Written by: Dr. Kirk Parsley
It’s likely you have a copy of Robb’s Paleo Quick Start guide on your computer from your early days of following his blog and recommendations.
Written for those unclear on what it means to be “Paleo,” it’s two fast and furious pages—simple and blatant and very Robb Wolf. A download on Robb’s knowledge of evolutionary biology and analysis of the science being performed in regards to diet exists (as you know) in great depth, both in print and online, but the Quick Start Guide is meant to be a no-bullshit catapult toward better health and performance.
At its very essence, the guide is boiled down to a five-point flow chart. The first four tasks are these: Clean out the pantry, go shopping, cook and go for a walk. In one afternoon, you can fully launch yourself into the realm of an anti-inflammatory diet.
It’s the fifth and final point on the flow-chart I want to talk about: Sleep. Robb writes:
Black out your room. I mean REALLY black out your room. No LED lights from alarm clocks, fire alarms, TV’s, cell phones. Do not watch TV or check email for at least 1 hour before bed. Go to bed early, get at least 8-9 hrs of sleep. You should wake up without an alarm, feeling refreshed.
Sleep comes at the tail end of the flow chart, but for some 85% of Americans it’s going to be the most valuable step when it comes to lowering chronic inflammation levels and freeing up physical and cognitive performance that is otherwise being left on the table.
As a former Navy SEAL and an MD that has long worked on health and performance issues with active-duty Navy SEALS, it’s become my personal mission to disrupt the construct that suggests that getting by on less sleep is some sort of badge of honor; that anything more than five or six hours of sleep per night is for the weak and undisciplined.
To begin making my point about how wrong this sentiment is (no matter how pervasive), I want to start you off in a very Robb Wolf-esque way: Try it for yourself and see what happens.
I challenge you to make sleep your number one priority for one week. Put aside any preconceptions you might have about sleep—particularly if you’re that type-A person who has a number of hot irons in the fire (career, family, athletics, etc) and cuts back on sleep to make time for more—and make getting a long, deep night of sleep your number one goal of each day for seven days, and see what happens.
This is what I want to happen and expect to happen: That you’ll be happier, healthier, faster, stronger and smarter. I want you to see that sleep is one of the best ways Americans can support their trademark work ethic. I want you to see that real, consistent sleep is required to achieve maximum productivity. Because I promise you that if you’re cutting sleep in the name of being more productive, it’s not working.
Why do I feel the need to say this? If you have seen my TED talk, titled, “America’s Biggest Problem,” you probably think that you know the answer to that question—and you’d be half right. The other half of the reason is that I feel we’re only just beginning to get the message out and that there’s a lot of work to be done.
I first started beating the sleep drum to the SEALs in 2009. A quick Google search for “sleep articles 2009” yields about 49-million hits—2015 yields 112-million hits. So the buzz is definitely growing. The downside is I read all of these articles that people send me and I’m reminded of the debates about the science. Educated, intelligent people are actually arguing against sleep in a few extreme cases, but a massive number of articles are dredging up statistics, seemingly in an effort minimize the deleterious effects of sleep deprivation. It’s not unlike reading the incendiary arguments between vegetarians and meat eaters.
So why is everyone so down on sleep? Why is sleep considered “optional” (at best)?
I work with, and have worked with some of the most elite people on the planet. This list includes world-class athletes, professional sports teams, the world’s most powerful CEO’s, the most successful entrepreneurs across the globe and the Navy SEALs.
What do these elite performers all have in common? All of them perform better with sleep.
What’s the second thing? The second thing they have in common is that nearly all of them consider their routine lack of sleep not to be a problem. When we first meet, that is. After we’ve worked together for a while, 100% of them understand that lack of sleep WAS affecting their performance.
This transformation doesn’t come easily, I should add. I have to beat them over the head with the idea, push, prod, cajole, and beg to get them to try the very same 7-Day Sleep Challenge that I’m pushing, prodding and cajoling you to take on.
It’s a strange belief and attitude; so deep-seated into our culture it takes a beating to get people to reconsider. Not just superstar athletes and CEO’s. The same is true when I work with the typical soccer mom, or Joe six-pack. The 112 MILLION sleep articles this year don’t seem to have changed anybody’s mind.
Let me set the record straight, however. I get it. I’ve been there.
If you don’t know anything about me, I have been as sleep deprived as anyone. I know how to punish myself. I have had an infant and two toddlers, while simultaneously going to medical school. I have pulled countless 36-plus hour hospital shifts, I have been a Navy SEAL, I’ve been through Hell Week, I am a serial entrepreneur, consultant, father, and athlete.
In fact, I literally went 10 consecutive years averaging about five hours of sleep per night. It was only when I returned to the NAVY SEALs and started working with them, listening to their challenges, studying their blood tests and stress hormone complications, and ultimately diagnosing their physical, mental and emotional difficulties that I realized I was seeing what was at the root of my own struggles with physical and psychological problems that were riddling my health, performance and personal life.
Seven-days—-Black out the room, turn off the TV and digital devices at least an hour or two before bed, go to bed at the same time every night. If you’re going to read before bed do it in another room, and use a breathing exercise, meditation or visualization to help initiate sleep, and do this for seven days.
My SEAL instructors and leaders used to ask, “If I gave you a million dollars to do ‘x’ by a certain time, could you do it?” Almost always the answer to that question is, “yes”. Once they sucked you in they would reply, “Then you can do it without a million dollars.” So can you.