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Dr. Kirk Parsley on Sleep and Recovery

By June 10, 2021 June 20th, 2021 One Comment

In this two-part interview, Mark is talking to his old friend Dr. Kirk Parsley. (@kirkparsley) Doc Parsley is a former SEAL who is now an MD who specializes in sleep. He realized that most of us are getting less sleep than we need and are kind of seeing sleep as “the enemy” or a waste of time. As a result, he developed his “sleep cocktail” for SEAL patients and has now developed it for all of us as the Sleep Remedy.

Learn how:

  • Lack of sleep just accelerates the aging process
  • Working out while being sleep deprived is counterproductive—no benefits
  • Sleep is a part of life that we must accept—16 hours awake and 8 hours of sleep for recovery

Listen to this episode to get a better understanding of how your sleep is important to how you deal with this VUCA environment.

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Mark: Welcome back folks. This is Mark Divine, with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Super-stoked to have you here today, I’ve got my good friend, Kirk Parsley – doctor Kirk Parsley…

Kirk: (laughing) yeah, just Kirk…

Mark: The sleep doctor. We’ll call him Kirk. Buddy from the teams, now an md – and especially in sleep – who’s helped a lot of people in performance and overcoming issues that we all have with sleep and other things. We’ve got a lot of things to talk about.

Before we get into this podcast – and I know you all know Kirk – but if you don’t know him, check him out at Really interesting background. I’ll let him give you a little bit more on that.

But before we get into our conversation, please go rate this podcast. It really helps other people find it – especially if you start on the right side, click on the far right star – I think it fills all the rest in.

Anyways, it’s good to see you, my friend.

Kirk: Good to see you…

Mark: This is the first… no second, actually… yeah, I had an in-person podcast with a local guy a few weeks ago. But it sure is nice to be in person…

Kirk: Yeah, I agree, man. I’d drive just about anywhere in the country to be on a podcast and just do something professionally stimulating in person.

Mark: I’m glad you said that…

Kirk: I’m so tired…

Mark: I’m telling my podcast producer, Allison, that I think people will be thrilled to come out.

Kirk: I think so too, man. I mean, I don’t think most people are willing to drive as much as I am, but I don’t know, I think five or six hours… I think most people would do.

Or hop on planes if they can tolerate that…

Mark: (laughing) I wonder if we can get a waiver… “hey, I don’t have to wear a mask because Mark Divine says…

Kirk: (laughing) exactly.

Mark: I’ve been reading different things on that. That if you get vaccinated, you can still get Covid and transmit it according to some of the things I’ve read.

Kirk: Well, if that’s true, that’s not a vaccine…

Mark: Really?

Kirk: I mean, that would defeat the whole purpose of there being a vaccine…

Mark: Vaccine’s supposed to make you asymptomatic, right?

Kirk: So a vaccine is like polio, right? We vaccinated enough people against polio to where polio doesn’t exist in in the world anymore. And if you have a polio vaccine and all of a sudden you jump in a pool full of polio, you’re going to be fine, right? And you’re not going to get out and give it to somebody else. That’s what vaccines mean.

If you’re just saying, “well, this decreases symptomatology,” well then, it’s a treatment.

So it’s not. It’s a vaccine, and everybody knows it. And everybody has known it since the whole thing was developed.

And the really concerning thing to me is – I mean you and I were in the military long enough to know that conspiracy is very unlikely because people aren’t that reliable…

Mark: (laughing) so true.

Kirk: You can’t organize enough people…

Mark: Dr. Fauci might be a smart guy, but he’s not that smart…

Kirk: You can’t keep people organized, you can’t keep people quiet… like, somebody’s gonna spill the beans. I don’t believe in conspiracy…

Mark: They kept the UFO thing quiet for a long time…

Kirk: Yeah, that’s kind of surprising.

Mark: Or maybe just nobody really believed it…

Kirk: They just squashed it… I think there was so much bs, so much crying wolf that nobody bought it anymore…

But there’s something really, really odd about this vaccine, right?

Mark: All vaccines? Or this vaccine?

Kirk: This whole vaccine movement, right? This whole campaign for it.

So when you actually get a disease – so if I were to contract Covid – yes, the spike protein is like the most salient thing to develop immunity to, but I’m going to develop immunity to all sorts of things about this virus. Because it’s going to go into my cells and it’s going to cause my cells to rupture and open. And it’s going to spread all over my body.

And as my immune system tears it up, there’s going to be fragments – I’m going to develop immunity to that I’m going to develop these things called t-memory cells – like t-cells that are going to help my immune system if I were to ever be exposed to that again.

And I’m going to develop a really robust immunity. And if you look at the first SARS – the SARS cov-1 – which was in 2003 – people who contracted that illness or that bacteria and got a disease from it…

Mark: Is that the swine variant?

Kirk: I think that’s the MERS – I think it’s the middle eastern…

Mark: The middle east, yeah…

Kirk: I think that’s what it was… but those people who had that disease in 2003 are still protected against SARS cov-2 right now. So that’s 18 years of immunity, right?

And they’re definitely 100% protected against cov-1 and there’s a lot of crossover to cov-2.

Because there’s more than just antibodies being involved, right? Their entire immune system is revved up… like, every aspect of their immune system is ready for this virus…

Mark: So let me just pause there – it’s kind of the memory of your body’s immune system – you don’t have to have those antibodies still lurking around. Because I got exposed to Covid – I’m not 100,000% sure – but I’m pretty damn sure… in Germany, 2019 over new year’s. And I was at an event and the guy who was co-hosting had just come from China, sick as a freaking dog, half the people ended up in the hospital with respiratory issues.

And myself and my wife we were kind of walking around Paris afterwards like, “yeah, I don’t feel great but if we just walk it off and drink enough wine, we’ll be fine.” And we were.

And we got back here and then we had an antibody test a few months ago, and it showed up zero – like, no antibodies…

Kirk: Yeah, so what can happen is if… so, there are four other coronaviruses that infect humans commonly. And if you have a robust enough immune system – so this is the reason why little kids aren’t getting sick -the kids oftentimes aren’t developing antibodies either. And it’s they have so much t-cell immunity that they’re fighting it off, before it becomes a big enough problem…

So their immune system is actually killing it before it becomes a big enough problem to where they need to develop antibodies. I always tell anybody uh people that antibodies are just like… think of them as one of those little red sirens you can put on the outside of a car. Like beretta used to do when we were kid. That’s really what they’re doing – they’re just marking it, right?

They don’t fight the virus. It’s just like they slap the siren on it and so the rest of the immune system goes “oh, we need to go attack that.” Well, if the immune system already knows to attack that, then you might not even get to the stage where you need to develop robust antibodies.

And so the antibody tests themselves – I wouldn’t say that’s 100% diagnostic of whether you’ve had it or not, because if your immune system is robust enough…

Now little kids they’re testing little kids to say, “well, we think this percentage of little kids have it because they have antibodies.” But a lot of kids will have been exposed to it and never developed antibodies. So we don’t really know how many kids have had it. But we do know that kids aren’t really getting sick by it.

Mark: Right.

Kirk: Which brings me back to my original point. Like, people who have already had this virus already have immunity. And they have a better immunity than they’re going to get from the vaccine.

But yet they’re still mandating the vaccine. I just found out last night – I have two kids in college, they both got vaccinated…

Mark: The school that’s mandating it?

Kirk: Yeah.

Mark: Yeah, so back to our point about it’s the corporate interests that are actually doing some of the mandating and some of the social re-engineering. Not even the government.

They may be prodded by the government, but they’re not being mandated by the government…

Kirk: Yeah, I think they’re handing it off. It’s a little rope-a-dope, it’s like, “hey, no… we’re not mandating it. But the teacher’s union is telling us that all the schools are going to have to do it. So if you want to have your kids in the schools that are being paid for by your tax dollars – well, then you’re going to have to have this vaccine. Because the teacher’s union’s saying that. Not because the government’s saying it.”

“The airlines are saying it’s not us.” “it’s the government of France that says you can’t come in there without a vaccine passport… so, it’s not us, it’s them,” right?

But it’s like all right, they’re all colluding together. And it just concerns me that at no point in the history of medicine in America have we said somebody who’s already had the disease needs to be vaccinated against that disease.

Mark: Is there any possibility that getting vaccinated if you’ve already had the disease could weaken your immune system in the future?

Kirk: There’s been more adverse effects to this vaccine than all other vaccines combined. And there’s a very strong correlation between people who have already had the disease getting vaccinated. It does put you at a higher risk of having negative side effects.

Mark: Is that because that cytokine storm or whatever they call it?

Kirk: It could be a hyper-reactivity… it could be just some sort of antibody competition between what you’re being exposed to in the vaccine, versus what you already have. Like, I don’t know. It’s too complicated.

Mark: There’s three MRNA vaccines, because I haven’t heard so much with the j and j – which uses a traditional delivery…

Kirk: Well the j and j we know had the coagulation issues…

Mark: With six people…

Kirk: Well, I think there were six or eight deaths or something that like that. But there were a lot more complications than that. So, if you look at, I think it’s all the Covid vaccinations combined, there’s about 4 000 some odd deaths associated with it. Which just means within 48 hours of getting the vaccine you died – like you could have been somebody really sick in a hospital bed they’re kind of giving you the last ditch effort. So I wouldn’t say that it’s killed four thousand people.

But there’s definitely risk to taking it, right? It’s definitely not completely benign.

And we’re giving it to people who already have immunity to it. And they have a more robust immunity than they’re going to get from the vaccine. And we’re sort of mandating that – and that’s really concerning to me.

And then the other thing that we’re doing is we’re mandating it for school-age children – like, I was just saying my kids… and I’m like, “okay, their risk of dying from this or getting seriously ill from this even is essentially zero,” right?

Mark: The risk is more from the vaccine, you’re saying, than the actual virus…

Kirk: Right. Or it’s at least equal… and it’s like, so, if these kids have already had it and literally these kids have a higher likelihood of getting struck by lightning than they do dying from Covid. Like orders of magnitude more likely to die from getting struck by lightning. We don’t run around protecting against that.

So essentially if you came to me and you said, “hey, I’m really concerned about breast cancer and there’s this new treatment for breast cancer. And I want to know if I…”

I’m like, “Mark, like, men do get breast cancer, but your odds are so low. And you don’t have any symptoms of this, so you don’t have the disease. You don’t truly have any risk for the disease…”

Mark: I have trouble getting my breasts into the mammogram thing…

Kirk: Yeah. But if I treated you for some sort of prophylactic… like I’m going to give you this lifelong treatment, because you’re worried about breast cancer. Everybody would call me a quack and say, “that’s ridiculous. He doesn’t have any real risk.”

So why are we giving a vaccine to people who don’t have any risk of serious complications? Like a 10 year old kid has zero risk…

Mark: Kirk, you numbskull – it’s because of the science. We want to get to herd immunity…

Kirk: Right. the science.

Mark: “the” science, quote-unquote. So what does herd immunity mean to you?

Kirk: So herd immunity is – I think it’s sort of a comfort feeling, a little catch phrase… I’m not really sure how scientific that is, because basically all we’re saying is that…

Mark: First of all, I don’t really love being called a herd…

Kirk: Exactly. I mean, maybe we are herd animals… we all do live in cities and so forth, but some of us are more isolationist than others.

But yeah, if you think about it, all that they’re saying with herd immunity is that you’re going to have so few opportunities for the virus to implant and replicate itself, that the virus is going to essentially fade away, right? Because there’s no opportunity for it.

So one viral particle, and it can infect one person. And it can make billions of copies of itself. And then it can infect somebody else with maybe just one of those has an opportunity to do it again… or maybe two of them. And then you have an exponential growth if just two of them infect two other people.

But if you can reduce the opportunities for it to infect people, because either they’ve been vaccinated, or they’ve already had the disease. Or they’re wearing a face mask, or they’re keeping their toes crossed. Or whatever other kind of voodoo – it can’t essentially transmit, so it just goes away.

That’s never happened with any other virus in history, so why is it going to happen…? Polio only happened because of the vaccine… so, we vaccinated enough people… now, polio still exists in the world…

Mark: Isn’t that the same argument? If we vaccinate enough people, then Covid will go away as well?

Kirk: But at that point, you still aren’t getting rid of the virus is my point – you’re getting rid of the susceptibility of the individual.

And so something like polio is way, way, way more contagious than this thing is, right? And so when somebody’s exposed to polio, essentially, they’ve got it, man. Like that’s it. Like there’s no getting around it. You’re gonna have it.

Mark: Is contagion the same…? That’s like my susceptibility to getting it versus what about transmitting it? Polio wasn’t transmitted as broadly…

Kirk: Right, lots of different things matter, right? So what I was talking about with contagion that’s really what they call the r naught. So the r naught would be like, if I get it how many people am I going to pass it on to on average. And that’s like I’m gonna pass it on to… an r naught of three would be three.

So like, if I get it, odds are three other people are going to get it from me…

Mark: And three from them…

Kirk: And then that’s an exponential growth. An r naught of one means that we’re going to have kind of a steady state and anything below an r naught of one, means they’re just going to die off.

Mark: Interesting. What’s the r-naught for Covid…?

Kirk: Well, the thing is it truly takes about ten years to figure it out. We need like long robust data. I think it’s like one point something the last I heard… 1.3, 1.2 something like that. So it’s not going to stay steady

Mark: But polio was much higher than that – you’re saying…

Kirk: Yeah. I mean, I think polio was something like 15 or 17 or something crazy like that. Like it was just super-contagious. You get it, you’re gonna pass on to a ton of different people – there’s no innate protection.

So really, everybody under 70 – everybody healthy under 70 really isn’t at any statistical risk of this, right? And so you have all these you have all these really young kids… so you take under 20… I think there’s like 200 kids under 20 – 200 and some and change – depending on how you crunch those numbers – who have died from Covid in the past year.

I mean, that’s so insignificant… it’s tragic, yeah, and it’d be terrible if it was one of my kids, but I wouldn’t expect the entire world to change to protect my kids. Like that would be horrible for me, but…

And not to mention, it’s like we don’t even know that changing all of our behaviors is making any difference… like, we don’t even know that it’s going to save anybody wearing masks or locking down or social… like we don’t know…

Surgical masks have been around for 60, 70 years – we’ve done research on them for 60 or 70 years… we’ve never seen any convincing evidence that they work out in the private sector in the population. There’s very minimal benefit to them in a clinic.

When this thing first started, I did an Instagram video – like an hour long Instagram video for like the first 30 days of this Covid lockdown thing. And one of them I did was on the mask.

Mark: I thought maybe you were getting cancelled, from them…

Kirk: Well, I got booted from twitter… I’ve been suspended from twitter for I don’t know how long. Might be permanently gone on that. I don’t know…

But one of the things I did was masks. And I spent I think a day and a half just going through all the relevant – going through PubMed – looking at all the relevant research on masks.

And then I went to kind of the engineering world and started looking at like how are these masks designed, and what are they actually designed to protect against, right?

And all of the research was consistent was that masks do a great job of keeping you from exuding spittle on your patient. If you exhale really hard in a section in a surgical mask, it just all blows out the side, right?

And then if you get the n95 mask and it’s properly fitted and you put it on with sterile procedure and all this other stuff, you can be protected for a certain amount of time, in a certain situation.

But putting it in your car and taking it out and… like, this is doing nothing…

And when they did studies… one of the studies that I covered – it was really robust, it’s really long term – they’d had thousands and thousands – tens of thousands of patients – they’d done this in three or four different clinics across America.

And they were testing the staff. So flu season and some of the staff – a third wore no mask, a third used surgical mask, a third use n95 mask.

And then it was testing how many of the staff got this look got the flu. And it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter if you wore a mask – n95 – everybody got the flu at the same rate. Now you could argue maybe they’re getting it at home or whatever… but the point being, is that when they’re dealing with people that they know they have the virus, the people who wore no mask weren’t at a higher risk than people who wore a surgical mask. Or a n95 mask.

You would think if masks work, the people who wore no mask would have shown a higher flu rate…

Mark: Right, I have a friend who lived in New Zealand, and he said that – at least early on, I don’t know what they’re doing now… they’re probably requiring now…

But they were saying no masks because there was research to indicate that wearing a mask actually can make you sicker. Because if you get exposed, it traps the particles and keeps them in your system longer.

Kirk: Well, most of the people who don’t really conform to what we know about the way… so what basically we know is that Covid kills the infirm and the elderly. And really what it means to be old just means that you’re at a higher risk of death. A higher risk of disease of all kinds, right?

I looked it up and it’s been a year since I looked it up – so I might get some numbers wrong – but it’s something around if you’re 80 years old versus 20 years old you’re 1800 times more likely to die of everything, right?

So Covid is no different, all right? So big, big surprise. Essentially, it’s like, “he was old.” And what old means is that you can’t recuperate.

Mark: Your immune system is toast…

Kirk: Like, everything’s just not as good, right?

Sleep and Aging


Kirk: I always tell people that sleep deprivation is aging, right? Because essentially, if you think about the purpose of sleep – like, the purpose of sleep is to repair from today and to prepare myself for tomorrow. Physically and cognitively.

So I will be as robust and capable tomorrow – using today as my template for what I want to be better at – if I can go to sleep and I can repair 100% and I wake up tomorrow maybe even a hundred point one percent – well then, I’ve gotten younger.

And if you look at little kids you look at adolescents – kids all the way up to like 25 – yeah, they’re waking up better. Like you can see them growing and you can hear them getting smarter every day…

Mark: I’m waiting for that pill…

Kirk: Yeah. And then at some point that flat-lines – probably around 30 I’m guessing – for most of us. Where it’s like it’s a wash, you’re going to bed and waking up about the same.

And then after that it starts declining. And it’s like you aren’t repairing 100% every night. And that’s why you wake up the next day with a wrinkle. That’s why you wake up the next day a little slower, a little weaker, a little mentally slower – it’s because you didn’t repair 100%.

So if you have poor sleep or deprive yourself of sleep where you’re just accelerating that, right? And so I forgot why I got on that tangent

Mark: Well, older people don’t sleep as well either. They tend to sleep about four or five hours a night, right? Compared to the seven or eight that you normally get.

Kirk: So, pretty much all bad sleep is a self-propagating downward spiral, in my opinion. There are some things that interfere – but I have had 80 year old patients who swear to me they’ve never slept past 3am in the past 25 years. I’ve gotten them to sleep 8 hours a night, and it’s just been through lifestyle and nutrition. Like no magic, no drugs – it’s just like, do the things that you should be doing.

And a big part of it is psychology. Especially with that generation. If you look at somebody who’s… and this was 10 years ago, so this is somebody twice my age… so essentially, two generations ahead of me.

Like, they grew up on farms and like they had this idea that if you didn’t get up and get the work done that you were a loser and life was going to decay really quickly. And so it’s really hard to get around their psychology of getting up super-early.

But there are there are some physiologic differences – the pineal gland does calcify, and it gets harder to secrete things from it – your melatonin and so forth.

But every person who I’ve ever worked with regardless of their age, if they took the lifestyle coaching seriously, then they sleep eight hours a night.

Now, the thing is, they aren’t recovering 100% with that eight hours. So they’re still aging, but we’re probably slowing aging down 20, 30, 40%.

And the cognitive is the first thing they feel. They get good sleep over the course of about a month, and they’re like, “man, everything seems different. Like, everything seems brighter and sharper. My mood’s different, my attitude’s different… like, I feel like I can think and remember more clearly…

Mark: Do you think… we made the link between surviving Covid, surviving the vaccine, and sleep. Well we really made the link between immunity – but we jumped right into sleep. Do you think sleep has the biggest impact on a healthy immune system?

Kirk: Yeah, because sleep has the biggest impact on anything, right? And we know this. Like, we’ve experienced this in the military. And we know that there are organizations who use this essentially a torture technique, right?

Mark: We’ve had conversations about those organizations and maybe participated in the past?

Kirk: Yeah. Obviously, if we’re gonna break somebody’s will to resist us really quickly, hurting them is not the fastest thing… we know it’s taking away sleep. That breaks you faster than physical damage does.

And another thing that that I’ve come to appreciate, and it became more clear to me – I mean, it’s something that I guess I tangentially understood – but it became this really strong concept to me about a year and a half, two years ago.

So we talk a lot about fight or flight… most people in society know fight or flight… and fight or flight is the extreme, right? Like, that’s the most amount of stress hormones the most… the highest stress level that your body is capable of producing a response to.

Like that’s it. That’s the maximum. That’s fight or flight. And it’s just like tunnel vision and your only response and your only action is to get away from the threat. And that’s 100% of your resources are going towards that.

Anything less than 100% of my resources going to get me out of this situation is just stress. But it could be just 5% lower than fight or flight. So you could be running around super-stressed out, and you’re not quite in fight or flight, but you’re like panicked. Like, your life is falling apart in front of you and like everything you’re doing is trying to just salvage… keep a roof over your head and keep your business out of bankruptcy. Or keep yourself from dying of cancer.

It’s like a major stressor and so you’re really stressed out. And stress is catabolic, so there’s anabolic and catabolic. Anabolic means we’re taking small, simple things and we’re building bigger more complex things.

So I’m eating protein – it’s breaking down to amino acids in my body and then my body’s using these amino acids…

Mark: Over-training and devouring your muscles is catabolic…

Kirk: That’s catabolic, right. So stress hormones are catabolic, and anabolic hormones or anabolic, right? Well, if fight or flight is the maximum stress you can possibly experience, the maximum anabolic activity you can experience is deep sleep.

Mark: Deep sleep. How does deep meditation compare to deep sleep?

Kirk: Well, deep meditation… if you’re really experienced and you can really get down into like the theta brain wave state… that is sort of diagnostic of being in stage three and four sleep. It’s hard for me to parse it out and say… because the only way that I know what brainwave you’re in, is if I’m doing a sleep study on you, right? Then I can qualify your stage by that.

But the brainwave state is part of it. Your neuromuscular tension is another part, your heart rate, your respiratory rate – so there’s a lot of things that are going into the algorithm to say you’re in this stage or that stage. So it’s not identical.

But one would have to believe that there’s a lot of the same qualities. And we know testing the results of that, if you get a good night’s sleep.

So if we just test you on something that you’re that you know, while you’re really well what we call “sleep adapted.” Means you’re getting plenty of sleep.

And then we sleep deprive you – you do worse. Just take away two hours and test you again, you’ll do worse. And you’ll know you did worse.

And then we give you sleep again, and you do better. Well, there is some evidence that if you do that sleep deprivation test, they do worse – but then you have an experienced meditator like do some meditation, and then test them again they can actually do better as though they have gotten enough sleep over the night.

Now is that one for one identical? Like, I don’t think that we can parse that out yet. But it definitely has a lot of the same restorative benefits. Which makes sense that it would, because I don’t think – for instance – that you could maintain a theta brainwave state while running an obstacle course or something, right? So there has to be a lot of the same physiological…

Mark: (laughing) yogis would just run it with their astral bodies anyway…

Kirk: (laughing) yeah, they would they they’d run it with one of their chakras and they could just stay right where they were.

Mark: Wouldn’t that be a cool trick at bud/s?

Kirk: That would be great.

Mark: Divine where are you?

Kirk: Oh my root chakra is on there right now. That’d be classic.

Mark: So we don’t need to get into all the like details of sleep hygiene and whatnot, but have you uncovered any kind of new thinking or research that says, “you got to be doing this. And we didn’t really know this before.”

Kirk: No, I mean, I think as – and I don’t know if this is a product of the amount of information or the type of information that is out there, or just a product of my deeper understanding of the material.

But everything’s getting a lot more simplistic to me, actually. It’s not actually getting cooler and more obscure…

Mark: I remember the very first presentation you did back at the Unbeatable Mind summit six years ago – you had all these science slides and charts and graphs – and I’m thinking like, “wow, this sleep stuff is really complicated.”

And I think you’re right, it doesn’t have to be.

Kirk: And now it’s just this system that’s built into our existence, right? I mean, it’s purely a human construct, that we separate sleep from being alive, right? Because it’s just one of the stages of being alive.

Like, essentially it takes 8 hours to recover from a 16 hour day. Like, you’re born into that contract. There’s nothing you can do about that.

You can do all sorts of bio-hacking and you can dislike it all you want to, and you can try to work around it… but the fact is, there’s no evidence out there to suggest that there’s anything that you can do it’s going to change that ratio…

Mark: You can sleep 8 one-hour periods during the 24 hours. That might work.

Kirk: (laughing) it doesn’t work. The big problem with that is that a sleep cycle is at least 90 minutes long, so you’re interrupting that…

So, maybe you could get away with doing two hour blocks. And people have tried that – polyphasic sleep – and like, we kind of do that in buds – you do polyphasic sleep – catch as one can…

Mark: Yeah, and we last about a week.

Kirk: Right. But could we do that at 50 years old? No way. Like, I mean, you could make it – you could survive it – but you couldn’t like you couldn’t perform anything like you could when you’re 20. You’re just more resilient at younger ages.

Mark: So stop resisting and change your belief systems about sleep. Because, back to the seals, a lot of people had that belief. That I’m a big, badass, navy seal, tough guy. And I can go to bed at 11, 12 o’clock after drinking a fifth of scotch.

Maybe not a fifth of scotch, but a couple good glasses. And wake up at 4:30 or 5 and go hit the gym and bang it out. And that just does not work.

Kirk: We all know guys who have done that. And maybe one of us have been those guys here and there.

But I remember dive school – when I went through dive school as a doctor, I must have been like 35, 36 years old. And there were there were a couple of seals who happened to be there for some training whatever…

And these guys are trying to get me riding around with them. And I’m like, “I’m not that young anymore.” And just like you’re talking about, they’re staying up to one or two o’clock in the morning drinking, and then they’re waking up at 5:00 a.m. – still drunk – and going out and running a weekend triathlon or adventure race with people. And like having to stop and puke halfway through it. And running and thinking that’s a good time.

And I’m like, “nah, I’m not that young anymore.”

Mark: I remember seeing a poster in the New York subway once… it said, “running on a hangover is not the same as a workout.” I’m like guilty.

Kirk: Right. And what I tell people all the time too – and this is super unpopular – but I can substantiate it with all the science you want – if you care about data – a lot of people don’t care about data anymore these days…

Even just working out when you’re sleep deprived is counterproductive.

Mark: Is it?

Kirk: Like, there’s no benefit to it. So like I was saying earlier – the whole purpose of going to sleep tonight is to prepare myself for tomorrow – what if I don’t recuperate, right?

We know the ratio. The ratio is basically 8 hours – 16 hours awake, 8 hours of sleep. That’s the ratio that’s just what it is.

I can say, “well, I’m only going to sleep five hours. But I didn’t recuperate, I didn’t sleep faster, right? Like, I didn’t get anything done that… I lost three hours of recovery. So tomorrow – if I have to do at least what I did today – how do I do tomorrow if I didn’t get the resources in place?

Well, I steal it from other places – and that’s stress hormones. I secrete stress hormones… stress hormones are catabolic… fight or flight is 100% catabolic… you’re eating your body as a fuel source, because your body doesn’t matter at that point. You have to get away from the threat and survive. If you don’t survive, it doesn’t matter. And it doesn’t matter if you can fight off infection, it doesn’t matter if you can digest food, it doesn’t matter if you can partition the fuel you’ve eaten, none of that matters.

Because if you don’t get away from that threat, you’re going to die, so your body uses fight or flight, maximum stress hormone is maximal catabolic…

So, if I wake up tomorrow three hours sleep deprived, I’ve essentially lost 35% of my sleep, 40% of my sleep… that I should have had, right? So 40% of my sleep is gone, I’m gonna have 40% more stress hormones, I’m going to be 40% more catabolic.

Now I’m going to go to a gym…

Mark: Does that mean your immune system will be 40% less effective?

Kirk: Yes. And your insulin sensitivity…

Mark: It’s a one-to-one ratio do you think?

Kirk: Yeah. Well, we know losing two hours of sleep decreases insulin sensitivity in a lot of tissues by about 30%, decreases total testosterone by about 30%. It decreases igf-1 – which is sort of the downstream marker of growth hormone – so basically everything anabolic gets decreased by about 30%. Everything catabolic gets increased by about 30%.

And that’s missing two hours of sleep. So now if I go to the gym – most people I think know this – but when you work out, you don’t actually get stronger, right? You get weaker. You damage your tissue.

And then when you sleep, you repair that tissue. And you repair that tissue in a way that’s going to make that tissue better able to handle that stress tomorrow. Or the next day, or in the future. Whenever it can fully recover.

So if I’m doing strength training… my damaged muscle tissues are going to come back thicker and stronger and able to contract harder, so that I can do more strength training. If I’m doing aerobic training, then I’m going to come back with more mitochondrial density or something to be able to last longer for extended periods of exercise.

But your body’s going to use whatever damage you’re putting on your tissues – that’s going to be the template for what you’re going to get better at.

But you’re only going to get better while you’re asleep. So if you rob yourself of the sleep, you aren’t getting better. And then you’re going to go damage yourself again. And then not recover and damage yourself again. And not recover 100%. And damage…

And then you’re just getting weaker. So if you’re sleep deprived, going to the gym doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. If you think about the holistic idea of like what’s making you better – it’s actually the recovery from the stress.

The stress is artificial, it’s made up – that’s why we can do all sorts of different workouts.

Mark: The irony of it is that you feel better after going to the gym and getting that workout. Because of the dopamine…

Kirk: Yeah, I mean you’ve got a lot of endorphins going on. You’re increasing circulation. Now, I’m not saying that’s not smart to be active…

Mark: Just not hard hitting, muscle breaking…

Kirk: Not something that’s going to break you down.

Mark: I see.

Kirk: You should still be active, right?

Mark: You wouldn’t want to do CrossFit…

Kirk: No, you don’t you don’t do HIIT training, you don’t do anything like that… and I wouldn’t do any kind of three to five rep maxes either. But you can still be active.

Mark: So go for a walk on the beach, go for a swim, ride a bike…

Kirk: Yeah, and it depends on your fitness level what active is, right? So like, most of my clients come to me; they’re broken, they’ve traded their health for wealth for 20 years, and now they want to repair everything and be like division 1 athletes…

Mark: Which is possible. You can do that.

Kirk: I’m like, “yeah it’s not going to happen six months like you want… it’s going to take multiple years, so let’s set some realistic expectations.”

But for those people – these guys are 40 pounds overweight, 50 pounds overweight – and that’s not an obese looking person – like, a guy my size being 40 pounds overweight it’s just like “yeah, he’s got a gut he’s a little chubby…”

And like wearing a suit, you wouldn’t really be able to tell I was out of shape. Maybe a little fullness in my face would be all you’d see.

So that’s not a huge weight gain for a lot of people, but that person’s nowhere near metabolically ready to work out. So they need to be active. And I tell them, “We’re going to work on your sleep. We’re going to work on your nutrition. We’re going to work on your stress mitigation.”

“Your exercise is going to be activity. I want you to park three or four blocks from your office and take the stairs. And I want you to mow your own lawn. And I want you to wash your own car, and I want you to clean your own house…”

Mark: That has the added benefit of this it’s more motivating if you don’t think, “well, I’ve just got to jump right into right learning how to be a CrossFitter.” And also be a world record holder in nutrition and whatnot.

Kirk: And even people like us… people like me – I don’t know if you’ve ever even been out of shape, you’re so into this – but like I go through periods where I just kind of get out shape. I don’t work at all work out at all for maybe a couple of months, and then it’s just kind of spotty here and there for maybe six, nine months. And like I feel like I’m in terrible shape.

And to think I’m gonna get out like just go run or just go hit the gym really hard. Or like go get into jiu-jitsu or something – just like go into rounds…

That is just intimidating to me, even though I’ve been in shape 95% of my life…

Mark: I don’t think I’ve gone longer than three days except when I was injured…

Kirk: Yeah, that’s terrible…

Mark: I know I don’t think I could. That probably qualifies as an addiction then. We could have a whole different discussion. (laughing) Yeah, you said, “Mark, go for two months without working out.”

And it’d be like “over my dead body.” Like you would have to pay me seven figures for that.

Kirk: Well, I’d say most of my life I’ve worked out on an average more than once a day. Because I’ll lift weights, and I’ll ride my bike to work or whatever…

And I’d say when I’m in those phases I’m like, “of course I’m gonna work out every day. Like what do you mean?” Like at least once a day, of course, that’s a minimum. Like why would I ever do anything less?

And then like some things happen in my life, and I was like, “yeah, I’m not gonna have time to work out today. I’m gonna get at that tomorrow.”

And then that adds – it adds to itself really quickly, yeah. And so it’s easy to get out of shape for me. Not so much now, but when I was younger, and I had younger kids and too much traveling…

Mark: Right. Those types of things…

Kirk: Like in med school I actually did a really good job – I mean it was counterproductive… I was so sleep-deprived, but I was living kind of near San Diego state, and I was working out at balboa hospital. And I used to ride my bike to work – to and from work every day.

And then I did long rides and runs and swims and stuff – I was doing triathlons during that. And then I had worked out probably three or four days a week with weights. And I was young enough to sustain all that.

If I did that now, I think I’d just get injured – overuse injuries and all that… if I wasn’t getting enough sleep. But I was probably only getting five hours of sleep at night on average for probably five years. And I was doing all that.

But I think when my kids were all kind of like around the 9 to 12 age and I was working in the hospital, and I had like a side business going on the side. And I had to travel a lot for the navy – like the rotations and going to different hospitals and all this stuff.

That was the hardest part for me. And then when I first got into working home alone – before I had any employees – and I was just doing the private consulting in the supplement business…

Mark: You didn’t have any structure…

Kirk: I had no structure. I worked out of my house – and no accountability, really. Because I was the only one in the business. So even though I had some investment partners, I didn’t have anybody who was doing anything in the business besides me.

And that was pretty easy to say, “well, I’ll get my workout in later today. I want to really get up and get this block of work done.”

And then, that block of work takes way longer than you think. And then it’s like four or five in the afternoon and it’s like, “well…”

Mark: That’s such a common story for most professionals. I think if you can’t knock it out in the morning, you have a significantly lower chance of ever doing your workout. I don’t know if any studies have been done on that…

Kirk: I’ve been resisting that for my whole life, because I hate working out in the morning… I’m not a morning person, my joints ache, I’m weaker – I just hate it.

But I know if I don’t do it, I’m probably not going to do it.

Mark: Now that I have total control over my schedule – knock on wood… seem to have total control, or at least I have the illusion of total control over my schedule – I don’t take any appointments before 10 a.m. and that that time is all protected. And so I do my meditation, I do my yoga, I do my strength and my HIIT workout – assuming that’s happening.

And I also do my little journaling and some of my best thinking time. Catch up on some reading – I mean it’s like from 5:30 to 10. And I wish I had done this my entire life except when I was in the navy, they wouldn’t have allowed it… but it’s really powerful.

Kirk: That’s about what I do now. You know john wellborn…

Mark: Yeah…

Kirk: So john lives about 15 minutes from me. And he has probably a 3,000 square foot gym in his house because he trains trainers, he trains like strength and conditioning coaches for high school/college level and maybe some pro level… I don’t know…

So he trains these guys how to train people to get in shape. And so there’s a quarterly meeting where he maybe has 30 people in there for three days. But the rest of the year it’s just – he has two employees. There’s me and john and his two employees working out in this huge gym. Like, every morning. It’s pretty cool.

And that was about 45 minutes away from me before, so it was harder – but now it’s like I have no excuse not to get there every morning.

And then the downside is that it’s not a climate controlled gym. Like, this big steel building – half of it’s workshop, half of it’s a gym… so when summer comes around in Texas it’s like you gotta work out at like 5:30, because it’ll still be 85 degrees at 5:30, but if you wait till 9 o’clock it’ll be 100 degrees in there. It’s just unbearable.

Mark: Amazing.



Mark: Before we move on from sleep, what are the big like inhibitors to sleep – besides stress, right? Like, for me, I notice alcohol, right? So if I drink – in particular wine – too close to bed my heart rate is 10 points higher than normal. And I have trouble. And I feel that fuzziness like my cortisol was jacked…

So we know that wine – probably any alcohol – but certainly the high sugar stuff probably… is it two hours before bed, or three…? What’s the…?

Kirk: It’s as far away from bed as possible. Which Robb wolf’s joke about that, is that means you start drinking when you wake up, right? (laughing) like, no, no, no, no. That’s not what we’re saying.

Mark: (laughing) that would solve the problem…

Kirk: (laughing) that would solve the problem. That would be as far away from bedtime as possible.

So try to finish your last drink at least two hours before and have a glass of water for every alcoholic drink you have, right? So have a glass of water first, if you have a glass of wine… have another glass of water before you have it. And then you’re staying hydrated.

Mark: That is such great advice. Because a lot of times you pick up that drink in the evening, because you’re thirsty. So having that glass of water…

Kirk: And then that wine goes really fast. Or that beer goes really fast; you’re like, “man, how did that go so fast?”

Mark: You’re not getting quite the benefits of hydration there.

Kirk: Yeah, and so alcohol dehydrates you. And then it’s also toxin. So it’s being processed essentially by your immune system, right? It’s being broken down and it’s being processed out. And it’s causing somewhat of an inflammatory response, which is where your heart rate increase is coming from.

And so the more hydrated you are, the less of an impact you’re gonna have on that. And then of course the more of that you clear before you go to bed…

And there’s no way around it. I mean alcohol dehydrogenase is the enzyme that breaks it down and you can have more of that. And if you’re the son of an alcoholic, you have twice as much as the average population.

Mark: That would be me…

Kirk: Which is me, too… so I process alcohol really quickly… and so I can have a drink…

Mark: (laughing) has pros and cons…

Kirk: Has its pros and cons. It makes you much more likely to be an alcoholic, because you don’t suffer the consequences, right? Because I’ve never had a hangover in my life. I’ve drank myself in excess to where I’m an idiot, and I still don’t wake up with a hangover…

Mark: Really?

Kirk: Like, I wake up like a little kind of slow. And I can tell I’m not quite there, but I’m just slower than I usually am. I mean, I’m always a little slow. I’m dumb, but I’m slow.

So if you’re gonna get fewer sequelae from it, if you’re gonna suffer less then you’re more likely to be an alcoholic.

But the good side of it is that if you’re not an alcoholic, because you have other goals in life and you just keep yourself out of it, you suffer less consequences from alcohol. But I’m the same as you – I monitor my sleep a lot of times and I’m 10 beats higher if I have even one drink…

Mark: Do you use a wearable?

Kirk: Yeah, I use the Garmin watch. I find most of these wearables… I like the Oura ring the best, they have the best technology, but they don’t make it big enough…

Mark: Oh really? For you? For your fat fingers?

I have the Oura ring. I like it. Now that you can insert your workouts, that’s what I do… I input my workouts, because I have to tell it I’m doing martial arts or HIIT because it has no way to really measure the energy output in those.

But I find the um I find the sleep score to be pretty interesting. And the HRV and the resting heart rate is really interesting and valuable.

And then I think that the readiness scores… based upon this conversation, I almost look at that as like your immunity score. If it says you’re 80% ready, then wow that’s not horrible. But it’s not great either.

Kirk: I think that’s an accurate way to think about it. I mean immunity is a specific word for resiliency. It’s like a specific type of resilience.

But what you really want is resilience across the board, right? You want to be physically resilient. You want to be able to withstand a physical assault as much as you can withstand a viral, bacterial, immunological assault. It’s just your ability to deal with stressors in the world.

Mark: I do have a beef a little bit with the readiness, because like I’m statistically above 90% on my sleep, when you look at the monthly average. But my readiness is always around 80%.

And I’m pretty sure it thinks I’m over-training. Because I train a lot and I log everything and it picks up all my walks and it picks up this and that the other thing… and I feel great, but it just thinks I’m over-training. That’s my theory, anyways…

Kirk: Maybe you are, a little…

Mark: (laughing) I’m 57 years old. It seems to be working pretty well.

Kirk: Right, but does that mean that you wouldn’t be better if you trained 10% less, right? You might be.

Mark: Maybe I need a doctor who knows something about sleep…

Kirk: So, what I tell people is the best use of the wearables though… and this I would apply to what you’re saying right now… the best use of the wearable is to find for you what your best sleep score is, right? What your best sleep night is.

So, if you’re fastidious like you and you’re tracking everything – you’re tracking your workouts and tracking how you’re feeling every day – you can look back and say, “well, it’s actually when I have an 85% score on my Oura ring that I feel the best.”

Because when they say 100%, what they’re doing is they’re applying that to a stereotypical output – like, “this is what the textbook definition of a perfect night’s sleep would be.” That doesn’t mean that’s the perfect night for you.

So, for you, like… for one thing it’s not 100% accurate, right? So what you really need to figure out is like what does a perfect night of sleep mean for me? And you need multiple points, right?

So if 20 times you’ve woken up and you’ve journaled or whatever and you said like this was a great day, I had a great workout, I feel fantastic, I feel sharp – blah, blah, blah. And you can correlate that to a 63% on your Oura ring (laughing)… that’s still your ideal. If you have other metrics to say this.

That’s like saying like what’s the perfect fuel economy for a car? Well, I mean, it depends on the terrain you’re on. It depends on how right like how many people…

Mark: Like, I have three devices. I only use the Oura ring now, but recently got… it’s one of our sponsors… something called Eight Sleep. It’s a cooling mattress pad, but it has biometrics…

Kirk: I have actually heard of it. Yeah, yeah.

Mark: It’s cooling mattress pad. I mean, this thing sat on my living room table for about a month, because I was like, “I don’t want to set that up.” And I finally did, and sure enough it was a pain in the ass.

But once you get it set up, man, I get in bed, and it’s supposed to change biometrically with your sleep patterns. Keep your ideal temperature it gets cold again when you wake up.

But it also tracks sleep, HRV, resting heartrate… same things as my Oura. When I look at that, it’s completely different than my ring, right? And so I’m like… I think the ring is probably more accurate, because it’s got flesh on device contact, whereas I’m just laying on that thing. But I don’t know…

And then my apple iWatch gives me another completely different set of scores. So I don’t know what to believe…

Kirk: So the algorithms are different. So when you’re sleeping on something, it’s obviously not dealing with your blood flow at all, they’re not measuring… so your apple watch is measuring venous blood flow. It takes a lot of energy for the little lasers or whatever to get their penetration and the rebound through the veins. Takes a lot more energy than arterial. But the arteries aren’t very close to the skin anywhere except in the finger. And so that’s why the Oura ring does that.

So the Oura ring is actually the most sensitive, because it can get to the arterial blood flow. So it’s getting the most direct it can possibly get. There’s the fewest interference…

And because it’s getting so close in the finger, it’s actually taking less energy than the watch, by a long shot. And so the watch I think – all the watches, I think – sample around once every three seconds.

The Oura ring samples three times per second. So that’s definitely the most accurate. But again everything’s built into an algorithm before it’s giving you a score. And any assumptions that’s put into any sort of model… if the assumption’s incorrect, then the whole thing’s incorrect.

But again I say use this as your metric to say, “this is what looks good.”

Mark: Yeah, choose one. Don’t compare the three…

Kirk: Yeah, this is good for me…

Mark: Choose one and just… and it’s the trends that we’re looking for anyway.

Kirk: Right. You’re just looking for a trend. Because all this minutiae you can’t do anything about anyways. Like, “well, I only got 23% deep sleep and I wanted 37%”

Like, okay what are you going to do about that? There’s nothing you can do about it. Like, you don’t get to do anything about it. Like, all you can do is just continually improve your lifestyle to where “hey, I feel great every day and it’s looking better and better.”

Mark: What I love to do, I love to take a nap and then open up the app and see my scores improve. It’s pretty cool.

Kirk: Yeah, you get better…

Mark: (laughing) totally gamifies.

Kirk: So, when I first had my Garmin watch, I didn’t realize that there was a setting on there to say when I was asleep, right? And so if I woke up, but I was still in that window where I was supposed to be asleep then it all got counted as sleep…

Like, if I woke up and just laid in bed and looked at my phone, or sat on the couch and read, or worked on my computer even… as long as I was calm and my heart rate was low and I wasn’t moving around a bunch, it would just show up as like two extra hours of sleep.

Mark: Well, that brings up another question… since you seem to know a lot about the Oura ring, and you know the CEO.

So let me put frame it up this way – usually I get up between five and six every morning. I’ll set an alarm only as like a safety valve. I usually wake up somewhere between 5:30 and 5:40. And get to bed about 9:30 to 10.

So, on average I’m getting seven and a half to eight hours of sleep, and I’m getting like a 90% score. But on Saturday morning and Sunday morning when I’m home… I just let myself drift back to sleep when I wake up, I’ll stay in bed and I’ll do some practicing, some breathing and meditation. And I’ll drift back to sleep, and I’ll often wake up around eight.

And so I get like a 95% score. And it says I’ve got like 9 hours or 10 hours of sleep. And it’s true.

But then Monday comes around – this happened last night – we go to bed at 9:30 and I’m wide awake at two. And I’m like “shit, I don’t think I slept very well.” And sure enough my Oura says I got like a 64 score last night, but I felt really pretty good.

Do you think that I just had some in the bank? There’s two questions I have – I just had some in the bank, right? That’s my thinking. From the weekend. That’s my first question. Is that possible?

Kirk: Well, if it is possible to bank sleep at all, what banking sleep is doing is really making you more resilient to sleep deprivation. It’s never going to be ideal, right?

Mark: So I’m still sleep deprived, it just doesn’t affect me…

Kirk: You’re not suffering as much. So like, you’ve probably heard of these super sleepers, these genetic super sleepers that they talk about. And everybody says “well, they only need four or five hours of sleep every night.”

And it’s not true. Like what they’ve shown is that there are there is a very, very, very small subset of people – and this is again like getting struck by lightning kind of rare… there’s a very small subset of people who demonstrably suffer less from sleep deprivation.

So you can put them in a lab with a hundred people, you put two of these people in there and say, “everybody’s getting six hours of sleep every night, we’re going to test your cognitive functioning, physical… all this other stuff.”

And at the end of all this, the people who have this super sleeper gene, they’re going to suffer less. They’re going to diminish people less…

Mark:(laughing) are these the same people who aren’t affected by alcohol as much?

Kirk: That would be great. That’d be great.

But they’re still going to decay. They’re still going to be worse than they would be if they slept 8 hours at night.

Mark: Interesting.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Adam pernia says:

    I’m curious what is your resting heart rate? Every since I’ve been working on box breathing and the 4-7-8 breathing, my resting heart rate has gone down from 61 to 58 so far.

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