“Certain things catch your eye, but pursue only those that capture your heart.”
Native American proverb
Our guest today is an NFL legend, but what you’ll find most impactful about him is how committed he is to making our world a better place, while helping those who need it most.
The best part? He leads by example EVERY step of the way.
Nick Lowery is a Hall of Fame athlete who became the all-time leading points scorer for the Kansas City Chiefs, but his entry into the NFL was anything but smooth. After being released or rejected 11 times by eight NFL teams, Nick was finally given a chance by the Chiefs who, as history proves, made a hell of a return on their investment.
Retiring after 18 seasons in the NFL (where he was selected to the Pro Bowl three times), Nick is widely regarded as the most valuable kicker of all time, achieving records for: most field goals in NFL history; most accurate field-goal kicker in NFL history – despite kicking, on average, from farther away; and all-time leading point scorer for the Chiefs.
Nick is far from the athlete stereotype you might imagine. He attended Harvard University where he graduated with a Masters degree from the Kennedy School of Government. Among his extraordinary list of accomplishments, Nick has:
Among his philanthropic endeavors, Nick is founder of Champions for the Homeless, the Nick Lowery Youth Foundation, and has run leadership programs for Native American youth for 20+ years. In addition, Nick is the national spokesman for Kannaway, which is one of the foremost CBD companies in the world and is undertaking extensive research on how CBD can improve neuroplasticity for dementia, trauma, and athletes with brain damage.
In recognition of his efforts, Nick has been featured in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, and on David Letterman (twice!), and in two feature films including Think and Grow Rich: The Legacy.
Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Nick Lowery does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about his favorite quote, what advice he’d give his 18-year-old self, the one thing on his bucket list, and more 🚀
We’re going to cover a lot of ground in this episode. Nick will share:
Let’s WIN THE DAY with Nick Lowery.
Great to see you my friend! Thanks for coming on Win the Day show.
Thank you. You know how much I love your accent!
Well to kick things off, no pun intended, I want you to take us right into a moment in your NFL career when everything's on the line, win or lose, it's all on your shoulders. There are tens of thousands of people cheering and screaming at the ground. There's millions of people watching on TV. What's going through your head? And what are you saying internally to give yourself the best opportunity of kicking that game winning goal?
"Oh my god" or "I don't believe this!" I mean, this is not a question of whether there's a voice. There are many voices. There's the voice of fear. There's the voice that this is the single most ridiculously pressured position in sport — maybe with the exception of a goalkeeper, or players in the shootout in soccer — but the kicker has 1.25 seconds and the ball is actually caught after being snapped back 24 feet, eight yards, caught, put down, and the laces are spun (if they have time), and kicked in 1.25 seconds. The ball's not spinning for under two hundredths of a second.
At the same time, you have 11 very large, very talented, highly trained athletes who are paid millions of dollar a year to block your kick. So it's managing all those things.
What it comes down to, which my friend Dr. John Eliot wrote in a book, Overachievement, it's preparation. When you break it down, it's the opposite of what you think nerves are. When you're giving your book report in second grade and Betty Sue's in the front row, and you're nervous and you don't do well, you think it's because of the nerves when it was really because you'd never given a book report before, let alone had something in front of Betty Sue. It's about maturation and polishing of your skills, combined with preparation.
It's about maturation and polishing of your skills, combined with preparation.
When that happens, you can override those voices saying, "Oh my god, I can't believe this is my job." And you trust it, so you have to trust yourself. In the end, it's really a very powerful character-building litmus test for anyone, because you have to in the end, believe in yourself.
You have to believe that you deserve to be that focal point, which is essentially what I call my office: 8 yards x 4 yards. That's my office. If I control that area, which is really only four yards square between me and the holder, in front of 80,000 people, maybe 20-30 million people watching on television, if I can control my thoughts, my emotions, and my focus, I can achieve great things.
That was learned through 11 rejections by eight NFL teams. It was learned by made field goals and it was absolutely improved by making mistakes and missing field goals. As with any skill, it's about learning earning how to manage yourself.
That preparation piece is so important, but our instinct for anything that we suck at or fail at is to say that we're simply not good at that activity, when all it comes back to are those elements you mentioned. It's not just the will to win. It's the will to prepare to win.
Since you've done the work and you're in that intense environment during the game, how jittery are you feeling? Are you actually calm and focusing on just your body and mind doing what it's been prepared to do for so long?
You know, the truth is every single day of our lives and every single game we play has its own unique qualities. The preparation helps it become more consistent, but every day is a little bit different. I'll never forget being "in the flow", one of the great terms that we use today — "in the zone" is another concept — in Joe Montana's first game for us on national TV, a Monday Night game in September 1993, and it's against John Elway on the Broncos, two legends, and in the end, I kicked all our points, we were up 15-0 on a 52 yarder, 45 yarder, 41 yarder, 38 yarder and 25 yarder, something like that.
I'm running back to the sidelines and there is Joe Montana's friend, Huey Lewis the singer, standing next to the net where I'm kicking and as I'm coming back after my fourth field goal, Huey looks at me like, "Man, this is easy for you."
And I love that because that's a performer who has to get on stage and hit his notes. The difference is there's a natural flow because there's a melody, there's a bass line, there's a combination of instruments that sort of bring you into that flow, even if you don't want to, in music. But you have to create your own music as an athlete. So you had to rehearse that music in the cacophony, in the chaos of practice.
You have to create chaos in practice. What I call pressure, but not neurotic pressure. So that when you get to the game, you literally say, "I'm just back at practice. I'm back in James Whittaker's living room having tea." And practicing that so that you can bring it back, so then it comes back to, in essence, being a life actor and in the practice and rehearsal, bringing in all the components and dimensions. Literally, your smell, your sight, your hearing, your touch and using those references to project yourself into those moments when you have to kick the game winning field goal.
You have to create chaos in practice.
And by the way, the game winning field goal might be the 25 yard gimme field goal in the first quarter and you win by three points because you were focused, even though some people might have said, "Of course I'm going to make that." That's what I love is the preparation and if you come to love the preparation, what I noticed today James, when I train, I get the same sort of intensity.
The role of the ego versus the role of the spirit is everything. But in those workouts today, I still get pumped up. I still bring myself into that place of battle, that intensity. So when I try to train others, I have to de-crescendo that because they feel it and it's not their level of commitment yet perhaps. Some of them love it. Some of them are a little bit disconcerted by it, but that's a lifelong skill.
It's about believing that you're here, that God has put you here with unique gifts. [Points to shirt] This stands for GG2G, god given. My friend Todd, who's from Hawaii, is one of the top scouts for the Texas Rangers. When they evaluate a player, they say, "James Whittaker has two G. He's got god given ability to throw the ball, to hit the ball, he's an athlete." But guess what? That's the beginning. Our will takes us to another level of polish and skill.
The next significant piece is to be able to manage your success by divorcing your achievements from your ego and focusing on "What are those things from this stage that are building my soul as well?"
You look at the greatest athletes of all time, they did that internal work. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar evolved deeply into a man of soul. Russell Wilson, whose father was my teammate at Dartmouth College, wonderful human being who founded the African American Sports Hall of Fame; Russell was the NFL Man of the Year this year. Steve Largent, ironically hall of famer also with the Seattle Seahawks, a soulful human being.
That means that I can have a tremendous will, but I also know that I can prevent it from dominating me so much that I think I'm all that. Then I stop being motivated. I stop being consistent. I stop being responsible to others. I stop being empathetic to my teammates.
Yeah, there's so much good stuff there and so many parallels to just every other aspect of life.
One thing I wanted to quickly mention while we're still here on the football side is that football is a great metaphor for life. We all go through failure. The nature of life and the nature of field goals is that you can never get 100%. You can never win 100% every single day, even though you retired as the most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history, so I feel like you've got that better than most!
Do you have a process to move on from failure without letting it affect the rest of your game?
As we learn psychology, we know that everybody is either enabled by their references to trauma or, more commonly, held back by them. I remember missing a 44 yard field goal that just went over the left upright and they called it no good in a windy Arrowhead Stadium. I was just devastated. I remember waking up 10-20 times that night literally dreaming the ball through: "Please go through, please go through."
It's a little bit like a death, you know? If you care about what you do, if you care about the person you've lost, you're going to feel pain. But the beauty of pain is that it can motivate you to dig deeper, to stimulate that will, to lift up your spirit to say, "I can be even better." And use those unique gifts you've been given.
But the beauty of pain is that it can motivate you to dig deeper, to stimulate that will, to lift up your spirit to say, "I can be even better." And use those unique gifts you've been given.
So there's no process initially. I will say there's a great process Tony Robbins once shared with me, which I'd like to share with you because I know you know him well. I had my worst game against the Cleveland Browns and there's an irony to it because you don't make excuses. But I made a 41 yarder to tie the game and it was the worst field conditions ever, but nobody cares, right? But I made it, it was an ugly kick but it went through and then I missed a 45 yarder at the end of regulation.
They were offside, so that meant I got another shot from 40. It didn't go through again. It was weird, they both hooked left and then in overtime, I had a 48 yarder and that was the worst kick in history. The next day, half page ad in the Kansas City Star with a picture of my head in a clown box spring exploding out of my head.
What a lesson from the most accurate kicker in NFL history to become a laughing stock, at least temporarily. Now that season, I came back and kicked a 41 yard field goal with Joe Namath announcing the game against the Miami Dolphins, which probably kept my job. That probably would have ended my career in Kansas City, if I hadn't made that.
So now in the off season, I'm thinking through all these things and I just dedicated myself to get better. Tony Robbins gave me something I'd like to share, which is how you essentially scratch up the old plastic records. Essentially, you visualize the worst thing that's ever traumatized you: perhaps you've been assaulted, given a bad speech, a time when you were badly hurt. It could be a missed field goal. And Tony said, "Visualize that." So I did.
He said, "Now, get the most ridiculous sound in your head." Because music is always our ally in grounded the cellular memory, or reprogramming it. He said, "Play Looney Tunes music." And play that memory, not forwards, but backwards. So suddenly I had to envision the field goal, not going from my kick, but from missing the goal post, all the way back in slow motion with the music playing, to when I kicked it. And do that over and over again, and what that does and what that did was interrupt my memory.
You see the smile come on my face! It's just impossible to think of it quite the same way. Does it still bother me? Yes. But guess what? The next year, I led the NFL in scoring. I was first team All Pro, I had 24 field goals in a row. I set a team record with the best percentage ever and, the next year after that, I had 21 more field goals in a row. The next year after that, I was All Pro.
I just made the decision that I was never going to allow that feeling to happen ever again. After that, I kicked it 86% the rest of my career. So all of us can take the worst parts of our careers and turn them into something that takes us to a new level.
We never stop making mistakes. We're human. And the more we seek to be great, and I like think, continuing with that theme of will, ego, achievement and then spiritual development, what I call the art of being soulfish, it's not like we stop making mistakes. It's that we are still eager and young in spirit to keep learning and keep growing, and making more and more of a contribution.
You and I surround ourselves with great people because it raises our game and our consciousness. It's essentially the art of mentoring ourselves and taking our game to a new level.
I just made the decision that I was never going to allow that feeling to happen ever again.
I look at you that way my friend. You put out such good energy in the midst of all the insanity we've gone through the past year.
You've worked with and continue to work with a lot of kids and young adults who come from difficult backgrounds. What has American Football, or sports more broadly, given those individuals off the field who may have come from some very difficult backgrounds?
Football has given them structure. It's given them attention. People look at them. They follow them. They give them feedback. It's given them the challenge to manage their success.
Football enables them to deal with loss. To have worked your tail off and still lost. To have done everything you thought you could and still miss the field goal, still made a mistake, still lost. To have done your job and be part of that team and live with the loss, even though you did your job. To still be part of that team and own that loss together.
It's something that's missing today. We have these wars fought in Afghanistan and Iraq and no one knows what sacrifices were made by those soldiers. But in World War II, everybody had to pitch in against the common enemy. Everyone was doing something and it was a clear cause. Maybe today's causes are more difficult, but in the end, everybody knew what sacrifice was.
Going back to football, it's about teaching you to be part of a team, to care about the team and also recognize that you represent a community. Football, perhaps unlike some other individual sports, requires you to represent Kansas City. To represent the National Football League, yes, but also unlike some sports and certainly with actors who I... I love actors and I love musicians, but they don't tend to always be connected with a particular city.
So football teaches you there's a responsibility that comes with being part of a team and it's sacrifice, it's conflict resolution skills. Working with somebody on the team or a coach that you don't like, or that doesn't like you.
It's a reminder to control what you do. That office in our lives all of us have that we can take control of, our emotions, what we perceive and just take care of this, because in the end, all we can do is do our best. That's it.
You've done a lot of work with Native American communities. When did you realize for the first time that you were able to make such a big impact in those communities specifically?
First of all, you're really good at this! Everybody watching or listening, tell people about this Win the Day podcast because James is really good. I've done a lot of these and you are really good.
Life is often not a straight road, so here's the interesting thing. I went to Dartmouth College, originally the Eleazar Wheelock School for Native Americans that was founded with him and the Earl of Dartmouth, very British Native American school. Nothing, I had no real significant role or awareness of what to do, or what I could do to help Native Americans.
The Kansas City Chiefs obviously has Native American symbology, nothing. Then my best friend from college, Steve, became Dr. Steve at Johns Hopkins and a world leading expert on prostate cancer and his wife, Allison Barlow, who had been an athlete of the year 10 years after we'd gone there at Dartmouth had begun as the program director for Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health. And at their wedding night, sitting next to them at their wedding table, she said, "Would you start a football camp for Native Americans?"
I remember getting off the bus in Chinle, Arizona on the Navajo Reservation and it was definitely... it was a god moment. It was like there are no trees here. It's all sand. It's all red rock and there are these 90 kids from 10 tribes and I got 10 of my NFL friends to join us. I just knew I had to do this. I felt this resonance with being an orphan. Being an orphan, being ripped out of your family and your community.
You can see, I feel it now. I love the work I do because it's been reaffirmed 10,000 times, but I'm so glad I had that reference. So I just knew I had to do that work and went back to Harvard and after four years, because you know this with tribes, there's so many issues with teenage suicide and really, two to three times worse than any of the worst ghettos in America, teenage pregnancy, alcoholism and drug abuse, et cetera, gangs and yet, there are answers that are there that they know, but why aren't they finding a way to turn this around?
So at Harvard, I studied the idea of how do we rebuild social capital? Which is the deepest values that go way beyond words. How do we rebuild that in a land and in a culture where it has been raped. When they have had their history torn from them.
Even Abraham Lincoln... I watched the movie Lincoln with Daniel Day Lewis just last week. An incredible man, incredible performance, one of the people kept our union together. Yet that man, who was fighting literally every day he could to keep the union together because of this commitment for equality of all human beings, sent battle-hardened union troops to wipe out the Plains Indians so that our railroad and our westward expansion could continue.
So it's never a clear thing. The heroes out there, guess what? They're human too. I'm human, you're human and... but I just love this work James, because in the end, all of us have had some sense of disability in our lives, whether it's cerebral palsy or whether it's spiritual, inability to see and feel.
This work, Native American kids are the same as any kids. Structure, consistency, love, encouragement and preparation, right? They are the same. If they have those tools and those mentors to surround them and encourage them, they know they're loved and beautiful things happen. It is without question, the most unfinished chapter in American history.
Yeah, it gives me chills just listening to you talk about that. There's something I wanted to mention here for people who don't know. The Native American youth living on reservations today suffer the poorest health, socioeconomic, and educational status of any racial or ethnic group in the US — with the highest rates of suicide, obesity, diabetes, high school drop out, substance abuse, and poverty.
So I wanted to just acknowledge you my friend for all the work you do because, as I've mentioned several times already, it's quite extraordinary.
There are people who clearly need a lot of help, and I think it's a reminder for all of us that we all have an opportunity, and I believe an obligation, to be able to help those less fortunate, whether it's awareness or being able to understand the story, or start to make some proactive change to help these people.
Thank you, brother. Well the other point of that is in the work and you see the poverty, and you see the pain and you see the suffering, but you also begin to see people that have found a way out and that appreciate and know. I have people come back 10-20 years later, out of nowhere and they thank me. It's so beautiful.
All the kids who were 16 when we started it in 1996, they're 41 now. They have one, two, three, four, five, six kids. They have their own careers — and maybe, just maybe, one or two of them are more confident, more able to believe in themselves, just like that first question you had when I'm running on the field, the fear. What's going through my head. They've created that new music and conversation going through their head. That they matter, that they can make a difference and that they are making a difference.
So I love this, and I get these tears in my eyes all the time because I just know it's because, back to Think and Grow Rich, I'm doing what I was intended to do. I'm doing what god made me here to do and it's beautiful because my intuition, my skills, my ability to do it, as we'll do on Sunday with our Champions for the Homeless. Our 54th Champions for the Homeless at St. Vincent de Paul on Sunday.
It just gets better and better, and to see somebody who's homeless, another example, who's been told or just ignored for year upon year, day after day and to see it in their eyes that they feel better about themselves. Gosh, that makes Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter and we're doing it eight times this year, not our normal five because we want to do more during COVID. It's a beautiful thing, so I'm rewarded all the time and I get to meet great people like you.
What initially drew you to the homeless situation and what can be done to both get people back on their feet and stop the steady rise of homelessness?
Well first of all, there's more than a 22% increase in shelterless homelessness in this country, and so I see it firsthand. In Phoenix, what they've had to do, for instance, just to get specific because the angels are also in the details, not just the devil. When you see at St. Vincent de Paul that there used to be 225 beds and now there are only 75. So they've put tape around a six feet by four feet area and then they've spaced everybody out. So now two-thirds of the people or more, can't be housed. So there are all these tent looking like refugee cities downtown within a couple of blocks of St. Vincent de Paul.
Why do I do it? It all connects. They're all human. We are all human and the interesting thing also is the humanity means you see a real person. So you don't see just a drug addict, because there aren't nearly as many drug addicts as they say there are. They are there, absolutely. Mentally ill, there's a percentage that are mentally ill, but not nearly... you can reach that real person inside the person that's encaged themselves, to protect themselves with some form of mental illness. You see that in there if you look deeply enough.
Now there's some that it takes longer to do that, but for the most part, just the humanity. And once again, it's me learning because we come from such a narcissistic culture and it's getting worse with professional athletes, frankly. That doesn't mean there aren't great professional athletes, I'm just saying the social media climate and all the "You're great, you're great, you're great" it becomes such an enabling culture.
Now you're seeing with one of the most popular players in the NFL, Deshaun Watson being accused by 19 women of sexual abuse of some form. I don't know how much of that, or any of that, is true, but that's the climate that you're in. Where if you're not aware of how you conduct yourselves and you think you're all that and more, the pied piper will come back and he will visit you.
You're doing a lot of work on the CBD side at the moment. More and more research has come out on that CBD side talking about how it improves neuroplasticity. Is CBD really the thing that could help stop brain damage in athletes? And what most excites you about some of this research that's coming out?
Well it just continues. In fact, in your neck of the woods, right there in the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Dr. David Schubert, there's all this research they're doing just by themselves about neuroplasticity and about the ability of neurons to regenerate. We did not know that 25 years ago. Now we're pretty clear that we can do that.
We can also help others work through their traumas, so there are ways to heal that we didn't realize was possible before. The beta amyloids in the brain, which are these clumps of neurons that have collapsed and lost their definition and their robust qualities, and have collapsed into each other, those clumps of cells can be ameliorated with CBD. It's really important to make the distinction: quality, pure CBD with really carefully calibrated volume.
In fact, there's another product now coming out with Kannaway that we open literally tomorrow in Mexico, ironically, and it's called CBG. CBG binds to the neural receptors. Stanford University has done research on where they identified a CB1 and a CB2 receptor in the body. CB1 being neural receptors all the way down the brain stem. CB2 in your gut and CBG binds with those neural receptors more effectively than CBD. So that's a new development as well, but there are more than 30,000 papers out there. We have created echoconnection.org and under 'Education' we list 200+ conditions, from arthritis to dementia to cancer, and on and on.
There are many papers with cancer, there are probably 50 that you can read about. These are the real legitimate white papers, medical white papers. Over the last five years, I've enjoyed being interviewed by journalists who were not negative but healthy in their skepticism for the first 2-3 years. Now, they're just giving more and more. Because you can quote real research, for instance, UCLA Torrance study, 446 traffic accident victims with traumatic brain injuries, of those that had any CBD in their system, they were five times less likely to die of a traumatic brain injury.
So one of my passions is because I've seen with CTE or chronic traumatic encephalopathy with Dr. Bennett Omalu's work, which is featured by Will Smith in the movie Concussion. We're seeing tremendous impact in the ability to turn these neurons to give them five or even 10 times the ability to be neural plastic. That means that they can withstand impact. That's much more important than any helmet. The helmets can reduce things. They've been proved. They can reduce the chances of a concussion by 10, 20, 30, 40, 50%. But what if you can improve it by 500%?
So that's really important and by the way, for those of you that still don't know this, the US government patent 6630507, by Dr. Julius Axelrod, Nobel Prize winner, and it's called cannabinoids as neural protectants and antioxidants. So yes, CBD absolutely should be part of the daily diet. For people under 40, probably 40 to 50 milligrams, 30 to 50 milligrams or more. And the people over 40, I'd recommend 75 and then if you have a serious condition, somewhere 100 and up.
You've worked with three separate US presidents on drug policy. You've also been in the trenches with people who have got the drug abuse challenges that we mentioned earlier through homelessness work. Now you're the national spokesperson for this company Kannaway.
Can you clear up any misconceptions that there might be around general drug abuse? Or drug abuse versus CBD? What misconceptions need to be cleared up?
Well number one, marijuana's really good for fighting pain, chronic pain, absolutely. And THC is very powerful. But please, there is a distinction between hemp and marijuana. They're two different plants. Hemp is 15 to 20 feet tall and literally 100 days, it will grow 15 to 20 feet. Not a lot of leaves and by law, the most THC that can be a hemp based product is 0.3% or less. That is barely 1% of a marijuana cigarette. Barely 1%, that means barely 100, maybe one sixtieth, one seventieth and it may be raised to 1% THC. That means that the government finally has realized that THC below 1% is not a significant factor.
THC has great benefits. I believe there are some things that need to be looked at, in terms of addiction, in terms of motivation, in terms of all the other potential side effects. But THC, when managed can be very good for you and when you compare it to opioids, it's a joke that we even have this discussion anymore. Opioids kill 100,000 people each of the last two years. 500,000 in the last seven to eight years and with COVID, with all due respect to COVID and it's seriousness, here we've got something we can control and do something about and people go to sleep at night raking in dollars for prescribing opioids, which have killed and maimed thousands and thousands of veterans.
I hosted, James, the first... one of the first two town halls on veteran suicide with Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, who was President Trump's director of the PREVENTS task force. Wonderful woman who oversaw this cabinet level task force to reduce suicide among veterans, which most people know now officially it's 22 suicides a day.
Well in September of 2019, we had this event here, the Franciscan Renewal Center, we had so many experts, the Arizona Coalition for Military Families is extraordinary. A lot of the answers are out there, but it's not 22. Back then, it was probably more like 27. Suicide has raised another 20% or more in the country and maybe 30%. This is on I think ABC News about three months ago, among Army veterans. So it's about 30 suicides a day now. 30 suicides a day, not three.
So for those who even think about opioids anymore as the only choice, we are in deep illusion if we're allowing others that are supposedly healers, that have sworn by the Hippocratic Oath, to actually convince us that there aren't other options we should first, second and third try before we go to the opioids.
Lately, a lot of people have lost their jobs, marriages, even loved ones as a result of what's happened in the pandemic. How can people find the inspiration to move forward when they feel like all hope is lost?
Well, I'm very proud to say that my foundation made Phoenix the first city in the country in late April to provide free COVID rapid tests, and we provided free tests for the homeless. I'm very proud of that.
But how to stay positive? Well the ingenuity of the American people. The most important thing is I'm not very positive about network news because none of them ever, ever, ever seem to want to do anything about immunity and do stories about natural and basic and human immunity like D3, elderberry, nitrous oxide, zinc, about 100 milligrams a day of zinc, copper, and moderate exercise, sunlight, fresh air.
So the way to stay positive is that 90% - 95% of all of this is based on a healthy immune system. If you have a healthy immune system, you're not going to need to go to the hospital most of the time. Getting back to Native Americans, diabetes and obesity, I was talking with the head of the fire department and EMTs from Tombstone, Arizona, Wyatt Earp's country and they said 90% of the people that they're getting on ventilators and they're close to death, if they don't die are obese and have diabetes. The Salt River Tribe and Gila River Tribe right here in Arizona, right in the Phoenix area have the two highest rates of diabetes in the world. So those people are vulnerable. Let's be intelligent about who's vulnerable and make sure we provide extra sources for them.
Let's be intelligent about who's vulnerable and make sure we provide extra sources for them.
The elderly, those with lung issues, heart issues, etc., but there are lots of things now. There is information. Unfortunately, you tend to have to look for it because our wonderful friends in the news want to tell us who's dying, how many cases there are, but not so much about immunity.
So when those numbers get thrown at you, we have to, like Think and Grow Rich, take control of our minds, be rational, get more information, and be able to hold two truths: one, it's dangerous and potentially fatal; and two, it's not dangerous and fatal to the great majority of people if we take care of ourselves and don't do stupid things.
Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Nick Lowery does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about his favorite quote, what advice he’d give his 18-year-old self, the one thing on his bucket list, and more 🚀
Final question: what's one thing you do to win the day?
Get up, get your butt up and just get moving because every day above ground is a day to make ourselves better. How do we define better? Better is growing in heart, mind, and spirit. So keep filling that up and that's what I call being soulfish. Don't let people guilt you into thinking because I was being devoted to my podcast, to my book, to this or that, somehow that was selfish. If it means you abandoned relationships and commitments to your loved ones and your marriage, et cetera, there's a way to find the balance.
But always expanding your capacity to be soulful, to be able to help others, to be more aware of others, to be more aware of yourself first and to have those values align so clearly. You can get away from those guilt trips that people put you on and love the idea of expanding every day.
Nick Lowery, thanks so much for coming on the show!
Listen, if you haven't noticed it, James Whittaker has a pure soul. He has a great quality about him and it's not normal. he has a rare quality about him and that's why I had to come on this show, because he's a good man and he has balance in his life, and we can learn from him. I'm so honored to be your friend.
I appreciate it my friend, likewise.
Resources / links mentioned:
⚡ Nick Lowery website.
📷 Nick Lowery Instagram.
📙 A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle.
🚀 Think & Grow Rich: The Legacy by James Whittaker.
🗝️ Think & Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.
🎙️ Have a podcast of your own and want to learn how to monetize it? Join us at We Are Podcast, the world's #1 live and interactive event for podcasters. For 35% off ANY ticket, use promo code: WINTHEDAY
“No day is so bad it can’t be fixed with a nap.”
Today, we sit down with the world’s foremost authority on sleep for high performance.
Dr Michael Breus is a three-time bestselling author, clinical psychologist, and sleep educator. He has appeared all over television, including Oprah, The Today Show, and on The Dr Oz show more than 40 times. Dr Breus is also a regular contributor to major publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.
When he’s not doing media appearances, Dr Breus works with some of the most successful individuals on the planet who want to perform at their peak with as little sleep as possible.
In this interview, we’ll go through:
🎁 YOUR CHANCE TO WIN:
We have three copies of Dr Breus’ book to giveaway! To enter, either leave a comment on YouTube or on Apple Podcasts with your #1 takeaway from this episode with Dr Breus. Three people will be selected and the book will be mailed to wherever you are in the world.
As we get started, remember the right bit of inspiration can completely transform someone’s life, so if there’s someone you know who needs to hear this – and I’m sure there is, since lack of quality sleep is a dangerous side effect of the stressful world we’re in today – share it with them right now.
Let’s WIN THE DAY with Dr Michael Breus!
Great to see you my friend. Thanks so much for being on the Win the Day show.
Dr. Michael Breus:
I am excited to be here. Thank you for having me.
To kick things off, is there a story from your childhood that encapsulates what life was like for you growing up?
That's a good question. So, I had a very interesting upbringing, which – now that you're making me think about it – has a lot to do with how I became the guy that I am. My parents were separated when I was nine, and I'm 53 years old now. Back in those days, very few kids ended up with their fathers, and my father ended up having full-time custody of me. It was just he and I against the world for a very long period of time.
I've played that role as the sleep doctor: I was the very first sleep blogger on the Huffington Post; I was one of the first clinical psychologists to take and pass the Sleep Medicine Boards; things of that nature. I'm very comfortable being the lone wolf – not to mention that I am a wolf chronotype, which we'll talk about in a moment. But that's a lot of who I am. I'm pretty confident and I feel comfortable in my own skin for sure.
Can you take us into the moment when you realized that you weren't just going to be a regular health professional – that you were going to actually drive the industry forward and change the lives of millions of people in the process?
It was interesting, the very first time I was on television, I walked off and it was like electric. It was one of the first appearances that I made, and I was so in the zone that I didn't even see the audience. I was so focused, I delivered this great information, and I just became so comfortable out there. It was like, "This is exactly where I need to be."
I don't know. Maybe I've got enough ego to pull it off! But I like getting in front of people, I like talking about sleep, I like mixing it up, I like controversial ideas surrounding sleep and sleep science.
Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Dr Michael Breus does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about his favorite quote, what advice he’d give his 18-year-old self, the one thing on his bucket list, and a whole lot more 🚀
Here's the thing that's cool for me as a topic. My wife says it all the time. She's like, "Honey, you wouldn't be nearly as interesting if you were a cardiologist." No disrespect to the cardio guys, I have one myself, but sleep is such an interesting topic, and it draws people in because one of the things we know is that, when you change your sleep, you change your life, right? So, if you have bad sleep and I'm able to give you some information, or lead you on a path that can help you with your sleep, I feel confident that I've changed your life in a positive way. Honestly, dude, that feels good, I just like doing that.
Early in my career, people would come and they would be so excited to tell me how much I had changed their lives. After a while, every single day, there would be five people, 10 people, 15 people, and I kind of said, " You know? I want to get the message out bigger." Because at the time I was practicing, you could only see about 30 patients in a day. I mean, let's be fair. I was seeing 30 patients a day, five days a week. and I was crushing through 150 people, good care of medicine, making sure that everybody's well treated, but it wasn't where I wanted to be or where I thought the world needed to hear.
When you change somebody's sleep, you literally change their life.
Oddly enough, one of my best friends got a vice-president job at a company that, at the time, was called Medscape. He turned it into this big old company called WebMD. He was like, "Hey Michael, have you checked out WebMD?" So I went on it and they didn't have anything about sleep on there. Being my lone wolf self, I decided to create a document that had all the places on the website where they needed to have more sleep information, and I sent it to my buddy, who apparently sent it to his boss. His boss then said, "Go hire that guy!"
That was how I became the WebMD sleep specialist. I was the WebMD sleep specialist from the time they launched for 15 years. That's a big audience, and it was so much fun. You remember back in the day when they had chat boards? I would answer questions live on chat boards in WebMD about sleep. We counted, I think, over 5,000 questions that I answered at one time. It's like I just feel the need to educate, and people are so receptive because it's just not an area where people get a chance to meet folks like me.
Again, not breaking my arm patting myself on the back, but I will say that I feel like I have a purpose, and I feel like I have a passion. For me, the point where purpose and passion hit was sleep, and that's what drives me in that direction.
It sounds like facilitating these transformations for others actually gives you a lot of energy along the way, too. Now that you've worked with regular folks right through to the celebrities at the highest level, is there a particular transformation that you're most proud of?
Oh, wow. There's a few actually. There's quite a few cases that were really ... there's some sad cases for sure, but there are quite a few cases that were pretty amazing. One of the more famous cases that I've worked on is Carson Daly from The Today Show. I was on The Today Show talking about time change or sleep or something like that, and Carson pulled me over to the side – we weren't on camera – and he was like, "Dude, I'm exhausted." And I was like, "Okay, let's hold tight."
We did the segment and I came back afterwards and we went over to his dressing room and I'm like, "Tell me what's going on?" He said he had gained a little bit of weight over the years but, and people don't know this, he's on The Today Show and he's the executive producer of The Voice at the same time. He flies every single week back and forth across the country.
Not only was he exhausted, but we could potentially have jet lag issues. There's all kinds of stuff that could be going on. So I dug in and it turned out he had sleep apnea. We worked with his doctor, got him sleep testing, the whole thing. Now we've got him on a solution that helps him sleep, and he's losing weight, he has more energy. He was really concerned about what he called his shelf life, as many people who are on television are.
I think now he can be on for quite a bit longer. I'm telling you something, dude, when you change somebody's sleep, you literally change their life.
Amazing, and thank you for sharing that.
In the peak performance realm, we often hear people talk about nutrition and fitness, yet there is so much misinformation out there on those two areas. We also spend one-third of our lives sleeping, so that definitely needs to be in the peak performance equation. Are there just as many misconceptions about sleep as there is for nutrition and fitness? And, if so, what are the biggest myths that need to be busted?
Yes, there are a ton of misconceptions about sleep. Some of the bigger myths, and we can even include nutrition in this, is things like, "Oh, turkey makes me feel sleepy because there's tryptophan in it,” or “Warm milk makes me feel sleepy." So, just to be clear, you'd have to eat a 40-pound turkey to get enough tryptophan to actually make it worth your while. It doesn't work well in the presence of protein anyway. So, I really wouldn't go for that one. And I think it's about a gallon and a half of milk to get enough tryptophan, so we're not even going to go there.
Also, there’s a lot of misinformation out there about melatonin, which a lot of people take. But what most people don't understand is melatonin is not a sleeping pill. Melatonin is a sleep regulator, not a sleep initiator. Melatonin doesn't make you sleepy. What melatonin does is it helps your brain think that it's bedtime from a circadian rhythm perspective.
We talked about Carson Daly already, so I'll give you another great example. If you're familiar with electronic dance music, you’ll know a DJ named Steve Aoki. He does almost 200 shows a year in different countries. His jet lag is unparalleled. But when we're talking about something like this, what we're looking at is scheduling, how to schedule flights, working through some of those different issues, and then trying to understand what to do. Well, melatonin is very, very helpful in that process of getting people adjusted to a new time zone, because it tells your brain it's bedtime when your brain didn't think that it was bedtime before.
That's great when you're Steve Aoki and your jet lag is all over the place, or you’re Carson Daly flying back and forth across the US. But when you're not crossing time zones and you're lying in bed not sleeping, you probably shouldn't be taking melatonin because that's not really what it's there for. So, that's a myth or misunderstanding that we see that can be very harmful to folks.
Then what happens is, if one doesn't work, they take two, and if two don't work, they take four. I mean, we were talking about WebMD, when I was on WebMD answering those questions, once a month, literally once a month, I got the question, "Is it okay to take a box of Benadryl a night?" 20, 10 milligram tabs? The answer is “No, it’s not okay!”
But, people are desperate, man. When you don't sleep, it hits you to your core. You turn into somebody who you don't like, and nobody around you is particularly thrilled with you either, so it's hard to not have sleep. Those who don't suffer from sleep problems, they really don't understand it. They're like, "What are you talking about? Close your eyes, just go to bed, come on. It's easy." Honestly, dude, people are tortured with some of their sleep related issues. Right now, when we're talking about the pandemic and what's going on in the universe, this is arguably the most stressful time any of us have ever had, and it's not stress that we're used to.
This is arguably the most stressful time any of us have ever had, and it's not stress that we're used to.
You and I were talking before we started. We live here in Los Angeles, and a big stress here in Los Angeles is traffic. But traffic doesn't mean crap compared to a pandemic. I'm worried about things like my entire family's health. Like my grandparents, my parents, my kids, my wife, my extended family. I've never had to worry about everybody all at the same time. I've had to worry about certain people here and there of course, as anyone would, but this is a different kind of worry. There’s also financial stress, because so many people are suffering incredibly financially right now.
What kind of weight does that put on your brain before you're getting in bed at night? Does that cause insomnia? You bet it causes insomnia. So, I would say that right now, if people turn to me and say, "Hey, Michael, I'm sleeping great." I'd be like, "What's your trick dude? Because nobody's sleeping great right now." We all have issues. I mean, I'm the sleep doctor, and let me tell you something, when the pandemic first hit, I didn't sleep so great. That's okay. The message here is, is that we're all humans. And sleep is a reaction for us.
Think about it like this. If you notice that your sleep is not so great, it could be a window into your health. It could be giving you clues about something that's going on for your mental health or physical health. But to be clear, if you're healthy, both mentally and physically, you should sleep pretty well, generally speaking.
What are some simple things that anyone watching this or listening to the podcast can do right now to improve the quality of their sleep?
Oh, this is an easy one, and it's not going to cost you anything! I got a five-step program. It's super simple, people are going to love it. Step one is to wake up at the same time every single day, including the weekends. I know that sucks for most people because they're like, "Oh, I want to catch up on my sleep on the weekends, Michael, come on." Here's the deal, if you wake up at the exact same time every single day, what will happen is that the quality of your sleep will improve because your circadian rhythm is consistent. Because remember, when you wake up, that's the reopening of the package. So, the new day comes, sunlight comes in, and then all of your hormones kick off and go into gear.
If you do that at the same time, every single day, your brain knows what's coming, it can prepare for it, and it's much more efficient. Also, by the way, if you wake up at the exact same time, every single day, what you will find is that the amount of sleep that you require begins to shrink. I did this experiment on myself. I'm a night owl, what I call a Wolf chronotype, and I go to bed around midnight every single night. That's just what I do. I really can't get in bed before midnight. That's just me. So, I got in bed at midnight and I woke up around 7:40am, after about a month of it, I was waking up at 7:20am. After another month of it, it was 7:00am.
If you wake up at the exact same time, every single day, what you will find is that the amount of sleep that you require begins to shrink.
I wake up now at 6:13am almost every single day. I'm not sure why it's 6:13am, people will always ask. I always look at the clock and I say, "Oh my God, it's 6:13." But my entire sleep cycle shrank by almost a full 90-minute cycle. I get six hours and 13 minutes of sleep, and I've looked at it on trackers, and my sleep is fantastic. What's happened is, the consolidation has occurred because of the consistency. That’s why step one is to wake up at the same time every single day. You will get higher quality sleep and you will probably need less of it, unless you have an underlying sleep disorder.
Step two has to do with caffeine. We already know that caffeine is a problem because it’s a stimulant. But what we know is, it's got a half-life of about six to eight hours. So, with a half-life like that, what we do is, we say stop caffeine by 2:00pm, and eight hours later it’s 10:00pm which is where most people in North America tend to go to bed. So that's the reasoning behind the recommendation.
Now I guarantee you there's a listener or a watcher out there who is thinking, "Huh! Sleep doctor? He doesn't know what he's talking about! I can have a cup of coffee, an espresso, or a cappuccino minutes before going to sleep and I can fall asleep, no problem."
I think I've said that before!
See, there you go! Let's bust that myth. Here's what's interesting, it turns out that people have different caffeine sensitivities. I had one patient who honestly could drink a pot of coffee and go to sleep, and I had another one who could eat a square piece of a chocolate bar and be up for days. So, that's the first thing. But here's the other thing, for my patient who could drink a pot of coffee and go to sleep, if you stick electrodes on somebody's head, caffeine is a stimulant, you can't stop the fact that it is stimulating, and what it does is it almost completely obliterates stage three/four sleep.
For folks out there who don't know, stage three/four sleep is your physical restoration. That is your wake up and feel great sleep. You do not want anything messing with that. And right now during COVID, I'll tell you why, even more importantly, during stages three/four sleep is where growth hormone is emitted, and this is where your killer T cells are produced. Killer T cells are what fight viral infection. Hello! We want as much stage three/four sleep as we can possibly get right now. So please, please, please slow down your caffeine, and if you could eliminate it altogether, that would be great.
Don't do it cold turkey. I had two patients end up in the ER, believe it or not, going cold turkey off of caffeine. One of them had a seizure and one of them just couldn't stop puking. It was a mess. So, if you're a heavy, heavy caffeine drinker, slow it down over the course of time. But if you can, stop caffeine by 2:00pm.
Step three has to do with alcohol. There's a really big difference, dude, between going to sleep and passing out, okay? People don't seem to understand that sometimes. It takes the average human approximately one hour to digest one alcoholic beverage. The data would suggest that the time between the last sip and when you close your eyes, that gap, is the most important amount of time when looking at alcohol's effects on your sleep.
If you notice that your sleep is not so great, it could be a window into your health.
Remember, alcohol is a depressant, so it will make you feel sleepy up until about two to three drinks. Once you get past the third drink, unfortunately it has a tendency to energize people or make them aggressive, so you really don't want to go over two drinks if you possibly can. That time period is very important. If it takes the average human one hour to digest one alcoholic beverage, here's how I run it: if you're going to have a glass or two of wine with dinner, let's say you finished by 7:00pm and you had two glasses of wine, then you would be able to go to sleep by 9:00pm.
Do me a favor, for every glass of wine, drink one glass of water. If you had two glasses of wine, drink two glasses of water, wait two hours. It's really very simple. It's the one-to-one-to-one rule. I found this to be very, very effective for people.
Also, let's be honest. If you're using alcohol as a sedative, you have a problem. Talk to your doctor. There are much better ways of helping you get a good night’s sleep than drinking yourself there. And you're not alone, since alcohol is the number one sleep aid in the world. More people use alcohol to make themselves fall asleep. Once again, you don't get that deep sleep. Just like with what caffeine does to stage three/four sleep, alcohol does the same thing, but it also screws up your REM sleep as well, which is why your memory is all messed up after a heavy night of drinking. So, if you can, stop alcohol three hours before bed.
Onto the more positive side of things! Exercising daily is incredibly important, and I would argue, especially during the pandemic, this is one of our biggest issues. I'm a huge fan of exercise, but the good news is, you don't have to run a marathon. Remember guys, sleep is recovery. If you do not do anything to recover from, your body is not going to sleep as deeply. It just doesn't work that way. So, get your butt outside. Sunlight is an important and good thing, so is fresh air, and so is exercise.
But if you're going to do your workouts, which I want you to do, you need to be careful, because remember, sleep follows the core body temperature cycle. As you fall asleep, your core body temperature begins to drop. Unfortunately, exercise raises our core body temperature, which is why we sweat. So, step four is to exercise daily, but stop exercise four hours before bed.
Finally, step five, is for waking up. When we wake up in the mornings, what we really want to make sure of is that we can clear the brain fog and get ourselves moving. Do not drink coffee as the first thing that you drink. Most people don't realize it, but sleep in and of itself is a dehydrative event; from the humidity in our breath, we lose almost a full liter of water every night. Sitting by your bedside, you should have about 20 to 30 ounces [600 ml to 900 ml] of room temperature water in a refillable glass or jug. Every single night, you should put one of those there.
When you wake up in the morning, take 5-10 deep breaths just to activate your respiratory system and orient yourself to space. Sit on the side of your bed, grab your water, walk to the window and get 15 minutes of sunlight. "Michael, why sunlight?" So the data would suggest that, blue light hits a particular cell in your eye called a melanopsin cell, which sends a signal to your brain to turn off the melatonin faucet in your head. We want the melatonin off when we wake up. This is why we like blue light in the morning, but why we don't really like blue light at night, because it suppresses melatonin as well.
Do me a favor, if you've gotten out of bed, grabbed your water and walked over to the window to get your sunlight, put on a robe! I'm just saying. I'm just saying, put on a robe.
So many amazing things to unpack there. You mentioned marathons. If someone does a marathon, or some other type of unusual event where they’re physically exhausted, should they set an alarm for their usual wake up time so they get up, or is it better to give the body one day off to sleep as long as it wants?
I would give your body one day off to sleep from a marathon because it's such an extended type of thing. When I work with professional athletes, usually the day after the game, contest, or race, we let them sleep in. Also, depending upon the competitive nature of it, they end up doing a lot of damage to their bodies and you know in marathon work, everybody gets hurt by the end of the marathon.
I’ve heard a lot of people talk about waking up and having lemon juice first thing. Can a tablespoon or two of lemon juice do anything!? Is that a myth that needs to be busted right here right now?
I've never heard of lemon juice being particularly effective in the morning. I will tell you though, that the vitamin C from lemons in the citrus actually has been shown to be helpful for keeping circadian rhythms in line. People ask me all the time about supplementation and vitamins, minerals, things like that. That's the only thing I could think of from a lemon juice perspective. I tried doing that apple cider vinegar in the mornings, and I almost puked!
You mentioned waking up and getting sunlight as soon as you can. If it's 5:00am in the middle of winter, with no sun to be found, is turning on a light a good substitute?
I've found even having something like a cold shower, which I do every single morning, does a good job of giving me an energy jolt. Plus, I’ve been trying to do what you recommend and wait 90 minutes or longer before having my coffee!
In the absence of sunlight, is there something else that can fill in?
There are commercially available light boxes, believe it or not. So you could go onto Amazon, and Phillips makes one called the GoLite. I think it's 90 bucks. I have one in my suitcase because I use it for jet lag when I travel. Because you can forward your circadian rhythm using light, caffeine, and melatonin, and sleep in particular patterns. That's how we work with people like Steve Aoki and Carson Daly, we mess with all of those things. We have an algorithm, it's actually pretty cool.
But when you look at those things, light is certainly one thing that would be helpful in the morning. The temperature challenge is definitely helpful in the morning. I do a temperature challenge most mornings. I don't do it for my entire shower, I do it for like the last 30 seconds type of thing. I don't have a cold plunge at my house, although I'd like one, it's a cool idea. It's definitely alerting, I can assure you of that.
Sleep is recovery. If you do not do anything to recover from, your body is not going to sleep as deeply.
For healthy ways to wake up in the morning, I also think that breathwork is something that I've personally found to be very helpful. I have a men's group that I meet with every morning on Zoom, and we do Wim Hof breathing together, followed by a small meditation of gratitude, and that's how I start my day. Honestly, I'm awake and alert and present. It's awesome.
Are there really people on this planet who wake up with immediate hits of energy and motivation!?
Based on the chronotype, yeah! So, I mean, we haven't really talked about chronotypes. I came up with this categorization of chronotypes. To be clear, there were chronotypes long before I came up with it. I ended up finding the fourth one. We used chronotypes, so things like early bird, night owl, people in the middle, and that's what we've been bantering back and forth about. About 15% of the population love getting up in the morning.
Honestly, dude, the only thing I hate more than mornings are morning people, right!? They’re so damn chipper. Even though I wake up at 6:13am, I don't want to talk to anybody, that's for sure.
How true is it that we all need eight hours of sleep a night?
Total horseshit. The math doesn't even work. The average sleep cycle is 90 minutes long, and the average human has five of them. So, five times 90 is 450 minutes, which is only seven and a half hours. The math doesn't even work on average to get you there.
I think the original recommendation came from a study done at Stanford in the 50s, where they put people in these self-contained chambers. What happened was, their sleep amount went up and then eventually came back down and their bodies would no longer allow them to sleep any longer than, I think it was like, eight hours and 13 minutes. So, I think that's where the recommendation of eight hours originally came from.
But to be fair, that's not a smart way of trying to figure that idea out. Number one, I think it was an all-male study. By the way, sleep has changed a lot since the 50s. Even thinking about it philosophically as a concept, remember – well, you’re young – but in the 50s, people slept in separate beds, and it was a whole different universe for sleep back then. Whereas now people have televisions in their bedrooms, they have video games, I mean, it's a whole different universe. Sleep has evolved.
So, as it continues to do so, and with these levels of stress that we're all experiencing, and with some of the environmental insanity that's going. There’s lights here, kids playing video games until 4:00am, and all that kind of stuff, so we’re going to see some sleep consequences for sure.
For a long time, studying peak performance has been a big part of my work. Several years ago, I downloaded a top-rated sleep tracker app on my iPhone, and I woke up the next day and felt pretty good. Then I looked at my phone, and it said that I had shitty sleep, which completely shifted my mood. Then the next day I woke up and I felt miserable, but when I looked at the app it said I had an amazing sleep, so I felt like crap anyway. I haven’t used a sleep tracker since.
Here's the thing about sleep trackers, it’s like the best of the worst. When you look at the history of sleep tracking, here's what we've discovered: people were tracking activity before they were tracking sleep. It's not too hard to measure steps. My daughter, she's 17 years old, she's pretty good at math. If I know the length of your leg and your gait, that's a calculus problem. I can figure out how to track your steps.
But if I'm going to track your sleep, what do I measure? How quickly you fell asleep? Is it how quickly you get to stage three/four? Is it how quickly you get to REM? Is it the number of REM periods? Is it your number of awakenings? Dude, I can go on for 30 or 40 more variables if you want me to. It's a complicated process. Thinking that a wristband, a ring, a pad, is going to do a great job of truly measuring our sleep is probably a fallacy at this point in time.
Will we see it in the future with a high level of accuracy? I think we will. How far is that future? I think it's less than 18-24 months away. I think we will get much, much better at this much, much faster. As machine learning, AI, and algorithms start to get more involved in crunching, some of those big data sets, I think we'll start to learn a whole lot more.
But here's what I tell people, if you've got a sleep tracker, it's still useful, and I'll explain to you how. Don't look at the absolute data, look at the relative data. So, if my sleep tracker says that I have 13 minutes of stage three/four sleep, every single night, I know that's inaccurate, but it's consistently inaccurate. However, if I got 13 minutes, one night and 407, 612, the next I want to know what's happening relatively speaking. Don't get caught up in the what it should be. Compare it to yourself.
You are your best scientist, so when you wake up in the morning, however you perceive you slept, it's probably pretty accurate. Sleep is a perception. There's a physical state of unconsciousness where lots of cool shit happens. But when you wake up in the morning, how you think you slept, I would argue, is probably the best marker of how you actually did sleep.
You are your best scientist.
So, trackers or no trackers, there's lots of things that we can do to improve our sleep and our performance. I would argue that consistency is certainly the biggest one. I have a high-performance sleep coaching practice here in Los Angeles, as you know. One of the things that we do is, we evaluate people right when they walk through the door.
A lot of people come to me, they're like, "Hey, Michael, I know I need eight hours and I only have six. What can you do?" Believe it or not, I can actually fix that problem. Like I was telling you earlier, it's learning what their chronotype is, getting them more consistent, and then I actually run blood work on people. I look at things like iron, magnesium, vitamin D, melatonin. All of those are things that, if you're deficient in them, are going to have a really big effect on your sleep.
Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Dr Michael Breus does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about his favorite quote, what advice he’d give his 18-year-old self, the one thing on his bucket list, and a whole lot more 🚀
We want to make sure that we're starting out at good levels, and then if everything looks good there, I do a full genetic screen. So, I take their DNA from a 23andme, ancestry.com, something like that. I run it through an algorithm with 74 different sleep markers, and I get a roadmap of what your sleep is going to look like now and what it's going to look like in the future. Then we taper to the future.
As an example, I had one fellow, a prominent CEO here in Los Angeles, and we discovered that he had a genetic propensity for sleep apnea. He's a lean guy, not somebody who you would ever expect to have sleep apnea. So what we do now is, we contacted his physician and at all of his appointments, we measure his neck size, because one of the big markers for sleep apnea is neck size. Anybody who has over a 17-and-a-half-inch neck has something like an 80% chance of having sleep apnea.
If I now monitor his neck and if he goes a bigger collar size, we get on it real quick, and we make sure that things are copacetic because we don't want him to get that sleep apnea. We had another one with somebody with restless legs, same thing, had the propensity, didn't have the symptomatology, make sure that we avoided in the future. That kind of stuff is pretty cool.
If you get someone who comes in who has PTSD, depression, or some type of other severe condition, do you change your approach or is it pretty similar to what you just outlined?
I do change my approach, especially with people who have PTSD. I did a lot of work with patients with PTSD during my residency at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi. I'll be honest with you, I'm going to say something that's a little on the controversial side, so I hope that's okay. One of the only things I was able to find for my veterans to help them sleep after they had been in an active theater of war was cannabis. We live in California, it's legal here, it's recreational here, and it's literally the only thing I've ever found that worked in my PTSD patients in particular.
There's this hypervigilant switch that pops in these folks. If you've been in an active theater of war, your head's on a swivel, you're making sure that you're okay at all times. That just doesn't turn off when you come home. I'm not suggesting everybody goes out and smokes weed to sleep. But what I am saying is, there's something there. There are lots of sleep related products in the dispensaries. Most of them, to be fair, don't work particularly well. I do believe that THC is an important component in reduction of anxiety. I believe that CBN, which is one of the cannabinoids, can be very important in helping with sleep. There's some interesting data to suggest that.
One of the only things I was able to find for my veterans to help them sleep after they had been in an active theater of war was cannabis.
Unfortunately, with CBD, you'd have to have a tremendous amount of it as far as the data is concerned for it to be really effective. But for PTSD, I think we're close. I'm excited to see some of those cannabis studies come out.
Depression is a whole different ball game. In my mind, I think of PTSD as more on the anxiety side of things. Depression in and of itself is very interesting when you look at it. For example, most people, you don't see REM sleep approach until about 80 minutes into the cycle. For people with depression, they're in REM sleep 30 minutes in.
Sometimes when we're in the sleep lab, we can identify somebody with depression before they even know they have it, which is an interesting concept. It's a biomarker, if you will, for depression, which I think is in and of itself, quite interesting as well. Again, there's lots of different ways to approach all of these different things. Obviously, it's all about good medicine and good science.
Is the delivery method of cannabis important?
Yes, great question. I would argue that the preferred administration method would probably be a tincture, like a dropper with a liquid that you could put underneath your tongue. Because for sleep, we have to get it up and into your brain fairly quickly. And so, if it's a gummy, you got to eat it, it's got to go down to your belly, it's got to mix around, it's got to get back up there. You're talking about 90 minutes or so.
I'd love to see a tincture that would work a little bit faster. Things of that nature, I think, would make sense.
For those who work late at night in front of a computer, is it the light of the computer (or whatever device they’re using) that’s keeping them awake? Or is it their brain being an absolute beehive of activity?
Dude, it's both. It's a two-factor thing here. So, I'm the only sleep doctor, I think, in the universe who says it's okay to fall asleep with the television on, because it's passive content. You're lying back, and content is just flowing over you.
You're watching an old episode of Seinfeld, you close your eyes, you're barely listening, and you fall asleep. That's very different than trying to get your high score on Candy Crush or get through as many work things as you can. That's an active engagement that I think we want to say “No thank you” too. It's both the blue light and the active brain.
Final question, what’s one thing you do to Win the Day?
Show up. I show up positive, and that's been a struggle for me for a long time, but that's really what I do every single day. I wear a bracelet and it's got ‘Positivity’ and ‘Patience’ on it. I think about those two things every day. If I can do those two things, I am good to go.
Resources / Links Mentioned:
📙 The Sleep Doctor blog.
📝 The Sleep Doctor Facebook.
📚 The Power of When by Dr Michael Breus.
💡 Philips SmartSleep Wake-up Light.
🧘 The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday.
👟 Shoe Dog by Phil Knight.
💚 Have a podcast of your own and want to monetize it? Join us at We Are Podcast.