UMO, DMO. And then you go work with divers, so…

Mark: UMO–Underwater Medical Officer…

Dr. Parsley: That’s the submarine part. And then the DMO is the dive school, so we went to a Panama City dive school. Just did the regular dive school.

Mark: Like you needed to learn how to dive again…

Dr. Parsley: Yeah, yeah. Needing to get that… do flutter kicks… yeah, yeah. I needed all that again. In my late 30s. It was like, “Nah.”

But yeah, that was the avenue back to the SEAL teams. To be the DMO, UMO there. I think they got away with DMO I think…

Mark: the SEALs must have been stoked to have a SEAL doctor come back. Were they or did they like “” you know?

Dr. Parsley: Yeah, I mean really the whole reason I’m doing what I’m doing now is because the guys trusted me to a level that they didn’t trust any other doctors, right?

Mark: In terms of their opening up about some of their sleep problems and we’ll get into that.

Dr. Parsley: Yeah. We’re the enemy, right? The doctors are the enemy, cause you have to do the physicals…

Mark: Well there’s 2 types of military guys. One are the guys who are trying to pamper their record to get some sort of fraudulent disability. You and I know that’s a big problem.

And guys like me, who are like, “Everything’s fine.” Like I didn’t even have a record. VA looked at me and they’re like laughing because they’re like, “What are you talking about? You’re in perfect health.”

I said, “I know. Don’t I get a disability rating? Everyone else got one?”

“No.” I said, “Good answer.’

But yeah, so SEALS don’t’ like to tell you they got a problem.

Dr. Parsley: No. And especially… towards the end, yes, maybe they’ll be honest about everything so that they can actually get their medical stuff covered. Post-9/11, guys were really torn up. Guys our age still getting out that were SEALs when we became SEALs and…

Mark: And they did 6 tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dr. Parsley: Yeah, and one of my buddies… one of my roommates in BUD/S, he did 22 deployments with DEVGRU…

Mark: That’s insane…

Dr. Parsley: I mean, talk about just beat up. But they go see the doctor and they’re like, “Hey, everything’s fine. Everything’s good.” Because they want to be checked off so that they can go do their job.

Mark: And also that’s what the culture is. If you’re having an owie, you’re having a bad night… you show up, you gotta put out. You can’t project any weakness. And exactly, nobody cares. Cause we’re all on this one mission, one team. It’s always going to suck, let’s go do it and have fun.

Dr. Parsley: In fact, the more it sucks the better it is. Because then you get to tell great stories and compete the suck factor with other guys. “Oh yeah? Let me tell you how bad it sucked when I did it.”

Mark: Yeah, so the dive medical tour, did you do that on a ship? Or submarine? What was that like?

Dr. Parsley: The DMO tour was… I did actually 2. Because right when I left dive school they put me at the submarine rescue unit on point. And that was literally just an international policy job. Because it was just agreeing with other militaries who was going to rescue who’s submarines and what dive tables would you use. And what would be the procedure for decompression and…

Mark: Did you go on any rescue missions?

Dr. Parsley: No. Actually…

Mark: Cause they’re few and far between gratefully. Interesting enough there’s one right… going on at least last week. I don’t know if they’ve stopped the search down in Argentina.

Dr. Parsley: I don’t watch the news anymore so I don’t know. But about a month before I started that job that’s when the San Francisco hit that mountain, that underwater mountain. Remember that? And just like completely destroyed the front end of it.

Mark: And how that happened is a whole ‘nother story. How the hell do you…?

Dr. Parsley: Yeah. They didn’t think they were going to make it back, so everybody was on high alert.

Mark: Did you get spun out for that?

Dr. Parsley: Well, the guy before me did. So I was in like kind of the handover phase, the turnover phase. So I just kind of followed him around like a puppy dog. And I didn’t know anything yet.

So yeah, the unit got spun out, ready to go. You had to put all your equipment on the planes and fly them out there and then reassemble it. I mean, it’s not a short journey.

So I did that for a couple of years. It was really boring, like I said. I mainly just went around and had meetings and talked about policy and wrote a bunch of bureaucratic documents. You know how fun those are to write. Instructions and so forth.

Mark: Bet you couldn’t wait to get out of there.

Dr. Parsley: And so then there was an opening at the teams. I said, “You know what? I’m gonna go do that before I go back to residency.” And then the guys just came in. I got there to build this…

Sleep and the SEAL teams


Mark: So is that how you got the interest in sleep? Just by listening to the stories of the guys and realizing that it was such an issue?

Dr. Parsley: Yeah, I mean, I wish I was smart enough to say that I knew right away that that’s what it was. I didn’t know. Guys were coming into me and they were talking about same types of things that your audience today is going to be thinking about… talking about.

Especially kind of the mid-30s guys… the mid-30s, kind of mid-40s guys–those are the primary guys who’d come to see me. So they’ve had, like, 10 years of combat or more. And they were coming in and they were just like, “Man, something’s really off. My motivation just isn’t there.”

And of course, they’re team guys. They’re getting out there and getting after it.

Mark: They’ll find the motivation.

Dr. Parsley: They’re doing the job. They’re grinding through it. But every day is a grind. They’re like, “I don’t ever feel like doing it. I never feel like getting out of bed. I never feel like doing my job. I’m moody. I’m irritable. I’m snappish with my kids. I’m putting on body fat… I’m eating a perfectly clean diet. I’m working out like a madman. My performance just keeps sucking more and more. I just feel achy and pain and weak and slow and dumb.”

Cognition was huge. The average… I think it was about 6. The average number of times these guys left their house every morning before they finally drove to work.

Mark: Cause they forgot something?

Dr. Parsley: Cause they forgot something. So they’d get in their car and go, “Oh, I forgot my badge.” Go back and get their badge. “Oh, I forgot my wallet.” Go back and get their wallet. “Oh, I forgot my whatever.” And they’d just do that and do that and do that. And then about half of them would say “And then I drive to work and I miss my exit. And I’m like, oh, crap.” And they spin around and they’re like, “Maybe I’m just getting old.”

I’m like, “You’re 37. That’s not old.” There’s no cognitive decline at 37. You should be getting smarter at 37.

So I thought maybe adrenal fatigue…

Mark: I have to point out that this is pre-combat. I mean pre-9/11 right?

Dr. Parsley: No, no. this is post-9/11. It was 2009, so we have 8 years of combat at this point. And I first thought, “Okay, well… Maybe it’s adrenal fatigue.”

Adrenal fatigue was sort of this new functional medicine diagnosis. Not really accepted in the medical community…

Mark: And describe what that is… I mean, I know generally…

Dr. Parsley: So your adrenal glands are basically the glands that secrete your stress hormones. And your stress hormones keep you alert in proportion to your environment. And if your environment’s really stressful, you produce a lot of stress hormones. And there’s a theory that you can over-produce them to where your adrenals aren’t able to produce enough anymore. Or you become desensitized to them… because when you have an abundance of hormones around, receptors go away.

But anyways, there’s a mismatch between how much stress hormones you need and how much your adrenals are producing or how much they’re able to produce. And if you read that it sounds a lot like what they called “combat fatigue” in Vietnam and “shellshock” in World War 2.

So I’m like, “Okay, well maybe this is all adrenal fatigue.” So I started on that path…

Mark: So Post-Traumatic Stress, the non-psychological, or physical variant?

Dr. Parsley: The problem with Post-… I mean, PTSD is a syndrome. And syndromes are literally just a description, right? It’s like me saying…

Mark: So adrenal fatigue and sleep problems fall under a symptom of post-traumatic stress.

Dr. Parsley: So I started treating adrenals thinking that was the solution. And I had some success, because guys did have adrenal issues. But it wasn’t the unifying answer. And it was probably like 100 guys had come in to see me already, and this hundredth dude, probably out of about 400 that I saw over 4 or 5 years I was there.

He said something about using sleep aides every night. Ambien. And for… I was like, “Bing! Maybe that plays into this.” Cause I think I’d been reading something about adrenals and sleep. And so then I started looking at what could be connected. “I wonder if Ambien affects anything that happens during sleep.” Cause as a medical doctor, that’s what I knew how to do. If you look at my textbooks… the things that I learned from, it’s like, “Oh, sleep problem? Give ’em Ambien. If that doesn’t work, give him a stronger drug.” Stronger and stronger and stronger drug. And that’s all they do.

Mark: The problem is those don’t put you to sleep… They knock you out. Which is two different things.

Dr. Parsley: Yeah. And everything after Ambien is disqualifying anyway. Because you can’t go out on an anti-psychotic or…

Mark: In the military, you mean…

Dr. Parsley: Yeah. As a SEAL you can’t go out and operate…

Mark: But they do allow Ambien?

Dr. Parsley: They do allow Ambien. And so I thought, “Well, let me learn about sleep and see how that affects…” And I’m like, “Oh my God. Ambien is horrible for sleep. It’s destroying sleep.”

And then I started really learning about what was going on with sleep. And I thought, “This is Occam’s Razor. I mean it seems kind of ridiculous to me, but let’s give this a shot.”

And so I got guys off the sleep drugs. Over time I formulated that supplement that I eventually ended up packaging for the guys. But I got them all off the sleep drugs, and everything.

Not only were they coming back, but these guys were PRing in their 40s. Like, you know, SEAL team 5 sent me his labs back and he had… He’d started as broken as everyone else. I’d taken labs on guys… they had the labs of 80 year-old, peri-diabetic or metabolic syndrome males. And they were 37 years-old. And they were fit. And they looked muscular and their…

Mark: Good Lord. No kidding. So labs of 80 year-olds…

Dr. Parsley: Yeah. I’m not exaggerating…

Sleep and Hormones


Mark: Now you made a comment last time we spoke that their hormones were so messed up that they had the testosterone level of 13 year-old girls…

Dr. Parsley: Yeah. That was a little hyperbole. But it was 80 year-old men…

Yeah, and so I just said, “Well, let’s see what we can do.” So we did all that and when I started telling the leadership that I thought this was a sleep problem…

Mark: Did they push back? Cause you know the culture says, you work your ass off. You sleep for 4 hours a night. You get up at 4 or Zero Dark 30. You put a 2 hour grinder PT in and then sweat it out and go do your job again for 18 hours.

Dr. Parsley: We come from a culture that screens for the ability to be sleep deprived. I mean, that’s what Hell week is. We’re trying to see if you’re going to have a psychotic break or trying to see if you can push yourself past this fatigue barrier.

And so we all think that this is normal life, right?

Mark: Still runs through our high-performance culture. Even our President of the United States was bragging about only needing 4 hours of sleep. It’s just not true.

Dr. Parsley: It’s just not true, no. It’s not true at all…

Mark: What is the average amount of sleep… or optimal I should say… amount of sleep?

Dr. Parsley: So the optimal it varies depending on what you’re doing. So if you’re an ultra-marathoner, and you’re training up to a race, you probably need 10 hours of sleep a night.

Mark: Because of the energy output during the day?

Dr. Parsley: Because of the damage you’re doing to your body. Because the only time you’re recovering is while you’re asleep, right?

If you’re just Joe Blow and you just kind of live an average life. You work out a little bit. You have a job, you… just kind of normal, everyday Middle America. 7 and a half, plus or minus half an hour is where all the data comes out. And they’ve tested this data. So unlike the nutrition and exercise and stress and mindfulness and mindset… and like all the stuff that people want to bicker about in the research… The sleep research is pretty damn solid. Like, it is straight-line. All the data seems to come back the same no matter what country you do it in or who does it.

And so what they do is they sleep adapt people. Which means they put them in a cold, dark room with nothing but a bed for 14 hours a day.

Mark: Like we slept several hundred years ago as human beings. Before electricity.

Dr. Parsley: Yeah. And then they just let them out of the room for 10 hours a day. Do whatever you want. And then go back in for 14.

And what you find is that people sleep about 12 and a half hours when they start, and in the course of about a month, everybody flattens out at about 7 and a half hours. Plus or minus half an hour. And that’s where that number comes from.

Mark: You think they sleep 12 and a half in the beginning just cause they’re catching up from all the lost sleep?

Dr. Parsley: Yeah. It’s sleep debt. It’s sleep debt. So it’s like credit card debt. The exact same thing. The faster you pay it back, the less harmful it is. The longer you spend paying it back…

Mark: Okay, so 7 and a half hours, but let’s say, Kirk, that I’m a pretty busy guy. And I’m really only getting 6 and a half hours. I’m performing pretty good. And I wake up and do my breathing exercise and my 200 burpees and I’m feeling good. But I’m kind of fatigued. But I’m only getting 6 and a half hours. So you’re saying after a year, I’ve got 365 hours of debt that I need to pay back?

Dr. Parsley: I don’t think it’s that linear. So it wouldn’t take… let’s say if you slept an extra hour a night and you flipped from 6 and a half to 8 and a half. And now you’re getting an hour more than you need, right? Ostensibly. It’s not going to take a year to pay that debt back. It’s not that linear.

But the… I do a lot of consulting with entrepreneurs now. And I’m an entrepreneur myself now. So I understand that game. I understand the tendency and the desire… And sometimes you just have to, right? Like, sometimes you just have to do stuff. In your business you have no choice.

Mark: If we were up in Silicon Valley and we had a room full of VCs, they’d be looking at me… “You gotta be kidding. I don’t have time for 7 and a half hours of sleep. Or 8 hours.”

Dr. Parsley: Right. And that’s the biggest obstacle when people consult with me. I can tell them, “I want you to only eat kale for 6 months.” They’d be like, “Okay. Check. Kale for 6 months.” And I’d be like, “Meditate 2 hours a day.” “Exercise 2 hours.” “Okay.”

And then, “I want you to sleep 8 hours.” “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. I can’t do that.”

Mark: (laughing) Slow down there.

Dr. Parsley: But the truth is the research is really clear. Again, sleep research does not vary. It’s not controversial. The research is really clear. If you deprive yourself of an hour of sleep, you lose an hour and 15 minutes of efficiency. If you’re primarily doing a skilled task or a cognitive task. If you’re making decisions… if you’re writing, if you’re being creative, if you’re running a business–you’re losing 15 minutes by losing an hour of sleep. And then you’re also setting yourself up for diabetes and obesity and chronic inflammation…

Mark: So let’s talk about the linkage that you just mentioned, between lack of sleep and weight. Because obviously nutrition plays into this. And we heard from Mark Sisson about how keto helps you sleep and all that.

But let’s just set nutrition aside and assume that people are eating a fairly good, paleo-ish kind of diet. What’s the linkage between lack of sleep and weight-gain?

Dr. Parsley: So there’s a couple. So 1 is the neuro-regulation of appetite. So your brain is what determines your appetite. Your hormones to some degree, but it’s really your brain that’s pushing hormone production and reading those hormones.

So when you don’t sleep, those hormones become off. So when you don’t sleep enough and you increase ghrelin, ghrelin makes you hungry. It makes you crave food.

But the other thing that happens is insulin sensitivity decreases in a single night. So you deprive yourself of 2 hours of sleep… You need 8, you get 6… 30% decrease in insulin sensitivity in your fat tissues. Which means you can’t mobilize fat… Well, you can… You can mobilize fat 30% less. So even if you’re on the ketogenic diet, and you’re running around using fatty acids as your primary fuel source, converting to ketones. Your efficiency to do that has dropped 30% in a single night. Which means that when you eat the same amount of food and do the same amount of activity. The fuel partitioning is gonna be different. You’re gonna store more fat. You’re not going to burn as much fat, and you’re also going to store more fat. Because your body isn’t as sensitive to insulin.

Mark: So that metabolic flexibility starts to go away.

Dr. Parsley: Right. You decrease that overnight.

And then the other thing is you decrease testosterone and growth hormone by about 30% with that same 2 hour lack. So just 2 hours of sleep and now you have 30% less anabolic activity. Your thyroid function goes down, which is kind of like the RPMs. I say testosterone is the horse power, thyroid is how many revolutions are you cranking, right?

The more thyroid, the faster that’s cranking. You get to use more of that horse power.

Mark: Where’s the estrogen come in? Is that the throttling back… is that the brake?

Dr. Parsley: Yeah, the estrogen does have some effects. It obviously hardens bone, closes off bone plates so we don’t end up all being like 12 feet tall and breaking our bones trying to walk. So it closes that off when we’re younger.

It has a lot to do with connective tissue… maintaining connective tissues. Like our mucosae, our gut lining, mouths and all that stuff. Estrogen plays a part. But in men the less sleep you’re getting the more estrogen you tend to produce. So your testosterone is converting into estrogen. It’s a long pathway for that, but basically you’ll produce more estrogen, which means you have less testosterone, right? Because those bind to the same receptors. So if I have 10 estrogen and 10 testosterone and 1 receptor, it’s a fair fight. If I have 1000 testosterone and 10 estrogen–testosterone wins. More anabolic. More masculine stuff we want out of it.

If estrogen creeps up and testosterone goes down, estrogen’s more likely to bind. Now I lose my testosterone effect. And Mother Nature’s biggest joke is where we convert testosterone into estrogen is in our body fat. So when our body fat starts converting a bunch of testosterone into estrogen, our brain gets the signal from the estrogen that we must have a lot of testosterone. Because look at all this estrogen. So it shuts down testosterone production even further.

And so now we’re less anabolic. We can’t stay as lean. You can’t be as strong. You can’t be as enduring. You can’t recover as fast.

Mark: Which is why you could have a perfect diet and you could be working out like a madman and be putting on weight.

Dr. Parsley: Right. And the average is… if you take away 1 hour of sleep per night over the course of the year, the average person will gain 14.3 pounds of fat. That’s an average man, so I’m guessing that’s 150 pound guy.

Mark: Again, you’re probably going to say it’s not so linear, but what I’m thinking is 5 years of that, and now I’ve got 5 times 14 pounds. It’s like 75 pounds.

Dr. Parsley: Yeah. And what happens too is you’re chronically inflamed. You’re chronically in pain. You’re… like I said, the neural regulation of appetite’s gone. Your pre-frontal cortex where you make your decisions, where you have your willpower, gone. You’re more likely to eat donuts and drink coffee…

Mark: This is a downward spiral…

Dr. Parsley: It’s a self-propagating downward spiral. And just keeps accelerating. And the fatter you get, the more broken you get, the more you crave crappy food. The less active you become. The harder…

Mark: And the more despondent you get. Cause you can’t fix it.

Dr. Parsley: Yeah. Then your emotions are getting in your way. Now you can’t sleep. Can’t sleep making things worse. Hormones keep going…

Mark: And you’re making bad decisions…

Dr. Parsley: And you’re making bad decisions to boot.

Mark: Not just about your health. About your career, your family…

Dr. Parsley: Yeah. About everything.

Yeah, you’re 7 times more likely to have an affair if you’re on a diet.

Mark: (laughing) Is that an actual stat, or did you make that up?

Dr. Parsley: That’s a true stat. That’s from…

Mark: Man, that’s a good reason to avoid diets altogether.

Dr. Parsley: The willpower instinct. If you’re having to drive your willpower all day, which happens if you’re sleep deprived. It’s like…

Mark: And we know your willpower declines in the daytime and then come cocktail hour your willpower’s shot.

Dr. Parsley: Everything’s a grind. And then you have… like, you’re out of willpower. You have a couple of cocktails. Boss’ wife is there. You’re like, “Oh, why not?”

Mark: (laughing) That’s a downward spiral of different type…

Dr. Parsley: That’s a quick one. (laughing) Especially if your boss is a bad-ass

Mark: (laughing) Commanding officer of SEAL team 5.

Dr. Parsley: (laughing) Yeah. Take you out.

Sleep Tactics


Mark: Let’s talk about some tactics here. What are the first thing you tell…? “Get off the Ambien.” Let’s say second step. First step is get off the sleeping drugs. Second step is…

Dr. Parsley: So actually first step is convincing them that sleep’s important. And so when I do my lecture today… Unfortunately, this is the way I have to do every lecture. I spend in the first half of the lecture convincing people that sleep’s important. That’s the primary thing. You have to beat them over the head with it. They’ve been conditioned otherwise their whole lives.

So the first step is getting them to believe sleep is important. To really value sleep. Now if I talk you into really valuing sleep, do you really think you need my help getting more sleep? Most of the time, not…

Mark: Yeah, cause most people think, “Okay, I get it. Check.” Everyone thinks they’re self-reliant when it comes to nutrition, sleep and exercise. (laughing) We don’t need a coach.

Dr. Parsley: Right. So if you really value sleep and you have Google you can do a decent job. If you have sleeping difficulties, and you’re just doing the basic hygiene things that everybody knows at this point, right?

When I started this in 2009 I literally…

Mark: It was all new. Now I’m seeing it all over the place.

Dr. Parsley: I literally got laughed off the stages. Just doctors going, “Oh my God. This guy’s embarrassing himself. What an idiot.”

And then these same guys are doing my lectures 2 years later. I’m sitting there watching a guy do my lecture…

Mark: Little sidebar. I’ve experienced the same thing. You know, people are full-on launching breathing seminars, teaching box breathing… And a friend of mine said, “Well that makes sense. Cause the pioneers take the spears, and the settlers take the land.” I’m like, “Huh. I wanna take some land back.”

Dr. Parsley: I like that. I mean, I don’t like the concept, but it’s a clever way of saying it. It is true.

Mark: Anyways. Back to our regularly scheduled podcast.

Dr. Parsley: So, like, everyone knows this now. It’s like we use the sun as our cue as to when to sleep. And if we take away that cue because we have electricity now, that interferes with sleep. So you have to do something about that photo-exposure of blue light. And that’s what the blue-blocking glasses are about. That’s what the new iPhone apps are about. That’s what f.lux on your computer is about. Like, getting rid of some of that.

Mark: Cause it stimulates your mind, your neuro-transmitters are still awake.

Dr. Parsley: Well what happens is the decrease of blue light triggers the brain to get ready for bed. And it takes about 3 hours of chemical changes, you produce some hormones that slow down certain regions of your brain. You produce melatonin that decreases stress hormones. Like I said, stress hormones keep you alert…

Mark: This like when I go to the cabin and I sit in front of the fireplace. And there’s no electricity. Man…

Dr. Parsley: Yeah, you’re asleep 3 hours after sundown.

Mark: But it’s that fireplace that really… okay, it’s now… getting your brain waves start to slow down.

Dr. Parsley: And there’s probably some evolutionary memory in there about that’s a safe, warm spot. You’re less likely to become prey. And there’s probably some evolutionary, genetic memory in that too. Just like kids are born being afraid of snakes. It has to be genetic. It has to be some sort of genetic memory and that’s probably a player in there.

But, yeah, there was some research done just 2 years ago where… I didn’t even realize this still existed but there’s like 30 tribes or clans worldwide that have never been exposed to electricity. And they still live a hunter/gatherer lifestyle. And so they went out and they studied these guys. And they said, “Let’s see how much they sleep and how they sleep.” And they had the wearable devices.

And sure enough, 3 and a half hours after the sun went down they were all asleep. And then they all woke up right as the sun was coming up. And then, you know…

Mark: And they all lived to 100 unless they were bitten by a snake?

Dr. Parley: I don’t know what their longevity was, but I’ve seen the Kitavans. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this picture of the Kitavans. Robb Wolff show it a lot in his lectures on nutrition.

And they have like a 70 year-old Kitavan, and 40 year-old Kitavan and a 20 year-old Kitavan…

Mark: They all look the same, probably…

Dr. Parsley: The 70 year-old has more grey hair. And more wrinkles on his face. And other than that the dudes just all look exactly the same. Same body composition, same muscle mass, same posture… everything.

So we definitely break ourselves down in society. But everybody knows that…

Mark: So the electronics are a big deal in our society. Everyone’s kinda hooked to their iPhone and checking your iPhone before bed is a big problem. Not just because of the psychological spin-up, but the blue light.

Dr. Parsley: Yeah. It’s another big factor. The blue lights are a big factor that a lot of people talk about. What a lot of people don’t realize though, is that you have to decrease the stimulation in your brain. Especially something like social media that has like a little dopamine drop every time you open that up. So now you’re activating your brain.

So if you’ve ever had the experience of being completely exhausted when you wake up in the morning. And thinking, “I’m just going to go to work. I’m going to do my job. I’m coming home and going to sleep. I’m going to sleep like 15 hours tonight and catch up. And get back on track. I’m just wiped, right?” You’ve been travelling. Whatever the case is.

And then your buddies talk you into going to Happy Hour. Whatever. You head down to McPs, you have a couple beers. CNS depressant should make you more tired, but you perk up. And you no longer feel like you need to go home. And then you stay out ’til 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock, 12 o’clock. Whatever. You know, how does that happen?

Mark: And then you go home, check your email and then you can’t sleep.

Dr. Parsley: Yeah. So you’re overriding it by the stimulation of your conversation with your friends, by the attractive girl you’re checking out… whatever that stimulation is you can override it. And so the social media overrides it.

This data is huge with kids. With adolescents. Adolescents now spend more time on recreational media–which is your phones and games and television–they spend more time on recreational media than the spend sleeping. And they’re 3 hours per night deprived on average. And that affects everything the next day, and the next day, and the next day. And it really is a big problem…

Mark: Yeah, my son is in that loop right now and I’m trying like heck to get him out of it. But it’s a tough one…

Dr. Parsley: It is a really tough one. I actually had… I was fortunate enough to have… my house is set up with… it’s a 4 bedroom house, and every room has its own circuit breaker. So I just turn my kid’s circuit breakers off at 10. And then they have to charge their phones in the kitchen. So…

Mark: Man, we have so much more to talk about and about 5 minutes left. But I wanna… what would be the number… Besides what we’ve talked about already, what would be the number one, two, three things that people could do to really increase their sleep hygiene right away?

Dr. Parsley: Yeah.

Mark: And then I want to talk about your supplement too. Because I took that last night, and it really, really helped.

I asked you two questions, and now I went off on a tangent didn’t I? How’s that feel? (laughing)

Dr. Parsley: (laughing) It’s good. I got it. I got plenty of sleep, man. I’m on it.

Mark: Let me come back to that second question. First answer the first one.

Dr. Parsley: Yeah, so the… what was the question?

Mark: (laughing) Top 3 things.

Dr. Parsley: Yeah, so when you talk about sleep there’s… it’s the obvious thing is your decreasing the blue light in the eyes. The other thing is that you decrease the stimulation to your brain. So that means you can’t work on your computer ’til 9:59 just because you’re wearing blue blocking glasses, get in bed and expect to fall asleep at 10. You have to slow down your brain. And then you have to darken out your bedroom.

And then you need some sort of bedtime ritual. It doesn’t matter what that ritual is. But if you’ve ever had a kid, or you’ve ever been a kid, you’ll remember that 3 year-old have a long ritual, right? There’s a 45 minute ritual to get a little kid ready for bed. You don’t take a 3 year-old, while he’s banging on drums, smashing trucks and put him in a bed, turn the lights out and walk out, and expect that to work.

Why do we think it’ll work with us? It won’t…

Mark: So could you come read me a bedtime story?

Dr. Parsley: Yeah, I’ll come rock you to sleep. We’ll get your onesie on, pamper you all up.

Mark: (laughing) Thanks very much. My wife would…

Dr. Parsley: (laughing) Give you a snuggle. It’d be great. We’ll make a video of that. It’s gonna go viral. Everything’s going to be cool from here on out. It’s a great idea.

Sleep Cocktail


Mark: What about your sleep cocktail? How does that help?

Dr. Parsley: Yeah, so that was the end result of getting the guys off the Ambien, right? Because it was… These guys just were on Ambien because they needed Ambien. They couldn’t sleep, right? So you can’t just say…

Mark: That’s more of an intervention. So Ambien itself is okay…

Dr. Parsley: Yeah. Ambien in the short term is fine.

Mark: As an intervention or you’ve got an important thing to do and you just can’t sleep. Boom. But once or twice.

Dr. Parsley: Yeah. Like when a guy dies, I’ll give his wife Ambien for a couple of weeks or even Valium. I don’t care. You need to sleep, and you’re not going to sleep in that situation.

You know, if you’re jet-lagged and you want to use Ambien for 2 or 3 days…

Mark: And the problem… when you say you go unconscious… or basically knocks you unconscious. The problem with that as I understand it is your missing the first 4 hours of sleep where you really do the regenerative work. You kind of skip right past that.

Dr. Parsley: It depends on the drug you take. So some drugs interfere with the deep sleep, which is primarily the first half of the night. And some drugs interfere more with the REM sleep. But the REM sleep is where all the cognition and emotion stuff is coming from. That’s when you’re replenishing your brain. That’s when you’re forming new memories. That’s when you’re consolidating memories. That’s when you’re…

Mark: So both are important…

Dr. Parsley: So they’re both equally as important. Especially for you, you have a very… you’re an entrepreneur, but your job is fitness and you have to perform physically and you also have to perform mentally. So for you it’s, like, equal probably.

If you’re the CEO of a Fortune 100 company, cognition is what you need more than anything. Probably nobody cares how fast you can run a mile. Or whatever.

So I couldn’t just take away the Ambien and say “Suck it up, buttercup. Just go to sleep.” I had to give them something in return. And it was just… it was really through very basic physiology books that I just traced what happens when the sun goes down. What happens in your brain? What hormones change? What metabolites change? What neuropeptides change?

And so well what if I just gave them all of that? In a concentrated fashion. So the same thing that would happen if I did everything right and I’d never been exposed to electricity and I was outside and the sun went down and 3 and a half hours later, my brain would have a lot of this in it, and a lot of that, and a lot of this, and a lot of this. And hardly any of that.

So I’m like, “Why can’t I just give them that?” So I just give them that. And then it just super-concentrates everything that would have ordinarily happened in the brain anyway, had they done everything correctly. Super-concentrates it in like 30 minutes. That’s why I made it a liquid. So you didn’t have to dissolve capsules and worry about that.

And then it just kind of initiates those cascades and sleep starts. It gets you in a position to sleep. But it all washes out of your bloodstream in about 3 to 4 hours. So people come to me all the time, and they’re like, “Man, I slept 12 hours on your product.” I’m like, “Great. But my product doesn’t last anywhere close to 12 hours. So that was you. You giving yourself permission and you getting into a deep phase.

Mark: So this obviously will help with kind of a reset. Is it meant to be taken every night? Is there a problem like we talked about with exogenous ketones where it could then prevent the formulation of your natural sleep stuff?

Dr. Parsley: Yeah, so there’s nothing in my product that’s what you would call “super-physiologic.” Super-physiologic means outside of the normal parameters. So what I’m doing is I’m putting enough in there to initiate like I said, approximately what I think would have happens in about 3 hours, had you done everything sleep hygiene evolutionarily based. Had you done that, what would happen about 3 hours later? And that’s where we’re starting from.

So there’s nothing outside the norm. When you start down-regulating receptors and you start down-regulating the production of hormones and other things like that is when you go too high. You go super-physiologic and your body… as Mark Sisson was saying yesterday… your body’s a smart machine. If you’re getting it for free, your body’s not going to make it. It’s just going to quit making it.

And if there’s too much of it around, then you quit responding to it.

So there’s no problem taking mine every day. But there’s probably no reason to take it every day, unless you just really like it. So like, for me, I sleep…

Mark: It could become almost a dependency though. So probably a good idea to cycle it and do those things…

Dr. Parsley: Yeah. I mean, I take it almost every day. I run out. I own the damn company and I run out all the time. I just forget to call and get any. But I take it every day just because I feel better. When I take it, I feel better. There’s no reason for me not to. I don’t think there’s any deleterious effects of it, but if you’re like a shift worker and… Like you’re a cop, you’re a law enforcement officer and you’re working the night shift all the time. You better take it every day.

If you’re getting poor sleep and you just can’t get enough sleep–the higher the quality of the sleep that you do get is going to add years to your life. People who take sleep drugs chronically–which is just over 6 months–have an average lifespan 16 years lower than general society.

Mark: No kidding.

Dr. Parsley: 16 years. Just from taking sleep aids. And I don’t think it’s the sleep-aids, I think it’s the insomnia. So sleep deprivation that’s killing them. And the sleep-aids themselves, as we said, aren’t really leading to sleep. They’re leading to unconsciousness. So they aren’t getting all the same benefits and so they have a higher risk of cancer, higher risk of diabetes, higher risk of stroke, heart attack, all that.

And that’s why cops have heart attacks at 45. It’s not because they’re eating donuts and drinking coffee like everybody likes to think. It’s because they’re chronically sleep deprived.

And the teams are probably worse because it’s chaotic sleep. So you can’t even manage that. At least if you’re on shift-work I can get you on a schedule to where I can mitigate t against your lifestyle. Maybe 50%. Maybe 70%. Never going to make you equal. I can’t ever make 2 plus 2 not be 4. It’s always going to be 4.

But we can shift things a little bit. But Spec. War and first responders and stuff, it’s just chaotic. They might get to sleep, they might not get to sleep.

Yeah. Those guys… that’s the worst situation to be in.

Mark: No kidding. Wow.

All right. Well, we gotta wrap this up. So folks listening to this out there in Unbeatable Mind world, if you’re sleep deprived, chronically sleep deprived or taking anything that looks like Ambien or came from a doctor…

Dr. Parsley: Or Benadryl, or using alcohol as your sleep-aid. All those things… when you were talking about the deep sleep? Alcohol destroys the deep sleep more than anything. So if alcohol’s your sleep-aid, that’s when your body’s not recovering. That’s when your muscles aren’t recovering. And your tendons and ligaments and immune system.

Mark: What if you have a drink 2 hours before bed?

Dr. Parsley: I mean, a drink or 2 doesn’t matter. And like you said, the further away from bed, the better. But that doesn’t mean drink first thing in the morning, (laughing) it just means don’t drink…

Mark: (laughing) I get my drinking done before noon, so it shouldn’t be a problem. My sleep is fine.

Dr. Parsley: Yeah, but it’s… if you do any kind of sleep drug, it’s going to interfere with your performance. That’s all there is too it.

Mark: Yeah. So this is a big problem. It’s almost an epidemic I think. And I think the whole weight loss industry…

Dr. Parsley: It is. Nobody wants to call it an epidemic, cause no one wants to confront it. But it is. I mean it’s absolutely an epidemic.

Mark: So where do folks who are listening find the sleep supplement? And more information about you?

Dr. Parsley: Yeah, I’m a doctor. I’m a terrible marketer. I should have some kind of site, but it’s on my site. So just go to And there’s like “shop” or “store” is one of the headings. And the supplement’s under there.

Mark: It’s called Sleep Remedy?

Dr. Parsley: It’s called the Sleep Remedy, yeah. The team guys called it “Doc Parsley’s Sleeping Cocktail.” So it was… When we launched it, we launched it as the sleep cocktail.

Mark: Yeah. People thought it was an actual cocktail.

Dr. Parsley: And everybody thought it was alcohol or had to do with alcohol and so it was firewalled across all DoD and DoJ and colleges and all that. Because it had the word “cocktail” in it.

Mark: Well I wonder if people… were people like adding it to vodka and tonic or something like that?

Dr. Parsley: I think they were.

Mark: That would be really interesting. “I’m getting really sleepy. Give me another one, bartender.”

Dr. Parsley: I actually have a doctor friend… she’s a plastic surgeon. And she has a martini every night. She says, “I only have 1 martini every night. 1 martini.” And I’m like, “Okay, fine.”

She’s super-frenetic about it. “I only have one.” And I’m like, “Okay, great.” I’m not saying a word to you. But she mixes the Sleep Remedy with her cocktail. (laughing) With her martini every night.

Mark: (laughing) if it works for her, great–but we don’t recommend that.

Dr. Parsley: (laughing) Hey man, whatever. At least you’re sleeping.

Mark: Roger that. All right.

Dr. Parsley: So the other difference real quick when we talk about all this stuff… Compare it to nutrition, compare it to exercise. Everybody has 30-day challenges.

I tell people 7 days. Make sleep your number 1 priority for 7 days. If you don’t feel like the entire world has changed in 7 days, go back to what you were doing. I’ don’t have a dog in the fight at that point.

But I’ve never had a single person…

Mark: That’s unlikely to happen.

Dr. Parsley: No. Every patient, every client of I’ve ever had do that is “Oh my God. I cannot believe that I thought this was normal. I thought I was normal before, and I look back and I was a mess.” And your performance just skyrockets. Like you notice it 3, 4 days into it you’ll start noticing everything. You’re faster, you’re stronger, your pain threshold’s higher. Your cognition’s better. Your word finding choices are better. You’re thinking, you’re making decisions. You’re less stressed. You’re appetite control… everything switches. In 3, 4 days. And after 7 days you’re like, “I’m not going back to that.”

Mark: Awesome. Well it sounds like a winner, winner, chicken dinner to me. (laughing) So check out Awesome.

Dr. Parsley: All right, man.

Mark: And thanks for your time again today.

We’ll see you around.

Dr. Parsley: All right, see you.

Mark: All right, everyone. Thanks very much once again for tuning in to the Unbeatable Mind podcast and that’s it for now. See you next time. Out here. That’s a wrap.

Join the discussion One Comment

Leave a Reply