Dr. Allison Brager is a neuroscientist, American soldier, and author of Meathead: Unraveling the Athletic Brain. As a neuroscientist specializing in sleep, she offers some insight into setting up a sleep schedule, and how consistency in sleep can affect our circadian rhythms. She illustrates the importance of circadian rhythms and relates that to habits that she has implemented in her own life that we all can easily apply to our own daily lives.
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Brett Gilliland: Welcome to the Circuit of Success. I’m your host, Brett Gilliland, and today I have Dr. Allison Brager. Alison, how you doing?
Allison Brager: Oh, it’s great to be here.
Brett Gilliland: Awesome. It’s good to be with you. You are, uh, out in Fort Bragg. So how’s everything going out there today as you’re an active American soldier? So thank you for your service.
Brett Gilliland: We are very thankful for people like you. Uh, also a neuroscientist and author of ‘Meathead: Unraveling The Athletic Brain’. So we’ll dive into all that stuff, but how’s everything going out there at Fort Bragg today?
Allison Brager: Oh, it’s great. Uh, you know, back to the cold weather, I’ve been out traveling to our different schools, which are, uh, in more tropical places out in the, uh, desert of California and down in Key West.
Allison Brager: So, uh, I I, I wouldn’t say it’s great to be back. But I’m, I’m surviving.
Brett Gilliland: But you’re back. You’re back.
Allison Brager: I’m back.
Brett Gilliland: Well, that’s good. Well, uh, if you could give us a little lay of the land, what’s made you, the woman you are today? I mean, there’s tons of stuff you’re doing. You know, obviously writing a book, uh, becoming a doctor of neurosciences uh, American Soldier, serving our country, uh, CrossFit, I mean, all the things that you’re doing out there.
Brett Gilliland: Uh, maybe give us a little lay of the land on what made you the woman you are today.
Allison Brager: Yeah, so, I um didn’t grow up in the, the best city. Um, I grew up in Youngstown, Ohio. Okay. Which at the time growing up was, uh, the most dangerous city in the country. We had the highest murder rate per capita.
Brett Gilliland: Wow.
Allison Brager: Uh, so I always kind of knew early on that.
Allison Brager: Being good at sports is my ticket out of town. There’s uh, quite a few prominent athletes and coaches who come from the area I grew up. Uh, so I sort of always made it my goal to be good at sports growing up just like everyone else I grew up with. Um, I also knew that getting a good education was important.
Allison Brager: Uh, so that’s more or less what set my. I was fortunate enough to go to Brown University for undergrad. Um, it was there, I was competed in D one track and field. Um, but I also just fell in love with sleep research, uh, and I’ve always been a big fan of, uh, planning your career around your lifestyle and not your lifestyle around your career.
Allison Brager: Um, and so I went along that path of staying dedicated to focusing on sleep research. And I’m lucky enough that I still get to live that life today. Uh, so I basically study sleep health across the entire army. Uh, military, bring new sleep solutions, problem sets to them. Um, and then of course, you know, being.
Allison Brager: The army, I get to still be an athlete, uh, full-time because we’re, we’re always having to do physical training. So yeah, it’s been good.
Brett Gilliland: Awesome, awesome. And that’s where I, uh, came across you is through the ‘Whoop’ I wear the ‘Whoop, Whoop’ bracelet. You wear one as well. Uh, I heard you on that podcast. It was amazing.
Brett Gilliland: I was like, I gotta have her on here. So let’s talk about that. Some of the things that you’re learning, not necessarily just from ‘Whoop’, this isn’t a ‘Whoop’, uh, uh, podcast, but if you can about the sleep and what you’re learning, cuz I know the Army has, uh, I think a relationship with ‘Whoop’, where a lot of the soldiers can wear those and, and understand their recovery, their strain.
Brett Gilliland: Uh, all the stuff. If you haven’t ever listened or people listening to this, had never seen one, check it out at ‘Whoop’. Um, but tell us about that. So, I wanna start with circadian rhythms. Um,
Allison Brager: Sure.
Brett Gilliland: People have heard that before, but let’s start with that and let’s maybe kind of set a baseline level of why the importance of that and what that is exactly.
Allison Brager: Yeah. So, um, It, I’m really thankful for this ‘Whoop’ army collaboration because I think just having awareness over what your recovery is like and things in your life that impact recovery is most important. Um, so the reason why in the military sleep is such a challenge is because the circadian rhythms, uh, it’s not so much the sleep loss.
Allison Brager: It’s the sleep loss at unanticipated times. Um, so circadian rhythms are these basic biological rhythms that pretty much tell us when to eat, sleep, train, and when we perform at our best. But, um, sometimes when you have sleep deprivation or you’re asked to do work, or you’re asked to train at a time you’re not normally conditioned to, it can really disrupt the entire system.
Allison Brager: Uh, so that’s why it’s really important for the Army to invest in these platforms that give people awareness of what their recovery’s going to be like when they can’t be on their exact schedule, which, you know, ends up being a lot of our job.
Brett Gilliland: Sure, for sure. So, but talk about that. So those of us maybe that aren’t in the military, that are living a, a different life where we can kind of control our, you know, go to beds and, and get up and, and that’s the point of circadian rhythm, right?
Brett Gilliland: The, the more close we can be to going to bed at the same time every night and going to get up at the same time every day, that’s healthier for us, right?
Allison Brager: Yep. Yeah. So these, um, these clocks thrive on consistency and the more consistent we are, um, the better it is.
Brett Gilliland: Yeah. So why, why is that, do you think?
Allison Brager: Oh, so…
Brett Gilliland: What’s the science behind that?
Allison Brager: Uh, yeah. Yeah. So what I should say is that there, these, um, Circadian rhythms are controlled by these biological clocks that basically determine when we eat, sleep, and train. So they are programmed to time. Um, and so when the time doesn’t line up, um, we have clocks in our fat cells, our muscle, our liver, our heart, our brain, pretty much every single tissue of the body have has these clocks.
Allison Brager: And so when the clocks get disrupted because things in our life aren’t happening. at times they want ’em to then that’s when we get sick. That’s when we’re not gonna have like a great training session. That’s when we’re mentally gonna be in a fog. Um, that’s when all these things happen.
Brett Gilliland: And so you, knowing what you know, if you have the time when you can control, when you go to sleep and when you wake up, are you, are you pretty consistent with that?
Brett Gilliland: Like seven days a week, is this something we need to be focusing on? Is it, you know, four days a week is good? Like what, what helps us?
Allison Brager: Uh, the more, the better because, , uh, our body sort of remembers when we’re good to ourselves and then when we aren’t so good to ourselves, we’re in a better position to adapt more quickly. Uh, it’s the same thing with sleep loss too. That’s why it’s good to like actually bank on sleep in anticipation of sleep deprivation is because it, um, it can protect us when we’re actually sleep, sleep deprived. And so it’s the, the same thing with these body clocks too, the less disruptive we are, uh, then when they are disrupted, they’re gonna be in a better position to be okay. , and recover from it quickly.
Brett Gilliland: Yeah.
Allison Brager: And I know it’s, it’s all very abstract, but
Brett Gilliland: Yeah. But I think it’s important for our listeners that may not study this stuff or, or follow, or, or pay attention to it, is, is the key to this is at the end of the day, right, if, if your normal bedtime is, whatever, 10:30, I mean, you need to stay as consistent as you possibly can to get into bed at 10:30.
Brett Gilliland: And if you get up at whatever, six o’clock in the morning, then you need to get up at six o’clock in the morning. So even when you don’t want to, Uh, I think that’s the importance to it. And I’ve also seen something, I had, uh, Sean Stevenson on, he’s a, uh, ‘Sleep Smarter’ is the book he wrote and he talked about…
Allison Brager: Oh yeah,
Brett Gilliland: …he, yeah.
Brett Gilliland: And the guy, I mean, it’s amazing. And, and so he used to live here in St. Louis. He’s out in California now, but doing amazing things. And, but anyway, he talks about even there’s a 90 minute clock, right? Every 90 minutes our body is cycling through. Um, through our sleep. And so, you know, sometimes when you wake up on your own and you’re wide awake and then you’re like, oh, I’ll, I’ll just go back to sleep cause I’ve got another 45 minutes.
Brett Gilliland: Right, til’ your alarm goes off per se, but then you wake up in 45 minutes and then you’re exhausted. So yeah. What do you know about that and what can you share with our listeners there?
Allison Brager: Yeah, so that is exactly what it is, is, um, these sleep cycles, they, um, oscillate in 90 minute periods. Um, that’s why we say it’s better to wake up out of a dream than not out of a dream, because that is the last state of sleep of this 90 minute sleep cycle is we go from a state of restorative sleep called non rapid eye movement, sleep to REM sleep, which is the state of sleep we dream in. And so if you’re waking up out of a dream, it means you’ve completed a full sleep cycle. Um, but even throughout our day too, this is, you know, sort of my theory about why the Pomodoro Technique. Have you talked at all on the show about the Pomodoro Technique?
Allison Brager: About how we can only…
Brett Gilliland: no…
Allison Brager: …you know, focus for like 15- 20 minutes at a time before we need a break and then after…
Brett Gilliland: No, I would love to hear more of it.
Allison Brager: Okay. Yeah. So this is, um, a pro productivity technique. It’s often used in the European workforce, and I’m a big proponent of it, and I feel like we should all be doing that.
Allison Brager: Um, but basically when you look at human attention, uh, we’re only able to attend to things for about 15 minutes at a time. Um, and so fa past 15 minutes, that’s when there’s an increased risk for errors and, um, just lack of focus taking place. Um, so the idea is that every 15 minutes you should take a, like intentional three to five minute break and then resume work.
Allison Brager: And then after about 90 minutes of doing, uh, basically four of these Pomodoro cycles, then um, you should take like an hour or an hour and a half break from whatever intense work you’re, you’re doing.
Brett Gilliland: Wow. That’s crazy. So, so human, uh, attention lasts about 15 minutes. Yeah. Mine lasts about five seconds sometimes, I think, but…
Allison Brager: Well, they say, I mean, the studies now, you know, with, with the, uh, integration of smartphones, uh, within kids now, you know, we didn’t, I didn’t have a smartphone until I was well into my thirties, but like now that kids are getting smartphones as young as five, they say that the average human attention span is like six minutes.
Brett Gilliland: Wow.
Allison Brager: So…
Brett Gilliland: That’s not good. So let’s. So while we’re on the sleep topic, let’s any, any other kind of sleep hacks or anything that you can think of that, that would help us on how to get prepared for better sleep or to have more of the deep sleep that you talked about? Like how, how do we do that?
Allison Brager: So I think the two biggest things is um, first off, setting a sleep routine, um, it sounds so simple, but having something where 60 minutes before bed, you’re putting away your work, um, you’re not setting yourself up for a situation where you’re gonna have additional stress, um, and actually dimming the lights in your house. So, uh, there’s this phenomenon called “dilmo” or ‘dim light melatonin onset’.
Allison Brager: Uh, basically being in the presence of dim light causes the release and production of melatonin from your brain. And melatonin is of course, a hormone that helps you fall asleep and stay asleep. Uh, so if you’re able to dim the lights in your house, you’re actually setting yourself up for a position to get better sleep because you’re augmenting your internal release of melatonin.
Allison Brager: Um, and I should say and clarify that people who take melatonin supplements, it’s actually more of a placebo effect than an actual physiological effect. Like it cannot mirror or mimic the internal production and release of melatonin. It is just such a strong biological response that no pill can ma can mirror it.
Allison Brager: Um, so. You know, I say all that because I know a lot of people do take melatonin. Yeah. Melatonin before they sleep at night.
Brett Gilliland: Yeah. I’ve never done that, thankfully. But, uh, I’ve heard the same thing. And also I’ve heard about, you know, getting up in the morning, first thing, like first 15, 20 minutes looking directly at the sun…
Allison Brager: Yes.
Brett Gilliland: We’re blessed with the sun being out. Like that helps as well. Right. So talk about that.
Allison Brager: Yeah. , um, these biological clocks I talked about earlier, they’re, of all the things they’re most sensitive to, the thing they’re sensitive to the most is light. And when it’s light out, if you remind these clocks that it’s light out, then they will keep, you know, putting together resources and keep functioning like they normally will during light.
Allison Brager: Um, so when you wake up in the morning and you expose these clocks to natural light, it’s a wonderful signal to your body and all the physiological processes that will result from it, um, to be awake and to stay awake. Uh, and you’re less likely to have daytime sleepiness. Uh, you know, obviously our attention and our levels of fatigue change throughout the day.
Allison Brager: Uh, but an easy way to, to, um, overcome that is actually just going outside and, you know, spending three, five minutes outside every day. That’s all we need. We don’t need caffeine. I mean, I, I love caffeine. Don’t get me wrong, but, uh,
Brett Gilliland: That’s not the answer though, is it?
Allison Brager: …it’s, it’s not always…
Brett Gilliland: What if I’m looking through my window, is that okay? Or do I need to actually go outside and have nothing between me and the sun?
Allison Brager: No, windows are okay. I just, um, you know, natural light is always better than artificial light.
Brett Gilliland: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So that’s a big deal too. And I also wear blue light blocking glasses at night, you know? So what are your thoughts on those?
Allison Brager: Those are great. Um, but I still think the 60 minute rule before bedtime applies. Um, I think people should wear blue light blocking glasses after dinner and continue to wear them until about 60 minutes before bed and then take them off.
Brett Gilliland: Okay. That’s, that’s interesting. So that’s good to hear. So I, I do, I put ’em on probably around, you know, 7:30, 8 o’clock, something like that. And then, uh, but I, I wear ’em right before I go to bed, so I need to take those off, get rid of my screen. I’m trying to figure out a way to where I can, uh, Put that thing in another, those of you listening, I’m looking at my phone, put it in another room. I need to put that in another room. Cause I always hear that’s not great for sleep either, right?
Brett Gilliland: Cause I go to bed if I’m looking at something, I try to not look at social media and all that stuff. Last thing before I go to bed, I definitely don’t wanna check emails. Um, but it’s just sometimes it’s, you know, it just gets to you, right?
Allison Brager: Oh no, absolutely. Um, I mean, that’s definitely another hack too, is it, there’s something about the psychology of sleep. So putting away all electronics and keeping them in a other room, it definitely helps. I I do that. I keep my, um, phone in the kitchen.
Brett Gilliland: I like it. I like it. So let’s talk about, uh, exercise. So obviously sleep, we, we, and everything we’re gonna talk about today is, is, people know this, but I think to your point earlier, is having a plan before bed, right? A 60 minute plan.
Allison Brager: Yep.
Brett Gilliland: It’s no different than you’re planning with the military leaders. Right? You have a plan. When we go to war, we have a plan. When we do this, we have a plan. When I work with my clients, we have a plan, right? So what’s the plan for sleep? But then now what’s the plan for exercise? So can you kind of give us two or three things that you think are crucially, critically important for us, for, uh, for our fitness?
Allison Brager: Yeah. So first you gotta figure out what kind of person you are, if you work better in the evening or in the morning. I am a morning, I, I am not a morning person. Um, I quite honestly, I probably won’t go very far up the military chain in terms of like, Uh, you know, being a general or anything, because I am not a morning person. I am an evening person. I have the genetics of an evening person and I know that.
Allison Brager: Um, so I work out best and I perform my best in the evening. So if you’re going for a performance metrics like. You have to know yourself if you’re a morning person or an evening person, and you know, we kind of, in order to figure that out, sure, you could take a clinical questionnaire, but really just you have to do some reflection and think about times of your life or day where you did the best on a college exam or you did the best when you were competing, when you were an athlete at one point in your life.
Allison Brager: Um, I think we all kind of know who we are. Uh, and then the second thing is, um, if you aren’t working out within this period of time, just know that you probably aren’t gonna perform at your best. Um, the other thing too is, . So these biological clocks I talked about, they do latch onto exercise. So if you keep your workout schedule very consistent, you’re more likely to set yourself up for gains, like in terms of muscle mass endurance, whatever your end exercise goal is, because your body is going to start leveraging resources around that time of exercise, knowing that it’s going to exercise around that time.
Brett Gilliland: Interesting. Yeah, so I, I agree. I’m a, I’m a night person too, but, um, I’ve also found that, you know, with four kids and a busy schedule and their, their sports and stuff, I find that if I don’t get it done in the morning, I’m, I’m probably not gonna get it done. Right. It’s rare that I can come home at five o’clock at night and then have, you know, 45 minutes to do a nice workout. It just, it’s hard to do, right?
Allison Brager: Yeah, right.
Brett Gilliland: So I think accountability is important to that, uh, as well.
Allison Brager: Yes. Oh yeah, for sure. And you know, that’s why things like the ‘Whoop’ are so great because it’s, I mean, it’s right there attached you, it’s gonna hold you accountable. And, it’s going to send notifications too.
Brett Gilliland: Right. Yeah. I get mad at my phone…
Brett Gilliland: yeah. That’s why I say I get mad and I look down at at night and it’s like, you know, for. You know, best recovery you need to get to bed. I’m like, ah, crap. I’m not even more close to getting to bed, you know, but, but it’s telling me I need to go to bed. So, um, so that’s great. So when you, when you think about, you know, again, fitness, um, I know you do CrossFit and you were an elite athlete at track and field, obviously in college.
Brett Gilliland: What do you think about from cardio versus strength versus, um, you know, like mobility, flexibility, h how do we, what’s your doctor brain tell us on that one?
Allison Brager: Um, so, believe it or not, there is research looking at when we do our best cardio and when we are the best at strength. Uh, we do our best cardio in the morning, and it’s mostly just because, uh, our body does a really good job of, um, starting to release a lot of fats, and like a lot of, uh, glucose and breaking down glycogen, which are all important for endurance and, uh, moderate intensity exercise.
Allison Brager: Uh, when it comes to strength, our, um, bodies usually leverage all those resources that make us good strength athletes at night. Uh, so they’ve done all these studies with power lifters, both recreational and Olympic power lifters, and they’ve found that in both cases, people weightlift better in the evening, unless in the morning they’re given caffeine.
Allison Brager: So in the absence of caffeine, we lift best in the evening, but with caffeine, our morning strength levels can match those at night.
Brett Gilliland: And so how far from doing that at night to going to sleep? Because I, I’ve also found like if I do do a later night workout, then it’s, I’m up, I’m kind of on, you know, I’m wired and so I can’t just go right upstairs and go to bed.
Allison Brager: Yeah, so at least two or three hours. Um, so part of the reason why it’s hard to fall asleep after you exercise so close to bed is because, um, our core body temperature goes up and the amount of sleep we have is dependent on our core body temperature. Um, our quality of sleep is also dependent on it. So, you really have to give at least two hours for your core body temperature to get back down in order to be able to get good sleep after working out.
Allison Brager: Um, and then obviously with caffeine know that there’s like an eight to 10 hour rule. Um, so caffeine has a halflife of depending on who you are, like four to eight hours, which means it can be in your system for as long as eight, or for as short as eight in as long as 16 hours.
Allison Brager: So you have to consider that as well, yeah.
Brett Gilliland: Yeah. So people that are slamming sodas at night, you know, before they go to bed or with dinner or something, that’s, that’s gonna be in your system, gonna affect your sleep.
Allison Brager: Oh yeah, for sure.
Brett Gilliland: Man. Just little things, right? I mean, just baby choices every, every day, every little choice.
Brett Gilliland: It’s what’s, what’s, I’m fascinated by it because it’s just like work. It’s your mindset, it’s whatever it may be. It’s these little choices compounded day in and day out. Uh, what makes a difference for us. And so, have you seen the, uh, the show ‘Limitless’, um, on Disney?
Allison Brager: I have.
Brett Gilliland: Hey, is that not incredible?
Allison Brager: Yeah, no, it’s, uh, I, I love that this stuff is out there cause like, we’ve been doing this research for a long time and it’s, it, it’s really super helpful when, uh, you know, TV producers and, and Hollywood takes notice of it.
Brett Gilliland: Yeah, yeah. So those that haven’t seen it, and, uh, especially if you have kids, you got Disney plus, just check it out. It’s Chris Hemsworth, the actor follows him through. You know, kind of meditation through cold therapy, through hot therapy, through your mindset, through taking risk, uh, memory. It’s all sorts of stuff.
Brett Gilliland: It’s like a what, six part episode, I think is what it was. And it’s, it’s incredible. It’s incredible. So while we’re on that hot therapy, i.e sauna, cold Therapy, what are your thoughts on that?
Allison Brager: Oh, all wonderful too. So they definitely can help sleep. Um, very different means, but both very helpful. Uh, a few years ago we actually did a longitudinal study looking at cryotherapy.
Allison Brager: Uh, so you know, cryotherapy is you go into this chamber and for three minutes, your body basically feels like it’s dying. Yeah. You know, you, you’re blasted with, uh, gaseous nitrogen that cools your skin. Um, but that three minutes of…
Brett Gilliland: I literally thought I was going to die for the first minute. .
Allison Brager: Yeah, exactly.
Allison Brager: And then you It’s brutal. Un yeah. Uncontrollably shivering. Um, . But the thing is, is if you, if you look at sleep directly after a cryotherapy session, and so we did this over months where we are looking at nighttime sleep on days of cryotherapy in elite athletes, um, we found an increase in sleep amount and sleep quality, uh, reported in these athletes.
Allison Brager: Uh, but it’s the same thing with sauna sessions too. This like bolus of stress through, um,increasing the, the stress arm of the, the nervous system, uh, leads to a compensatory response of relaxation, which can improve sleep.
Brett Gilliland: Yeah. Yeah. I do a sauna session about, I dunno, five times a week. It’s, it’s incredible. I, and in just the sweating, the pure amount of sweat and then, you know, I watch my heart rate and my ‘Whoop’. as it continues to climb, right? It’s like, I’m just sitting there. I’m not doing anything. I’m, I’m trying to breathe and relax and it’s like, it continues to climb, which I think from a cardiovascular standpoint, that’s gotta be pretty good too for me.
Allison Brager: Oh no, absolutely. Yeah, I think, um, you know, I think this type of training is getting more popular that we call it zone zone two training, cuz that’s pretty much what it is as increasing your heart rate within, um, you know, 60 to 70% of your max heart rate for an hour, two hours at a time. I mean, that’s really the key to longevity and fitness.
Brett Gilliland: Yeah.
Allison Brager: …is doing, um, you know, exposing your body to, to things like that, and heat therapy is very much part of that.
Brett Gilliland: Yeah. I also thought I was gonna die in my cold tub this morning. It’s just brutal. Do you do that very often? What’s that?
Allison Brager: Oh, in St. Louis. I can only imagine.
Brett Gilliland: Yeah, it’s brutal. Uh, thankfully it’s inside, right?
Brett Gilliland: I just, it’s inside. I’m not going outside, but it’s still brutal. And it’s, it’s every time I do it, I’m like, I don’t wanna do it at all.
Allison Brager: Yeah. Uh, yeah, I do do cold therapy. So that’s the thing about where I work. I work for Special Forces, so we have, um, pretty much these high performance training facilities that are modeled off of what the NFL teams have.
Allison Brager: So yeah, I do all that stuff. I’m very, I’m very fortunate in that I have access to it.
Brett Gilliland: Yes. Yeah. And are you better at it the longer you do it? Am I gonna get better at this or is it suck every time still?
Allison Brager: Yes, oh, you will. I mean, yes. You, you definitely like, that’s the beauty of bodies is we acclimate to whatever stress we continually expose ourselves to, whether it’s harmful or good stress.
Allison Brager: Yeah. Uh, so you will acclimate.
Brett Gilliland: Yeah. That might be the one thing that I do of, uh, everything you can do in your life. It’s, it is the one thing that I think, I actually feel different coming out of that. I mean, like, like literally feel different.
Allison Brager: Yeah. It’s, uh, you know, but there’s so much research now around it too, and it makes perfect sense because, uh, if you’ve seen those studies by Whimhoff, like you voluntarily pretty much gain control of this area of your nervous system.
Allison Brager: That’s usually an involuntary uh, system. So people who constantly do cold immersion therapy end up getting sick less too, because there’s this link that we know now between that and the immune system.
Brett Gilliland: Yeah, and it’s funny, when I see my heart rate on in the sauna session this morning, it’s going up and then I look at my heart rate on the cold therapy and it spikes really high.
Brett Gilliland: And then, as you know, you can start to control your breathing and, and watching that thing go down. It, it’s, it’s incre. I, i it’s just assumed by enough people that
Brett Gilliland: I, you know, study and follow that it’s happening. It, it, this is just absolutely top-notch stuff for your body and for all of us. They’re listening to this right?
Allison Brager: Oh no. Absolutely.
Brett Gilliland: So let’s talk about the, the mental side. You know, there’s so much people talk about now this mental health, um, that’s out there. And I use air quotes because like, what does that really mean, right? Like, what is mental health? What are we doing? How are we taking care of ourselves? And I know right now you wrote the first edition of the NCAA Student Athlete Mental Health Handbook.
Brett Gilliland: That mean that’s incredible, man, whether it’s our military, our college students, high school students, athletes, the, the world. We need to be talking more about this mental health stuff. So share with us about this handbook and what can we be doing, uh, to make sure we’re in our, in optimal performance of our mental health.
Allison Brager: Yeah, sure. So, um, this task force is still ongoing. It’s through the NCAA, it’s basically representatives from each of the, um, research societies involved with mental health. Um, and it’s a huge problem across the NCAA because athletes are about three times more likely to have mental health issues than their non-athlete peers.
Allison Brager: Um, the reason why mental health has become of increasing concern in recent years, is because, you know, if you think about life now, it’s certainly a lot more overwhelming than it was 20 years ago. And a lot of that has to do with technology, right? It’s easy to access someone within any given space or time or know where somebody is.
Allison Brager: And so I, I don’t think our brains like, have evolved at the speed at which technology has, like that’s one of the prevailing theories about why there’s increasing mental health concernsis our brains still, like they’re very adaptive, but they still live in a pre-technology world. And so we’re at this point now where technology continues to make our lives easier and more productive.
Allison Brager: But at the cost of us having increased anxiety, um, increased, you know, feelings of like fomo, right? Fear of missing out. Yeah. Like that was never a term a decade ago. Um, and so what this task force really tries to do is to. Find ways for athletes in particular to disconnect. Like how throughout the day can you just intentionally just focus on school, focus on sport, not worry about any sort of performance anxiety around the sport.
Allison Brager: And then also like establish meaningful community. So, um, having a sense of community and having a tribe of people where you feel like a member of, uh, can really improve one’s mental health. Um, you know, I think that’s the beauty of the ‘Whoop’, right? Is because we all have these groups, right? And like at the end of the work week, I look forward to, um, you know, seeing if I had the highest sleep score, highest recovery score of this group I’m on.
Allison Brager: Um, and, you know, we like talk crap to each other about if, if somebody didn’t sleep. But it’s just like the other people they connect you with on the platform. I think, uh, you know, something like that has probably increased mental health because of this sense of belongingness.
Brett Gilliland: Yeah. Yeah. And, and so what, what is it like, do you have times in your day where you don’t use your cell phone or you putting it away?
Brett Gilliland: I mean, obviously the, the depth of knowledge that you have on this is greater than, than
Brett Gilliland: I have and probably will ever. Um, but like what, and I don’t necessarily like the words life hacks, but I think people understand that. And so what life hacks, if you will, would you have around technology or making sure we’re in that, that mental peak performance?
Allison Brager: Yeah, so, uh, I, I think I have very intentional habits about when I do and don’t use my cell phone. Um, well first off, my job makes it easy. I don’t have a cell phone cuz I work in a secure building. So, yeah. Uh, for nine hours a day, the only way people can reach me is through my desk phone or through email.
Allison Brager: But even that, I check sparingly. Uh, but e even if you didn’t have a job like mine, I think you need to find times where you just intentionally need to leave your phone somewhere and just be okay with it. Um, so with me, for example, I do CrossFit and every time I go to the gym, I literally just leave my phone in the car.
Allison Brager: Like that’s, and, and CrossFit is my hour to an hour and a half a day where I can be fully present, not distracted, and just connect with the community. Now, like if we’re going for, if I’m going for a PR or something in the gym, like I might go out and grab my phone, but most of the time I just have the coach record it and then that’s it.
Allison Brager: Um, Drive to work, right? Like so much of us spend so much of the day in the car and I know a lot of people listen to podcasts and all that. Um, but you can also listen to those podcasts or I listen to music cuz I’m a big music aficionado. Um, I’ll put my phone on airplane mode and just have like the podcasts or the playlist pre downloaded and just do that.
Allison Brager: And then at night too, like I intentionally put my phone away and then I don’t pick it up.
Brett Gilliland: Yeah. That’s awesome. Takes a lot of discipline, doesn’t it?
Allison Brager: Yeah, absolutely. Well, that’s what it is. It’s discipline.
Brett Gilliland: Yeah. Yeah. Anything, so you logging your workouts or is it, uh, does your ‘Whoop’ know you’re already working out? You do your CrossFit or you just not worry about logging it?
Allison Brager: Uh, I don’t log my workouts anymore. I’ve been doing CrossFit now almost 13 years. So like, you know, I used to keep a journal and all that. But now I’m just, My ‘Whoop’ knows everything.
Brett Gilliland: Exactly. They know what the hell you’re doing. Uh, talk to us about your book ‘Meathead: Unraveling the Athletic Brain’. Tell us that.
Allison Brager: Yeah, so I, um, I wrote this actually almost a decade ago, so, um, but it’s still very relevant and timely. Yeah. Uh, so I used to teach a neuroscience course when I was, uh, sleep research fellow in Atlanta, and I realized that so much of the neuroscience course did not blend together exercise with neuroscience when so much of exercise like 90% of exercise is not about muscle recruitment and activation, it’s about recruiting different brain areas involved with timing and decision making and situational awareness and like leveraging the resources to do so. Um, and so I just started looking into the literature and sure enough there’s like very little out there.
Allison Brager: So I wrote a, it’s more or less like a textbook on the neuroscience of exercise but digestible for anyone. So, um, it blends my own personal experiences as an athlete. I was fortunate enough to compete twice in the CrossFit games. Um, I was on the Army’s CrossFit team, which is part of the Army has this world class athlete program, uh, where they have, uh, Olympic and professional athletes compete full-time in the army.
Allison Brager: Uh, so I did that and so I tried to like blend my own, you know elite athletic experiences with what we know research wise. And so, uh, yeah, that, that, that is my book. It’s called ‘Meathead: Unraveling the Athletic Brain’.
Brett Gilliland: I’m having the, speaking of the CrossFit games, I think it’s in, uh, second week of January. Rich Froning. Are you familiar with Rich?
Allison Brager: Of course. I’ve actually trained with him a few times at his barn because, uh, the Army, we actually, when the team was around, we actually had a, um, nice little collaboration with Mayhem Athlete.
Brett Gilliland: Okay. And he’s kinda like the Michael Jordan of CrossFit games, is that what I hear?
Allison Brager: He is, yeah. I mean, I know Matt Frazier has won more than Rich.
Brett Gilliland: Okay.
Allison Brager: But Rich Is, rich is an og. He’s been in it since the very beginning when it was just crossfit.com and there weren’t all these programs around. I mean, not to like discredit the wonderful athletic, athleticism of Matt Frazier, but I would consider Rich the, the Michael Jordan of CrossFit.
Brett Gilliland: That’s awesome. Like the debates, right? Is it Michael Jordan or LeBron? Is it Lionel Messey or Pele? You know, who knows, right? Uh,
Allison Brager: Yeah, exactly.
Brett Gilliland: Well, uh, so where else can our listeners find more of your stuff?
Brett Gilliland: Um, uh, so do you have a website or is it uh, more through social media?
Allison Brager: Yeah, more through social media.
Allison Brager: So, um, yeah, my job makes it a little complicatedto have a website. Um, Yeah, so DOCJOCKZZZ, that’s my personal Instagram. D O C J O C K Z Z Z. Um, and yeah, just reach out and I’ll, you know, reach out to a question. I usually post up and coming research.
Brett Gilliland: Yeah. That’s incredible. So last question for you here, Alison, is if, uh, if you had to talk about any of the, maybe any of the failures you’ve had in your life, um, if there are some, I’m sure there are.
Brett Gilliland: Um, what, what have you learned from those failures and what advice would you give to our listeners right now that may be going through something that’s tough?
Allison Brager: Sure. Um, one of my favorite quotes is “Trust the process and be patient.” Um, So I could give a recent example or do you want me to go way back in time?
Brett Gilliland: No, whatever. Whatever’s a recent example’s. Great. Cuz you probably, it’s uh, it’s recent, so it’s very fresh in the mind.
Allison Brager: Okay, so, um, this isn’t on my LinkedIn bio, but my end goal is to be an astronaut and I made it through the second, I make it, made it to the second final round of selection for the last astronaut class.
Allison Brager: Um, obviously I didn’t make it to the final round and get selected. Uh, so I’ve, you know, I’ve done a lot of things reflection personally and professionally to like figure out how I can make it to the last round. Um, and, uh, you know, that the thing, trust the process and be patient came to mind because, uh, I learned when I was at NASA interviewing and going through a selection there that a lot of the astronauts took like two or three times to get selected and they only have a selection process every four years. So like most of those people, most of the astronauts who are up in space right now are awaiting training, um, have been in the pipeline just trying to get selected for at least a decade. Um, and some of them will go through the pipeline and maybe, you know, don’t have what it takes to be up in space and, um, just go through training.
Allison Brager: That’s, that’s all they didn’t do. They might not actually go on a mission. I know there’s this one Canadian astronaut, he’s still waiting to go on a mission and he’s been an astronaut for over a decade.
Brett Gilliland: Wow.
Allison Brager: Um, so, so that’s my thing is to just, you know, trust the process and be patient and, you know, eventually good things happen to, to people who work hard. Um, so yeah, that’s my recent example.
Brett Gilliland: I love that.
Allison Brager: I can reapply in 2024. So…
Brett Gilliland: Okay. That’s what I was gonna ask. So then what did you, what have you learned from that? When they tell you no or however that form of, of communication is? Like, do they tell you, here are the things you’re lacking on, or Here, here’s a, an opportunity for you. How does that look?
Allison Brager: No. So that’s the funny thing. They don’t really give you… unless you’re medically disqualified or like psychologically unfit, cuz that’s a lot of the selection. They don’t really give you feedback. Um, I mean, most of the things are, you know, related to public speaking, like having more confidence.
Allison Brager: But in terms of what you do, you just have to trust that if you keep going after. High level challenging problems that eventually you could get selected, but you also have to, you know, go in with the mindset that you might not get selected. But I mean, truly at the end of today, like what I’ve learned from it, even if I don’t say make it through as far as I did the next time, is I met 120 great Americans who, like I have connections with the rest of my life.
Allison Brager: Like we still all talk all the time. Um, you know, we wish each other happy birthday or if we’re in certain areas of the country, like I meet up with them, I tru truly just have access to 120 Great Americans.
Brett Gilliland: Yeah. Who are still doing amazing work at whatever their day job is, just like your day job. Right?
Allison Brager: Yep.
Brett Gilliland: And, and it’s, uh, it’s incredible out there. So. Well, Alison, thanks so much for being on the ‘Circuit of Success’. It’s been awesome having you. I appreciate you coming out of your, uh, secure building in there and, and getting your Jeep and, and spending some time with us today. It was really awesome to have you and, uh, And best of luck and, and you know, one day we’ll have you back on when you’re an astronaut. How’s that sound?
Allison Brager: Yeah, exactly. When, when I’m, when I’m headed, uh, to Mars.
Brett Gilliland: That’s right.
Allison Brager: I’m the, the, the two-way and not the one way mission, but…
Brett Gilliland: Yes. That’s right. You’re coming back. Going to and coming back. That will be good. We’ll have you on before and after, so. Well, thanks so much for the time today, Allison. It’s been awesome having you.
Allison Brager: Sure, absolutely. Thank you so much for your time too.