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How Sleep Affects Our Lives and Why It's the Biggest Leverage Point with Dr Kirk Parsley

We live in a fast-paced world, with more everyday demands. And we know that we need good health to keep up. Nutrition, exercise, and mindfulness are often hailed as important pillars. However, there is something even more fundamental for better health—sleep. Sleep ensures we can actually perform. With better sleep, we’ll be living better lives. But, how many of us actually prioritise sleep?  

Dr Kirk Parsley joins us in this episode to explain how sleep affects our lives. Poor sleep can significantly change our bodies and performance. He also shares that we can achieve good sleep through lifestyle changes. A better life is not about taking more supplements or using gadgets and tools; it’s about creating new and better habits. 

If you want to know more about the science of sleep and how sleep affects our lives, then this episode is for you. 

Here are three reasons why you should listen to the full episode:

  1. Learn how sleep affects our lives and why it is so fundamental to our health. 
  2. Understand that it’s more important to change our behaviours and lifestyle rather than depending on supplements. 
  3. Discover the ways we can create the right conditions for better sleep.  


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Episode Highlights

[03:28] How Dr Kirk Started Working on Sleep

  • Dr Kirk used to work for the SEALs. Later on, he enrolled in the military’s medical school.
  • After getting his degree, Dr Kirk became the manager of a sports medicine facility for the military. Here, he worked with other medical experts. 
  • Those in the military will usually lie to healthcare providers so they won’t get excluded from work, but they tend to be more honest with Dr Kirk because they have worked with him before. 
  • After testing for vitamin deficiencies and adrenal fatigue, Dr Kirk realised that many of his patients were taking Ambien, a sleeping drug. 
  • After learning more about sleep, Dr Kirk realised that every symptom his patients were presenting could be explained by poor sleeping. 

[17:31] Sleep’s Various Cycles

  • With a sleep drug, you are just unconscious and not sleeping. 
  • Proper sleep needs to go through a repetitive pattern of deep sleep at the beginning of the night and then REM sleep by morning. 
  • The different cycles are important since they affect our bodies in different ways. 
  • Sleep can help boost your immunity and memory! Learn more benefits in the full episode. 

[20:12] How Sleep Affects Our Lives

  • If you don’t give yourself time to recover, sleep pressure can accumulate and have progressively worse effects. 
  • If you go to bed with high stress hormones, this can worsen your sleep. Poor sleep then leads to higher stress levels, and the cycle gets worse. 
  • People who get poor sleep age faster, not just in appearance but also in their physiology. 
  • Poor sleep can lead to protein structure breakdown, decreased blood supply, aged tissues, and more. 
  • As we age, we also face the problem of not repairing as fast. This is how sleep affects our lives. 

[23:56] The Foundation For Better Health

  • We are often taught the basics of health are sleep, nutrition, exercise, and stress management. 
  • However, these pillars cannot function without sleep as their foundation, emphasising how sleep affects our lives. 
  • For example, exercise becomes counterproductive when you’re sleep deprived because you’re not recovering. 
  • Poor sleep can also change your insulin sensitivity and gut biome, which changes your nutrition levels. Because of how sleep affects our lives, it should be our priority.
  • Sleep deprivation is the fastest way to break someone down, this is why it’s used as an interrogation technique.   

[28:35] How Do We Sleep?

  • We need eight hours of sleep a night.
  • Make your sleeping routine simple. The more complex it is, the more likely you will fail. 
  • First, convince yourself that sleep is important. 
  • We are all born to sleep, and we don’t need to learn how. 
  • Before electricity, people used to fall asleep three hours after sunset. Tune in to the full episode to learn more about the neurochemical process of sleep.  

[35:36] Creating the Right Conditions for Sleep

  • During sleep, our senses still work, but they don’t pay as much attention to external stimuli. 
  • For our ancestors, the sunset will lead to decreased blue light, decreased temperature, decreased stimuli, and increased melatonin. 
  • Better sleep is just creating these conditions in our environment. 
  • If we take melatonin, we should be careful to take only small amounts. 

[39:20] Melatonin Supplementation

  • Some have argued that melatonin supplementation does not downregulate our brain receptors, but there are no definitive studies on this yet. 
  • In fact, measuring melatonin is difficult due to its quantity and concentration in each part of the brain. 
  • It’s okay to take melatonin supplements but not in physiologic amounts. 

[45:15] Can We Reverse Aging?

  • You need to understand your genetics and what ratios will work for you. 
  • While good habits and supplements can improve your overall health, we don’t know if it undoubtedly reverses age. 
  • Our bodies are more complex than we think. Shorting yourself two hours of sleep can change over 700 different epigenetic markers. 
  • We can only describe biology. We don’t know how to manipulate it most of the time. 
  • Dr Kirk also shares his experience with hyperbaric oxygen therapy in the full episode. 

[1:03:36] Paradigm Shifts in the Medical Industry

  • There is a lot of dishonesty in both the media and the medical industry. 
  • Many doctors and medical experts have been silenced on potentially better cures, especially during this pandemic. 
  • Western medicine is effective in treating the sick, but it doesn’t keep people from getting severely sick in the first place.
  • A lifestyle change is more important than taking supplements. 

[1:12:22] The Importance Of Behaviour Change 

  • People often don’t want to work on their behaviour because taking medicine is easier. 
  • We also need to be aware of how the food industry is tapping into our addictive mechanisms to keep us eating more.  
  • Caffeine consumption can also ruin our sleep. More than 200 milligrams can give the opposite effect of staying awake and alert. 
  • Learn exactly how sleep affects our lives, together with caffeine and sugar consumption, when you listen to the full episode.

[1:19:40] Widespread Impressions on Sleep and How It Affects Our Lives

  • People have grown to believe that sleep is for the weak and lazy. 
  • This belief also impacts our children, especially since they are still developing. 
  • Losing two hours of sleep can decrease testosterone and growth hormone by 30% and increase inflammation by 30%, among others.  
  • Dr Kirk delved into researching how sleep affects kids after giving a lecture for American kids overseas to professionals in the school system.
  • Kids’ brains are still developing. The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that allows us to simulate things, experiences a shift during adolescence.

[1:26:34] How Sleep Affects Our Lives as Kids

  • Dr Kirk delved into researching how sleep affects kids after giving a lecture for American kids overseas to professionals in the school system.
  • Kids’ brains are still developing. The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that allows us to simulate things, is formed during adolescence.
  • Furthermore, adolescents also require more sleep because of a shift in their circadian rhythm.
  • Requiring kids to do more with less sleep interferes with their development.

[1:31:40] How Sleep Affects Our Lives When We are Sick

  • A new field in medicine called chronobiology is studying how sleep deprivation precedes any psychiatric disease or psychological flare-up.
  • An Ivy League hospital managed to get their patients off medication by regulating their circadian rhythm and chronobiology.

[1:34:34] It’s More Than Switching Things On and Off

  • Medications can be difficult to get off because they have too many side effects. 
  • For example, most antidepressants are not just working on serotonin. Instead, they affect several neurotransmitters as well. 
  • Physiological doses are artificial and can cause you more trouble. 
  • Learn how sleep medication and affects GABA receptors that slow down the brain when you listen to the full episode.

[1:41:17] Dr Kirk’s Sleep Remedy

  • Dr Kirk discusses how cavemen took around three hours after the sun went down to fall asleep. In the present day, what can people do in those three hours?
  • To fall asleep, stress hormones need to come down due to lifestyle.
  • Dr Kirk’s Sleep Remedy involves getting the proper ratios of substances.
  • His product comes in the form of tea, stick pouches, and capsules.

 [1:46:27] Dr Kirk’s Final Advice

  • Change your environment by decreasing blue light and stimulation. 
  • Learn to slow everything down. 
  • Just like how you slow everything down to get a kid to sleep, so should you do the same for an adult.

7 Powerful Quotes

‘You aren’t actually sleeping when you're on sleep drugs. You're just unconscious. Your brain is dissociated, but it's not sleep.’

‘Often, if you're sleep-deprived, more is worse for sure. You don't really need to do any exercises. You just stay active until you've recovered, and then you can exercise again.’

‘Insulin sensitivity is decreased by 30%, just by losing two hours of sleep. One night with two hours of sleep. So you go from sleeping eight hours of sleep to six. If you're pre-diabetic, you're waking up diabetic.’

‘Even though I'm known for sleep, the hardest thing for me to coach people to do is to sleep.’

‘The most sleep-deprived years are the most horrible years of the brain development.’

‘Get rid of the blue light. Decrease the stimulation. Lower your body temperature. That’s sleep hygiene.’

‘Part of lowering stress is just slowing down your thinking. You can't work on your computer until 9:59 and get in bed in 10 and think you're gonna be asleep.’

About Dr Kirk

Dr Kirk Parsley was a former Navy SEAL who went on to earn his medical degree from Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences (USUHS) in Bethesda in 2004. From 2009 to 2013, he served as an Undersea Medical Officer at the Naval Special Warfare Group One. He also served as the Naval Special Warfare’s expert on sleep medicine. 

Dr Kirk has been a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine since 2006 and consults for multiple corporations and professional athletes. He gives lectures worldwide on wellness, sleep, and hormonal optimisation. He believes that many diseases and disorders are unnecessary complications of poor sleeping habits. We can achieve the highest quality of life possible by changing this habit problem. 

Interested in Dr Kirk’s work? Check out his website.

You can also reach him on LinkedIn, InstagramFacebook, and email.

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To pushing the limits,



Welcome to Pushing the Limits, the show that helps you reach your full potential with your host, Lisa Tamati. Brought to you by lisatamati.com.

Lisa Tamati: Well, hey everyone! And welcome to Pushing The Limits. This week, I have another amazing guest for you. I managed to get some incredible people. I have Dr Kirk Parsley with me. He is an ex-Navy SEAL, and also a medical doctor. A little bit of an overachiever, this one. He spent many years in the SEALs, an incredible man. He also was involved with the first sports medicine rehabilitation centre that was working with the SEALs, an incredible expert on sleep. And that's what we do a deep dive into today. We also talk about hyperbaric oxygen therapy. We also go into areas about the current state of the medical system, one of my favourite topics. And I hope you enjoy this episode. It’s really, the most important thing is around sleep. 

Sleep is something that all of us, I think, are underestimating its importance. And that this is the biggest lever, not food, not exercise, not meditation, not mindfulness, not anything else. Number one of all leverage points is sleep. So how the heck do you get enough sleep? What is enough sleep, and how to get it is what this episode is about. 

Before we head over, I just want to remind you we have Boost Camp coming up. This is our eight-week live online program. There, Neil Wagstaff and I, my business partner and longtime friend and coach are doing. And we're going to, if you want to come and hang out with us live every week and learn everything about upgrading your life, basically, your performance, how to optimise all areas of your life, then we would love you to check the information out, head over to peakwellnessco.nz/boostcamp

On that point, if you're also interested, come and check out our flagship program, which is our epigenetics program, where we look at your genetics, and how to optimise those specifically, all the areas of your life: your food, your nutrition, your exercise, your mood, and behaviour, your hormones, all these important areas, specifically to your genetics. One-on-one time with us and help us to understand everything about your genetics. It's an incredible platform and amazing AI technology behind us. And we'd love you to check that out. 

Go to peakwellnessco.nz/epigenetics. Or reach out to me if you didn't get that. We will also have the links down in the show notes, if you want to just click over to that. Or you can just head over to my website, www.lisatamati.com. And hit the work with us button for our programs listed on there as well. So without further ado, now over to Dr Kirk Parsley. 

Well, hi, everybody! And welcome to Pushing the Limits. This week, I have a superstar, who is a good friend of Commander Mark Divine, you may have heard previous weeks on my podcast. We have Dr Kirk Parsley with us today. Welcome to the show. 

Dr Kirk Parsley: Thank you. I feel very welcome and happy to be here. I'm still here. I’m happy to be sharing this airspace with you or whatever it is sharing. 

Lisa: I’m really super excited. I've heard you a number of times on Mark’s show and just thought how hefty you're on because you're such an expert. We're gonna dive into a little bit into your background, but you're an absolute sleep expert. So I'm really keen to help my audience with their sleep, and their sleep patterns, and all of that good stuff. But before we get into that, we were just chatting about genetics and endurance. So, give us a little background. You've been a Navy SEAL. You've been in the military, in the naval military. So give us a bit of background on yourself, personally.

Dr Kirk: Yes. So ironically, I actually dropped out of high school. I was a terrible student my whole life, didn't have any interest in school. And after you don't do well for long enough, you just convince yourself that you can't do well. And so you're just, ‘I'm just done. I can’t do it’. I was always very physical, very athletic. Just fortunately, genetic lottery, I won, just be an athletic and strong guy. And it came pretty easy to me. But I worked hard at it because I didn't do school work. So when I dropped out of high school, to join the military and do the hardest training in the world. And that was what the SEAL training was supposed to be, as the toughest training in the world like, ‘Well, I'm gonna go do that.’ So I went to do that. 

This was a way long time ago. This is 1988. So, it was long before anybody knew what SEALs were. They didn't have the notoriety they have now for sure. And when I would come home from the Navy and tell people as I was a Sealer, like, ‘What do you mean, you work for SeaWorld or something? What do you do?’ Kinda. So, I went through SEAL training, I would say I made it through SEAL training, I became a SEAL. That was pre-9/11, obviously. So we didn't have the combat that the SEALs of this generation do. So it's not really comparable. We were still mainly working in Southeast Asia doing police work and training other militaries. 

I did three deployments. It was really the same thing over, and over, and over again because there was no combat. So you just did the same training, and then you deployed, and then came home, and you did the same training. And of course, I was like, ‘Maybe, I'll go do something else.’ And I thought I would be—I was dating a woman who would become my wife. She was getting a master's in physical therapy. And I was reading her textbooks on deployment to make myself a better athlete. And I thought, maybe I could be a physical therapist. And so I started working, I started volunteering in a physical therapy facility in San Diego, called San Diego Sports Medicine Center. And it had every kind of health care provider you could possibly imagine. And this building, it’s just this healthcare Mecca. It’s the most holistic thing I've ever seen to this day. 

I decided pretty quickly, I didn't want to be a physical therapist, but I don’t know what else I wanted to do. But I got to follow the podiatrist around, and acupuncturist, and massage therapists, and athletic trainers, and conditioning coaches, and the orthopedist, and the family practice, and the sportsmen. I just got to follow them around and see how everybody worked. And a group of young doctors there, who were probably only five or six years older than me, and they were saying, ‘Well, you should go to medical school.’ And I was like, ‘Pump the brakes, kiddo. I didn't even graduate high school. I'm not getting into medical school.’ And then the senior doctor overhears the conversation. He comes out of the office. And he says, ‘Kirk, the question isn't, “Can you get in?” The question is, “Would you go if you've got in?”’ And I said, ‘Of course, I’d go.’ So, well, there you have it. So, he sort of shamed me into it.

I studied hard and got really good grades. And then when it came time to apply for medical school, this was pre-Internet, so you had to go to the bookstore and get your book review and look and see what schools are competitive for. And when I was going through one of those books, I found out that the military had their medical school. The military was a closed chapter in my mind. I'd done that. That’s something that I figured I'd always do in my life. But it was never meant to be my whole life. And so I had done that. I was, I figured I was done. But I was already married and had kids. And I was like, ‘Well, the military will pay me to go to medical school. Or I can pay someone else to go to medical school and my wife can work while we're in medical school.’ 

I made enough to support my family and go to medical school for free. And then to pay off in the military’s, they'll train you to do anything. You have to give them years of service and your job. So once you finish your medical training, you have to be a doctor for the military for eight years. And so I figured, ‘I'll get back to the SEAL teams, I'll go pay something back to the community that helped me, was hugely formidable in who I became in my life.’ And went back to the SEAL teams, really well-prepped to do sports medicine and orthopedics. And I knew quite a bit about nutrition, and performance, and strength and conditioning. I was pretty sure I had the exact pedigree.

When I got there, they had just gotten the money to build a sports medicine facility, which was actually their vision was exactly what I told you that I worked in in college. That's exactly what they wanted to build. I'm like, ‘I got this.’ So they put me in charge of building this out. And I was a significant part of us hiring everyone we hired. So we hired our first strength and conditioning coach, our first nutritionist, our first PT, our first everything. 

We built our own sports medicine facility. And then orthopedics was coming through every week, and they had to do rounds there. And we'd have pain rounds, pain management rounds come through. We had an acupuncturist coming through. And we hired all these people from the Olympic Training Center, and professional sports teams, and the best colleges. And so, we had all these brilliant people who knew way more than I did about what they do. 

Lisa: So you went from there to there. 

Dr Kirk: Yeah. And so at that point, I was the dumbest person around, right? Because we had all these experts in every little niche that I knew this much about. We hired experts who knew that much about. And so in the military, when you're the dumbest guy, they put you in charge, right and say, ‘Well, you manage this,’ right? And so, I’m managing all these people who know more than I do, however that works. But my office was in this facility that we built. 

The SEALs are a lot like professional athletes in that you put them on a bench, so to speak, right? Because they're injured, they need some help. So they can't work. It's the worst thing. Worst thing. So when they see a health care provider, they just lie because they don't want to be—

Lisa:  They don’t wanna be taken out. 

Dr Kirk Parsley: They will take money out of their pocket, and go into the city, and find a doctor to treat them so that the doctor at work doesn't know, so they don't get put on the sideline. But because I was a SEAL, and there were still a lot of SEALs at the SEAL team. It was close enough to my time. There are still a lot of SEALs at the team who I worked with, and I trained with, and deployed with. And so they knew me. And I had a good reputation. And so they trusted me, and they come in my office and they say, ‘Let me tell you what's going on with me.’ 

They reported this litany of symptoms that didn't have any pattern that I could recognise. And so they were saying that their motivation was low, that they're very moody, that they couldn't concentrate. They're super forgetful. Their energy was low. Their body composition was shifting. They felt slower, and dumber, and colder. None of them were sleeping very well. They're all taking sleep drugs. They had low sex drive. They had a lot of joint pain, a lot of inflammation. And I didn't have the slightest idea. I’m like, ‘And I know it sounds like you're obese and 65. But I’m looking at you and you’re not. So I don't know what's going on.’ 

I just started testing everything I could possibly test. I tested literally 98 blood markers. They were giving 17 vials of blood. Now just shotgun approaches, test everything, and see what's abnormal. And I started seeing some patterns. And they had really low anabolic hormones, so the DBTA, and testosterone, and dihydrotestosterone, pregnenolone. All of that was low. They really have high inflammatory markers. They really had poor insulin sensitivity for how healthy I knew they were, and how well they ate, and how much they exercised. But it's still within the normal range. But it wasn't. Everything was in the normal range. But everything that should be really high was just like barely in the normal range. And everything that should be really low, it's just barely inside of that range.

They didn't have a disease. And I was a medical doctor, so I had learned how to treat disease, then they didn't have disease. So I was like, ‘I don’t know. What am I going to do?’ So that led me to having to train with outside providers. And fortunately, at that time, the SEALs did have the reputation. They'd already done all these amazing things. This was in 2009. So, I think they'd already shot Bin Laden and at that point. So I could call anybody, right? I'd watch somebody’s TED Talk, read their book, I'd see them lecture. And I’ll just call them and say, ‘I’m a doctor for the West Coast SEAL team. Could I come train with you? Can I consult with you? Can I ask you some questions?’ And everybody was generous and said, ‘Absolutely’. So I get to learn a lot really quickly.

I take a lot of leave from work and just go sit in these guys’ clinics for four or five days. And just pick their brain, go see patients with them, and take notes, and learn. And then I just call them every time I have a question. And I just got to learn really quickly. It’s like this team of experts who knew everything about the alternative world. 

I was trying to treat people for adrenal fatigue. And I was trying to treat people for vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which are obvious from what was going on. And I couldn't quite figure out what it was. And about 100 patients into it, and probably after 30 guys came in, I could have told everybody, they could just sit down. I'll tell you what you're going to tell me. I could have just just route it off; it's so similar. And about 100 guys into it, embarrassing that it took so long, but I remember this guy telling me that he took Ambien every night. What do you guys call it? Stilnox, I think, right? 

I was married to an Aussie, so I know a lot. I mean, I know you're not an Aussie, but I know a little bit about your world, as in your language. And I remember putting a note in the margin, ‘Seems like a lot of guys take an Ambien.’ Then I go back through everybody's records, 100% of the guys who had been in my office were taking Ambien. So I thought, ‘Well, maybe that's an issue, right?’ So, let me go look at the side effects of Ambien. And it was a fairly new drug. And the pharmaceutical industry, they get to cherry-pick their data. So they were like, ‘Oh, it's the safest drug ever. There's nothing, no problems.’ And I'm like, ‘I don’t quite believe that.’ 

Unfortunately, like every other doctor in America, I didn't know anything about sleep. I never had a single class on sleep in medical school, didn't have the foggiest idea what should be happening. I knew what you called a mechanism of action on this drug, which means molecularly what does it do. Well, it binds GABA receptors and has an effect called GABA analog, and benzodiazepines are the same, things like Valium. And so that's about as much as I knew, Well, what is GABA doing? What is GABA supposed to do? And then you can't really understand that without understanding what's actually going on in sleep. 

Then, I had to learn about sleep physiology. And what's supposed to happen during sleep? And what are the normal shifts and changes? And what does that do? And if that doesn't happen, what effects do you get? So after studying quite a bit, I figured out the general Occam's razor principle of the thing with the least assumptions is, literally, every single symptom that these men told me about, could be explained by poor sleep. 

Now, I didn't think that it would be, right? I wasn't naive, but it could have, then, right? So if this was definitely the most powerful thing, because being a Western doctor I wanted to give them Cortef and raise their cortisol. I wanted to give them testosterone and raise their testosterone. I wanted to get like, I wanted to give them medication to improve their insulin sensitivity. I wanted to just go in there and do it. But I couldn't do that, right? Because you can't give SEALs medication that they're dependent upon. Because then, what if they go out on the field, and they don't have their medication, they can't do their job and it’s a waste. So that puts people on the bench, that disqualifies people. So I couldn't do that. 

I had to figure out, well, what else can I do? So like I said, sleep seemed like the unifying theory. So let me see about that. And this was right around the time that everybody was catching on to the important vitamin B3. And that was associated with poor sleep. So, I tested all my guys. Every one of them had low vitamin B3. So I'm like, ‘Yeah, I'm going to give them vitamin B3. I'm going to be a hero. Everyone is gonna love me. I'm the best doctor ever.’ And it helped a little bit. But it wasn't everything. 

Like I said, I had this epiphany with this sleep drug. And once I learned enough about the sleep drug, you aren't actually sleeping when you're on sleep drugs. You're just unconscious. Your brain is dissociated, but it's not sleep. Because sleep has to have, as one of its criteria, you have to have this predictable sleep architecture. You have to be going through these sleep cycles that take you through these different stages. And a particular pattern is repetitive, and it's primarily deep sleep in the beginning of the night, and almost exclusively REM sleep by morning, and you have to do that transition. 

If you don't do that, then it's not sleep. It can be partially sleep, if you're just getting poor sleep. But I was having these guys do sleep studies. And they were coming back with 99.9% of their sleep study being stage 2 sleep, which is just the transition. It’s what we call a transitional sleep phase. So it's not deep sleep or REM. So they weren't really getting any of the benefits of sleep. And of course, that's an oversimplification. They're obviously getting something, or they'd be dead. But we don't know what they're getting. 

That’s all we know is that healthy sleep does this, and when you go through these cycles, we know these things happen. Like when you're in deep sleep, we know that's when you're the most anabolic, and you're secreting your anabolic hormones like growth hormone, and testosterone, and DHEA is being ramped up, your immune system’s being ramped up. We know this happens. And then we know in REM sleep, what's going on in the brain: the physiological changes, forming more durable neural tracks, that neurological memories, shifting things from working memory into long term memory, pruning off useless information, these little buttons that grow on the side of your nerves that are starting to bud new information. You're like, ‘I don't need that.’ You clean up all that. You get rid of weak products and you get the brain working better. 

The whole purpose of going to sleep tonight is to prepare myself for tomorrow, right? Whatever I do today, that's what my brain and body are gonna think it needs to do tomorrow. It's gonna use today as a template to try to make me better tomorrow at doing what I did today. And if I don't get enough sleep, if I don't get to restore, I still have to do tomorrow. And how do I do that? Well, I do it the same way you do anything. I’m stressed out. I use Marinol and a bunch of cortisol and DHEA. And I start robbing all my nutrients for my cells. My blood glucose is going up, I'm getting fuel sources that way, epinephrine and norepinephrine stimulate my brain and my tissues to be able to get energy where there’s really no energy there. And then I'm going to bed with these really high stress hormones, which are supposed to be low when I sleep, and then I'm trying to sleep with high stress hormones. Then, I get worse sleep. Then, I need more stress hormones tomorrow. And that's what breaks people. 

In fact, when you see somebody who doesn't sleep well for even six months, they look so much older. ‘Why does he look old? That doesn't make sense. Is it just because they're tired? Is it tired old?’ But if you think about it, you're born into this contract. You're born into this contract; you can't get around. It's just like you're born knowing you're going to die, 100% certain you're going to die. There's also this other contract that certainly is your body ideally worked for about 16 hours, and it needs eight hours to recover. That's the way it works. That's what you're born into. There's small variations there. But obviously, you can't get around that. 

If you don't get those 8 hours, you didn't recover from those 16 hours. And so if you think about it logically, obviously, when you're a kid, you need more sleep. So it's not a great example, when you're really young. Kids actually sleep a lot more than eight hours by and large, but you see them actually getting better every day, right? They're growing. They're getting smarter. They're getting more coordinated. You can see that every day. But if you think about, say, like, once you hit 25, and your brain’s fully formed, and everything's static. If you could recover 100% every night, and wake up the next morning as good as you were that other morning, you wouldn't age, right? There would be no aging because you would have recovered 100%. 

Lisa: It’s very important, yep. 

Dr Kirk: Everything that you're deficient in, if you're missing 10%, you're going to age that 10%. And if you're missing a little more, you're going to age faster. So when you see people who haven't been sleeping well for a year, they are literally older because they've been recovering less and less every night. So yeah, there's a breakdown in their protein structure. There's decrease in their blood supply, their peripheral vascularisation. Their tissues are aging. There’s a buildup of waste products that aren't getting out, and that's toxic. And that’s damaging the mitochondria and forming more senescent cells, and all these other things, they're building up. And every marker that we have, even genetic marker, when you look at your children and linked methylation on the genes. Every marker, they look older. And then when you look at them, they look older. That’s why. 

That's really what aging is. It's really just the absence of being able to recover 100% every night. And as we get older, we just don't repair as fast. And that's, unfortunately, when most people quit sleeping as much. And now that's double whammy there. You're getting twice the aging effects that way. And there's no reason to sleep less when you’re old. It’s typical, but it's not something you have to do. I've had 84-year-old women who haven't slept more than 4 or 5 hours in 20 years, and I get them to sleep eight hours a night. 

Lisa: I've got one over there who's rustling around, walking around behind me. She’s 80 years old, nearly. Hey, mum. And she's struggling with sleep in the early morning hours. And therefore, you know her memory and things. So I want to pick your brain on that. Can I just slow you down a little bit because we just covered a ton of ground here.

Dr Kirk: You just asked me about myself, and I just couldn't stop.

Lisa: No, but you were on an absolute roll. So I didn't want to interrupt you because there was so many things, but my brain’s just going like, ‘There's so many questions!’ 

Dr Kirk: That was just meant to be an overview. 

Lisa: That was an overview. Now can we dive deeper into some of the weeds because now I understand why you've become, classically, the sleep expert because obviously that was the biggest leverage. In other words, this is the biggest leverage point that you see. When we think of the SEALs, we think of the SEALs as being these gods of amazingness that can do everything. But what you're saying is like these guys are pushing their limits: endurance, and in fatigue, and all things like that. And so they're going to be the Canaries in the Gold Mines in a way because they're going to be coming up against the limits of everything. 

For you to say, as an ultra marathon, so I’ve come up against the limits in certain ways, like with sleep deprivation. And I sort of understand some of the things now that you were talking about. So you've ended up finding out that this is probably the biggest leverage point in anybody's life, basically, for their health is their sleep. So people, take a bit of a grip on that one. It's not necessarily the food or nutrition, it's the sleep. Would you agree?

Dr Kirk: When I first started lecturing, I used to say there were four pillars of health: sleep, nutrition, exercise. And then the fourth pillar is audience dependent. It could be mindfulness, stress medication, it could be community, whatever it is that controls your stress hormones, and your emotions, and your mood, and all that stuff. Then after a while, I shift to there's three pillars sitting on the foundation of sleep. Because if you take the sleep away, none of those are going to work. There’s nothing you can do. In fact, if you exercise when you're sleep deprived, it's counterproductive because you're not recovering. And we all know that you don't actually get better when you exercise. You damage yourself when you exercise.

Then when you sleep, you recover, and you come back stronger. When you deprive yourself of sleep, you change your entire gut biome, you change your insulin sensitivity. You change everything here. And now your nutritional status doesn't work anymore. And when you don't sleep well, as I said, you increase your stress hormones. So you can do the mindfulness training and all of that stuff, meditate and all that, but you're just going to bring yourself down maybe to where you would have been if you just slept well and didn't do any kind of training. 

It's really the foundation for everything. And I say that all the time. It sounds hyperbolic, but I'm 100% convinced it’s true. There's nothing that you can do that will, nothing that will break you faster than poor sleep, and poor and insufficient sleep. There's a reason we use it as an interrogation technique. 

Lisa: Exactly. Yeah. 

Dr Kirk: There's a reason we break people down, intentionally, this way because it depletes all your resources. It interferes with your brain function, your willpower, your problem solving, your speech, your ability to formulate plans, your motivation, your mood. Everything goes almost instantaneously with one night of lack of asleep. Never mind keeping somebody up for three or four days in a row. They're just a mess. They’re just in input mode. They just want you to just, ‘Tell me whatever I have to do. I’d do it. Then I'll sleep. Anything I can do to get sleep, I'll do it.’ You don't have to rip people's fingernails out of stuff. You just deprive them from sleep. 

Conversely, there's nothing that will improve the quality of your life and your performance faster than sleeping. Well, if you're an inadequate sleeper, which most people are. They don't even know they are. Everybody has these 30-day challenges and 60-day challenges. I'm like, ‘I only need seven days.’ Again, one week where sleep is your number one priority. And you do everything right, and you get eight hours of sleep, at least eight and a half hours in bed every night, and you're sleeping approximately eight hours a night. And give me that for a week. And then, if you're not convinced this the most powerful thing, go back to wherever you're going. But nobody's ever gone back. 

Lisa: A lot of us, I can hear people saying, ‘Yeah, but I go to bed, and I can't sleep. And I wake up at 2 am. And my brain is racing and I've been told to do some meditation. And maybe it's my cortisol.’ Let's look now because if we haven't got the message across now that sleep is the number one thing that you should be prioritising about everything that you do, we haven't done very well for the last half an hour. 

How do we sleep? What foods do we need to eat before we go to bed or not eat? What supplements can we take? You've got your sleep remedy that we'll get into a little bit. What routine can I do to optimise? What light-dark cycles? All of these things that can be leveraged points for us in optimising our sleep. And how do we test that we're actually in that deep-sleep phase? What are one of the best tools that you've found to work that out? So that was a mouthful, but yeah.

Dr Kirk: So the first thing we need to do is get away from that phonetic question right there, which is what everybody's going through in their heads up like, ‘What about this? What about that?’ And so my job is to make this really simple. Because simple things we can do, and the more nuanced your plan is around sleep, the more likely it is to fail. And we're doing big, macro movements here. So the very first thing is, what you said, I think we've already covered. The very first thing is to convince yourself that sleep is the most important thing. And to make it your priority for at least one week to get everything going. 

Now, when I say your priority, I mean the true meaning of that word. There's only one thing there's nothing else, that’s the one, including raising your kids, and your dog, and your exercise routine, and everything else. The most important thing is to sleep. The most important thing for winning. If you aren't quite convinced yet go to PubMed, or go to Google Scholar, or something like this, then put in sleep and anything else you care about: being a parent, mood, dating, sex drive, athleticism, strength, endurance, concentration, memory, I don't care. Whatever it is you care about—strength and this, strength and business, strength and I don't care. Anything you want. 

Read to your heart's content. It will convince you that the one good thing about sleep, in the sleep sciences, it’s not actually controversial. There's no one out there saying, ‘Oh, you don't really need to sleep.’ Everybody agrees. There's nuances and people are different. Everybody agrees you need about eight hours of sleep a night. And just convince yourself that is the most important thing. Once you're there, that's the most important thing. 

After that, recognise, ‘Okay. I'm going to make this my number one priority.’ Recognise that you're born to sleep. You don't need to learn; you need to unlearn some stuff, right? You're designed to do this. And this should feel good. You should enjoy sleeping. You should usually look forward to going to bed and waking up in the morning, like, ‘Man, I feel so much better. I'm ready to go do my day.’ This should be as easy as selling sex but it's not. People resist this forever. I have no idea why. It's great. Why don't you like sleep? I’ve always liked sleep. So then you just think, ‘Okay, when did sleep go bad for humankind?’ Probably in the last seventy years. 

Lisa: Yeah, when we got electric light. 

Dr Kirk: That's about it, right? It's only been, really since rural electrification, right? Since they got electricity out to everybody. That's really when it started. When you look back in America just 100 years ago, look at people's journals in the winter, they spent like 14 hours a day in bed. That’s a certain thing they do. So if you think about it, and just say, ‘I know this is simple. I'm going to let myself fall into it.’ And then I'll tell you, there's all the sleep hygiene. You can get on the Internet, and you can find, ‘Oh, do this. Drink a hot cup of tea. Drink milk. Do this. Make your room really cold. Make your room really dark. Make your bed really soft. Make your bed really hard. And get a white noise machine. Get rid of all the EMF.’ A million people are going to tell you all sorts of different things to do. And I'll cut through all the BS, and then you can pick and choose.

The real answer is all of that stuff works, to some extent. All of that's important to some extent. The way I work with clients is at least 95% of all the successes is from lifestyle. And then all these little gadgets, and your mitigation tools, and supplements, and all this stuff back, that’s the other 5. It’s 95% behavioural. So you just look back, how did we evolve to sleep? Nobody teaches people how to sleep, right? You're born as a baby; you sleep. So how did we sleep as adults in cultures 100 years ago? Well, when the sun went down, we fell asleep about three hours later, and we woke up around the time the sun came up. It was pretty much that easy. 

Okay, so let's reverse engineer that a little bit. I think most people know that blue light is a stimulus for being awake. We don't truly have a sleeping program. If you think of it like software, we don't have any sleeping software. We just have lack of awakening software. So we have things that go on in our brain and body that make us still awake and make us interact with our environment. And then when you take those things away, we're in what we call sleep.

The blue light, actually, has nothing to do with the vision. There's nerve cells in the back of your eyes. It senses blue light. That's all they do. And then they fire pathways back to the circadian pathway membrane, essentially. And then the pineal gland secretes melatonin. The melatonin is a hormone, the starter pistol. It initiates all these cascades. And then one of the cascades that it initiates is the production of this peptide called GABA, capital G-A-B-A, gamma-Aminobutyric acid. And what that does is it slows down the neocortex. 

When you think of the human brain, the picture of the human brain, we all have that big, wrinkly, massive crescent shape. That's what we call the neocortex. And that is how we interact with the world, right? All of our senses get processed in that, and then all of our movement is processed from that, right? So when we're asleep, all that's really different with our sleep, about in a general sense, right? There's nuances in every neuron and every molecule. And then, in the neural sense, there's a barrier between us and our environment is how it's phrased. What it means is we aren't paying attention to our environment anymore. Our eyes obviously still work, right? You can turn the light and you can wake somebody up. Our ears still work, you can make your noise and wake somebody up. Our sense of touch still works. You can shake somebody. They can roll into something sharp, and their pain receptors will wake them up. Heat will wake them up. Cold will wake them. So we still work. Everything still works. We start processing it. We’re not paying attention to it. 

What helps us do that is GABA. So GABA involves neurons. A neuron has what’s called a resting potential. So there's like an electrical current in here. And when you put in enough electrical current, it goes like this. And that neuron fires. And then, does whatever it does and forms pathways. Well, GABA lowers that. Now, it takes more energy to make that thing fire. And you can overcome this by just putting a lot of energy into the cells. So if you've ever been exhausted, woken up exhausted, didn't get enough sleep for whatever reason. Like, ‘I'm going to go to work. I’m gonna come home. I’m going straight to bed. I'm gonna sleep 12 hours a day.’ And then your friends talk you into going out or you get a cup of a drink. You stay up ‘til midnight, ‘I feel fine.’ And then you suffer again the next day, right? Because you just overcame that. 

You can actually read about this because this still exists, believe it or not, they're still I think 35 or 45 pretty large communities around the globe that have never experienced electricity. And they just lived like hunters and gatherers. They go out. And the men go out and hunt. And the women pick, and nurture their kids, and weave. And just when you think of your caveman doing, they still live like that today. And we study these people. And we did actigraphy. So it's not true sleep, say. It's just movement to know when they're likely to be asleep. And what we find is, the sun goes down. Again, the blue light goes out of their eyes. It fires, the brain starts secreting melatonin that leads to a cascade of 365 billion other chemical changes in the brain, right? But that initiation has to happen. Once that initiation is going, one of the things it does is secrete GABA, increase GABA production in lots of regions of the brain that starts slowing the brain down. 

The sun goes down. They don't have electricity, right? The best they have is a fire. So what else happens? Their body temperature goes down. So when the sun goes down and it is dark, we can't see well at night, we can't see very far. So there's way less stimulus, right? They don't have flashing lights. They don't have loud music. So there's not much to stimulate them. So they sit around a fire. Maybe if they're lucky, if not, they just stare around the dark, and they have some quiet, calm conversations, and then they drift off to sleep. 

That's all sleep hygiene is. That's it. Those three things: decrease the blue light, decrease the stimulation to your brain, and drop your body temperature. You need a cool place to sleep. One of the things that you can do to speed these things up is to concentrate the right nutrients in your brain. If you are going to take melatonin and just take a very, very, very, very small amount. You just want to initiate. You don't want to put so much melatonin in your brain that your brain doesn't need to make melatonin because then you start running insensitivity to melatonin, and now when you take it away, you don't have, you're essentially melatonin deficient because you've downregulated the receptors, and your brain is not sensitive to melatonin anymore.

Lisa: Can I just stop in the first, one second. Dr John Lieurance is his name and he was on the Ben Greenfield podcast, and he's written a book about melatonin. And he argued that melatonin, interesting work, doesn't downregulate when you take melatonin, and doesn't cause that downregulation. All the other hormones do. If we take testosterone, we're going to downregulate our own testosterone, if we take right whatever. He said that they didn't. And he was advocating in his book for actually, super-physiological doses of melatonin. Certainly when you're doing things like jetlag, or whatever you're trying to reset, but also for a raft of other ailments to help with many diseases. Have you heard of his work or?

Dr Kirk: I’m familiar with him and his work. 

Lisa: Yeah. What's your take on that? Because I was like, ‘I don’t know.’

Dr Kirk: So, I disagree, obviously. 

Lisa: Yeah. That’s what I want to know.

Dr Kirk: But specifically, so what he's talking about, 90% of his work is about the antioxidant.

Lisa: Yes. Is it an antioxidant? Yep. 

Dr Kirk: The studies that he's quoting are saying that melatonin doesn't downregulate. We don't know for sure. It's like, maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. The only way we would know is if we could actually drop a catheter into somebody's brain and sample their fluid in their brain 24 hours a day and study this over months. And so we can't say for sure. We can do animal models. Again, it's hard to quantify because from the time the sun goes down, which is about three hours before you'll fall asleep, to the entire time you slept, until the sun comes up, you're looking at somewhere between 11 and 12 hours. That entire time your brain will only produce five to six micrograms of melatonin. 

Lisa: Tiny amount.

Dr Kirk: So how do we study, right? It's really hard to study, and you think of it in a mouse model, how much smaller the quantities are we're looking at that point. And the concentration of melatonin in each region of the brain is not the same, it depends on some cells in the brain can actually be stimulated by melatonin. It's somewhere. It’s different. And same with GABA. GABA doesn't go to every region of the brain because it can stimulate regions of the brain. But what we do know, so first, I always go with, we don’t know anything. We have research that makes us believe certain things are likely to be true based on the best science we have right now. So we don't know anything. And I believe that to be true about everything in science. Just wait a week, it might change. But what we do know is that every other hormone does this. 

Lisa: Yes. 

Dr Kirk: But if it doesn't do this, it's the only hormone in the body that doesn't. Pretty unlikely. But what we do know with 100% certainty is that it does downregulate melatonin receptors.

Lisa: Right.

Dr Kirk: It can take away melatonin receptors. If I normally have 10 melatonin receptors, and I go down to just having one, now even if I'm sprayed with melatonin, I only have one. And I have to have this supersaturation for this one receptor to do all this work. And if I go down to normal physiologic levels of melatonin and this one receptor, there's just getting an occasional melatonin coming by, I'm going to be, it's no different. It doesn't matter whether I'm not producing enough, or I don't have enough receptors, it's the same end result. You have to have melatonin binders stuffing pulled into the cell to have it function.

Lisa: So can I ask one question there like, so for elderly, who, from what I understand, in my basic research on melatonin, is that their melatonin production goes down with age, and, therefore, they could benefit from melatonin supplementation. Is that a thing or?

Dr Kirk: Yeah, I agree. And so what happens is that the pineal gland calcifies just like our arteries. And every vessel, everything in our body calcifies, right. That's sort of aging.

Lisa: One of the majors. 

Dr Kirk: And so it calcifies, and you do almost certainly secrete less melatonin, right? And again, the only way we would know is to drop a catheter into somebody's brain. But I'm not saying that you shouldn't take melatonin at all. I'm just saying you shouldn't take super physiologic. So his example of when you're speaking about the melatonin work earlier, right? His example is, well, this is a great antioxidant. Now, if I do these super physiologic amounts, there's all these benefits to it. Well, if I give you 10 times the amount of testosterone that your body ordinarily has, you're gonna feel fantastic. If I give you something that secretes a bunch of epinephrine and norepinephrine, like cocaine. And you have this huge rush of norepinephrine; you feel fantastic. And you're super productive, and your brain’s really sharp. Does that make that a good idea? I don't think so. I don't deal with anything super physiologic. 

Again, I'm the behaviourist, and 95% of all your health is going to come from re-approximating the way you revolt. This body takes hundreds of thousands of years to adapt to this planet. And now we're just like, ‘No, we're smarter. Like I’m a 35-year-old biohacker. I read a bunch of books. I know I can do it better than–” We know nothing about the body.

Lisa: Can we all mean for people–we also know that people tend to die. If we wanted to extend our healthspan and their lifespan, but healthspan mainly, can we, with hormone replacement therapy, there's a raging argument: should you be on hormone replacement therapy, should you not? If you’re wanting to optimise. Now, there's downsides. And you need to understand your genetics, and you need to understand all of those aspects. 

There is benefits for us to taking testosterone or DHEA or all these things in the right physiological doses of, say, a 30-year-old, like, I'm 50 or 52, I want to be at the level that I was, say at 30–35. I understand my genetics, I know where my risk factors are. I can keep an eye on all of that sort of stuff. Can I all meet that so that I live and function longer? Because I think the core question here is how do we optimise? Yes, we've developed like cavemen but then they die at 70–80, as well. Can we extend that with the knowledge that we currently have?

Dr Kirk: Well, so I don't ever promise anybody that I can make them live longer. I say, ‘You might live longer from this.’ If you think about it, think about it this way: at first, we talk about what sleep does, right? And if we could catch up every night, we wouldn't age. So what are we doing when we're doing things like hormone-replacement therapy? We're doing metabolomics. And we're doing all sorts of supplementation around that, or we're doing artificial things like hyperbaric, and near-far IR sauna, and ice baths, and doing all these steps to stimulate the production of the thing. 

Of course, now we have antibiotics, and we have all sorts of treatments to keep people from dying as young from certain diseases. So certainly, we should be able to either, probably add years to your life. But if not, definitely we can add life to your years, right? If you're going to die at 80 either way, one version of this, you could die hiking Mount Kilimanjaro, another one you're dying in a little chair in a nursing home. So I don't know. 

The question is, even with the longevity work that people are doing, really smart guys like Sinclair and all these guys are doing all these things, and they're doing all these things with clearing senescent cells, we're doing all these things with peptides. And now I give my patients peptides for certain things. I don't know nearly as much about the longevity stuff as I’d like to. And we and we're reversing aging genetically, right? We're going in there and saying, ‘Actually, over the course of a year, with a lot of work, a lot of effort, a lot of tries, a lot of modalities, really focusing on your lifestyle and doing everything. Ideally, we can actually, probably, reverse your genetic age a little bit.’ Are we actually reversing age? I don't know, we made your telomeres longer. The increased the methylation on your genes, and those are markers for age, does that reverse it? We don't really know, right? 

Lisa: We haven’t been around long enough to work it out. 

Dr Kirk: Right. It's like with omega-3s. If your omega-3s are this, then we know that certain things go this way. Well, but if we supplement your omega-3s, is that the same as you having that nutritionally. Or vitamin B3? Is that the same? We don't know. We're thinking that it probably is. And we're thinking if we're reversing the markers we know for genetic aging that's making you genetically younger. But maybe there's some totally different information in there on aging that we don't know anything about yet. That's possible, too. 

I think from what I know about you, you probably agree with me. I think epigenetics is more important than genetics, anyway. You have certain genetics and you change half a dozen things about your day, and your epigenetics are totally different. If you short yourself 2 hours of sleep, you change 735 different epigenetic markers from just 2 hours. All your pro-inflammatory ones are the ones turning on, and all of your anabolic ones are the ones turning off. And again– 

Lisa: That's still the biggest leverage point, isn't it? 

Dr Kirk: It’s still a crazy complex to think that you can decipher what 735 changes in epigenetics mean. We have some ideas of what certain things, how does all that work in synchronicity, but even though we're the smartest animal on this planet, we still have a very feeble mind.

Lisa: We’re still dumb. 

Dr Kirk: When it comes to understanding the complexity of our bodies, we can't understand the complexity of the planet, much less our bodies. And life is just this amazingly complex thing. We don't have systems in our body. We divide the body up in systems as a way to learn it so that we can systematically learn and we can test about the learning, but the body doesn't work in systems.

Lisa: I have such an issue with it, too. It's nothing like the way that the medical model breaks us all down.

Dr Kirk: The reductionist model doesn't work for life. And if you think about it, most of biology is purely descriptive. All of it is, we've come up with better and better ways to test things and look at things, and then we can describe what's going on. We don't know how to manipulate it most of the time. If we do, it's really clumsy. And it's causing 500 other changes because we wanted to flip this one switch this way. Then what are the downstream effects? We don't know. We'll find out in like 30 years after 100,000 people go through this. It's really clumsy. 

I don't know if can I make somebody live longer. I'd never make that claim. But can I make people look, feel, and perform better? Absolutely. I can do it all the time. And me, personally, like you're saying, I just approximate use. Their arguments, there are people out there saying, ‘Well, these hormones will cause this or that.’ I’m like, ‘Okay. If high estrogen levels cause breast cancer, why don’t young women get breast cancer? Older women, they're the ones who are getting breast cancer, why?’ That thing with men and prostate cancer, giving them testosterone is gonna cause prostate. No, it's not. If that were true, then a 20-year-old would have prostate cancer, and a 60-year-old wouldn’t, right? It's a lack of this. And I think breast cancer is a lot like prostate cancer. What we know with prostate cancer now is that if you give somebody testosterone, and they already have prostate cancer, they’re sensitive to androgen, then you can expose them.

Lisa: You can ignite it.

Dr Kirk: Or women have found for 5 or 10 more years, maybe. I think breast cancer is the same way. And it just makes sense. And so–

Lisa: And how you clearing out your liver and all that strain, all of those things that those changes that happen, but yeah, totally. 

Dr Kirk: And also, every single mechanism that I just talked about that is reversing aging, or slowing aging, or whatever the phrase you want to use. Every single one of those things is improving mitochondrial density, improving mitochondrial function, and doing– There’s a thing that’s called neovascularisation and angiogenesis. So it's improving blood supply. It's improving lymphatic flow, and it's improving mitochondrial density and mitochondrial functioning. That's pretty much health, right? I'm sorry, what was your question on—

Lisa: The mitochondrial aspect of it. I truly believe that's the core of so many of these diseases. If we can get our mitochondria, and it’s just not easy than that. And if we can get those working properly, and we can– that's the downstroke, the most lowest level where we can and again, sleep and things become the leverage point.

Dr Kirk: Right. And if you think about what all of the health crazes are moving towards, all those things are doing that, right? So the ketogenic diet, intermittent fasting, both of these things are increasing mitochondrial density. Both are increasing mitochondrial function. They’re both really anti-inflammatory. Anti-inflammatory leads to higher blood supply, better immune function. Immune function is anabolic, right? So that’s what’s repairing and building things back up. The near-far IR sauna’s doing same thing: mitochondrial density, mitochondrial functioning, hyperbaric oxygenation, decreasing cytokines, inflammatory cytokines, increasing the oxygen saturation throughout all the cells, causing new blood vessels to form, carrying more. And it's all mitochondrial density. 

What else are we doing? Cold ice baths. I suppose it is trying to increase, they're going to increase your blood flow to save you from freezing, right? And how you're going to do that? It has to grow new blood vessels, and how's it got to do that? It's got to get more energy. Well, how's it going to do that? It’s got to make more mitochondria. All of this stuff. And the other thing that does is it increases things like BDNF, so it’s helping to repair and restore our brains and then that's leading to better hormone functions because our brain is the hormone master; it’s the orchestra leaders, the maestro. Your pineal gland, and pituitary, that's where everything's coming from.

Lisa: Just interrupting the program briefly to let you know that we have a new patron program for the podcast. Now, if you enjoy Pushing the Limits, if you get great value out of it, we would love you to come and join our Patron membership program. We've been doing this now for five and a half years, and we need your help to keep it on air. It's been a public service free for everybody. And we want to keep it that way. But to do that, we need like-minded souls who are on this mission with us to help us out. So if you're interested in becoming a patron for Pushing the Limits Podcast, then check out everything on patron.lisatamati.com. That's p-a-t-r-o-n dot Lisa Tamati dot com. We have two patron levels to choose from, you can do it for as little as $7 a month, New Zealand or $15 a month if you really want to support us.  So we are grateful if you do. There are so many membership benefits you're going to get if you join us; everything from workbooks for all the podcasts, the strength guide for runners, the power divider, and future episodes, webinars that we're going to be holding, all of my documentaries and much, much more. So check out all the details, patron.lisatamati.com. And thanks very much for joining us. 

Can I ask you a little bit, because I know that you have done hyperbaric work in your naval days. And I've got a hyperbaric right behind me, there in the corner. And I'm very big on it. And it was a cornerstone of my mother's rehabilitation after a massive aneurysm and brain injury. What's your take on it in regards to brain injuries in regards to concussions, which is in epidemic levels in our world? And also for things like dementia and Alzheimer's? Without obviously, being your absolute area of expertise. But what is your take on hyperbaric for all of these things?

Dr Kirk: So I think hyperbarics is actually going to turn out to be the most effective tool in the toolbox. I think you have to use all the tools. And I have all the tools at my house. Right? I don't have hyperbarics. So I just actually came back from doing a couple of months of hyperbarics in Tampa, and I have a great recommendation for guests if you want to talk to somebody who really knows hyperbarics, and he's a longtime friend of mine. I was in the Navy with him, who's a Navy master diver, and he's just got his PhD in biomedical engineering, and he has a hyperbarics facility. He did the first research paper on the long haulers for COVID, reversing all the long hauling syndromes. He's done a paper on Lyme disease. He's doing a paper right now on dysarthria from strokes and others, and he and I were investigating brain injuries, TBI. 

Lisa: Wow. I definitely want to meet this guy. 

Dr Kirk: Yeah, so I was the guinea pig. And then another SEAL friend of mine. Because SEALs my age have the most problems, right? They usually are at this age. But I have my best friend from SEAL training. So he’s just my best friend overall. He was in the SEAL teams for 26 years, nearly 26,27,28 combat deployments. So he’s been blown up with a grenade, he's been blind in one eye, he’s been, in the head, 20 plus surgeries. And that's the norm. That's the norm of how guys come out when they're my age, and they stay the whole time. I don't obviously have nearly the trauma that he does. So I wanted to bring him in, too. 

Much like I do with the SEALs I just said, ‘We're just going to test everything, and we're just gonna test everything we can think of.’ So I did pre- and post-EEGs, I did pre- and post-PET scans for consumption. I did–what’s it called–psycho learning batteries of tests, testing to problem solve. I did a bunch of hormone stuff. I did genetic aging before. I did all this stuff. Then I just went and did a standard protocol, which is essentially one hour at depth. So one hour bottom time at 280, at 100% oxygen, five days a week. Take Saturday and Sunday off. I did that for eight weeks. 

Lisa: Yep. That’s 40-odd or 50-odd sessions, yep. 

Dr Kirk: Yeah, so 40 sessions. And it’s a big commitment. It’s a big time commitment. It's expensive. But I just want to see if we can use it for the SEALs because I still do a lot of work with guys who are getting out of the SEAL teams or are out of the SEAL teams. And they break down when things are– really, really hard life. And they can’t put it in the end, they don't have their community, and they don’t have their compensatory techniques anymore. They're going to new jobs where they don't know their way around as much in there. And plus, they've been gone most of their career. Now, they're home with their wives and their kids. And it's a new thing. It's hard for them, it's super stressful. And so I do everything I can to help these guys out. And anytime there's a new modality, anybody tells me, not that hyperbarics is new, but the partial results with TBI is that we're 5, 10, 15 years old. That's a new postulate. And so we're doing our best to test that, and we're about to do it again. I'm going to go to–

Lisa: I so wanna hear the results of that, please. Because I think it's the most underrated thing that I've ever come across. And you know, and I've been studying it or a couple of years. 

Dr Kirk: Absolutely.

Lisa: I know what it did to my mum. My uom went from being like a baby. No, hardly any brain function to being full driver's license, full life, full everything. She's walking and training at the gym every day. And that thing there in the corner was the catalyst for it. It gave me that stuff to do. And I've got a family member with brain injuries, I can't give him the repeated brain injuries from sport. And can't you see what this is? How powerful this is? But it's a big time commitment. Even when it's sitting in your sister's house. But it's really important that people do this and get access to this. 

We just had a Sunday program, which is our current affairs, a big current affairs program on TBIs. It’s from rugby players over here, professional rugby players and how many TBIs they get in a career. And they're coming out, ending up with dementia and Alzheimer's and brain injuries and mood changes, tossed around down the toilet, and all these sorts of things. And not once did anybody say hyperbaric. And I'm just like, ‘Oh, for God's sake.’ But what do we have to do? 

Dr Kirk: I don't know why we're so bad at that. And under all of the royal colonies. The Israelis and the Russians– 

Lisa: The Israelis are onto it. The Russians are onto it. The Russians, the Germans are onto it 

Dr Kirk: The Russians, I think of, I say they have 180-some odd approved uses. Israelis are like 116. We’re 14, and then we just added one a few months ago. And half of ours are really the same thing. It's just nuances of the same thing. It's just we don't get to use it very much. And when I was in the SEAL teams, it was super hard for me to get it for wound healing, although it's the most obvious use for it. And I would want to put guys in there after surgery. And it was like pulling teeth every single time. I had to fight them. I had to fight the machine to get guys in there. And it's a huge difference, obviously.

Lisa: Are you aware of the work of Dr Paul Harch? hbot.com is his website. He's done a hell of a lot in the hyperbaric space. Check him out. H-a-r-c-h, Dr Paul Harch, real expert in this area. And just on that point on about the machine, the medical machinery that we have, in our Western world, in New Zealand, it’s very similar to the States. What the hell are they doing? Why are we still in this preventive, in this disease-based system? Where we are only, like you were talking about, ranges before and these guys are still in the normal ranges, but they were having symptoms. Thyroid is another classic example of people that have not been picked up. 

I've just been through a journey, which my listeners know, with my father who developed sepsis after a massive operation, and I won't go into the details. But I was trying to get intravenous vitamin C, and he was dying. And I couldn't. They had no other options where I've got this. I've got scientist friends, doctors who have given me the clinical evidence to proceed these to the ethics committees and all these things while I'm fighting for his life, and he's dying in front of my eyes. And I'm not allowed to give him intravenous vitamin C, which has been shown in a number of clinical studies to drop the mortality rate by 40%–50%, and I wasn't allowed to do it. 

I'm just like, ‘What the heck is going wrong with our system?’ I wonder, right? But it took me 15 days. And by the way, my dad had multiple organ failure, and I lost the battle for him. The system is just– I'm getting, I'll get off my soapbox in a minute. But why is somebody who's been through the medical, the standard medical, and then gone out and done your own? Where are they going wrong? And is there a paradigm shift coming? Can you see a change coming?

Dr Kirk: Now, I really wish I could say yes to that. But I’ve become so disheartened after COVID. I don't know the politics there. But the politics here, it’s just mind-boggling to me. I’m sitting here going– First of all, hydroxychloroquine has been around for like 100 years. It's been around forever. It's over the counter in 80% of the countries in the world. It's a very safe drug. There's almost no chance it's going to cause anybody harm. So whether anybody believes that it was helpful at the beginning or not, you had teams of doctors who are actually doing the work, the clinician saying, ‘This works.’ And then you have these researchers and politicians saying, ‘There's not enough evidence of that. Use this, and don't use that.’ 

Lisa: And the vaccine, it’s been on trial. 

Dr Kirk: There is a doctor out here, she's a doctor and a lawyer. She got thrown in jail for giving somebody hydroxychloroquine.

Lisa: You kidding me? 

Dr Kirk: For prescribing somebody hydroxychloroquine, she spent four days in jail. They kicked in her house. They kicked in the door of her house with a SWAT team, with body armor and other weapons and rushed her and arrested this little 100-pound woman and put her in jail, didn't let her call a lawyer or anything.

Lisa: That’s just evil. That’s unbelievable.

Dr Kirk: There's never been anything in the news. And the news cycle that carry the news cycle to the extent of COVID period, but any really big event that I had any expertise in. So COVID was the first time that the big nation focus was on something I knew about, right? I'm not a virologist, but I know how the immune system works, right? I know what viruses are. I know their life cycle. I know how this works. I know how the medicines work. I have some expertise. And I can read what's out there. And I can learn it really quickly. And I'm just amazed at how dishonest and inaccurate the media was, and it’s probably that way for everything. I don't have enough expertise to realise that when everything else is going on. And so I've just become really disheartened. 

That woman who got arrested, she was in, she was running something called the Frontline Doctors, and her and a bunch of other doctors went to the Capitol. And they held this press conference, and they told them, ‘Here's the evidence. Here's the evidence of the medicine. Here's the safety of the medicine. Here's what we've been finding clinically. We want to urge all doctors to do this.’ And the FDA cracked down and told people they couldn't do it. Why isn't a medical doctor could not call a pharmacist and tell them to prescribe hydroxychloroquine to my patients? A pharmacist could tell me, ‘No.’ A pharmacist said, ‘No, that's against the law.’

Lisa: To a doctor. And ivermectin is the other one. Have you—

Dr Kirk: Ivermectin is exactly in the same way. 

Lisa: What the hell?

Dr Kirk: And then these doctors have had a website where they've been making videos, they've been posting, with their videos, all of their references, all the clinical— they’re only using peer-reviewed studies. They're going through mechanism, historical stuff. They're going through new stuff. And they're posting on there. Amazon just shut their website down.

Lisa: Have you seen Dr Robert Malone? He’s the founder of mRNA. And he was on the DarkHorse Podcast with Bret Weinstein. It was a really long interview and really in-depth. But the thing was, this was censored. I watched them take it down. And I watch other people keep putting it back up. And then now they've gone over to a platform called, obviously, which they can't be censored because it's on the crypto saying which is like— But why, when this aside, I know why. But the science is there. The clinical evidence is there. This is a safe— Ivermectin has been on the market for 40 something years? 30 to 40 years. I don't know exactly. But it's off-patent. Nobody can make money out of it. And then if they have a therapeutic, they can't do the vaccine under the emergency law.

Dr Kirk: I've heard that partial, and I think that's very realistic. Because— but the other side of it is that if there's one thing that's been proven in the last year and a half, the two years in America, is that the powers that be can do whatever the hell they want to do. So, they could have approved emergency use, even if they were 10 treatments because they just wanted to. They just do whatever they want to do right now. ‘You know, what? that's against the law.’ ‘No. Tough. We're gonna do it anyway.” 

Lisa: We want to make some billions out of something, so we’re going to put it anyway. 

Dr Kirk: I don't know. I'm very disturbed by it. But I would say 10 years ago, I was really excited that there was going to be a paradigm shift. I've been waiting for it to happen. I don't know why it doesn't happen. You know, like I said, I started studying all this stuff around 2009. And going well. And this makes a lot more sense. And, and now— But I'm not saying that Western medicine is all bad. Because if you're talking about somebody who's on death's door, somebody just got run over by a bus, or somebody who's severely sick, yes, Western medicine is great. But to keep people from getting severely sick, and to keep people aging well, and to perform well, that's a total different ballgame. And that's not what the medical professionals are trained to do. And the ones that are trained to do that get marginalised. They aren’t the real doctors. They’re not the natural. Pass. And a real doctor over here. It's like, ‘You're kind of like a doctor, but we're gonna put you in this little box.’

Lisa: A second-class citizen.

Dr Kirk: Yeah, you’re a second-class citizen.

Lisa: You’re not the real thing.

Dr Kirk: If there's one thing that I've proven to myself over the decade I've been doing this now is that most of my values as being a coach. I'm a doctor, but I pretty much coach people in lifestyle change. 90% of what I do is I get people to change their behaviours.

Lisa: And no one can make money out of that.

Dr Kirk: And then I give hormones. And then I give peptides. And then I give nucleo supplementations. And then we do little gadgets that you want to monitor everything about yourself and learn. You monitor your heart rate variability, your sleep, and all that. And you want to get every piece of data and continuous blood glucose. Do whatever you want. All that stuff. Let's get you sleeping well. Let's get you eating whole foods and no junk. Let's get you exercising to the level that is appropriate for your fitness level currently. Let's get your stress hormones down, and get your mood and thinking all in line with some mindfulness training, or whatever you do with that. And that takes, honestly, it takes nine months.

Lisa: Yep, exactly. That takes time. It takes massive effort. And it takes behavioural change, which people just don't want to do behavioural change because it's much easier to take a pill. It's much easier to take something simple and that's just the way humans are; we want it easy. Give me a pill of those.

Dr Kirk: And this great salesman telling them that they just eat this superfood, or like whatever this, ‘Oh, weird bacteria, we found this on K under the Amazon, like this is the key.’ Not really. Nobody's ever been able to use it before. And that's the key. Now I see. That makes sense. And people want that magic bullet. And it's hard. It's hard for some people. Unfortunately, there's never really been that hard for me. I'm just not somebody who's had a lot of hunger cravings. I don't really crave bad food, it's easy for me to eat a good diet. 

Lisa: And there's a lot of genetic factors and all of these things. When you look at our evolution, it makes sense that we go after fat, and sugar, and salt because that's what we don’t have enough of and so–

Dr Kirk: –That’s what protects you from famine. 

Lisa: But we need to understand how the big food industry then is tapping into those addictive mechanisms in our brain to make us want more. You can't eat one chip. Anybody knows, who’s eaten a pack, opened a pack of chips, you can't eat one chip; you're gonna eat the whole packet. 

Dr Kirk: You don’t call them crisps? I thought you called them crisps over there. 

Lisa: No, we call them chips.

Dr Kirk: So I actually have this postulate of where doughnuts and coffee came from in here. So what I was saying earlier, if I don't get enough sleep tonight, so I don't recover, I don't get the right deep sleep, my anabolic hormones don't change around, my insulin sensitivity shifts, my appetite regulation, ghrelin and leptin regulators, my fat metabolism regulators, all of that off because I didn't sleep well, right? So I wake up the next morning, and I have a high-stress hormone because I didn't get enough sleep, and I'm using stress hormones to get through the day. 

Another thing that happens when you're asleep is you flush the toxins out of your brain. Yeah, the lymphatic glow, right? And I use that word sparingly. And part of the dual partitioning and regeneration tool source. One of the things that we're doing is we're replenishing ATP, right? So ATP is triphosphate adenosine with three phosphates on it, and it goes down to ADP and AMP and then just an adenosine binds to areas of your brain and tells your brain where to start it. We burn all this out. We need to sleep. 

That's what we call sleep pressure. That’s the drive that just makes you want to crash. And you know this well from being an athlete and pushing yourself to the extent that you can lay down on cactus and fall asleep. You’re just so damn tired, and you got to sleep. And then it only takes a few hours to flush that adenosine out, right? And then if you have enough stress hormones, epinephrine, norepinephrine, all that, you can get up and go again. 

Our insulin sensitivity goes down, especially in our fat cells, and then our leptin sensitivity goes down. And so we're convinced we need to actually store more fat. And then we still have adenosine. And the way caffeine works, caffeine blocks the adenosine, right? So your body now believes that it's starving. The only reason that—so we're the only animal on the planet, that sleep deprives ourselves on purpose. Every other mammal, the only time they will ever sleep deprive themselves is if they're being pursued, if they're being preyed upon. Or if they're starving to death. If they're starving to death, they need to go further for food. And it shuts off the prefrontal cortex and makes you take more risks. You'll eat novel foods; you might try some things that might keep you alive that you wouldn't have otherwise try. 

You wake up, essentially, with your body convinced that you're starving. One, you deprive yourself of sleep. So every day you wake up without enough sleep, there's some trigger in your brain that’s saying, ‘Are we starving? Are we being preyed upon? What's the threat? There's a threat on us, right?’ And now you have all this appetite regulation and fat metabolism,  all these regulators are off, and your body's convinced that you're starving. And what do you need when you're starving? You need glucose, right now. And then you need much of that. Right? And what is a doughnut? It’s tri glucose, right? So it’s like glucose for body fat. 

Lisa: Sugar and fat.

Dr Kirk: And then you drink coffee to displace the adenosine. 

Lisa: It makes sense. Why would it? 

Dr Kirk: I think that’s where coffee neurals come from. It’s very theory 101. Do with it what you want. Never been published.

Lisa: But that is brilliant work. It's a brilliant deduction. And it's so true. And then we take more coffee to keep ourselves going. And then we cause these adenosines to come and then we can’t go to sleep.

Dr Kirk: This is one of the most beautiful things. So I was actually doing a sleep lecture with three other sleep experts of all different fields. There's some psychiatrists there and some sleep practitioners that do CPAP sleep disease, specialists. And we were all going to do a series of lectures during the day. And we're waiting around for our car to come get us. And we’re sitting in the lobby, and the lobby had a Starbucks. And they just happened to have propped up in one of those little poles with a new slider menu, and it was just sitting right next to the bench we’re sitting on. And it had all the nutritional information of their drinks. 
I'm sitting there looking at it. I go, ‘Oh, my gosh, they have a point. I'm getting a— Look at this.’ And they're looking at it. I'm like, ‘Oh my gosh, that explains a lot.’ So when you look at caffeine intake or the effects, the beneficial effects of caffeine intake, or what we call a hormetic curve, right? So more is better until more is worse, right? And when it starts getting worse is about 200 milligrams. 

Lisa: Which is what, two cups of coffee? 

Dr Kirk: It's not even two full cups of drip coffee, right? So after that, though, you actually get the exact opposite effect. So caffeine actually makes you start feeling more tired.

Lisa: Wow. And wired.

Dr Kirk: And Starbucks has these 800-calorie coffees, a 100% of the calories are from sugar, right? Because they have syrups and whatever in them and cream, and then with 600 milligrams of caffeine. So what happens when you drink 600 milligrams of caffeine, you say, ‘I'm feeling better. I'm drinking this over time.’ And then I finish my coffee. A couple of hours later, I feel awful. And what do I think I need? 

Lisa: Coffee. 

Dr Kirk:  Coffee. Go back and get another, more.

Lisa: And people go and get it. And then they don't understand how long it takes for the caffeine to be processed out of the body. And then 12 hours later, they're not going to sleep, and they're thinking they haven't equated it to the third cup of coffee that they had today.

Dr Kirk: Yeah, they have no sleep pressure like we're talking about, blocking your adenosine receptors. Plus, it’s led to some stimulation of stress hormones and their stress hormones to hide their sleep.

Lisa: And on that point, you know, I was talking about my dad before and I was in the hospital with him for 16 days. We were fighting for his life. And that time, I had maximum two hours sleep a day because I was just there at the hospital, advocating, protecting him, wasn't leaving his side. If I could stand up, I was there. At 16 days, I was diabetic. My blood sugar levels were through the roof. And all of my— so and that led to a whole lot of downstream effects that I'm still unpacking now. And it's now a year later. This is how quickly it can happen. I'm in a time like that, you want to push.

It’s the same when you're doing ultra-marathons. I ran ultra-marathons, 25 years doing crazy long distance stuff. When I ran through New Zealand, and I was running 500 kilometres a week, I got fatter. I figured that one out. Because there was over, I don't know how many calories I was burning; it was an excess of 10,000 calories a day or more. And I wasn't getting anywhere near that calories in and yet my body got fed, and my composition changed, my hormones were down, my sugar, all of these things. We think that the more we train, because this is another argument that I have a lot of my athletes that I train, is that more is always better when it comes to exercise. And that's not true.

Dr Kirk: Sometimes, more is just more. And often, if you're sleep-deprived, more is worse for sure. You don't really need to do any exercises. You just stay active until you've recovered, and then you can exercise again. But I know exactly what you're talking about. When we were talking before we started recording, I tampered with endurance marathons and things like this. It just wasn't well-suited for it. But definitely the fattest I've ever been in my life. I just wasn't suited for it. And it was too much stress. It was causing my body to put on everything. 

Lisa: And it was causing your body to put on fat.

Dr Kirk: So I was just broken down. I was losing my hair. And the first time in my life that I ever had a belly. I've had plenty of times where I have like a six-pack. Where did this come from? Never had this before. And I was still pretty young, 35 at the time. 

And I know for a fact that if you, there's research, it's not all tissues, but some of your tissues, the insulin sensitivity is decreased by 30% just by losing two hours of sleep. One night with two hours of sleep. So you go from sleeping eight hours of sleep to six. If you're pre-diabetic, you're waking up diabetic. If you're normal, you're waking up pre-diabetic. And then if you do that for several nights in a row, you might actually be driving yourself into diabetes within a week or two, and you don't really know. 

There's not a lot of people who tracked themselves that much for us to know that certainly. But again, it's super complex because there's all sorts of hormonal regulations, and genetics, and vascular flow, and activities, and diet. But there's a lot of things going into that. But as a general rule, you can say if you lose two hours of sleep, testosterone is 30% lower, growth hormone is 30% lower, inflammation is 30% higher, leptin sensitivity is down 30%, insulin sensitivity is down 30%. This is in one night, you've only lost 25% of your sleep. And you're losing 25% to 30% of the benefit of sleep. No big surprise there. Right? 

Lisa: But is a six and a half hours a day, the average scenario? And I can probably get six and a half. I don't know what the steps are. But six and a half to seven hours a day. How many people–

Dr Kirk: Americans just dropped under six the last year. But when I started this in 2009, it was 6.5, 6.45 I think.

Lisa: And we think that's enough. It's not close enough.

Dr Kirk: No. It's like saying, ‘Well, I need only need 2800 calories a day. So 35 is close enough. I'll stay lean, right?’ No. It doesn't make any sense. So it's best to get as much as you can possibly get. And if six and a half is all you can get, and I understand that some people's life in that way. This isn't to bash the individual. That's a cultural problem. It's not an individual problem. 

In some cases it is, but in most cases, it's a cultural problem. They've grown up believing that sleep is for the weak, and lazy people sleep more, and really productive people get up early, get both ends, and get all the work done. And they're the high achievers, and that's who you want to be, and they're going to make the money. They're the sexy ones. They're going to marry the good spouse, and they're going to have the beautiful kids, and because they're getting after it, and you're lazy, just sleeping eight hours a day. People buy into that, especially.

I chose probably the worst two professions in the world. ‘That’s a luxury man. That's for weak people. And you get all the sleep you need when you're dead.’ Right? Now it’s a thing in medical school saying things, you're in the hospital like, ‘Sleep. Yeah, you're not getting here to sleep. There's people's lives in the line here, go make some bad decisions.’ 

It's a crazy, crazy world. And I tell you, people pay a lot of money to work with me. And I'm not saying that to be braggadocious. I'm saying for the point being, it's hard to get to work with me, right? There's a waiting list. I test. I seriously screen people because I don't want to work with somebody who's gonna be a pain in my ass. And I'm not working with anybody who's not super motivated. And you have to pay a lot of money because I don't work with very many people. I spend a lot of time with each person. Even though I'm known for sleep, the hardest thing for me to coach people to do is to sleep. And I could tell them, ‘We'll do anything.’ They're willing to do anything. And when I say, ‘Sleep eight hours a night,’ that's like, ‘Whoa, whoa, hold up.’ I'm like, ‘I want you to do yoga two hours a day. Exercise two hours a day. Eat nothing but kale.’ They go like, ‘Okay.’ ‘I want you to sleep eight hours a day.’ Like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa. I can’t do that.’ 

Lisa: And you’re known for the sleep stuff.

Dr Kirk: That's the most important part. But it's hard. There's a lot of social conditioning around that. Most people know they don't eat well. Most people know they don't exercise enough. Most people know that they're too stressed. It's hard to convince people they aren’t sleeping well.

Lisa: And what about kids? Kids are going to school early. What sort of damage are we doing to our kids by making them— and adolescents are even worse because you never listen to your body clock changes. Can you just speak briefly to that? And then we will wrap up because I am taking up a lot of your time.

Dr Kirk: I actually did a five-hour lecture, eight hours a day for five days in a row in Germany. I was lecturing the student, the faculty, the counsellors, the coaches, and the teachers of the school systems for the American kids that were in, overseas, military kids that are, you know. And so I was lecturing all of this. And that's when I really dove into the research. I didn't know a lot of this before, and this was probably six or seven years ago. 

What we're doing to our kids is tragic. It's way worse than what we're doing to ourselves as adults. It’s way worse. The really concerning thing is that, obviously a kid's brain isn't fully developed, right? That's primarily what those 18 years are about. It's not nearly as much about the physical as it is about the mental. And one of the last things to form is the prefrontal cortex. And that's the part right from my temples forward over my eyes like that little way. 

That is the part that makes us the smartest animal on the planet. That is called, what Robert Sapolsky calls the simulator. It allows us to simulate things. We don't actually have to do them to figure out if they're a good idea, right? I don't need to jump off my roof to know if it's a good idea or not. I've never jumped off the roof of my house before. And I can guarantee you it's a bad idea. It's like 30 feet to the ground. I'm gonna get hurt. There's no way I'm going to do it. I don't have to do it to know that's a bad idea. I don't have to flip my boss off to know that I'm going to get fired if I flip my boss off, right? All of these behavioural gates, that’s all prefrontal cortex. Also all of our willpower is prefrontal cortex. So your ability to have a plan and stick on your plan relies on you going, ‘I want the future. I want what my plan will get me in the future more than I want the immediate gratification right now.’ That's all willpower, that's 100% prefrontal cortex. 

As soon as your prefrontal cortex goes away, you start negotiating that other way. ‘It's not that big of a deal. It's only one piece of cake, and I can still lose that 15 pounds for my wedding.’ Whatever people's goals are, right? And our problem-solving ability, our verbal fluency, our ability to recognise other people's emotions when we're talking to them, our ability to actually communicate and listen and understand what they're saying, our ability to regulate our own emotions and our own speech and communicate effectively, all of that is prefrontal cortex. This is the social part of our brain. Well, guess when that part's forming? Adolescence. And this happens in adolescence. What else happens in adolescence? There's a phase shift in the circadian rhythm, and the kids need to stay up later and wake up later. That's just the way their circadian rhythm is shifted. 

Lisa: They’re not being lazy. They just... 

Dr Kirk: And instead, we're waking them up earlier as they get older. And these kids are having to get to school at 7:15 in the morning, which means they're getting up at 6:15. They’re probably not falling asleep until 1 a.m. And it's worse because they don't just need eight hours of sleep. They need about 10 hours of sleep. So they're getting half as much sleep as they need. And then we're shoving them off to school. And we're saying, ‘Why are you misbehaving in school? Why aren't you paying attention?’ Will it be the same thing?

Lisa: You are going to get ADHD.

Dr Kirk: Yeah, you are going to have ADHD. It would be the same as if you and I had to get up at 2:30 in the morning and go be at work at 3:30 in the morning. And we're expected to learn. We’re expected to be able to communicate effectively, and behave well, and pay attention, and be energetic, but we couldn't do it. No, kids can’t do it either. And we're interfering with the development of their brain. 

The prefrontal cortex isn't fully formed until you're at the earliest, maybe 20. For women, women's brains formed a little faster. But it’s up to 25 years old. And a lot of men are right at that mark, 23 to 25. And about a quarter of the women are still 23 to 25. So the most formidable years are high school, and college, and early employment. And what do people do on early employment? They go hang out with their friends. They go to the bar. They drink. They have fun. They watch movies. They go to bed. They get up early. They go to work. They do the same thing every day. So the most sleep-deprived years are the most horrible years of the brain.

Lisa: And then we wonder why depression, and suicides, and accidents, and all of these things happen to our youth? And disproportionately is that part of it, at least because of–

Dr Kirk: There's this fascinating new field in medicine called chronobiology. And what they've discovered is that probably, we don't know for sure, but it's probably every psychiatric disease, and probably every psychological, severe flare-up or whatever you want to call that. So it's a cycle that's always preceded by sleep deprivation. Everybody who's depressed didn't sleep well before they became depressed. And now that depression’s, about half of them, it's making them sleep a lot more. But half of them is preventing them from being able to sleep. So now they feel sleepy all day. Any time anybody has a schizophrenic break, there's a period right there. People with bipolar, before they go into their frenetic phase, they have a period of sleep deprivation. And then after their manic phase, they go into their depressive phase. And that can actually lead again, half of them are going to sleep less and half of them are going to sleep more. But there's always sleep regulation around it. 

They're the first book I read on chronobiology at some Ivy League hospitals, I think it was Harvard, or one those Harvard, Yale, Cornell, something like that. And in their attached hospital, they took their psychiatric inpatients, and all they did is get them out in the morning and get them to walk around the yard and do this. And it was amazing. I think it was at least 50%, it might have been 75% of their patients completely came off their medications. These are people who are inpatient. They've been on hardcore anti-psychotic medication for years and maybe decades. And they get them, not just decreased, 100% off of medications by getting their circadian rhythm and chronobiology as well. 

It's deeper than I know. I haven't studied it really deep. We have the ultradian rhythms as well as the circadian rhythms. And so, how all that aligns, I can't say what the neurophysiology going on to break people out of that. But again, does it really matter? It’s lifestyle. 

Lisa: It’s easy if you want to try it.

Dr Kirk: It's the same damn thing. Actually, if they lived as hunter-gatherers today, they would get up when the sun came on. And they’d have to go out and do things, right? And they'd be in the sunlight, and then it would get dark, and they would get cold, and they would fall asleep. So again, lifestyle handles 95% of this.

Lisa: Yep. And we just, our ancient DNA. We just cannot escape our ancient DNA. And when we try to when we put people on drugs, and we do all these interventions, why don't we try this stuff first? Why don't we try this basic stuff? When you look at hospitals with 24-hour lights and their beeping, and they're waking people up all through the night and all of these things in our sickest populations, just mind-blowing to me. 

Dr Kirk: This is the whole philosophy of how pharmaceuticals come about that's wrong. So take sleep jokes for instance. We talked earlier about Stilnox, right? So what that does, it acts like GABA. Okay, so I told you that GABA is slowing down the brain. So when I get stressed out, when I started living in artificial light, and air conditioning and heating, and I've taken myself completely off the planet. I make it hot when it's cold, cold when it's hot, dark when it’s light, light when it's dark. I do whatever the hell they want to do. Eat stuff that's not even related to food. Like, ‘I can do whatever I want. I can totally take myself off of this planet.’ Like mankind's got it all figured out. Then, of course, I now have sleep problems. Well, and then maybe I'm overstimulating myself. I'm watching movies, or playing video games, or going out to a nightclub or whatever it is, I'm over stimulating my brain. And I can't get to sleep at night, or I'm in bed and I'm going through a divorce or bankruptcy or whatever. My brain is just racing, and I can't slow down my brain. 

GABA’s job is to slow down my brain. Well, my GABA is not doing it. So what does the pharmaceutical industry do, right? So they have a receptor that binds GABA, I have GABA floating around my blood, grabs it, pulls it in the cell, and it does what GABA does in that cell. So we'll say that's a one. One GABA does an action of 1, on a scale from 1 to 10, 1. So now they come out with benzodiazepines, also act like GABA analogs. And what did they do? They bind the GABA. They bind that GABA receptor, it gets pulled in. Instead of doing 1 out of 10, it does 100 out of 10. 

Lisa: Oh my gosh, yeah. 

Dr Kirk: And then they came out with the Z-drugs and like, ‘Hey, we got this even better.’ Now this Z-drug binds in here, this still not binds in there, pulls it in there, on a scale of 1to 10, it does 1000. Now, I have this super physiologic effect because in the pharmaceutical world, well, all we got to do is flip this switch. And if we flip this switch harder, people are going to sleep faster, and we're going to win, and we're going to sell our medication. That’s the way they think about it. 

Instead of going, ‘Well, what if we relieve all the stress hormones that are keeping the GABA from working? Then we just use this GABA? And the one does its job?’ Because we were talking about the downregulated receptor, right? Well, if the Z-drug is 1000 times more powerful than GABA, how many receptors are you gonna have at the end of six months of using that? Over 100,000, right? It's pretty simple math. 

Lisa: Can you have half of it? Can you up-regulate those receptors again? When you bug it for a long time.

Dr Kirk: It takes a while. So what I did with the SEALs, now obviously, I couldn't just take away their sleep medicine and say, ‘Suck it up, buttercup.’ Right? I had to give them something. And so we came up with this concoction of these things to give them various reasons. And all the guys helped me figure out what works the best, but it kept them on their sleep drug. So what I did is I had the pharmacy make their Stilnox into a serum. So 10 drops was a full dose. So they did 10 drops for a week. And then they do nine drops for a week. And then eight drops a week, all the while undertaking the sleep supplement as well. And they're getting good sleep every night. They’ve cut down alcohol. And they've done their sleep hygiene. And they're doing everything to optimise their sleep. And over the course of about six to eight weeks, they're completely off of it. And then all the receptor density’s obviously back, and then they can just sleep fine and after that.

Lisa: Does it work for everything? Getting someone off antidepressants. And you were trying to cut like tablets down this, but this much is really hard because you don't, you can’t—

Dr Kirk: It is really hard. And it's really time-consuming. And sometimes you have to bounce back because the side effects become too much. And it's really hard to titrate off, especially antidepressants. Because especially, most antidepressants now aren't just working on one system. So they aren't working on say, like, just serotonin. They're doing a lot of things. We're working on multiple neurotransmitters. So you're down-regulating receptors for lots of things. And the ratio of neurotransmitters matters just as much as the presence of them. And not everybody's the same and so not everybody's receptors are coming back at the same speed. And not everybody's just sensitive to the same drugs. So it's hard to know how to get off of things. 

I've actually had two patients over my career who just failed to come off of antidepressants. They just couldn't. We tried for the better part of a year. And it was too traumatic for them.  They would have such bad side effects from getting off the medications, and they're like, ‘I'm just gonna stay on it.’ And I did my best to coach ‘em out of it. But at the end of the day, I’m there as an advocate and a coach. So I don't demand anything of my clients other than, basically, I'm dogmatic about but everything else is, we're going to work with what you want to do. And we're going to build resilience and performance in whatever areas you want to. And you're going to eat, like, if you want to be a vegetarian, be a vegetarian. You may want to be a carnivore, you be a carnivore. 

I don't care what you want to do, we're just going to figure out how to get the right ratios for you of everything and get the best performance out of you. And maybe if your genetics are such that you would do better without meat, but you really love meat, you're like, you're willing to take a little bit of less performance, and I'd rather have meat than be 5% better, right? It’s up to you. I’m just really here as a guide.

Lisa: But you have developed a sleep remedy, which I've heard you say on another podcast is not a miracle. It doesn't contain some of the things that won’t actually help us without damaging us. Can you just talk a little bit about that?

Dr Kirk: It's not a physiologic trick, right. It's not something like there’s these drugs. There's not–

Lisa: It’s not magic–

Dr Kirk: It's not overdosing you on melatonin so that we're just washing out all of your weight, promoting neurotransmitters, and you’re just falling asleep anyway. So, we're talking about the hunter-gatherers, the caveman, where ancestors lived. I said, it takes about three to three and a half hours after the sun goes down before people feel like falling asleep. Well, who in America spends three hours or New Zealand spends three hours getting ready for bed? One in one in a million maybe? Right? So all I tried to do with my product is say, what would ordinarily concentrate over those three hours? What would happen? Well, as we said, the primary point would be we have [inaudible]. It's not just like a fire once and it goes. It's like this, this is flowing around the blank brain and continually made changes overnight. 

Then the other thing is GABA. As I said, that slows the brain down. And that's the other part. The body temperature, not something I supplement with, do anything with. But the stress hormones, we need those to come down. Those should be coming down due to lifestyle, but maybe they're a little high. So phosphatidylserine is the only not straightforward thing that from your ultra-marathons and so forth, I'm sure you know, that decreases cortisol levels by taking phosphatidylserine. And so if you look at the pathway for producing melatonin, it’s amino acid tryptophan that becomes 5-hydroxy-tryptophan. Then with the help of magnesium and vitamin B3, that becomes serotonin. Serotonin becomes melatonin. 

Lisa: Yep. And then you got your pathway without– 

Dr Kirk: That's all that’s in my supplement. There's no serotonin. Now, there's tryptophan-5-hydroxy to present magnesium, vitamin B3, and a little bit of melatonin. There's some GABA in there. And then there's some phosphatidylserine, certainly, to bring your cortisol down. It's just ratios that I worked out with the SEALs over. They were great patients to have because they're super motivated, and really diligent and taking notes, they come and report to me every day. And we just figured out the ratios like, ‘Okay, seems like we need a little more of this and a little less of that.’ I had no intention to making a product out of it. I was just helping them get off in their sleep drugs, and then they just harangued me into making a product out of it. 

Lisa: Yeah.

Dr Kirk: Because this is a pain in their ass. They're having to go to three different stores. This was before Amazon, you can just order everything, they're having to go to three different health food stores. And this came in a 30-day supply. And that came in 90 days. And that was natural. And that was a powder. And this is a liquid. They couldn't travel with it. And so they’re like, ‘Just make it something simple.’ That's why I made the stick pouches. One, because I want to make a tea because I want to create some sort of bedtime routine and ritual to help you perform something like that, and not just sit in bed and pop some pills. So that's why I made it. That's one of the reasons. And then the other thing is there's little stick pouches. These things last forever like it–

Lisa: You can take it–

Dr Kirk: And they can just you need five days of sleep, you just throw five of those in your pocket and you're done. Right? You don't need to pack a bunch of different pills and all that. So it really just made it out for those guys. And then it surprisingly turned into a little side business that I never really intended. But yeah.

Lisa: This is fantastic though because— and we'll put the links in the show notes, people do to get this and I— Because I have all those things and I have to take all the pills currently. And I don't know the ratios, whether I'm getting the ratios right and I'm doing it right. And I need extra support because I sort of love it full-bore like you probably do. So we can do with some extra help. So we will put the links in the show notes to the Sleep Remedy

There's nothing physiological, over-physiological doses, there’s nothing artificial in there that's going to cause you trouble. And that's the main thing when people, because they will just grab Ambien, or Valium, or those types of things. Because they’re desperate and I get that. But we can help ourselves with all the sleep routine things that we've mentioned that. A dark, cold, having a hot shower or cold shower, something changing the temperature, slowing your brain down, chamomile tea, all these things that we can do that are simple behavioural things. But adding that into the mix, I think, is a really key thing. 

Dr Parsley, I've taken up so much of your bloody time. But I could honestly, we'd love to have you back at some stage because there was just more that I wanted to–

Dr Kirk: Yeah. There’s a lot we didn’t really get to talk about. I’m always happy to do it. I don't know how long it took to schedule this one. But I think I can get them done in a couple of weeks, usually. I'm only doing maybe two a week right now. It used to be five a week, somebody always wanted me to do it, but I don't get as many requests now. I'm not as popular. So I can do about two a week so...

Lisa: I think, and I've worked with– I've done this podcast for nearly six years. I've talked to experts in so many, many, many fields. And your wide-ranging experience, both in the SEALs and as a doctor is pretty extensive. So I think we're getting a lot more. And I think I just really enjoyed this conversation because it helps clarify a lot of things for me. And it's really put, I think the number one thing that I've also come to the conclusion of, in a roundabout way, that sleep is our biggest leverage point, not exercise, not food, not anything else but sleep. And it is not an easy one for us to just click and do. But we can help ourselves. So I think that the work you're doing is absolutely marvellous. And I would love to get your friend on who's in the hyperbaric because this is definitely one of my things that I'm good on promoting as well, big on it. 

Any final things that you would like to share with the audience to just– any last bits of wisdom from Dr Parsley?

Dr Kirk: With you, specifically, with sleep since that’s what we talked the most about. And that's what people mostly want to hear me talk about. But, specifically, with sleep. But again, I just like to reiterate that it is a really simple process. And the thing that gets in the way the most is all of these fears and concerns about doing everything perfectly when you're designed to do it. All you need to do is convince yourself it's really important. And then just start with a bedtime ritual, right? The sleep hygiene stuff, you can look up. But again, all you're doing with it, to decreasing the blue light in your eyes. You can get glasses. You can do it by changing your light bulbs. You can do that by getting rid of the light, bring candles. You can put computers, programs that get rid of blue light. There's all sorts of things you can do. Get rid of the blue light. Decrease the stimulation. Lower your body temperature. That’s sleep hygiene, there's a million ways to do that. 

Then of course, part of lowering stress is just slowing down your thinking. You can't work on your computer until 9:59 and get in bed in 10 and think you're gonna be asleep. It doesn't work that way. You have to slow everything down just like you do with a little kid. The other metaphor is like, if you've ever been a kid, you'll remember this 45-minute protracted period of getting a kid ready for sleep. We still need that as adults; we just don't think we need that. And it doesn't need to be as elaborate but it's the same thing. What were you doing with a kid?

Lisa: Put them in the bathtub. 

Dr Kirk: Right? You're slowing him down. You don't let your kid bang trucks together and then throw him in a bed, turn off the light and walk out and think it's gonna work, right? Not gonna work. So stop roughhousing, slow down the activity, maybe watch a television show, or do a puzzle, or whatever it is. And then after you do that, you put them in the bath. Why are you putting them in the bath? You’re relaxing them, and you're lowering their body temperature, right? You don't give them a 98° bath. You might give them an 85° bath, right? Or I don't know Celsius. Now, so you're not giving a body temperature that is something below, so you're lowering the body temperature. 

Then what do you do? You get them out of the bath, and you put them in really comfy jammies and put powder all over them. Decreases sensation, right? Now they're not feeling labels, not feeling zippers, not feeling anything touching them. So now they're calm, and that's one less sensation. Now you put them in a room, you make sure they're safe, they’re in a soft bed. There's nothing sharp poking them. They feel comfortable. They’re feeling comfortable next to you. You start reading them a story. What's the best kind of story? The story they already know: something rhythmic, something predictable, like Dr Seuss. It has the cadence. They know everything that's coming. And then they just sit there, and they're relaxing, you're slowing down their brain, their body temperature’s lower. There's no sensation. The lights are low. You're not putting on loud music. They're not moving around a bunch. And now they start feeling like they're going to sleep, and you convince them they're gonna be safe, and you walk out. It's the same. We need the same.

Lisa: We need to turn the lights off. 

Dr Kirk: You don’t have to put on onesies but yeah, but everything else, it’s all the same. We need all the same stuff.

Lisa: Yeah, and I think, one of the things that, trying to get your kids asleep and obviously, psychologically safe, but having them in a dark room without a nightlight, if possible. I don't know if you know Professor Andrew Huberman. He was talking about the other day, the light getting to the eyes of the child, the night lights and things that we have on for kids are actually causing myopia, short-sightedness in children as well. That's another thing besides the whole sleep rhythm thing. But that was an interesting one as well.

Dr Kirk: But one final thought: if anyone in your audience is specifically having problems with stress, they know they're having problems with stress or they suspect they’re having problems with stress, I'm sure you'll post it in your show notes. But my website, docparsley.com. There's a downloadable PDF in there. I think it's a docparsley.com/stress/ And there's a downloadable PDF that gives you a whole program for how do you decrease stress around sleep. 

Lisa: Okay, all right. I’ll download it myself. 

Dr Kirk: You're taking an hour to describe it. So I just point people towards the PDF.

Lisa: Okay, people get on Dr Parsley’s website and get that stress download, that free download. Check out Doc Parsley’s Sleep Remedy. Make sure you start to implement all of these things and give us some feedback. Let Dr Parsley know what you think about all of this. Because I'm sure you'll be interested in feedback from people as well. Dr Parsley, thank you so much for your time. I really thank you for all the work you're doing and the amazing research and everything. This is absolutely amazing.

Dr Kirk: And well, appreciate you having me on. Anyone who doesn't know anything about it but I get to share it with people, and I'm too lazy to have my podcast.

That's it this week for Pushing the Limits. Be sure to rate, review, and share with your friends and head over and visit Lisa and her team at lisatamati.com.

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