#092: US Army Recruiting Command – COL Stephen Battle & Author Of Meathead MAJ Allison Brager (TYR Wodapalooza 2023 Series)

Wednesday February 22, 2023

TYR Wodapalooza brings the best of the fitness world to downtown Miami for four days of competition, sun, and neon lights. Ninja Warrior & Stuntwoman Jessie Graff joins Fran Racioppi for eight episodes with some of the most elite athletes on the stage today. In this series launch, they cover US Army Recruiting with Brigade Commander Colonel Stephen Battle and Major Allison Brager, the chief science officer at US Army JFK Special Warfare Center.

Allison shares the importance of sleep in building elite performance and is the author of Meathead: Unraveling the Athletic Brain. Steve explains why fitness is a critical component of leadership and building high functioning teams, and how the Army is developing thought leaders; not just people who standby waiting to be told what to do.

Take a listen to the conversation, then tune into our YouTube channel to watch as Jessie and Fran workout with the US Army Warrior Fitness Team. Watch the full video version from Bayfront Park while there.

Learn more about Allison Brager @docjockzzz. Check your sleep habits by reading her book Meathead: Unraveling the Athletic Brain.

Find out how you can become one of our nation’s most important assets and impact the world at goarmy.com

Follow Jessie on Instagram and FB @jessiegraffpwr

Click here or use code JED for $10 off your first order of Modballs.

Listen to the podcast here


About Major Allison Brager

Major Allison Brager is a neuroscientist involved in the U.S. Army’s Holistic Health and Fitness System, or H2F, which aims to improve the performance, health and wellness, and readiness of our Soldiers. The system takes an integrated health approach that focuses on both physical and non-physical domains, one of which is sleep readiness. As a leader of the Sleep Readiness domain, Major Brager helps develop and implement the sleep practices that help Soldiers improve performance and reach their full potential.

About Colonel Stephen Battle

Colonel Stephen Battle is a Civil Affairs (CA) officer who has served in a multitude of positions and commands throughout his 27 years of service as both an enlisted Soldier and Commissioned Officer. Most recently, COL Battle was the US Eighth Army G9, stationed at Camp Humphreys –Republic of Korea. A prior enlisted Infantryman, Colonel Battle commissioned into the Infantry Branch in 1998 through the ROTC Department at the University of Dayton. As an Infantryman and Infantry Officer, Colonel Battle served in various assignments at Ft. Drum, Ft. Bragg, Joint Base Lewis Mc Chord and Ft. Hood. Colonel Battle assessed into the CA Branch in 2005 and served as a CA Team Leader and Civil Military Support Element in the 97th CA BN. As a MAJ, Colonel Battle served as the BCT S9 for 4th BDE 101st ABN DIV (AASLT), Company Commander of D Co. 98th CA BN and XO of the 98th CA BN. His next assignment was to the 1st Special Forces Command’s Office of Special Warfare, where he served as the Operations Officer and XO. Finally, Colonel Battle Commanded the 83rd Civil Affairs Battalion, supporting all Global Combatant Commands, USFK and the Joint Chiefs of Staff Global Response Force with regionally aligned, culturally astute and language certified CA teams and Companies in a multitude of capacities. During his tenure as BN CDR, the 83rd CA BN deployed teams to 29 countries. His operational and combat experience includes deployments to Somalia, Kosovo, Iraq, The Republic of the Philippines, Bangladesh, Thailand, Afghanistan, Latin America and the Caribbean.


US Army Recruiting Command – COL Stephen Battle & Author Of Meathead MAJ Allison Brager (TYR Wodapalooza 2023 Series)

Wodapalooza brings the best of the fitness world to downtown Miami for four days in a competition, sun, neon lights, and for the show, eight episodes with some of the world’s most elite athletes on the stage now. I wasn’t ready to tackle this group of the World’s fitness without calling up my friend and guest from episode 30, Ninja Warrior and Stuntwoman, Jessie Graff.

Fran, when you called, I was super excited, but also nervous. I’ve been a guest on tons of shows before, but I’ve never been a co-host. I was a little worried that I wouldn’t know what to ask our guests, but when you showed me the lineup, I had so many questions and couldn’t wait to get started.

We started with Colonel Stephen Battle from the US Army Recruiting Command and Major Allison Brager, the Chief Science Officer at US Army John F. Kennedy’s Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg.

I don’t know that much about Fort Bragg, but I am familiar with the need for sleep in building elite performance. Allison wrote the book on sleep. It’s called Meathead: Unraveling the Athletic Brain. She’s shared so much information about our natural circadian rhythms, how to get better quality sleep on your optimal circadian rhythm, and how much sleep affects our performance, cognitive ability, and lifespan. She changed your life, Fran.

She did. I was on 6 hours of cumulative sleep over 3 days until she told me I was going to lose 10 to 15 years of my life if I kept it up. Now, I’ve been going to bed at 10:00 ever since.TJP - E92 Colonel Stephen Battle: US Army Marketing & Engagement Brigade Commander Major Allison Brager: Neuroscientist, Soldier, Author of Meathead, Unraveling The Athletic Brain

You do look sparkier.

Thank you, I’m trying. Colonel Battle is charged with recruiting the next generation of American soldiers. He shared what the Army’s looking for, why fitness is a critical component of leadership and building high-functioning teams, and how the army is developing thought leaders, not just people who stand by waiting to be told what to do.

Allison was a perfect example of this. She studied Psychology at Brown, earned a PhD in Neurobiology, led the Sleep Research Center at Walter Reed, and then joins the Army.

Now, she’s building sleep programs in our nation’s most elite Green Berets and training to become an astronaut. That’s no big deal. After we sat down with Colonel Battle and Allison, they challenged us to a quick workout on the Army truck with the Army’s CrossFit team. It brought back some good memories, but also some pretty painful ones.

It was so much fun. It’s a different challenge than I’m used to.

This was the start. Read our conversation with Colonel Stephen Battle and Major Allison Brager from the Wodapalooza stage in Miami on your favorite platforms or watch the full video version in Bayfront Park and our Army workout on YouTube. Learn more about Allison Brager on Instagram at @DocJockzzz. Check your sleep habits by reading her book, Meathead: Unraveling the Athletic Brain.

Find out how you can become one of our nation’s most important assets and impact the world at GoArmy.com. Follow Jessie on Instagram and Facebook at @JessieGraffPWR. Subscribe and follow @JedburghPodcast on all social media. Check out our website JedburghPodcast.com. Once you’re there, click the ModBalls logo for $10 off your first order.

We’re here at TYR Wodapalooza. Colonel Battle and Major Brager, welcome to The Jedburgh Podcast.

Thank you very much for having us. This is a great opportunity.

We’ve been planning this for a few months. I didn’t know what to expect because I’d never been here. This is my first time. I owe a case of beer because I admitted that it was my first time. It’s such an opportunity to come down here. I asked Jessie to join me. She was on episode 30 with me. I figured, “If I got to come down here and I need to be in front of the titled the Fittest People on Earth, I was bringing the fittest person I knew.”

Let’s get into it. I want to talk about a couple of different things. I want to start with the Army. The Army is first of all my alma mater. I spent several years in the Army. I feel like you give so much to the Army, but the Army gives so much to you. You carry that through for the rest of your life. Why is it so important, Colonel, for the Army to be here at Wodapalooza?

A couple of different things. Number one, we have to engage with American youth at their level in areas and places where they congregate in all sorts of different disciplines. Fitness is one of them and very important to the Army for a lot of different reasons. An event like this allows us to showcase to a lot of different people who are a natural fit for military service the opportunities available to them. We have our massive fitness trailer out there. We’re going to do workouts every day with HWPO at our fitness trailer. We have the Army’s Fitness Team. We have one of our alma maters here and an all-star that are competing here.

TJP - E92 Colonel Stephen Battle: US Army Marketing & Engagement Brigade Commander Major Allison Brager: Neuroscientist, Soldier, Author of Meathead, Unraveling The Athletic Brain

“We have to engage with American youth at their level, at areas and places that they congregate.”

We’ve even showcased Army fitness and then what it’s like to be in the Army by sponsoring our own workout. The Gauntlet is sponsored by the Army. We’re very proud partners here of Live and Loud, and to be out here showcasing what it’s like and the opportunities available through fitness. It’s a shared passion, but then it allows us to initiate a conversation about there’s a lot more out there that a lot of people here will benefit from, but just don’t know about right now.

When we think about the Army, we think about elite performance. My background is in Special Operations and Allison works there now. You were a Civil Affairs officer under Special Operations. We talk so much about elite performance, but everything becomes so grounded in fitness because we feel like we have to be able to understand our controllables and our uncontrollables. Fitness becomes that number one thing that we know we can control and everything else we’re able to respond to.

It increases a lot of different things like mental resiliency. Physical fitness allows you to perform better mentally in a lot of different aspects of your life. It teaches you a lot of nice or good habits like drinking water, eating healthy, and getting sleep. You benefit from your military life and military career from fitness. With that relationship, you learn a lot of life lessons.

[bctt tweet=”Physical fitness increases mental resilience. It allows you to perform better mentally in several aspects of your life.” username=”talentwargroup”]

You were in the military and a lot of people served in the military. They don’t even realize how much that benefited them until they look back and they’re like, “I learned a lot of great stuff. Now that I’m out, I didn’t realize how beneficial those life lessons were.” Those are fitness lessons and developmental models that the military or the Army specifically gives you. That’s another reason why we’re here. Those connections are a lot easier to make within this community.

Which of those lessons do you feel were most valuable for you? What are you trying to teach?

Another thing that you’ll find out is that you don’t have to be an elite fitness athlete to join the military, but there are lots of opportunities within the Army that allows you to get to that level if that’s your desire or passion. Allison and yourself have benefited from the THOR3 Program. You also have H2F Human Performance Programs that are now Army-wide.

TJP - E92 Colonel Stephen Battle: US Army Marketing & Engagement Brigade Commander Major Allison Brager: Neuroscientist, Soldier, Author of Meathead, Unraveling The Athletic Brain

“You don’t have to be an elite fitness athlete to join the military.”

As you enter into the military, there are facilities, trainers, nutritionists, and physical therapists that guide, develop, and help you along the way. All of those lessons gravitate into one big developmental model that’s designed around everybody who wants to serve. I could speak specifically for the Army. They’re there.

I always pictured it as being deprived of everything in boot camp, but you’re learning all those.

When you first enter in, it’s the greatest epiphany everybody has. We’re not here to break you down, embarrass you, or scold you. We’re here to build you up to help you become a better version of yourself. It starts at initial entry training and basic training but then is routed through your entire career. Every time you move anywhere, anytime you go anywhere, or anytime you serve anywhere different, you always have that developmental model threaded through your career progression.

TJP - E92 Colonel Stephen Battle: US Army Marketing & Engagement Brigade Commander Major Allison Brager: Neuroscientist, Soldier, Author of Meathead, Unraveling The Athletic Brain

“We’re not here to break you down, or embarrass you, or scold you. We’re here to build you up.”

Fitness is certainly one of them. Education is another. A healthy lifestyle is the third. All those things get rolled up in this idea of, “We’re here to build you up. We’re here to make you better.” We don’t benefit at all as an organization by breaking people down and leaving them that way. It’s always about, “How do we make the individual better? How do we make the team better?” in that construct.

Allison has been a perfect and classic example of this.

You got one of our greatest examples and somebody that I have been privileged to know now for a couple of years.

It’s so important to understand that the Army cares about the development of thought leaders and dynamic leaders. When we look at who’s going to lead, not only the Army but our country into the next 10, 20, or 30 years. We look at someone like Allison and we say, “She went to Brown, had a PhD, was a professor and a neurobiologist,” and then say, “Now, I’ll join the Army”.

Don’t forget two-time CrossFit athlete and Top 50 finalist on the Army’s Space Program.

An aspiring astronaut. Talk about the decision to make the jump over into the Army, but also the sleep research that you’re doing, the importance of sleep on development and performance. Jessie’s going to be able to give her opinion on the necessity of 7 to 8 hours of sleep because I’ll give you mine on the 2 to 3 hours.

Jessie and I are kindred spirits when it comes to getting eight hours of sleep. I had always had a propensity to serve, especially after 9/11. Most of my mom’s family is from New York and New Jersey. I saw the direct impact of 9/11 on my own family. I got recruited by the Army for college, but I graduated high school in 2003. My parents didn’t think it was smart for me to go into the military at the time, but the thought of joining had always been in the back of my mind.

TJP - E92 Colonel Stephen Battle: US Army Marketing & Engagement Brigade Commander Major Allison Brager: Neuroscientist, Soldier, Author of Meathead, Unraveling The Athletic Brain

Being a part of college sports and then going to compete in the CrossFit games, that mental and physical resiliency you built from high competition and elite athletics stuck with me. I was fortunate in 2016 that I got selected for a military medicine fellowship at Walter Reed, which is the president’s hospital in Washington DC. On my very first day there, the department chair of military psychiatry came up to me and was like, “Have you ever thought about joining the Army?” I was like, “Honestly, sir, I’ve always wanted to, but I’m 33 years old.” What would the Army possibly offer me at 33?

I learned about the whole process of how you could be a scientist, doctor, or lawyer in direct commission at pretty much any age. That was the process. I then went to San Antonio where Army Medicine is and went through our version of basic training with a bunch of other doctors. We had a doctor who was in her 50s when she joined. I work with her now at Special Forces. She’s the Brigade Surgeon of the 3rd Group. It’s been a wonderful career. It’s awesome chasing excellence. Not just scholastic excellence, but athletic excellence. I’m working with such wonderful people, all around from all walks of life.

What was it like when you first joined? What was that training process like?

For us, on the medical side, it’s very different because in Army Medicine we have our own unique way of practicing medicine beyond the civilian healthcare system. The biggest blessing was the camaraderie that was built with the doctors that I met in San Antonio. It took me a while to learn all the customs and courtesies of the Army. Sometimes I feel like I’m still learning, but it’s been fun along the way. I truly could not think of a better, more exciting, and more rewarding career path than the Army now.

What do you do there now?

I’m the Chief Science Officer for the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center. This is the schoolhouse that Fran and Colonel Battle know very near and dear to their hearts. It’s the heart and the brain of Special Operations. It’s where you go for all your initial training, assessment, and selection. I oversee a lot of the research and development of the enterprise directly within the guys and gals going through the Special Operations course, but my passion and love is for dive medicine. I spent a lot of time down in Key West working on some projects at the freefall school we have. It’s a dream job come true.

Can you explain dive medicine and freefall?TJP - E92 Colonel Stephen Battle: US Army Marketing & Engagement Brigade Commander Major Allison Brager: Neuroscientist, Soldier, Author of Meathead, Unraveling The Athletic Brain

The Special Forces is the home of combat divers and then freefall parachutists jumping from about 23,000 feet. They do all kinds of special clandestine operations from that, but there’s a huge intense training and selection process in order to become a part of that. Having gone through the Army’s dive medicine course myself through Walter Reed, it was the hardest few weeks of my life. It’s way harder than training and competing in the CrossFit games and any brutal track workout our pole vault coach would make us do in college. It’s the most mentally and physically exhausting time of my life. Those guys and gals go through it every single day.

Was it also one of the most satisfying?

Absolutely. Also, because of the camaraderie you built. Every day I text at least one of those people from those courses.

You’re friends for life.


Even when you don’t know somebody and meet them later on in life. I met people who serve like me and you have this instant camaraderie. You understand immediately what they’ve gone through. Not only in the Army, but when we look to build elite organizations, from both of you, I’m interested what are you looking for.

We talk a lot on the show about these characteristics of elite performance and the characteristics that are used by Special Operations Commands specifically to recruit, develop, and assess talent. In your own words and mind, as you look at the leaders within your organizations, what are those characteristics that you want to see on a daily basis?

There is the official answer and the unofficial answer, but they’re both the same. One uses fancier words in a shorter timeline, and the other one’s longer and less fancy words. Officially, we’re looking for fit resilient soldiers of character, but what does that mean? In the end, what that means is, “Do you want to be here?” 9 times out of 10, that’s about it. If you want to be here and want to do this, we have a program for you. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you came from, gender, race, or ethnicity. All that stuff becomes irrelevant when you decide to join our team.

TJP - E92 Colonel Stephen Battle: US Army Marketing & Engagement Brigade Commander Major Allison Brager: Neuroscientist, Soldier, Author of Meathead, Unraveling The Athletic Brain

“We’re looking for fit, resilient soldiers of character.”

When you do decide to join our team, you are embraced by a sense of community because everybody is like you. They all want to be there. The program that we have helps you along that journey. In the sense of community, you and I talked not too long ago because we worked for similar people way back. I was like, “I remember that guy. It was awesome,” but as you go through it, that community helps you through. You lean on each other, By leaning on each other, y’all make it together. That’s a long way of saying fit resilient soldiers of character, but it’s also my version of it.

It transcends too. We did episode 75 up in the Boston Fire Department. Since 9/11, the Boston Fire Department has hired almost exclusively, not 100%, but over 90% of its recruiting efforts have been veterans. The community that exists now within that fire department because they all sit there and have come from a shared set of experiences has not only brought them together as firefighters but as an entire department that has unified a city.

It’s funny you mentioned Boston Fire because I’ve worked with them over the years too, and I agree there. It’s also about chasing excellence. Ben Bergeron wrote a book a few years ago titled Chasing Excellence. What it comes down to is it doesn’t matter at what stage you are in your career, whether you’re young and you’re athletic war fighting prime, or in a leadership position, but you’re doing something every single day to better yourself and the organization.

[bctt tweet=”It doesn’t matter at what stage you are in your career, whether you’re young, in athletic war fighting prime, or in a leadership position. You should be doing something every day to better yourself and to better the organization. ” username=”talentwargroup”]

I love that. That’s my favorite. I want to know more about how you use sleep to chase excellence or how everyone can utilize sleeping skills to be more excellent.

I always like to tell people that sleep is a performance-enhancing drug. The only time you secrete those anabolic hormones that help you recover and repair is at night when you sleep.

How would you say it increases performance?

With sleep, you are 100% effective. We’ve done these studies in the Army with certain units where we’ve looked at sleep when they go out and do their training. We’ve studied sleep in soldiers around the world including places like Antarctica. We find that every time we do these studies if the soldiers are getting about 30% less sleep, they’re only 50% combat effective. It’s an exponential relationship. We were able to use this data to change some of the Army policies on sleep. This old field manual used to say that a commander or training officer must give their soldiers four hours of sleep a day.

I’ve been to a lot of schools where I don’t think that was applied.

TJP - E92 Colonel Stephen Battle: US Army Marketing & Engagement Brigade Commander Major Allison Brager: Neuroscientist, Soldier, Author of Meathead, Unraveling The Athletic Brain

“Sleep is the performance enhancing drug.”

In the cases of Special Forces, there’s an assessment selection criterion for being resilient to sleep deprivation. We have found through our studies that if soldiers are only getting 4 hours of sleep a day, they’re only 15% combat effective. We were able to get this policy changed. In the new H2F training doctrine, it’s now six hours because of this work. They’re only about 50% combat effective, but 50% is better than 15%.

If you’re only getting 4 hours of sleep, you could have an 85% increase in performance by sleeping. That sounds like a good supplement.

Unless you’re a mutant genetic specimen like this one over here. He has a short sleep gene.

I wish. I wanted to ask you about that because when we talked the other day, for lack of a better term, you said there’s a thing called a short sleep gene. I never heard about that.

My background is in genetics. I’m identifying genes that make people resilient under high stress. A few years ago, at Walter Reed, we found a handful of genes that people resilient under crazy conditions of sleep deprivation. If I swabbed your cheek and screened your DNA, I’m pretty sure I would find those mutations. It’s a very small percentage of the population and you’re going to see it in more elite individuals because you have this whole assessment selection where you are deprived of sleep, nutrition, and all these things in society that are necessary to get through this elite training. That’s where you would find those.

TJP - E92 Colonel Stephen Battle: US Army Marketing & Engagement Brigade Commander Major Allison Brager: Neuroscientist, Soldier, Author of Meathead, Unraveling The Athletic Brain

“If the soldiers are getting about 30% less sleep, they’re only 50% combat effective. It’s an exponential relationship.”

I’m going to put you on the spot. I’m going to ask you what my performance level’s going to be. The night before we came here, I never went to bed. The night before that I slept for three and a half hours. Last night, I went to bed at 2:00 and woke up at 6:30. I went to the gym and only had a coffee. Where am I at?

Honestly, we could find out after this. The Army and the Department of Defense have this app that we developed and transitioned to the public now it’s called PeakAlert. You do the small test of reaction time and it tells you how much in the red and the green you are. If you’re in the red, it gives you caffeine dosing schedules to get back or somewhat back into the green. Only sleep can replace lost sleep, that’s the bottom line.

Both you and Jessie were pole vaulters and collegiate athletes at a very high level. You reference in your book, Meathead, the athletic brain and this differentiation between everybody and those who have this “athletic brain.” Can you talk for a minute about that? How does that athletic brain then correlate to the fact that so many people at senior levels in Fortune 500 companies are collegiate athletes? They’ve gone on after that to do amazing things. We see that with some of the senior general officers and senior non-commissioned officers in the Army. Why is that?

It goes back to what Colonel Battle said about physically fit yielding mental fitness because that’s what happens. There are unique and dynamic changes that happen in the brain like the growth of brain areas, the speed of the connections increase, and their resiliency to stress increases. There are massive brain-wide differences that result from athleticism. There’s some biological proof to that 10,000-hour rule.

If you do a brain scan on an elite athlete, you will find that their brain is so efficient. They don’t have to think about the complex movements that they have to do. They just act. It’s very instinctive. That skillset does translate when you’ve competed and trained your body to that level. It translates to those other aspects of your life, especially if you played team sports. The beauty of doing team sports is you have to know how your teammates are doing that day. If they’re having a bad day, what can you do so that the whole team doesn’t suffer? That does translate to how we interact and become successful in the military and in Corporate America.

TJP - E92 Colonel Stephen Battle: US Army Marketing & Engagement Brigade Commander Major Allison Brager: Neuroscientist, Soldier, Author of Meathead, Unraveling The Athletic Brain

“They don’t have to think about the complex movements that they have to do. They just act.”

You’re not just saying that an athletic brain is something that a person naturally has and tends to behave that way. You’re saying that any person who trains in athletics will increase their brain to function more in that way?

Yes. There are tons of evidence for this. That’s the beauty of CrossFit too. People have finally found a sport where they have the confidence and self-esteem that they can go to the gym, get strong, and faster. You look at them a few years later, they’re not just physically different, but they’re mentally more composed to.

Can you talk a little bit about normal circadian rhythm? You were saying that there’s a standard normal wake-up and sleep time on average for most individuals.

This has been a big part of my research. It relates to the military. We fight and train at night, but we’re also pre-selected to be morning people. 80% of the population have this biological genetically controlled rhythm where they are prone to wake up around 8:00 AM and go to bed around 10:00 PM or 11:00 PM. Some people like Colonel Battle are 100% morning people. I know this because when I was his company commander, I used to train with him every morning at 5:30 AM.

You left five and a half hours on the table.

We’ve got to sleep. We learn that now in the Army.

It was hard for me to get to a schedule, but through discipline I did. I’m a night person. My parents are night people, but there’s actual genetic coding for whether you’re prone to be a morning person or an evening person. If more athletes and high performers center their lifestyle and their careers around this concept, we would be so much more productive.

Depending on your job and necessity, you can force yourself into whatever rhythm you need to, but you’re always going to perform better if you play to your body’s natural inclination.

You can force yourself, but at some point, it will break down. Even though I was training with him early morning, if I didn’t get that sleep, I was more prone to getting sick. I was more prone to having an off day.

[bctt tweet=”Depending on your job and your necessity, you can force yourself into whatever rhythm you need. But you will always perform better if you play your body’s natural inclination.” username=”talentwargroup”]

I found that for myself. I’ve always known I need eight hours a night. I’ve learned that in high school and have always stuck to it, but I also find that if I force myself to be on a schedule where I’m waking up at 6:00 or 7:00 AM, the second I have a day off, I will naturally sleep until 9:00, at least.

We’re kindred spirits. It must be the pole vault.

That sleep gene coincides with the pole vault gene. What was it that you were telling me about your natural circadian rhythm tends to shift during teenage years?

I was fortunate enough to work with Dr. Mary Carskadon when I was at Brown. That’s how I got interested in sleep. She was in contention to get the Noble Prize for this work. She is the reason why a lot of school systems around the country now have later school start times. One of the things she found years ago when she was at Stanford and then moved to Brown was that teenagers naturally have a delayed clock. The more you go through puberty, the more your clock becomes delayed by as much as 1 hour to 2 hours.TJP - E92 Colonel Stephen Battle: US Army Marketing & Engagement Brigade Commander Major Allison Brager: Neuroscientist, Soldier, Author of Meathead, Unraveling The Athletic Brain

Most kids don’t reach full development until they’re 19 or 20. There’s a reason why in college beyond all the social stimulation why it’s easier to stay up late at night. We find that if we align school start times with these later times when kids can sleep in that they do perform better in school. That’s why a lot of public school systems have stuck to these later school start times now.

If you are stuck on a crazy late schedule or crazy early schedule, are there ways that you can manipulate your outside environment to make it feel more like a natural circadian rhythm that would coincide with your body’s natural tendencies?

Sunlight is the best way. I do a lot of work with professional sports teams and collegiate teams, especially with the merge of the Big Ten conference with the PAC-12 conference. We’ve been telling a lot of these collegiate athletes, “When you are traveling to the West Coast and you have to have this game that’s 3 or 4 hours outside of your normal sleep cycle, get up early in the morning, go out, stretch, and be in the presence of sunlight because that’s the only way you can ever adjust.

What if you are on a schedule where you have to wake up at 4:00 AM to go to a job? Could you get one of those sun lamps and turn it on at 4:00 AM every day so that your body thinks it’s later?

I feel like you’re looking for some answers to solve a problem.

I got to be ready.

That’s what I had to do when I was training with him at 5:30 because I live about 45 minutes away. I’d have to wake up at 4:00 AM.

I have no idea that you were going through that. Thank you very much for your sacrifice. The truth comes out now.

“I’ve been standing tall for 30 minutes waiting for you because of that.”

We became better because of that.

I was his company commander then. I wasn’t going to complain about any problems. It can help you. It’s anything that mimics sunlight like sunrise or sunset. It’s going to improve your sleep. That’s the easiest thing you can do.

If I’m going to sleep earlier, one of the big things I can do is get sunlight to start early in the morning to make sure my body knows it’s daytime even though it’s not quite daytime yet.

That’s the first step.

Turn the lights off early. Maybe even blackout curtains in the evening so that it can get dark earlier.

Leading up to bedtime, maybe an hour before you start dimming the lights. I talked a lot about melatonin. Dim light releases melatonin, which helps us fall asleep. Doing this simple strategy of manipulating light schedules can help people around the world. We did this years ago with the ranger regiment when they were overseas. We went out there and showed them how to manipulate their schedules so that they could better operate while they were there.

Do those blue light glasses work if you need to be on your phone or doing emails? My best work time seems to be in bed right before I go to sleep. I love having my laptop open.

You’re a night owl. I get it. My best work time is 10:00 PM, too. My creative juices get flowing at 10:00 PM.

Do the blue light glasses help with that?

They do. The only thing is it can’t replace stimulation. Basically, if you’re working up all the way to bed, you’re putting yourself in a position where you’re not going to get a good sleep. Starting to wear blue light-blocking glasses after the sun sets is perfect.

Would you wear them around the house in the evening then?

They’re super fashionable now. I have a pair from Felix Gray.

I need to try that. I would love to shift my schedule a little bit earlier and be more used to that. Get more daylight.

I totally understand. It’s clearly been working for you to be on this schedule for your whole life, so I’d stick with it.

I don’t have a schedule because sometimes I’ll go a whole month where I’m on a normal-ish schedule and sometimes I’ll have to be up at 3:00 AM for prosthetics for a job, and then later that week, I might have a 6:00 PM call time and work until 8:00 AM. I have to have the ability to adjust my sleep schedule at a moment’s notice. If I’m going to work early, I need to get myself to fall asleep at 8:00 PM so I can be ready for it. All of these tools are so helpful. Do you build a tolerance to melatonin? Does your body stop producing its own natural melatonin if you take melatonin?

It does not. That’s one of the prevailing urban legends about melatonin. It is not like birth control. If you’re taking over the counter, it does not stop natural melatonin release. Over the counter, melatonin isn’t as effective as people think. Most of the time, it’s a placebo effect. The only time it is clinically effective is when you’re traveling. It’s because your natural melatonin release is so powerful and any pill or form of melatonin cannot offset that natural release.

Unless you’re having to shift your schedule and using it as a tool to signal to your body like, “We’re on a different schedule now.”

If you’re shifting schedules, that’s the only reason it’ll work, but if you’re taking it as a nighttime supplement to fall asleep, it’s a placebo effect.

How many bonus years of life do you get if you are diligent about your sleep practices?

That’s 10 to 15 years. The World Health Organization has labeled shift work a level-two carcinogen. There are studies now showing that shift work takes anywhere from 10 to 15 years off your life. That’s a true story. Look it up on the CDC’s website.

TJP - E92 Colonel Stephen Battle: US Army Marketing & Engagement Brigade Commander Major Allison Brager: Neuroscientist, Soldier, Author of Meathead, Unraveling The Athletic Brain

“Shift Work takes anywhere from 10 to 15 years off your life.”

Is that something that they could compensate for if they’re diligent with their light practices?

It’s not a hard and fast rule, but if you’re doing things to offset the consequences of sleep deprivation, then it can work. That’s something we did with the Boston Fire Department. We went around to their major training bases and firehouses and set up their environment in a way where they can at least try to calm down in between their work calls when they’re doing their 24-hour and 48-hour shifts.

The Army has put a lot of focus over the last several years on dispelling and reducing the compound effects of high operational tempo or high battle rhythms and lots of deployments. As we go into a period of time where there’s no defined conflict, you spoke about what we’re looking for in the next generation of leaders, the investment that the Army is willing to make and is going to make in developing people of character to lead our nation, how are we preserving them to keep them operating at that peak level for the duration of what can be a 10, 20, or 30-year career?

You got a great example here. We’re taking some incredibly bright minds and paying very close attention to this subject. The stuff that Allison’s mentioning now didn’t exist several years ago.

It wasn’t there.

I went to Army Ranger School in 1994 and none of this stuff that she’s talking about existed.

It didn’t exist in 2004 when I went.

The application now of human performance and digging deep into how we build an individual to perform better is the entire investment. This is another great example of what it means to serve. Not only are you taking people with incredibly intelligent minds, but you get to make a difference. The work that you do, Allison, makes a real difference in so many different people’s lives, but your country’s life. As you enable soldiers to perform better, they’re doing a better job overseas and making a difference in someone else’s life. You’re making a difference on 2, 3, or 4 levels you don’t even see.

The investment, the science, the technology, the performance studies, those have come around for several years now. That’s what everybody can expect now. This dispels so many myths, urban legends, and stuff like that about what it means to be in the Army. They think, “I’m going to go there. I’m going to get screamed at by a drill sergeant, then you’re going to starve me. I’m going to go and serve overseas. I’m going to have some weird stuff when I come back.” The reality is much different.TJP - E92 Colonel Stephen Battle: US Army Marketing & Engagement Brigade Commander Major Allison Brager: Neuroscientist, Soldier, Author of Meathead, Unraveling The Athletic Brain

Instead, you go to basic combat training and you slowly but surely become developed over time. It’s almost 100% a product of our investment in those subjects. We’re taking individuals with incredibly bright minds and then empowering them to do studies, make decisions, and counsel senior leaders so that this now becomes a standard way of life.

Imagine after you’ve spent all those resources building strong leaders, it would be great to keep them alive for 10 to 15 years longer.

That adds wisdom and experience to your force. You stay healthier and more mobile longer in your career. With the training and the development you experience in the Army now, you would pay thousands and thousands of dollars for a similar type of school, council, or whatever in the civilian world.

Is it like being a college athlete?

That’s why I love being in the Army. I most days feel like I’m back in college again. We do everything together. College was the most formidable years of my life as an athlete too. It’s how we train, eat together, do everything together, and work together on hard problem sets as a team.

Go visit her in Fort Bragg and go see the facilities. It will blow your mind. Not the weight room, but the nutritionist, the physical therapist, the active recovery process that you go through, and all the equipment that’s designed around those models.

Let’s set it up. We were there a couple of months ago. We had Retired Lieutenant General Ken Tovo, Former US Army Special Operations Commanding General. We sat down with him in the Special Warfare Museum right there at Bragg. We close every episode of this show with I like to think a simple question, but everybody looks at me blankly at first. We talk about habits and foundations. Everything that you both talked about here has so much to do with the foundation that we build for ourselves over time that allows us to sustain and operate at an elite level throughout our life and our career.

The Jedburghs in World War II had to do three things that you’re both very familiar with, but they had to do them as core foundational tasks or habits. They had to be able to shoot, move, and communicate. If they did these three things with the utmost precision, then they didn’t have to think about that. They could put their attention on more complex challenges that came their way. Primarily, sabotage and subversion operations to not allow the Germans to reinforce the beaches of Normandy which is a great task. What are the three things that you each do every day to set the conditions for success in your world?

The three things that I do routinely every day are I go to bed at 8:00. I wake up at 4:20. That’s eight hours, give or take. I drink at least three liters of water every day. I try and eat maybe 4 or 5 meals every day. I learned that in my service. I didn’t pick that up in high school. If somehow get knocked off my game and I don’t do these things, I’m at a point now where I don’t feel right about myself for the rest of the day. If you do that long enough, you’re in a habit. Make that habit a routine. That routine helps drive your performance throughout life.TJP - E92 Colonel Stephen Battle: US Army Marketing & Engagement Brigade Commander Major Allison Brager: Neuroscientist, Soldier, Author of Meathead, Unraveling The Athletic Brain

You and I had 2 of the same 3 core foundations.

You got to go visit the truck. I got a job for you.

I’m excited to find out what that means.

There are over 150 different types of jobs in the Army. I’m going to find one for you.

Three things I do one is sleep. It doesn’t matter where I am traveling around, I always try to get eight hours of sleep. If I can’t get eight hours that night, I make sure I take a nap at some point throughout the day. I’ve been known to do that in the office too. I have communal nap time.TJP - E92 Colonel Stephen Battle: US Army Marketing & Engagement Brigade Commander Major Allison Brager: Neuroscientist, Soldier, Author of Meathead, Unraveling The Athletic Brain

She’s not working for you anymore, so now she can disclose.

We used to have communal nap time. I’d be like, “I’m taking a nap. Do you want to take a nap?” We’d all chill out for twenty minutes. The other thing I have to do is always try to be a good person. This is more mental resiliency. It doesn’t matter how stressful a situation is, just always try to have empathy and put their perspective into the universe and try to be a good person. My wife thinks I’m crazy about the third thing I would say, but I have Athletic Greens. I swear by my Athletic Greens. I bring them everywhere with me. I’m convinced that they’re the reason I have never tested positive for COVID, but I always have to have my Athletic Greens with me.

[bctt tweet=”Always try to be a good person. No matter how stressful a situation, always try to have empathy.” username=”talentwargroup”]

What are the key ingredients you think are most beneficial?

Probably, the wheatgrass. There’s a lot of research to show that wheatgrass is very nutrient dense. It’s a great anti-inflammatory and clears oxidative stress.

Both of you, go to bed early, drink a lot of water, and eat 4 to 5 meals. That one is so important. Be a good person. We forget about that one sometimes. I know in my life, I have. Life is so much easier if you wake up and do the right thing. Also, Athletic Greens. I got to focus on that one.

I got one more. Every day text or call your significant other and say hello. That’s it.

That’s nice.

Every day, I text my wife and I say, “I’m thinking about you.”

They’re adorable.TJP - E92 Colonel Stephen Battle: US Army Marketing & Engagement Brigade Commander Major Allison Brager: Neuroscientist, Soldier, Author of Meathead, Unraveling The Athletic Brain

That is a key to resiliency, and longevity as well. Colonel Stephen Battle, and Major Allison Brager, thank you so much for joining us here. It’s been a great time.

This is a lot of fun. Thank you very much for having us. I can’t speak enough for Major Brager. She’s awesome.



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