[00:14] Thrive Market
[01:40] Casper Mattresses
[03:02] Harry’s Razors
[06:37] About Dr. Kirk Parsley
[10:03] What Happens to the Body when Valium or Ambien is taken?
[14:06] What are the Sleep Stages?
[16:40] Neocortex – Is it Incharge of our Sleep Architecture?
[20:09] All About GABA
[24:12] Nutrient Deficiencies Caused by Lack of Sleep
[36:59] Doc Parsley’s The Sleep Cocktail – What’s in it?
[47:32] Why You Wake Up in the Middle of the Night when Melatonin Wears Off
[49:28] Will One Be Groggy by 7AM If They Take This Sleep Cocktail at 4 or 5AM?
[53:12] Are There Interactions or Deleterious Effects to Taking Supplemental Protocols and Doc Parsley’s Sleep Cocktail?
[1:03:14] End of podcast
Ben: Hey, folks its Ben Greenfield and last night I was shopping for tartar sauce on Amazon and all the tartar sauces on Amazon were crappy even the ones that said organic. Full of crap. One of the things that I’ve been using lately when I run into a situation like that is something called Thrive Market. Thrive Market. You can check ‘em out at thrivemarket.com/bengreenfield but basically they’re like this membership-based website and they’re an online healthy grocery store. It’s like Costco but its Costco for everything healthy, so you can filter everything by paleo, gluten-free, vegan, raw, non-GMO, organic, fair trade so you can get yourself some organic, I don’t know, water. I’ve actually seen that before organic water.
I don’t know how you make water organic. Sprinkle dirt in it. Either way though, they probably don’t have dirty water at Thrive Market but they do have pretty much everything you’d ever want when it comes to eating healthy and they donate a free membership every time you get a membership they donate a free membership to a low income family, teacher, military family. So around this time around the holidays you can feel pretty good about yourself by ordering tasty food. You cannot complain about that. So you go to thrivemarket.com/bengreenfield and you get a free 2-month trial and 15% off your first order. No more Whole Foods. No more Amazon. No more Costco unless you need one of those big trampolines. Check out Thrive Market thrivemarket.com/bengreenfield. But that’s not all.
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Alright, let’s jump into today’s episode with the great Doc Kirk Parsley. Go!
In this episode of the Ben Greenfield Fitness Show:
“Your body is raping everything to get enough melatonin to kind of shut your brain and body down for sleep, decreased serotonin levels lead to mood disorders so obviously. So that’s kind of where the depression and mood changes come from with sleep deficiency and adrenal fatigue. Your doctor’s learn nothing about nutrition, they learn nothing about exercise, they learn nothing about sleep and they learn nothing about stress mitigation or control. Would you like the 4 pillars of health? So it’s no big surprise that your doctor may disagree with health care coaches and health experts like guys like you, Ben.”
Ben: Hey folks, its Ben Greenfield here and I’ve got Dr. Kirk Parsley on the line with me and he’s actually affectionately known as Doc Parsley. That’s Doc Parsley. As a matter of fact, as you’re listening in if you wanna go check out a quite impressive photograph of the Doc or accessing the show notes from today’s show, you can go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/docparsley. So Doc Parsley is a former Navy Seal. He got a medical degree from Bethesda and that was in 2004 and then he served as an Undersea Medical Officer at the Naval Special Warfare Group from 2009 – 2013. He did a residency in Hyperbarics and Diving Medicine. It’s actually really interesting. I myself just returned from a free-diving trip so I’ve spent the vast majority of the past ninety-six hours underwater so. It’s actually quite an interesting thing that happens physiologically when you’re under for long periods of time. But Doc Parsley is also probably able to kill most of us with his pinky finger because he’s a Navy Seal but he’s also a total sleep nerd. He knows a ton about sleep. He’s been a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine since 2006. He served as the Naval Special Warfare’s expert on Sleep Medicine. After leaving the Navy he went on to consult for sleep for multiple corporations and professional athletes and teams and clients including the Navy Seals.
So he lectures all over the world as a matter of fact, at the time that you’re listening to this both Doc Parsley and I are gonna be down at the Unbeatable Mind Retreat in San Diego speaking down there. But I’m not quite done intro-ing Doc Parsley because he’s also a bit of a chemist. His supplement formulations are something that are used to help the world’s mostly fighting organizations Seals. He designed sleep products to compensate for that toxic environment guys likes the Seals; high achievers, hard-charging folks find themselves living in areas of not just high-stressed but heavily processed foods, insufficient sleep, fast-moving lifestyle. So he actually designs among other things sleeping cocktails. He’s got one called The Sleep Cocktail that actually helps these folks sleep better. We’re gonna talk about that, the ingredients in that and a lot more when it comes to sleep, sleeping better, melatonin, jet lag, etcetera. If you ever wanted to get better Z’s this is one that you’re gonna wanna listen into. So Doc Parsley, thanks for coming on the show, man.
Doc Parsley: Yeah, thanks for having me on. That’s a great intro. I should’ve recorded that.
Doc Parsley: I’ll have it transcribed (laughs).
Ben: Oh absolutely. I’ll sell it to you after the call.
Doc Parsley: Sweet (laughs).
Ben: Pack it up. Give myself a nice deep [0:09:23.6] ______.
Doc Parsley: Free easy installments of 1990.
Ben: Yeah. The movie announcer’s voice. In a world. Anyways, you know we’ve talked about sleep a lot on the show before. We’ve covered like sleep hygiene, right like sleeping in a cold and dark room and we’ve talked about like bed, and we had a guy who coaches elite soccer players even talked about how right-handed players should sleep on their left side, left-handed players on their right side, etcetera.
Doc Parsley: Oh, that’s new to me.
Ben: Yeah, but I know you know a lot about kinda like the bio chemistry and the supplementation side of sleep and just this kind of a starting off point. One of the things that I wanted to ask you right of the bat, kind of a weird leading question but I know so many people that take Ambien and Valium. So many athletes that take Ambien and Valium, diazepam things like that to help know them out at night. I personally, just because I was in the ocean for so much the past few days was using Dramamine and I know even affected my sleep cycles. What happens to your body when you use pharmaceuticals like these to help you sleep?
Doc Parsley: Yes, so I mean that’s the multi-billion dollar question. You know the evils and perils of sleep drugs. You know, sort of the academic anti-sleeping drug campaign which nobody tends to pay attention to is the sort of really the bigger guess of analysis study. I think it shortened your life span by like twelve years or seventeen years or something if you routinely use sleep drugs. My thought on that is probably the sleep drugs aren’t killing you but it’s the insomnia that’s leading to taking the sleep drug that’s shortening your life. But I guess the real end to that is nobody knows and it depends on whose sleep research you believe when you look at it.
Do you believe that independent colleges who some senior or some PhD’s theses was around sleep or do you believe the pharmaceutical industries data on it. But the one thing that is conclusive across everybody’s data no matter whose you choose, of course I have my preferences to who I would listen to but the one thing that is true across all data is that taking any kind of pharmaceutical aid that tricks your body into a sleep-like environment will distort what we call sleep architecture. And all sleep architecture is what most people heard of is stages 1, 2, 3 and 4 of sleep and REM sleep so if you’re familiar with a polysomnograph where we put all these electrodes all over your head and put a heart rate monitor on you and a pulse ox and then put you in a bed with infrared camera and like watch you sleep all night. What that polysomnograph comes up looking like a complete mess it’s like you know, etch a sketch of a 3 year old just going crazy on it and I probably just totally did to myself with probably even happier with a known etches and sketches.
Ben: (chuckles) All over my head.
Doc Parsley: (laughs)
Ben: I’ve seen photographs in the time capsules.
Doc Parsley: Yeah. So that’s a complete mess but what we can do with it is we combine all that information and it looks like this very structured little ladder. Some people have seen it with time sort of being on the X axis and the sleep stage is on the Y axis. Like this very predictable pattern like you start on stage 1 you get on to stage 2. You’re in this transition you go on to stage 3 and 4. You stay there for a certain amount of time. You climb back up. You do a little bit of REM. You get back down and it’s very predictable. And if you call that sleep which is sort of from the position standpoint, I mean that’s what I have to call sleep. If we call that sleep, then most sleep drugs are not allowing you to sleep. It’s the short answer. They aren’t maintaining that sleep architecture. They’re making you unconscious. They’re making you not aware of your environment but they’re not necessarily any different than say, being knocked unconscious.
Ben: So what sleep stage would you be in? Like if I took Valium for example, would that just like shove me straight into stage 4 sleep and I stay there all night or is it just like a totally different stage?
Doc Parsley: Now so again, all of the sleep drugs affect all of the sleep stages. Whether it’s affecting whether or not you’re actually going to that stage or whether it’s affecting how long you’re staying in that stage or whether it’s affecting like how solidly basically are in that stage. Let’s take a couple of sleep categories here right, so Valium is a category of drug called benzodiazepines and what those are, those are drugs that act a lot like GABA, okay? Now, your other sleep drugs like Ambien and Lunesta those are drugs that look and act a lot like benzodiazepines they’re just more selective. They select different GABA receptors.
So I’ll try not get like too overwhelmingly complexing geeky on this, but basically there’s a couple of mechanisms involved and you going to sleep and staying asleep and one of those mechanism realize heavily on GABA and what that mechanism is doing as it’s making your neocortex, right like your human brain, the big wrinkly part that we all think about as being our brain when we think of the human brain. That’s the little device in which your body interacts with the world, right? That’s taking in all the sensation and making sense of it and that’s allowing you to do all sorts of things with your body, that neocortex piece.
Doc Parsley: That actually has to slow down, it has to slow way down and the chemistry of that has to change very significantly for all that sleep architecture that we’re talking about earlier for all that to happen and for you to get all the benefits of sleep which we can talk about, you know kind of what happens if you guys haven’t talked about that and you share this before. But in order for that to happen your neocortex has to change a lot. GABA is the primary driver of that happening. So I think you and I talked about before whether or not we can get GABA through the blood brain barrier or for… so GABA is…
Ben: I actually don’t think we have talked about that but before you keep going, so basically you have a neocortex and neocortex is supposed to be almost like in charge of your sleep architecture as you’re sleeping?
Doc Parsley: So what your neocortex is involved in it’s in charge of you interacting with the world, okay?
Doc Parsley: So anytime you perceive light, you perceive sound, you perceive the sensation of touch or you’re thinking about things in the abstract that have to do with your real world, that’s what your neocortex is doing. That’s what your human brain is doing. And in doing so, it’s interacting with the lizard brain which is like our old brain like every mammal in the planet has and that part down on that lizard brain is what’s actually controlling all the chemistry in our brain. And that changing all that chemistry in your brain and actually chemistry in your body is what leads to the sleep architecture. So you have to keep your neocortex from interacting with the environment or you can’t go to sleep.
Ben: Okay. That makes sense. And the way that you keep your neocortex, your lizard brain or I guess, some people call it the Labrador brain now, right?
Doc Parsley: Yeah, maybe (laughs).
Ben: Yeah, depending on whether you’re a reptile or a dog person. The neocortex to allow that to be shut down, this molecule that you’re talking about this g-a-b-a this GABA has to somehow interact with the neocortex and what you’re saying is that Valium, Ambien, diazepam, etcetera keep GABA from interacting the right way with the neocortex?
Doc Parsley: Yeah, what they do is they trick the neocortex into believing there’s a lot of GABA around. So they go and they bind if you think about molecules and receptors being like a lock and a key, the GABA molecule is the key, the receptor is the keyhole on the lock, right? Once the key slides into the key hole and turns then that cell, that neuron starts acting differently. So what they’ve done is they figured out, the pharmaceutical industry and this is how most pharmaceuticals work, it doesn’t matter what you’re talking like any disease that you’re treating with a pill, most pharmaceuticals work this way is they trick receptors into believing that this chemical is around and often times they act very, very differently than the actual molecule. So in the example of Valium or diazepam, that binds to one type of GABA receptor but it binds a lot, lot, a lot stronger than GABA does, right? And it changes what that cell is doing to a much higher degree than GABA itself would. And then Lunesta and Ambien those bind a different GABA receptor and they bind a lot stronger like a hundred to one. Like if there’s a hundred of each molecules, 99 times out of 100, the Valium or the Ambien that’s gonna bind the receptor over the GABA and they have what we call Gabaergic effects. They act like GABA but usually they act a lot stronger than GABA. A lot more stronger and a lot more intensely, lasts a lot longer or specifically bind one receptor versus another receptor and not both receptors and that’s what’s leading to the distortion of the sleep architecture.
Ben: Okay. Gotcha. So with GABA, now I know that it’s sold like if I got to Walgreens or CVS, right like I can buy GABA there and I’ve seen GABA as an ingredient in a lot of sleep supplements. However, what I have been told and what I have actually told people myself is that based off of the size of GABA it shouldn’t be able to cross your blood brain barrier. If you take it in like a supplement, like it’s only if you have a leaky blood brain barrier that GABA would be able to cross that blood brain barrier and help you to fall asleep. What is the deal with GABA? Do you need to just make it on your own? Are there forms like molecular forms of GABA that interact with the brain or is it just that when you take GABA it’s acting on your body and not on your brain?
Doc Parsley: Yes (laughs). See you’ve got it all. So it’s a little in the middle of that.
Ben: Don’t you love my 3-part question?
Doc Parsley: Yeah. So you’re right, I mean essentially to some degree almost everything crosses the blood brain barrier, but GABA is very hard to get across the blood brain barrier. It’s a very big molecule and it’s polar and so those 2 things just don’t tend to cross membranes very well. So you do need to make it on your own and to like an amino acid deficiency, can lead to you having problems making it. I’m gonna head back to that in a second. But if you do take GABA and from a subpoint story and you take like these big dosage of it’s usually pretty grandiose like a gram of GABA or 2 grams of GABA. The way that’s helping your body sort of relax and slow down and having some benefit and you being able to sleep is by working on your gut neurons, right? I know you’ve heard of the gut brain which is about a tenth of the neurons in the brain and all around your internal organs and that’s affecting what you call the autonomic nervous system. Your parasympathetic versus sympathetic and so your GABA working in your body, it’s allowing you to go more parasympathetic at least blow the neck, you know or below the brain.
Ben: So you could take GABA. I could go to Walgreens and I could buy GABA and I could take it and it’s actually gonna make my body kinda feel tired even though it’s not necessarily acting on the brain or say interacting to shut down the neocortex that you’re talking about.
Doc Parsley: Yeah. Right. So you’re doing everything below what we call the supratentorial which is like the little lining that the brain sets in. You’re doing everything below there that GABA ordinarily does when you’re sleeping and all of your biological clocks below the neck all that stuff is being benefitted. Now remember earlier when I said there’s kind of 2 things going on. One of the things going on in your brain when you’re going to sleep is the slowing down of the neocortex and that’s dependent upon GABA. That’s what your sleep hygiene is all about, and so when you said that earlier shows on your podcast you talked about various types of sleep hygiene and the cool room probably the beds and all of these types of things. What all these things are doing is that they’re all decreasing sensation to your neocortex and in doing so it’s allowing GABA to be more powerful, the GABA in your brain to be more powerful, but it’s the light regulation which I’m sure you’ve talked about as well. The blue light entering the eye it’s in there affecting this super charismatic nucleus or SCN, the master clock of the brain which actually leads to the production of GABA.
Ben: Got it. Okay. So GABA in terms of endogenous production like the stuff that you make yourself that helps your body to shut down that neocortex, you mentioned, you just alluded to pretty quickly that if you have an amino acid deficiency, you wouldn’t produce GABA. I wanna ask you about some other deficiencies that could cause you to not fall asleep or have insomnia or not get into your deeper sleep cycles. Are there like glaringly obvious nutrient deficiencies that you’ve seen in the research you’ve done that people have when they cannot fall asleep like big ones?
Doc Parsley: Yeah, so the biggest couple I would say with 99% regarding as I’ve probably heard of would be Vitamin D3 and magnesium, right? I mean, those are the low hanging fruit that almost everybody talks about and with insomnia and the reason for that is because Vitamin D3 and magnesium are both involved in the production of melatonin. So they’re part of the melatonin production pathway and then of course magnesium is a mild muscle relaxer which aids in that other part we were talking about is relaxing and decreasing sensation to neocortex. I would say any type of nutritional deficiency whether you’re talking about somebody who’s maybe very strict fig and then maybe doesn’t get enough amino acids. There’s literally dozens I mean, you’re talking about three to four hundred neurotransmitters in the brain and being involved in sleep. So any type of amino acid deficiency, Vitamin B, any of the Vitamin B deficiencies which tend to be fairly common. And then interestingly enough, and I actually learned this from one of the people who attended the Paleo(fx) Conference.
Ben: Yeah, one of the attendees.
Doc Parsley: Yeah, one of the attendees there you go. That’s the word I was looking for. Is glycine deficiency and apparently, I didn’t know this myself so I just learned about this myself. She sent me some articles. Her name is Dr. Debra and she has a reasonable presence but that apparently the only natural source of that is through bone marrow and so if you don’t get any bone marrow then you probably have a glycine deficiency.
Ben: I’ve heard the same thing. What I’ve also heard is that when you have a methionine to glycine imbalance like you get really rich sources of methionine in like steak and bacon and the meats that most of us are eating versus like traditionally consume the meats like organ meats and bone marrow and bone broth. You create that glycine methionine imbalance, and yeah, I’ve heard that it can affect physiology. It sounds like the glycine component of that especially when deficient can affect sleep.
Doc Parsley: Yeah, and I’m pretty sure I’d have to go back and look at the articles that she sent me but I’m pretty sure that it’s affecting serotonin production is how it’s negatively impacting sleep. But interestingly enough the Vitamin D3 deficiency is really how I started my entire sort of career as being the sleep guy, right? So when I went back to the Seal teams as the doctor for the Seal teams, I had this great sports medicine background that I fully expected I was gonna go in there and do a bunch of sports medicine and I was in charge of developing this big sports medicine. Soon I’m hiring all these experts and everything was working out great but the Seals were coming in and closing the door and telling me sort of their personal struggles that had nothing to do with orthopedics or sports medicine. And one of the things that almost came up as an aside I just kind of found curious and so I started asking them all about it was how well they slept and whether or not they use sleep drugs. And literally as a doctor I had zero training. Not a single second of medical school was spent talking about sleep and none of …
Doc Parsley: Seriously.
Ben: Like you guys not talk about insomnia or anything like that?
Doc Parsley: Not at all (laughs). You probably talk about it in your pharmacology class because yeah, you would certainly talk about Ambien that’s a very lucrative drug. So I had no training whatsoever on sleep and this is what people don’t realize oftentimes when they wanted the big plights of the sort of the health crisis, one of the ideologies of the health crisis I think is that your doctors learned nothing about nutrition. They learned nothing about exercise. They learned nothing about sleep and they learned nothing about stress mitigation or control. Would you like the 4 pillars of health, right? So it’s no big surprise that your doctor may disagree with say, like health care coaches and health experts like guys like you, Ben and Robb Wolf and so forth. They say something people tell that to the doctor the doctor like, oh that’s a bunch of BS, monarchy, there’s no rabbit answer to that. Take this pill. And that’s because that’s what we’ve learned, and so I knew nothing at all about sleep and I had to go educate myself on sleep.
Ben: I’m so just like I’ve heard that doctors don’t get a lot of nutrition that they get like 4 weeks or so. I didn’t know that there’s no literally like zero discussion.
Doc Parsley: Zero discussion.
Doc Parsley: And my medical school curriculum there was zero discussion on nutrition. Now we took biochemistry in which we talked about how food is broken down, like what are the metabolic pathways that it goes into, but it doesn’t talk anything at all about macronutrients or fuel partitioning and what leads to this and that and what are the regulators to that. I could have drawn out like exactly what happened to molecule effect and where everything ended up molecule by molecule but the grand scheme of things, it didn’t teach me at all how to teach somebody how to eat. So I basically just started with all these Seals telling me all their problems and basically they were coming to me sounding like they had metabolic syndrome. I was doing this huge lab set because I didn’t know what to look for, I just said let’s look at everything. They were coming back with low testosterone, low growth hormone, low insulin sensitivity, high inflammatory markers, kind of pretty poor lipids often times mildly elevated blood pressure and you know they’re like 28, 32, 34 and they’re in good shape, right? If they took their shirt off everybody will be convinced that they’re total studs but metabolically they look like crap through labs.
Ben: I’ve seen guys like that before where yeah, you see them and they look like incredibly impressive specimens and you get up close, and there’s like some bags under the eyes and lot kinda like wrinkles around the eyes and the face, and you just like have this hunch that there’s something going on underneath the skin.
Doc Parsley: Yeah. And the big thing going on beneath the skin in these guys was lack of sleep. And again, I knew nothing about sleep and I honestly didn’t know what association could there be between sleep and all these lab markers I’m finding. I don’t know. All these symptoms they’re talking about. I didn’t know. I just had to like dig out very basic physiology books and start looking at how does sleep happen? What leads to sleep and what inferiors the sleep? What does sleep do? Why are we sleeping? What’s supposed to be going in? What’s not going on? And then I started learning about sleep drugs and I was, of course I was in a great position because I was a doctor for the Seals and you know, this was 2009 when the war was still much more a popular campaign and I could call up like any world expert and say, hey I’m a doctor for the Seals and I’m really trying to learn about this. Could you talk to me? Could I come study with you? Could I come shadow you for a couple of weeks? Do you have anything I could read? Blah, blah, blah.
And so, I had a great education really quickly and the first thing that I learned about is Vitamin D3 deficiency being associated with insomnia and I had no idea why and I just said okay, well, Vitamin D3 is only made through sun exposure to the skin. These guys work at night, they sleep during the day if they do get it during the day they’re covered from head to toe with body armor and camouflage and helmets and goggles and gloves and like alright, it’s a Vitamin D3 deficiency. So give them all Vitamin D3 and I’ll solve the issue. I’ll be the smartest doctor ever and it’s all gonna work out.
Ben: Millions of dollars. Easy solution.
Doc Parsley: Yup, and it didn’t work out a hundred percent. So as you may have guessed…
Ben: It didn’t change the world?
Doc Parsley: It improved. There was some improvement maybe 10% of the guys, it’s like that’s really significant and then I learned, oh guess what? Every Vitamin D3 reaction requires magnesium as a co-factor, so give everybody magnesium. So I started giving everyone natural calm. And so that’s really how this sleep product that I produced right now, that’s really how this all started which was literally ingredient by ingredient.
Ben: So it started with Vitamin D and magnesium?
Doc Parsley: Yeah. And it started because in my self-education I learned about sleep architecture and I learned about hormone production and hormone regulation, immunity, inflammation and sort of physiologic repair occurring during sleep and also mood control and memory and all those other stuff that’s going on during sleep. When I started learning about all those and I started learning about that sleep drugs interfere with all of that, all of a sudden it made sense to me that these guys had the testosterone of an 80 year old man because if you don’t have stages 3 and 4 of sleep then you’re not secreting testosterone. That’s where like 99% of your testosterone is secreted is during stages 3 and 4 of sleep. So if you’re not getting there then you’re not producing testosterone. That’s when growth hormone is secreted. That’s when you’re immune system is at its highest. That’s when you’re fighting off disease. That’s when you’re repairing damaged tendons and ligaments and muscles that you’ve exercised. All that repair’s happening there. And then we know that if you take Ambien even the pharmaceutical industries’ data shows that when you take Ambien you reduce REM sleep by about 80%. Or REM sleep is where like all the neuro cognitive benefits of sleep are coming from.
So that’s like when you’re executive functioning is repairing, your will power is repairing and restoring, that’s where you’re forming long term memories out of short term memories. That’s where muscle memory is being reinforced, what we call durable memories. All that’s happening during REM sleep. And you’re probably working out a lot of psychological issues during REM sleep as well. Most people believe that to be the case. And so I was like alright, well these guys we have to get them off of sleep drugs because right now sleep drugs could explain 99% of what these guys are complaining to me about. But the problem with getting somebody who takes, you know if you know the [0:35:42.5] ______, it’s similar to your audience. I’m sure like your Spartan race and your triathletes and so forth.
The Seal mentality is if one is good, two is probably better, three is probably much better and four is probably excellent. And so like they’re taking three and four times the recommended dosage of Ambien, they’re chasing that down with a couple of cocktails and then they’re getting like 3 or 4 hours of sleep and they’re going, I’m wide awake I’m just gonna go to the gym and work out really hard and then I’ll be sleepy tonight and then I’ll get a better night’s sleep. And you know they’d go on for years and years trying to do this and they’re just running off with like sheer grit. And yes, so I’d said well the problem with getting anybody off of any sort of medication and whether or not you wanna say they were addicted to it or not is kind of a controversial issue but let’s just say that it’s something that they’re used to using. The problem with getting people off of anything that they’re used to using is you have to replace it. And so that’s why I started trying to figure out what, okay, how can we adjust their diet? How can we adjust their exercise? What supplements can we give them that will improve all these? And that’s really how this whole field of work unfolded for me.
Ben: Hmm, so you’ve got Vitamin D and magnesium. Obviously, I could go buy that stuff. I could take Vitamin D. I could take magnesium. What else? What else are you putting in this cocktail?
Doc Parsley: And so what happened for me was I’ll back up a step. My initial thought on why these guys needed sleep drugs was the thought that because of combat and because of the super competitive nature of being a Seal and Seal training that these guys were all suffering from adrenal fatigue. So that was like my initial thought. And so I learned a lot about the adrenal function as well, and then once I started studying sleep it made sense because sleep and adrenal function are inextricable linked. In fact, stages 3 and 4 of sleep are what we call deep sleep is exactly the opposite of fight or flight. And fight or flight is maximum adrenal function and stages 3 and 4 of sleep is minimal adrenal function. Anyways, so I digress. One of the functions of the melatonin production pathways it ultimately leads to the decrease of adrenal functions and the adrenals are actually what keeps your body alert and awake. And it affects your brain’s alertness to some degree as well. But in order to shut down your sort of awake promoting centers below the neck, you have to produce melatonin.
And so as I looked into this the Vitamin D3 made sense to me. The magnesium made sense to me and then I started to thinking about their nutrition and their diet and some of the symptoms they’re complaining of. And basically it goes like this, you’ve heard of the you’re all about to have Thanksgiving and we’re gonna need a bunch of turkey. We’re gonna select taking a nap and most people know it’s because of some magical chemical in turkey called tryptophan which is just an amino acid. And the way it works is tryptophan becomes 5-hydroxytryptophan and the 5-hydroxytryptophan becomes seratonin and then serotonin becomes melatonin.
Now in order for 5-hydroxytryptophan to become serotonin, it requires Vitamin D3 and magnesium. So, you need all of these substrates to get to melatonin and you need melatonin to kind of start slowing your brain down and start affecting your adrenal function. I just said let’s put all of that stuff in there. So the only thing I couldn’t put in here is serotonin. But what happens when you start running into melatonin deficiency is you strip serotonin. Your body starts converting more and more serotonin and to melatonin and if your Vitamin D3 magnesium deficient and you’re not gonna get serotonin production either. So now you’re raping everything to get enough melatonin to kind of shut your brain and body down for sleep. Decreased serotonin levels lead to mood disorders obviously. So you know, that’s kind of where the depression and mood changes come from with sleep deficiency and adrenal fatigue which is kind of whole different story to talk about.
So my sleep cocktail is very simple. It’s tryptophan; its 5-hydroxytryptophan 5HTP, it’s Vitamin D3 and magnesium for reasons we talked about and then it’s a very small dose of melatonin. And it’s a very small dose of melatonin for a reason. And then as we talked about GABA does not cross the blood brain barrier very well but there is a supplement in which they’ve attached a little phenol ring, a non-polar ring that allows this GABA to get across your brain and then bind and act like GABA as opposed to a GABA analogue or some GABA trick.
Ben: Really? So you can make GABA cross the blood brain barrier by changing the molecular structure?
Doc Parsley: Right. And so that’s what’s the PH GABA and my product you know, that PH stand for phenol, so it’s just a little phenol ring attached to a GABA molecule which allows you to get GABA into the body or into the brain, I mean. So that’s it. So there’s no magic. All it’s doing is it’s replenishing things that you’re likely to be deficient in and it’s helping initiate the cascade towards making melatonin and specifically for you know, if you travelled across multiple time zones or if your sleep hygiene wasn’t as good as it should have been. This is one of way of sort of accelerating what ordinarily should be happening once the sun goes down, pushing your body towards melatonin production but then it’s also just all its all nutritional supplements, it all just washes out of your body and yeah, of course the Vitamin D3 is actually a hormone and not a vitamin so that’s fat soluble and that will actually question your fat, but everything else just essentially gets washed out by your kidneys and a few hours there’s nothing really in there that’s gonna last too long which is one of the reasons that it doesn’t have any groggy, grogginess or drugging effect.
Ben: Okay. Now melatonin you could have small amounts of that so that you don’t become dependent on it? Is that kind of the idea or you don’t shut down your own endogenous production of melatonin?
Doc Parsley: Yeah, so the research for whether or not that happens is really sort of controversial. My first exposure to that and I don’t know if it’s the first guy who came up for the post on, but in the book “Lights Out”, they talk about taking exogenous melatonin shutting down your melatonin production. It makes sense logically to me that that will happen. Anytime again melatonin is a hormone, anytime I gave you an exogenous hormone, your body is a very efficient machine and it only does what it has to do. So if I gave you exogenous testosterone your testicles quit making testosterone. Why would they waste their energy and time and resources doing it it’s already there, right, so why do it? It makes sense that it would happen whether or not it happens to the degree it happens I’m not a hundred percent clear on.
Ben: So you’re kinda just playing it safe because you don’t need that much melatonin to actually make you fall asleep?
Doc Parsley: Exactly. And that’s the key reason for the dosage being so low.
Ben: Why is it when you buy melatonin its usually coming… how much did you say there is in sleep cocktail?
Doc Parsley: I didn’t say because it’s under a patent pending but I could tell you it’s a very, very low dose.
Ben: Okay, so are they just like when you buy a melatonin supplement like again not to overdo this and hold you, but at Walgreens it’s usually a lot of melatonin. Are they just overdoing it to just like knock you out or is it just one of those deals where they don’t even know? They don’t realize that you don’t need that much.
Doc Parsley: Yeah, I think it’s both. I tried really hard to work with supplement production companies that already existed to make this. The only reason this product even exists is ‘cause the Seals just kept hassling me to make it ‘cause they’re like, you don’t have to go to this store and buy this. You don’t have to go to that store and buy this. You don’t have to buy this in ninety day supply and this is in a sixty day supply, and this is a liquid and this is the powder. And yeah, it’s a pain in the (censored), can you just make it into a product? And I was like, yeah, yeah. So I tried to work with supplement companies and it’s really just kind of ‘smart me’ in industry and I hate to be kind of negative and gossipy like that, but it’s just really hard to find people that I trusted that I would be willing to work with, that were willing to do it with good quality. Willing to do proper testing on it like it’s a tough industry, it really is and there’s a lot of companies out there, I don’t know if they’re ignorant or just sort of lackadaisical about it but they just produce stuff that’s like hey, here’s a really inexpensive way to make a magnesium supplement.
Unfortunately, the way we made it makes it impossible if you do actually absorb magnesium from it (laughs), you know. That happens all the time like magnesium oxide you could take 15 grams of magnesium oxide and it’s not gonna do anything. You’re gonna excrete 15 grams of magnesium oxide as well coz you can’t break it down. Melatonin got really popularized. There is a book called “Melatonin Miracle” I think in the early to mid-eighties and you know, that’s kind of when it hit the radar of scientists and they were like well you’re gonna be just discreet. It has this great antioxidant principal properties but it also is involved in sleep.
People had sleep problems even back then so let’s just give people this really big bowl of and then it’ll take a long time to sort of describe how excesses of melatonin can influence sleep more than sort of the normal physiological dosages of it. But what undoubtedly happens when you have an excess of anything is that your body quits responding to it, right. You down-regulate receptors. Like were talking about the GABA receptors being like the keyhole and the GABA being the key. Well, that’s true from as anything that affects a cell it’s doing it through a receptor. And so melatonin receptors if there’s just tons of melatonin receptors around or there’s tons of melatonin around, your body doesn’t need to waste its energy in making a bunch of receptors because there’s an excess of it. So then you down-regulate your receptors. Now what happens when you don’t have that excess around, you don’t have enough receptors for your normal production of melatonin to be sufficient. So from the time the sun goes down until the time the sun comes back up in the morning, your brain only produces about .3 to .6 milligrams of melatonin somewhere in that range. So even a 1 milligram melatonin capsule is potentially 3 times what you need.
Ben: Yeah. Now melatonin if you take a little bit, so one of the things that I’ve heard people complain about melatonin, and I’ve used melatonin before when I’m travelling to combat jet lag, it wears off like it seems like 2 or 3AM, you kinda like wake up. Is that the melatonin wearing off, and by using smaller amounts of melatonin do you get rid of that issue?
Doc Parsley: Right, so that is the melatonin just essentially being used up, right? So it’s been broken down loose and that melatonin balls you took no longer exists. Which is why I developed the sleep products the way I did because they put in all the ingredients and they are for your body to make melatonin. So hopefully you’re gonna keep making melatonin after that little bit of dusting of melatonin that you put in the products goes away which is gonna literally be just in a couple of hours. So if you use up all that melatonin hopefully you’re going to keep producing melatonin which is why all the ingredients for that pathway are put in there and that’s why I put it in a drink formulation so that everything would absorb really rapidly and kind of equally so that your brain can have all of the lumber there to do the construction so to speak.
Doc Parsley: You know, if there’s no construction crew there then good luck, right I mean you can have the lumber you want. If there’s something really wrong with the machinery then that problem’s still gonna be there, but we’re just making sure that everybody has what they need in order to make the melatonin that they do need and to keep making it throughout the night.
Ben: Okay. Got it. So I’ve got a few more questions for you here. The first is a lot of folks will wake up at 4AM or 5AM, kinda like the area where you kinda sort of wanna go back to sleep. You couldn’t get up and get some work done but you know you’re gonna be tired most of the afternoon if you do. You wanna go back to sleep. If you pop some of this stuff like at 4AM or 5AM and it’s got melatonin in it or this GABA that crosses the blood brain barrier, are you gonna be groggy all morning if you fall back to sleep and then you do wake up? Or let’s say that or maybe you don’t fall asleep and you decide, well and get up anyways?
Doc Parsley: Yeah, you know I counsel people on this all the time. There’s basically 3 different kinds of insomnia, what you’re talking about is either what we call maintenance or terminal insomnia. So that basically means if you go to sleep fine but then you wake up a few hours before you wanna be up or you wake up in the middle of the night and you can’t go back to sleep. Either way maintenance or terminal insomnia again could be the melatonin production pathway, could be other things; blood glucose is one of the big things that leads to maintenance insomnia which is kind of a whole nutritional pathway we can talk about. But the beauty of this product is that since all it does is lead to production of melatonin and give you a slight dusting of melatonin, you can overcome this literally despite like turning on the lights and go in and hop in the shower. It won’t even be noticeable like you took the product.
Ben: Gotcha. Light exposure, a meal all those things that jumpstart your day.
Doc Parsley: Yeah, so all of the things that you ordinarily do. And if you’ve ever been so exhausted throughout the day that all you can think about is like as soon as I get off work, I’m going home, I’m crawling to my bed, I’m gonna sleep ‘til tomorrow morning. You’re just like, you feel like crap all day. You’re so sleepy and then one of your friends talked to you into going into happy hour and you go out and you have a couple of cocktails which is a depressant, seeing as depression should make you more tired and then all of a sudden you feel really wide awake, right? You’re feeling super alert and you’re happy and it’s like, I need to go to sleep and then you stay out for 6 more hours whatever. You’re overcoming that GABA barrier that was in your brain, right?
So you’re stimulating your neocortex enough defeats the whole purpose of having the GABA. And that’s why you could literally take this product right before you wake up or you could take this product in the middle of the day as long as you’re being stimulated and your neocortex is being stimulated, you’re not gonna feel sleepy. And that’s what happens most of the time when people can’t go to sleep is that their neocortex is spinning when it’s like all the things they have to do tomorrow. All these things they worry about or there’s loud noises around or there’s lights around and there’s all these sensory around them that’s keeping that GABA from being effective. That same thing happens if you take this product and we put a little bit of GABA in your brain, you turn on some lights, you start working, you start doing your stuff and that’s gonna be unnoticeable but it’s there.
Ben: Got it. Okay, so the other question I have for you is and I don’t know if you’re too familiar with like the endocannabinoid system or if you’ve looked into that much. But a lot of folks are also using things, including myself like CBD, for example to assist with sleep. Interaction, interplay with some of these nutrients like should I not be taking both of those at the same time because I literally use CBD, almost every night. You’ve sent me up some boxes of this sleep cocktail, I’ve been taking it. I like it. And frankly, especially when I’ve been traveling ‘cause when I travel, I normally take melatonin. I’ll grab my CBD, which would be my normal go to but then I’ll stack melatonin on top of that to assist with jet lag and travel. Any interaction or deleterious effects in doing something like that?
Doc Parsley: No, when you’re dealing with cannabinoid receptor that’s a completely different pathway than what we’ve been talking about. It’s a lot like if you’ve ever seen like Robb Wolf’s nutritional chart and these like nutritional digestion and three hundred and sixty eight simple steps and he just has like all these billions of lines going to all these different molecules. That’s really the way like everything that I’m talking about with sleep physiology is so grossly over simplified. And you know if physiologist or sleep scientists is like cringing listening to me talk about this in such a basic format. But there’s so many different things going on essentially endorphins, cannabinoid receptors even a lot of the satiety neurotransmitters. These are all affecting that neocortex ability to slow down and quit responding to the environment.
Ben: Got it. Okay.
Doc Parsley: It’s doing it from a different way than GABA’s doing it but it’s just a GABA-like thing.
Ben: Okay. Interesting. So you can get a double whammy.
Doc Parsley: Yup.
Ben: Nice. Okay. Cool. So as far as sleep cocktails goes you said you’ve gotten a lot of feedback from some of these Seals you’ve given it to. I like it. You know, people send me freaking boat loads of stuff all the time. Drives my wife crazy ‘cause there’s just like pills all over. Try some of it. I look at the label and throw some of it out. I tried your stuff and I like it but I’m curious have you secure the whole placebo thing, you know? Have you done any studies or any cool ones on sleep labs or anything like that on this stuff?
Doc Parsley: Yeah, so what I have on this, there’s an organization in the Navy, there’s a Navy organization called NHRC Navy Health and Research Center. They’re currently doing like true clinical trials with this where they’re measuring all sorts of things. What we’ve done while I was in is basically, what I was saying was just everything we’ve talked about today was sort of my partial leads on this on what was going on with the health and well-being of the Seals and it was just nothing more than that. That was Doc Parsley’s opinion. And so, it wasn’t really a popular opinion because it wasn’t mainstream medicine you know, so to speak. It was kinda this lunatic fringe, almost voodoo medicine and so NHRC has been sort of studying all on my partial leads about the measurable problems that the Seals were having and how that’s correlated to sleep and everything so far that I’ve partially has fortunately for me has all turned out to be true. It’s all been reinforced by data. Now whether or not Seals are responding to this in a placebo way, I cannot confirm nor deny at this point. We don’t have that RCT yet to say well it’s definitely, unequivocally has a power to say that this is on placebo.
What I can say though is that whether it’s placebo or not probably 300 to 400 Seals that were taking Ambien that were essentially overdosing on Ambien every night, I have 100% success rate of getting guys off of sleep aids using this product. So it’s very unlikely to be placebo and then the other factors that there’s no pharmacological trick here, right? Again, all I’m doing is bringing lumber to the construction site, and if that leads to you sleeping better, the plausibility of it just reeks of the obvious. It’s like ok well, all we did was bring in these nutrients that ordinarily they’re in higher quantities, so we just put them all back in and the guys slept better. And I do have Seals who have taken multiple sleep studies and they’ve used the sleep product on one sleep study and they’ve used their Ambien on the other sleep study and of course, those are completely different but it would look completely different if they did Ambien and nothing as well. So I don’t have that RCT like then. This is definitively not placebo but I think it is extraordinarily unlikely given the numbers.
Ben: Yeah, like I mentioned you sent me a box and I’ve been experimenting with it. You sent me a few boxes so I’ve actually been taking 2 at a time sometimes.
Doc Parsley: So do I. (laughs)
Ben: Actually, taking 2 at a time is kind of dangerous ‘cause I’ll sleep like 9 hours and that’s occasionally come back to bite me ‘cause I’m not big alarm clock user. Either way though, I like it and for those of you listening in we do have a discount on this stuff you can go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/sleepcocktail, that’s bengreenfieldfitness.com/sleepcocktail. If you wanna get it, you can get 10% off on it with code Greenfield, 10% code is Greenfield. Try it out. See if you like it. I think it’s worth a try again, I’ve tried a lot of stuff and I like this and I think probably the main reason that I like it it’s ‘cause I am, I’m not a Navy Seal but I do wanna exercise. Do a lot of stuff. I go, go, go. I’m totally unlike my wife who just gets in bed at the end of the day, darn it and just falls asleep. I can’t turn the brain off. This stuff helps me do it. So it’s worth checking out.
If you have questions or you have comments about some of the things that Doc Parsley and I discussed you can also got to the show notes. The show notes are at bengreenfitness.com/docparsley, like I mentioned that’s d-o-c-p-a-r-s-l-e-y you can leave your questions there either the doctor or I will reply to you, and again you can get the cocktail at bengreenfieldfitness.com/sleepcocktail. I know I’ve talked a lot about different pills and capsules and powders and oils that can help you sleep. And a lot of these stuff works but these stuff seems to work quite well. So check it out. And Doc Parsley, thanks for coming on the show and also for inventing a cocktail, an alcohol-free cocktail no less.
Doc Parsley: (laughs) Yeah, unfortunately that name has turned out to be quite controversial and caused quite a few problems. So that name probably will be changing within the next year. The cocktail name is actually has it banned from like DOD and DOJ computers and a lot of big industries like Goggle and Microsoft, and so forth from their work computers. Can’t get to the site because of the word sleep but because of the word cocktail being in there. So that’s all I’m gonna have to change eventually (laughs). Yeah, thanks for having me on the show.
Ben: You have to stay away. Don’t call it sleep porn or sleep Viagra instead. Those are 2 other terms I haven’t found go over too well. I’m sure you’ll think of something. Sleep Elixir.
Doc Parsley: Yeah, Sleep Elixir. Yeah, we’ll see.
Ben: The Hammer, right? Or well, we don’t wanna hammer ourselves unconscious as we learned.
Doc Parsley: I think what we’ll do is just sort of farm that out to somebody who does it for a living as opposed to me kinda hacking my way around. And you know, actually the reason this name what it is named is because the Seals named it that. They just started calling it Doc Parsley’s cocktail. So like, hey have you taken Doc Parsley’s cocktail? The Parsley cocktail that’s what it ended up being called. And so I just said, alright whatever we’ll just call it the Sleep Cocktail. Zero market research and zero experience and you know, run into some problems but whatever (laughs). It’s not what I do. It’s not what my training is. I’m not too embarrassed about it.
Ben: It works. Farm it out. I’m sure you’ll come up with something. Maybe our listeners will come up with something. Get a… I don’t know free box of sleep cocktail or something. I’ll send you one.
Doc Parsley: There you go.
Ben: Alright, well cool. Thanks for being so generous with your time and sharing all these stuff with us. It was cool to delve into some stuff about sleep that we haven’t talked about before. So until next time folks. Those of you listening in bengreenfieldfitness.com/sleepcocktail. Check it out and use the 10% discount code Greenfield and then leave in the show notes questions over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/docparsley. Thanks for listening in and have a healthy week.
Meet Dr. Kirk Parsley (pictured above), affectionately known as “Doc Parsley”.
Doc Parsley is a former Navy SEAL. He received his Medical Degree from Bethesda, Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences (USUHS) in 2004. He interned in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Balboa Naval Hospital San Diego in 2005 and subsequently completed a Navy residency in Hyperbarics and Diving Medicine in 2006. He served as an Undersea Medical Officer at Naval Special Warfare Group One from June 2009 to January 2013. While there, he led the development and supervised the group’s first Sports Medicine Rehabilitation center.
And in addition to being able to kill you with his pinky finger, he’s a total sleep nerd.
Doc Parsley has been a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine since 2006 and served as Naval Special Warfare’s expert on Sleep Medicine. After leaving the Navy he went into concierge medicine and consulting. He consults on sleep for multiple corporations, and professional athletes, teams and individual clients, including the Navy SEALs. He lectures worldwide on sleep, wellness, anti-aging and hormonal optimization.
But wait, I’m not done…
Doc Parsley is also a bit of a chemist, and his supplement formulations are used to help the world’s most elite fighting organization: the Navy SEALs. He designs sleep products to compensate for the toxic environment that SEALs find themselves living in – high stress, heavily processed foods, and insufficient sleep, and his brand new “Sleep Remedy” is the first sleep product designed specifically for hard-charging, high-achievers to fall asleep fast.
I know that I talk a lot about different pills, capsules, powders and oils that can help you sleep, but this “Sleep Remedy” stuff is one of the most potent that I’ve used lately, and worth a try, especially if nothing else seems to be working for you.
So now you can tap into the same stuff Doc Parsley is feeding the SEALs, and in today’s podcast we get to talk about that, the unique mix of Sleep Remedy ingredients, sleep cycles, melatonin, jet lag, and much, much more.
During our discussion, you’ll discover:
-The shocking things that happen to your body while you are sleeping if you take Ambien or Valium…
-Why the GABA in sleep supplements doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier (and how to actually make GABA cross your blood-brain barrier)…
-Why you must shut down your neocortex if you want to get true, restorative sleep…
-The biggest nutrient deficiencies that keep you from falling asleep…
-One big disturbing fact about physicians and sleep…
-Why you “wake up” in middle of night when melatonin wears off…
-How to manage jet lag symptoms with supplementation protocol…
-If you can take sleep supplements when you wake up at, say, 4 or 5am and you want to sleep until 7am…
-And much more!