Behind the game-face is a game-brain.
This is the basic thesis of Dr. John Sullivan, a Clinical Sport Psychologist and the CEO of Clinical & Sport Consulting Services, where he helps prep the brains of elite performers in professional sports, military special forces, and more.
Dr. Sullivan, himself a former NCAA Division 1 athlete, consults on everything from nutrition (spoiler: he likes turkey and bananas) to sleep-cycle regulation with photobiomodulation to help the world’s greatest “jocks” use the three pounds of tissue for which they get little credit, but rely on for everything.
The brain, Sullivan reminds us, is responsible for everything from the electrical strength behind muscle contractions to the all-important split-second decisions as to which enemy on my field of play is the important one I should direct my attack towards? In games where milliseconds matter, time can’t be wasted on decisions that divert power production the wrong way.  “Football is a game of inches,” they say?
To Sullivan, it’s a game of nanometers. The width of a neuronal cleft — or that of your adversary’s.
“Hyper” is not what you’re after.
Being jacked-up and hyper-stimulated can feel like what you’re after in an athletic performance environment, but according to Sullivan that could just as well be Fool’s Gold as Olympic Gold. The real ideal is to master the proper cycling of high-arousal states with rest and recovery. Unless each piece of this cycle is functioning smoothly, none is.
One of the key pieces of training that Sullivan tries to instill in his clients is using biometric tracking technology to learn to “read their bodies” — eventually without biometrics. The technical tools are like the training wheels, a Rosetta stone for our own pulse, mood, posture — allowing us to judge our intuitions against something concrete, so that later we can self-assess when there’s no time to check your app’s read-out.
His approach is a nuanced balance of fast and slow, explosive force and deep restfulness.
Enjoy the interview, and remember: Always keep your head in the game. 🙂
John Sullivan: I think it really is a process and a journey for everyone to kind of where they end up, and for me, I was at division 1 NCAA athlete, and even when I go back to the earliest part of even competing as high school, and then entering into college, I always had this question of like, "There has to be more than VO2 max, there has to be more than cardiac efficiency, there has to be more to the process," and I kept coming across this area of brain performance interface if you will. I was lucky enough to have a mentor and undergrad who is a clinical psychologist, but also a sports psychologist, and you have to be a licensed psychologist to be a sports psychologist, and I think mentors make a big difference in all of our lives.
I always encourage my interns. You want to connect with people that are going to connect to you and your passions so it becomes a destiny. He was smart enough to really show me sports psychology, but show me the vast variety of what psychology can bring. It really started there with just the simple why. The why's matter, and they matter more now with such an influence and avalanche of information coming at us.
Jesse Lawler: What do you think are some of the commonalities and differences between sports performers and how they use their brains versus -- I'm a software developer, so it's like I definitely need performance, but it's not necessarily my motor neurons that are firing all the time. What are some of the differences? What are some of the parallels?
John Sullivan: You describe it really, really well there that to the heart of it, performance is performance. There are very, very similar pathways to you as a computer programmer and a wide receiver in the NFL. Some of the similarities are we feel first then think. Emotions run the show in sport and life, and often what we learn in our culture is thoughts drive emotions. That's actually not how the brain is wired. You are given practices doing coding or creating a process. If you get frustrated or you're lethargic, or you're having trouble with the attentional process, it's going to affect your output - the same for a wide receiver in the NFL.
From that standpoint, ideally brain is very synchronized in the areas of performance. You brought up the differences. When you're creative in your way in coding or you're an academic, we are not using our somatosensory cortex or motor neurons as much. We're not running around the room or running around the computer as we're creating. Essentially, performance is performance. We go into the everyday life of being parents. That's a performance. It requires calmness. It requires that composure, so then you can pattern recognize, "What do I do next? How do I engage?"
Jesse: As a long-distance athlete, that seems to me like it might be making very different demands of our brains versus something like basketball where you're sprinting up the court, but then you have a pause period. What are some of the difference there when you're coaching athletes in one sports modality versus another?
John Sullivan: That's a great question in that sense of what are the differences between the energy demands on the brain or how does the brain react in those environments. Some of the major differences when we use the examples you gave, like a basketball: high dynamics, a lot of movement, a lot of moving parts you have to pay attention to, same as soccer, same as lacrosse, and moments in football as well, even though that's more stop-and-go, not a flow sport.
The bigger demand is actually brain-based or pattern recognition. Can I understand what's happening in front of me, and then from that attentional process, make the right decision. We often overlook that. That's where you see mental errors in sport is when the brain gets overwhelmed with information. So, now you have an emotional response that's fight-or-flight, and then what we typically see is individuals get aggressive then. But, that can be falling and faltering to the pattern that's in front of them. A defense wants them to move a certain a way, they get overwhelmed, and then they get sucked into that process. It's actually pattern recognition and emotion regulation are really key factors in flow sports that are often overlooked. Because, once the brain gets fatigued, then you move differently, different power dynamics, different endurance dynamics, different speed dynamics, and then strength dynamics. It's all brain first. When you can handle more information coming in, you can handle what you do next.
Where with endurance, it's more longer-term fatigue. You still have to take in information. You can sometimes see this at big major track events. As you watch the athletes go through the laps of the event, many of the athletes start looking down. They're not able to handle the information coming in. So, there's a fatigue stage that's between the brain, and then the other 11 systems. Right there is the breakdown. When you can increase not just VO2 max, but endurance athlete's information processing during a race, you're increasing their efficiency to task.
Even when we go to high-performance states in jobs: air traffic controllers, pilots, surgeons, fatigue is a central nervous system gut-brain interaction. All our neurotransmitters are made in our stomach. Our brain stores very few of them, and most of our neurotransmitters, not all, we can't make internally, it's by food ingestion, and it's a pre-cursor to making that. So, really looking and dialing in at how is the gut and brain communicating in these fatigue states? But, fatigue, we're understanding more and more, but it's cognitive-related more than it is any other system in the body.
Jesse: Fight-or-flight, and flow states, I wanted to ask those that have both been mentioned, and what's the overlap between those two? They have in common that you're not thinking self-consciously when you're in fight-or-flight or in flow, but anything else worth talking about there?
John Sullivan: I think you described it really nicely. There is overlap in the sense that the brain is wired to survive. So, there has to be overlap and redundancy in systems, and there is. When we look at flow state, it's not that fight-or-flight competes against it unless the individual is overwhelmed. It can be a signal to return back to a flow state, and it can be a signal to regulate while you're just coming out of one. But, typically, fight-or-flight interferes with trying to enter into one because fight-or-flight is about mobilization of energy, it is about movement, it's about escape, and then eventually shutdown. That's where that autonomic nervous system goes into vomiting. Vomiting, we don't learn as a defense mechanism, but it is. It's the final one. It's shutdown.
If we manage emotions, then we manage the ability for the brain to become efficient with the task, especially if it's been mastered or understood in a very high-level. Emotions, we feel first then we think, goes to the prefrontal cortex, then it moves to the higher order of learning on the area of the brain that we kind of think of, the wrinkly part. It's not an on-and-off switch, fight-or-flight. You're absolutely right. It could be a signal for the performer to get regulated, to get right back into flow.
Jesse: What are some strategies that people can use to sustain a high state of mental arousal for -- as long as it's reasonable for what they're trying to do? Obviously, you need to allow some recharge and recovery in there, but maintaining vigilance to get done what they need to get done.
John Sullivan: There is not one thing I can tell you that's going to immediately do that. That could be situational, but overall, it's a process, and where we start is enhancing the functional system's rest and recovery, which is sleep. It's your number one performance enhancer. We've known quite a bit about it for a long time. There are still things we don't know. We don't know how to answer the question why we do, not 100%. Some people are amazed by that, but that's just the truth. We don't 100% know why. We have some evolutionary clues, we have some modern clues about the neuroscience of it, but we don't know that. What we do know is the brain detoxifies, it cleans itself. That has to happen first before any other system does.
If we don't start from that standpoint of increasing our readiness through sleep, your sustained attention and concentration is going to be greatly reduced. Your alertness just drops. Your listeners may be familiar with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. He was a theorist in psychology, and most people learn that. He was talking about more from a humanistic standpoint. When you look at that from neuroscience standpoint or neuropsychology standpoint of what we know now, he talked about basic needs being the foundation. Everything capitalizes off of that. He was talking about neuroscience: sleep, hydration, food. If those are not established, you cannot really build on a strong foundation of readiness, and alertness, and high-level focus on demand. You can't. When you go longer without food and water, or come without sleep, food makes the neurotransmitters that communicate to the brain and the rest of the body, the peripheral nervous system, and hydration allows for a viscosity of blood for oxygen, glucose, and other vitamins and minerals to get to the brain. You reduce those, I'll find you someone that can't perform very well.
Jesse: What are some of your recommendations for diet? We've had several episodes on diet: everything from ketogenic diet to vegetarianism in the past. Do you have any particular strong feelings, strong dietary recommendations for cognitive performance?
John Sullivan: I think that the science is also moving very fast on this. We've learned in the last, probably, eight years, the gut biome is changing so many facets of medicine: performance, academic, or educational spheres. Medical textbooks and nutritional textbooks all have to be rewritten now just because of the last five years of research.
Where I go is back to the science where we're not doing this properly. We're not assessing people properly. We're looking at recommendations from a subjective standpoint: food logs or just guesswork. But, what we know, when I work with elite-level practitioners in pro sport and the elite military, and then when I'm working with people in private practice, or even within my concussion practice, I'm looking at, "Let's get bloods, let's get fecal matter." You got tot to look in, process of blood, you got to look coming out, because it tells us what's in the gut and what's being processed.
From that standpoint, we can really direct nutrition from a much better neurological and health standpoint than just saying, "Let's try this diet," which can work, and there are many, like you mentioned, different diets out there. But, when we prescribe them down to human variation, we get much better impact in those tests because they're so much easier now, and so much more accurate.
I would say you really want to do some assessment there, because you can target better, and it's efficiency. You're getting efficient to what's going to benefit the person, their health, and their performance.
Jesse: How are you on heart rate variability and all the various gadgets that are coming online in the consumer sphere now to measure, moment by moment, how your body's doing? It's pretty neat that we're now able to relatively easily track a lot of this stuff.
John Sullivan: Yeah, I think what you're talking about is I really love that too, the ecological ability to get moment-to-moment assessment, and that's where most of the science needs to be going, whether we talk about nutrition, whether we talk about human welfare, or whether we talk about human performance.
HRV is a powerful, powerful measure that's only really taking root probably in the last six to eight years in the United States, but the Russians were using it while they were establishing their preparedness for the space race. How do you put a cosmonaut rocket and know that they're functionally ready to do the task: absorb G-forces, cognitively be prepared to do all the systems preparation, and they couldn't do regular precise physiology measures. You can't put them on a treadmill while you're sitting on top of the rocket.
So, they devised this, and then they have population parameters that are enormous, but they don't publish their literature in English. You have to translate it. Lucky enough, I have colleagues that translated it. But, we're catching up on that. That is a tremendous measure, and it really has gotten to like HRV for training on the phone where they've really done their signal validation and their frequency validation that what information they get off the phone has a particular error variance, or error that we know it's accurate. We know it's valid. We can use it.
That accessible information to your listeners or if we look at other ways to getting it through Polar heart rate monitors, things of that nature, very, very, very helpful, absolutely. Because, that can tell you, referencing back to diet, back to sleep, back to readiness.
Jesse: Is the stuff that's available to a U.S. consumer now ready? Is it worth buying or is it still sort of a toy technology?
John Sullivan: That's a wonderful question. I've written a number of journal articles about this with colleagues, and in my work even in Australia with the Queensland Academy of Sport, we've got a living document that looks at this. What's out there? What's noise? What's junk? Who is taking the long slog haul of developing a consumer tool that's actually clinical grade, and there is a lot of noise out there, sadly.
There are some that are more valid, and I think what I would say to consumers is to look. Have they done the research on the signals are accurate? Have people done independent research on it? But, the three things you need really, is it proven safe? If it isn't proven safe and they can't show that, not worth buying.
To give you an example, like some of the transcranial direct stimulation stuff, like think, and I'll just name it. They have no validation on it's safe, and they're working on this thing of what we were talking about before, this avalanche of information marketing trying to supplant science, and I feel bad for consumers because, I think as scientists, we can get caught in it too. But, if you're not literate on the process of technology development, you can fall for it every time because it looks good. It falls into a gray area where the FDA does not regulate this stuff, and the companies that do regulate it, that show it's safe, they show it's accurate, and then you’ll see independent research that shows its usability how it's action-oriented and you can use the information credibly. There are companies out there that have done that; many that don't.
Jesse: What do you see when you’re working with top-level athletes performers of their subjective self-assessments of how they think they're doing versus what actually comes out in the data? I always just wonder about our gut instincts, how credible they really are.
John Sullivan: There's two ways to look at this. It depends upon their expertise and their understanding of reading their own biofeedback. If you're a novice in understanding your central nervous signals, there will be some error in the difference between measuring their experience, their emotions, the just overall narrative of it compared to an objective measure. However, if you train an athlete through biofeedback, which biofeedback is just understanding outward signal from the peripheral nervous system, how muscles feel, timing, anticipation, and then internal central like, "How does my gut feel? How do I notice my heart rate? Then, how do I think or process information during the experience?"
You can train someone to be more aware of that, and then it gets closer to the objective information, and that's what you want to be doing. What you're doing is teaching the athlete, independent of the technology, that they can be in the right moment with the right energy management with the right interpretation of signals -- information outside them, information inside them. That's why you use technology to increase that education. It's really just a novice effect on biofeedback. What do the signals mean?
Jesse: It would be interesting to develop a training regimen for non-athletes to become more aware of the physicality of their different states, what's going on physically that can tip them off to how their body and brain is likely to behave.
John Sullivan: I think there is some avenues in there. Actually, I would name a few companies because they've done their scientific journey, and they're good products. If you look at Spire, Spire is breath-related. It's a little device you wear on your belt. You calibrate it to your breath rate. We know breathing rate regulated through the vagus nerve, the longest nerve in the body that connects the brain, the heart, and the stomach. As our breath rate changes, heart rate changes, and that signals changes in mood state, but also brainwave state. It will give you a signal noticing you when you're getting into tense breathing.
You get a biofeedback buzz, just a little buzz. No one’s going to hear it. You'll feel it just shift up your breathing to be more core-related, diaphragmatic, where you're getting much more oxygen extension of the lower lungs so your brain calms down on the exhale. It is a really good training device. I've used it with snipers in their sense of away from the facility practice when they're with their family, when they're in their normal life.
When you can get much more control of that breath rate and drop your heart rate very, very fast, you have better control in stressful environments, and you're also conserving energy. I also use it with coaches. Coaches on the sidelines lose their capacities through anger and frustration, are less likely to make good decisions, communicate to their athletes properly, and make effective changes in games. We know coaches can change the face of a game.
There are devices out there. The other one I would mention would be Muse which is a head-worn EEG device, and we write about both of those devices in the book, "The Brain Always Wins", because Muse has done their validation. We know meditation. My co-author, Chris Parker, talks about meditation as wisdom of the village. It's thousands of years old, but with 21st century science, we're showing that it not only changes functional parts of the brain, but structural parts of the brain. What's been so difficult for people to learn is that we have no feedback: biofeedback loops, neurofeedback loops. We're doing it right.
Then, when you gamify it, which Muse has done through an app, you have this potential of, again, increasing the tension of the practice, meaning difficulty, and then getting better with it faster. These are two devices that connect that biofeedback of knowing mood states, concentration states, but then having control. Think about it, I'm teaching snipers to do this, quarterbacks to do this, surgeons, pilots, people that need to have these abilities on-demand.
Jesse: Snipers seem like a really interesting case study, because I assume that they're getting the full military training to be physical athletes, but then, essentially, the job is to sit very still, focus on something, and wait for the perfect moment to strike, which seems almost more like what a chess player would do. What are some of the specifics of training somebody with that as their role?
John Sullivan: I want to give a broad view on this too, because law enforcement goes through it. They, also with their SWAT teams, have snipers too. Their roles are quite similar. You're protecting people, or you're acquiring targets to protect people, and really that is their role. Like you said, like a chess player, be able to process information very, very quickly, then make accurate decisions while doing high level of math and understanding wind dynamics, aerodynamics, the weapon system they're using, the actual type of bullet, all this stuff has to be calculated very, very quickly. They're trained at a very, very high level from an emotional standpoint is, "I stay calm, then I can process information even in between shots," and that's critical, because once you shoot, you've exposed your location. So, you immediately have to stay calm to acquire more targets or defend against the worst thing that they have to defend against: another sniper in the field finding their location.
The traditional military training on this is they learn the weapon system, and then they learn they're the weapon system. It's brain-first performance, because we all are, and calmness leads to that ability of multiple-object tracking. I can track nine things at once, and then figure out what's the most important process there of where I address my decision. It's decision-making, actually, at its heart, and does it transfer to other professions? Absolutely.
Jesse: That is really interesting, you point out that the sniper's first job is target selection more than just focusing on a target, because I was kind of thinking, okay it's like you watch where the little X is in your gun, and that's kind of the job. But, you're right. You have to be watching the scenario, figuring out what's worth paying attention to it, and the target selection is probably the biggest mental hurdle.
John Sullivan: It is, absolutely, and they do a lot of observation similar to other jobs people do. You have to take in the field view, and then process that. But, again, if you think about their environment, they're in a threatening environment. Calmness has to be maintained. I will go even before that: attention is a process. We often think it's an event. It's actually a tri-part process, and it really fits when I bring it sniper environment, but it fits for your environment. It fits for someone on the stock exchange, it fits for a surgeon.
It's actually a tri-part process that is first, we have to be alerted. We were talking about the picture they have to take. Alerted to something, then they have to be able to track it, then they can get to decision-making. And if you're not calm, every one of those sequences gets more difficult. In fact, you typically can't get past the first one, which is, "I can't find what is most important."
Jesse: That is always the bazillion dollar question is what makes it onto tomorrow's to-do list? Which of these emails in my in-basket is worth paying attention to now? If you can just select the job that's worth doing them, that's 80% of the job a lot of the time.
John Sullivan: Yeah. Even when we look at research on the stock exchange, when they're able to stay calmer, they're able to prioritize those targets much better, and what we forget about is we grow up with a myth in our environment that being "psyched up", being aroused, having high energy is the right amount of energy for excellence, or completing of an outcome, and it's not actually. It's a level of calmness. There may be individual variation about how they experience calmness - could be a little higher, a little lower - but it's really a composure and calmness. It's not being psyched up.
Jesse: I think our default thinking is always that people that are in good health or good physical performers, but I mean, oftentimes, physical health and performance can almost be natural enemies of one another. If you're dealing with people in the NFL, obviously top performers, but that can be just tremendous wear and tear on the body. If you want to have a healthy brain at 90, you do not want to be an NFL player in your prime. How do you think people best balance the competing demands of health and performance, or is there a balance to be had? Do you need to pick a favorite?
John Sullivan: I think westernized view of sport is subtly changing, but continues to need to, and I think you described the two buckets that we almost pretend that health and performance don't touch. Because, we can think of examples like you gave. We can think of even like Michael Jordan had a fever like 103 and performed in a Playoff game. But, we have to understand that health is the foundation for performance. There is no separation, and your example with the NFL is accurate. We have to keep them healthy, and not everyone ends up with CTE, but if we don't protect everyone like that's the possibility, we are not protecting talent, we are certainly not developing it. I think sport, as well as business, we have to come to an understanding that if your employees aren't healthy, good luck on output.
We have fallen victim to the false concepts through belief bias and illusion of validity that mental toughness and grit have any value. They don't. Scientifically, they're very poor. Angela Duckworth's work has been shown to be invalid, and mental toughness was a term that was rebranded in the 1980's, and it has had very little scientific footing until about 2005, and it's still poor. Think about it. They don't fit, and that's the battle of that health and performance is we live with the Hollywood ethos that mental toughness and grit. So, someone's not gritty enough or tough enough when what we're dealing with from the get-go is the brain is the most sophisticated survival system in the known universe. We're born tough from the get-go. It's how we train cycles of stimulation or stress, and cycles of recovery. We got to dose it properly on both ends.
What we do in business, and life, and sport is we do linear stress: work, work, work, and the rest does not match us. So, what do we not get? Neuroplasticity, neuro-growth, adaption through other systems in the body: neuromuscular cardiac endocrine? Really, what you're talking about is when we look how the performance, it's about dosing properly, training, whatever that might be, and then recovery to meet the demands of growth, adaption, evolution. What we've done as linear stress, and we just use the advent, "You're not tough enough. You're not gritty enough."
Jesse: Biologically, our daily circadian rhythms, those are the most fundamental. We live on a planet going around the sun that happens once every 24 hours, so there's going to be a cycle there anyway. Does it make sense for us to align our mental rest and recovery to those circadian rhythms, and just think about all that on a daily schedule, or are there other equally valid cycles?
John Sullivan: I think you're absolutely right. When we look at chronobiology, all the systems, light coming through our eye, turns on the brain, turns on all the other systems, all the other cellular systems kind of engage. Absolutely, chronobiology is one of those things we do have to pay attention to. It's not the only one, but I think it is very, very valuable, and I'll give you some examples to the heart of culture and sport, in general.
If you look at many, many school systems they, often has school starting at 6 am or 7 am. When we look at the chronobiology, and the sleep rhythms, and the brain abilities, and then also availability for learning, you start school that early with those age ranges, quite frankly, has an effect on absenteeism, turnover, sickness, and I'm also talk about students and teachers, and then the GPA of students is reduced. Then, we go to sport. If they're playing a sport after school, we see an increase in injury rate. Absolutely, it's something we should be paying attention to.
When we go to pro sport, often we look at the times when they train. There are windows of trainability, plasticity, basically, on the brain where it matches with endocrinology, testosterone, or estrogen, and those windows, throughout the day, those are the times when we should be training. Yet, a lot of teams will train at 6 am, or they train late into the evening. Those are not ideal times for retention of learning, or protection of talent. So, to your point, those rhythms we should be paying attention to, but then we should be diving a little bit deeper.
One of the things we're not doing in business, academics, and athletics is looking at how neuroscience is guiding where are the opportunities for excellence, health, and performance based and balanced. We know there's neurodiversity. Research from 1896 looking at diversity in reading abilities, and we still train everyone in our educational process as one size fits all. It's ridiculous. There's neurodiversity. We talk about human variation, but we ignore Darwin's research, and now with the neuroscience, we know it's true.
Jesse: Yeah, I think we've got an antiquated education system from the assembly line era. We've known that's not ideal for a while, but that's how it's been done for a long, long time.
John Sullivan: As opposed to what we know is true that we don't train groups of people or teams, we train or educate individuals, and when you bring it down to that, it's more efficient, and it's also more effective. That's one of the things I think that sport is starting to alert to, but where it's always been alerted, and I think they're ahead of the game because it's not budgetary. It's because of need. The elite military's probably the leader in performance and concussion, because they understand that they're training a very unique group of individuals, and if they do a one size fits all, they're not going to protect talent, and they're not going to develop it. They're also not in the business of sharing. So, that science may not see the light of day for decades. However, we can learn from it. So, when you go to biological rhythms, that goes into individuality. That goes meeting the brain where it’s at.
In the book, we talk about process and how do we come to that. We use that terminology, and we really came from a scientific empirical standpoint. Also, our training program is individualized. It's based upon human variation because we are not gurus. We’re standing on the shoulders of others, and what research says is you have to put a process together that's individualized, otherwise you were faulted from moment one. It's just true. Stage models don't work, factory models don't work, and education, to your point, which was fantastic. It's so true. That's where it came from.
Jesse: What are some of the dietary recommendations that you have for people to make sure that they're getting enough biological precursors for the various neurotransmitters that they're going need, just making sure that the stockpiles never run empty?
John Sullivan: I think one of the things is looking at tryptophan. One of the neurotransmitters we know the most about, we know quite a bit about other neurotransmitters, but there's been a focus on serotonin. Serotonin has to do with mood, has to do with focus, and also has connections into motor control, and we don't make it internally. Tryptophan, things like banana, turkey, they're high in tryptophan. So, once you get that in through your nutrition, you're making available the process for serotonin to be made and then reach your brain. It's effectively a real important part of resiliency.
Then, when we look at athletes, now exercise increases serotonin, sport does not. Exercise and sport are very different things. Sport is really trauma. You think about the intensity of training, all the things that go into it: travel, their sport affects their life, their life affects their sport. It's a big, sticky mess. Exercise should be dosed properly. Not always, but when it's dosed properly, it's really neuroprotective. Especially, when we use examples of collision sports. In sport, what we see is it increases serotonin at the time of exercise, but because it's so intense, it ends up being really not absorbed. We have to really kind of get it, make sure they get those precursors to maintain mood health, motor control, memory, and alertness.
Tryptophan cannot be overemphasized enough, because most of our culture though is we're eating much more processed foods, which don't have precursors, and when we lose serotonin it opens the door to depression, anxiety. Again, everything is neuro-derivative. Everything is a neurochemical reaction. I tend to focus there because we see some of highest rates of anxiety and depression in this culture in the United States.
Jesse: For people wanting to calm down at the end of the day, especially like the high performer and driven people, they're trying to calm down, they're trying to get to sleep, what are some of the recommendations that you have lifestyle-wise there?
John Sullivan: Sometimes, scheduling a meditative practice before bed enhances that peace that we all learned as we were kids. Our parents had this routine. That routine was slowing down. Well, a meditative practice is a great thing to benchmark right up against going to sleep because you're slowing down the brain so everything else follows, and you're giving an opportunity for neurotransmitters to increase and hormones to increase, like melatonin. It's surges. You can train it to surge more.
The other thing is using cryotherapy. Often, as kids, we used to take showers, warm showers before bed. That was easier than trying to get kids showering in the morning. A lot of parents have done that, or do that. We know that if you change core temperature just a bit, up or down - in this instance, it would be up - we get sedated, we get calm, just like any of us who have been in a hot car, or if you're driving, you get drowsy. Just using how our brain works with our other systems can help slow down.
Now, we have to look at removing things. We know all of us have grown up in an environment. Some of us have grown up in it, some of us have had to adapt to it - technology. Technology is just a tool, but it creates lot interference in our neural patterns. The light admitting from our TV's, from our tablets, from our laptops, and our phones is giving off a frequency of blue light.
Blue light wakes up the brain, and in fact, they designed the blue light on these devices to equivocate to 12 noon. If you think about 12 noon, as peak chronobiology, we're awake, we're alert, we're ready, and so we have to reduce that light at least 30 to 40 minutes before bed. Many people sit in bed and watch movies on their tablets, or play games, and that is making your melatonin, which creates that drowsiness effect, surge down. That's a major concerns, so we want to remove those devices.
Jesse: It's just always interesting to me. Performance versus long-term brain health and longevity are sort of two poles. You can probably take a bunch of Adderall, and you're going to be able to focus for longer than you would otherwise be able to, but that's not a sustainable thing. The 90-year-old version of your brain won't be thanking you for that.
John Sullivan: No. It has effect on it, and we know this. We know, from Adderall, the research on that, if you're diagnosed properly, and obviously giving that as a tool, we know to look to your point, long-term effect. It affects the gut-brain access, it affects the endocrine system. We have to give vacations. To your point, even with some of the stuff we know, it's about timing and dosing. Even if it's effective, and that's often missed, and that goes down to the individual, we have to be assessing that on an individual basis. But, to your point, yes, absolutely, some stuff isn't sustainable. You've got to take breaks.
Episode Introduction: Head in the Fight
This Week in Neuroscience: Water Taste Receptors
Smart Drug Smarts News + Updates
VitaMonk Launch List - Early Access To New Products at Low Prices
Introducing Dr. John Sullivan: Former D1 Athlete, Scientist, Doctor
Commonalities: Physical Performance vs Mental Performance
Key Factors In Flow Sports
Overlap of Fight/Flight and Flow States
Strategies for Maintaining High States of Arousal
Importance of The Gut Microbiome in Performance
Products Measuring Physiological Signals: Noise vs Quality
Balancing Demands of Health and Performance
Role of Chronobiology
Using Neuroscience To Finding Opportunities for Excellence
Dietary Recommendations Neurotransmitters: Tryptophan
Cryotherapy in Your Day-to-Day
Ruthless Listener Retention Gimmick: Surprising W.H.O. + U.N. Statement