Just ask Michael Unbroken, podcaster and today’s guest alongside Mark Kinsley in this episode of the Sleep Summit Show.
In this episode, Michael discusses his unstable upbringing, including abuse, neglect, poverty, and being bounced between 30 homes by age 12. Determined not to be another statistic, Michael overcame the odds and landed a corporate job making almost seven figures by the time he was 26. Yet, money didn’t bring the happiness or stability he assumed it would. Picking himself back up, Michael provides a unique perspective and practical tips on overall wellness and how sleep plays a vital role.
Mark Kinsley: He is a podcast host in the Upper echelon, the top 0.5% of all podcasts on the planet. Michael Unbroken is on the show today. He talks about childhood trauma, practical tools, and advice for how to overcome it. And we’re gonna talk about sleeping as well. The Sleep Summit show begins right now.
Michael Unbroken: Dude, what’s up?
I’m excited to be
Mark Kinsley: here with you, Michael. Welcome to the show. Now I gotta give us a little backstory. So you and I actually met through a sleep industry event because I was, well not necessarily a sleep industry event, but I was at Matt Smith’s event. We were both speaking and so I got to hear you speak on stage and tell your story and I was like, I’ve gotta get you on the podcast because the people you help and the message you deliver and how it has an impact on people’s lives, there is a connection to sleep because.
People that experience trauma in their lives are having to lay down on their pillow every night with lot, lot of times really heavy hearts and heads. Tell people your story before we jump into it.
Michael Unbroken: Yeah, man. I mean, you’re definitely spot on. Um, you know, I always say this when I start these is like, if you’re listening, please don’t compare yourself to me.
We did not have the same journey. Um, so the high level, my, my mom was a drug addict, an alcoholic. Um, in fact, when I was only four years old, she cut off my right index finger, you know, and people always talk about hurt people, hurt people. And so she was very much that, um, my stepfather, super abusive. I mean, this dude was six foot 4, 2 20 freaking linebacker size dude beating up a seven year old, you know.
So put me in the hospital multiple times and, you know, we were. Deeply in poverty, and I live with over 30 different families between eight to 12 years old, getting bounced around place to place to place. And I never knew where I was gonna end up. Whether it was a family member or a friend of the church, a stranger, a cousin, sometimes a van.
Like I, I really didn’t know. And luckily when I was 12, my grandmother adopted me. But I’m biracial, black and white, and she’s an old racist white lady from a town in Tennessee you never heard of. So imagine the identity crisis and like any normal 12 years old, I just started getting high every day.
Started drinking when I was 13. Uh, got expelled and kicked outta school when I was 15 for selling drugs. Got put into a last chance program, got kicked out again. Uh, did not graduate high school, in fact, went to summer school. They gave me the diploma and said, we’ll, let the streets figure you out. And at that same time, I got fired from a warehouse job where I was just like literally putting microchips into motherboards all day long.
Uh, probably cuz I was stoned and uh, I was sitting in my car. I was like, I’m gonna find the solution for this, for poverty, for homelessness, for abuse. And Mark. At the time I thought it was money. So I said by the time I’m 21, I wanna make a hundred thousand dollars a year legally. And so I just chased money legally cuz I had family in prison for life.
I’ve been in handcuffs more times than I can count, and my three childhood best friends have been murdered. So dude, like I, I knew the path I was going down. And so I just kept learning skills and skills, have utility, and next thing you know, I’m 21. I landed a job with a Fortune 10 company. By the time I was almost 26, I made just under a million bucks.
Uh, but I was 350 pounds, smoking two packs a day, drinking myself to sleep, cheating on my girlfriend, $50,000 in debt. My car got repoed, and my little brother said, never talk to me again. 13 years later. Here I am talking to you
Mark Kinsley: 13 years later. I gotta dig into some aspects of your story. What happened when your mother cut your finger off?
Was she high? Was she angry? Uh, what, what happened? Do you remember that moment? I don’t
Michael Unbroken: remember that moment. Mark. Um, people ask me that question a lot. I have no idea. And so what, I have a multitude of different stories. One from my grandmother, from my mother, one my mo. They’re both dead. Um, so I, I don’t really have confirmation.
I tried to actually, here, what’s interesting, um, eight or nine years ago, I reached out to the Hand Institute of Indianapolis, where I had the surgeries and they expunge all physical documentation. So I have no idea. Hmm.
Mark Kinsley: So you had a childhood filled with trauma, and that even extended into your teen years and beyond, because like you said, there you were, you figured out how to make a million bucks legally, but then you hit a major trough in your life again because you weren’t healthy, you weren’t happy, you were clearly still in a bad spot.
Was that the impetus for you to start to try and figure out, how do I get past this trauma? How do I beat this?
Michael Unbroken: Well, you know, I, I was at this massive rock bottom and I had made all this money, and yet I, you know, as I explained, life was very chaotic. And you know how when people are dying, they’re like, I feel like I have like a year left.
They’re like, I got like six months left. I got like a week left, man, I just mark, I just knew I was gonna be dead either. I was gonna follow through finally on killing myself and, you know, Or somebody was gonna kill me or I was gonna end up in prison. Right? Like, I, I just felt it. And the reality is, one day, it was like a Saturday morning and I’m laying in bed watching the freaking CrossFit games, smoking a joint and eating chocolate cake.
And I was like, dude, what the fuck are you doing? Like, what are you doing? And I, I picked myself up and I went in the bathroom and, you know, I. I always say this, I don’t know that this would work for everyone, but this worked for me. I just destroyed myself. I was like, you are a fucking loser. You are doing this.
This is your fault. The reason your life is a disaster is because of the way that you’re showing up. Your own brother won’t talk to you. Your girlfriend hates you. Look at your li. You are doing this. No one else has done this, but you and I, I realize in that moment, mark was like, I wasn’t culpable for the bad things, man.
Like all the chaos of childhood, all the hurt, the pain, the suffering. Like that’s not on me, dude. It’s just not, it’s not on anybody. But every single one of these decisions I was making every day, like, bro, that’s on me. And, and I asked myself a question as I looked in that mirror. I was like, what are you willing to do to have the life that you want to have?
And the answer was, no excuses, just results. And, and I literally meant it. And so I started this journey of, it was therapy and coaching and all the different modalities of things that one can step into. And reading books and going to conferences and podcasts weren’t really a thing then, but I was like listening to online shows and.
Being studious and, and getting mentorship and just going down this path because I was like, I, I felt like I owed it to me. I still feel like I owe it To me it’s like, I’ve already been through hell, so why can’t I understand or why can’t I experience or, or why not have this other thing that I saw other people having?
And it was confidence and self-love and compassion and empathy, and it was like, I’m gonna figure this out.
Mark Kinsley: Hmm. It’s a powerful moment whenever you look in the mirror, like you said, and you trashed yourself, but you ultimately, on the other side of that said, I’m responsible for these things. I think at the, at the get together where we went to, which was the Undercover Billionaire Bootcamp where we both spoke, I remember Joseph Blair coached for the Wizards saying, I control my effort.
Right. And it sounds like you had that moment where you said, I controlled my effort in these things.
Michael Unbroken: Yeah, and it was like I had been really good at destroying my life, and I was like, what if I did the opposite? And Mark, that’s really what it came down to, man. It’s like there’s so much potential we all have inside of us, but you have to be willing to face the fear of shedding the identity of the person you are today to become the person that you’re capable of being.
And then that shit was hard. Like for real hard. Like I had to go through this process of like really understanding and identifying not only the things that led me to this place of being stuck, but when I faced fears and what it meant to become a man, and then what it meant to be a leader, and then what it means now to be a, a public figure.
And so much of it man is just like, Ultimately, at the end of the day it’s, it’s like, am I doing the thing I said I was going to do? It’s about accountab accountability and integrity and honesty, and you hear this a lot, but dude, the truth will set you free. Like it really fucking will. And I know that’s such this like Adlib people pull out all the time, but.
Man, when I started getting seriously serious about therapy and coaching and I was sharing the darkness things that are so insane, like people don’t even believe it. When I started sharing those things, man, I just felt a sense of freedom. I just felt like, man, I don’t have to carry this anymore. And in fact, it really.
One of the pivotal things that I did, and I think this audience will appreciate it. You know, I asked Gary Vaynerchuk for help. I mean, if you go back to like 10 years ago, I’m on episode of Ask Gary V, and I’m just like, dude, help something, anything. And it was like at that, that’s the thing that people have to understand.
It’s like, I did not do this alone and neither will you.
Mark Kinsley: Hmm. If you’re not familiar, Michael Unbroken here on the show right now, entrepreneur, bestselling author, coach, one of the top podcasters on the planet. He’s a speaker, he’s an advocate for survivors of childhood trauma, and I just want people listening here on the Sleep Summit show to understand something.
Why Michael? Why now? Why his story? Because people that are coming in looking for a better night’s sleep. Many of them have experienced childhood trauma. Many of them can be a support system for somebody who’s trying to get beyond it. When you think about sleep as a child, what comes to your mind? What are the things that come to your mind?
Michael Unbroken: Well, as a, as a kid, it was impossible. Like really impo. I mean, we didn’t even own a bed. I slept on a concrete floor for most of my childhood. Um, and then when you add in the lack of stability, getting bounced around place to place to place, dude, I had the most massive insomnia, I mean, from basically seven or eight years old until I was about 32, until I really started to like research, sleep and understand like circadian rhythms and get myself into this place where I had somewhat of a sleep health routine at night.
I mean, it would, dude, there were nights where I’d sleep for an hour. If I was lucky, um, the slightest noise would wake me up cuz it’s hypervigilance, right? Like a lot of really dark things happen to me as a kid in my sleep, as it happens to a lot of children, unfortunately. And so it was like there was never any safety sleep is I really, truly believe this.
I, I bet with everything you’ve done, you would probably agree. If you wanna actually be able to sleep, you need to feel safe. Mm. And so I never had that until I became an adult. And, and now it’s very different. Right. And then I think the other part of it as a kid too, was like not having familiarity. Not having my own bed, not having my own place, and that lack of leads to this place where you’re just unsettled all the time.
Right? And so I was like, backpack, you know, here I’m at this house here, I’m at that house here, I’m at this hotel room. Like whatever it was. So I, I think it’s. You know, giving people an opportunity to have a, a comfortable sleep experience that feels safe is everything, right? I mean, so now I’ve, I do the whole blue light shed and like an hour no phone and read and red lights and p m f mats, and I’m probably overdoing it to be honest with you.
But dude, last night I went to bed at nine 15. I slept eight straight hours. I felt great. Hallelujah.
Mark Kinsley: I love that. That’s a great testimonial, man. And, and that I know that journey a little bit. It’s different for everyone, but going from being a terrible sleeper and not feeling safe and not having a place that feels familiar to then investing in trying to make those changes and make those habits stick, it is a tough putt.
It is not easy to do and it takes that consistency over time. So it sounds like when you turn 32, You said you started investing in trying to figure out some of the things that you weren’t, that weren’t going well in your life, and then sleep became a part of that.
Michael Unbroken: So, I mean, I’d already been deep into this work at that point for six or seven years, but the sleep thing wasn’t until like I started listening to a podcast where people are talking about sleep being this very important element of the human experience, arguably more important than nutrition, depending on who you’re asking, right?
And so I was like, oh, this is the one thing I’ve really. Always had struggles with, and I was like, okay, I need to wrap my head around this. Especially with the travel schedule, with the businesses that I run, et cetera. I was like, okay, cool. Let me figure out how, how to actually do this and, and it, I mean, it’s still a challenge sometimes, you know, so it’s like, Going through the routine, having the stability, but most importantly, it was about educating myself.
Nobody teaches you about sleep when you’re a kid. When you’re a teen in college and twenties, like nobody te you don’t know how to. People are just like, well, I guess it’s time to go to bed at one o’clock in the morning after you’ve been playing video games all night. It’s like, good luck with that. Right.
And that’s what I did forever. And then I had no circadian rhythm cuz one night I’d go to bed at, you know, 3:00 AM and wake up at 7:00 AM and the next night I’d go to bed at nine and wake up at five and you know, and the whole thing. And so a lot of it became about diligence and discipline. Along with education and then finding the right things for me.
And it’s like, I mean, dude, even like the right firmness of a mattress and the right firmness of a pillow and, you know, completely blackout curtains and whether I’m using sound machines or, or whatever that was. So, I mean, so much of it has just been like finding what works for me. Um, and, and realizing like a big part of it is like protecting that energy every night.
Mark Kinsley: Did you have any guides along the way, or did it mainly come from listening to podcasts and picking up tips from, from some of those shows?
Michael Unbroken: No, I, I think, honestly, dude, it all came from just podcasts and then trial and error. Um, you know, there, there were guys like, I wish I would’ve known about you back then.
That probably helped a lot. But, you know, there were guys like Peter Atia and Ben Greenfield and um, you know, these guys talked about Sleep a lot, Dr. Rhonda Patrick, and like, thinking about what I was learning from those people and just trying it. Hmm.
Mark Kinsley: Yeah, sometimes it is that self experimentation and it’s hard to trust it sometimes cuz there’s so much noise out there and you try to, you know, cut through the clutter and find the good science.
It seems like when I’ve distilled down a lot of the sleep advice that I’ve read in books and gotten from people on the show after more than 500 episodes, Two things do stand out and it sounds like you’re doing them really well. One of them is a bedtime routine and the other is early sunlight. So the first thing when you get up in the morning, if you can get outside and get into the sunlight, it starts to set your circadian clock for later that day and it actually gives you a little cortisol release, um, which in the amount that it releases based on the sunlight you get early in the day is a positive amount.
A lot of people associate cortisol, uh, with stress. Overproduction of cortisol is stress inducing, or it actually relates to stress. And then the second thing is the bedtime routine. So early, early daylight, sunlight, and then bedtime routine means two things. You have a bedtime and then you have a routine that leads up to that to signal to your body, this is what we’re gonna do.
And so many hormones and all this positive stuff gets released within the first 90 minutes. Uh, and if you don’t, if you miss your bedtime by plus minus an hour, you actually miss like an H G H release, which is really good for fitness people that wanna build muscle, so. Mm-hmm. It sounds like you’ve experimented with some of that stuff to get yourself to a good spot.
Michael Unbroken: Yeah, and the, I mean, even like, I’ll rip open the curtains as soon as I wake up and it’s, I hate it, dude, you know, but I’m like, I know this is good for me. Like, you know, so there, there’s that in the morning. But then I think just the general morning routine as well, um, making sure that I’m hydrating, making sure I work out every day.
Working really hard. Like one of the things that I really, if I want a good night’s sleep, I have to work. Mm. You know, if I’m just chilling around not doing shit all day, then at, you know, my bedtime, I’m just like wide awake. Um, the other thing I’ll say probably I has helped me more than anything is so I will, I’ve red lights in the bedroom and I will journal, I.
At night and read a book about half an hour before bed, and like sure enough, like I’m like, cannot wait to go to sleep 10 pages into a book.
Mark Kinsley: Yeah. That’s what actually, one of my routine things too is I never read fiction, uh, sorry, I never read nonfiction because it same put your, your brain into the mode of trying to solve problems or apply what you’re reading.
Whereas if you read a story, you’re just kind of along for the journey. Um, and I love the journal thing too. I’m, I’m the same way. I’m like, Hey, if something pops into my head, I gotta have a holding pin for it so I know it’s there and I can deal with it tomorrow. What? Okay. So we get a lot of people in the mattress business listening to this show in the broader sleep industry.
I. When. So first of all, check out Michael’s email@example.com. Um, lemme start here. As a business person entrepreneur, we get a lot of people that are running their own, their own businesses. What does it mean to be in the top 1% of podcasters on the planet? Paint a picture of what that actually means.
Michael Unbroken: yeah. You know, it’s funny cuz we we’re now on the top. Zero 5%. So I’m, I’m above even that, um, which apologize. Sorry. I didn’t know that was open. Um, one of the things is it was like a celebration of the top
Mark Kinsley: zero 5% kinda right?
Michael Unbroken: Yeah. No man, it’s just been like, It’s a, it’s a war, right? Like it kind of is.
We’re, we’re heading into 700 episodes. I’ve had the fortune of interviewing a lot of incredible human beings and it’s just been like really just proving to myself that I can, um, I mean, you get it. You really set 500. I. Plus episodes, it’s not easy. Um, and luckily I have a team, we built a team for the show, so it’s not just me.
It’d be insane if it were, I would never get done. Um, and so it, the, the thing for me is it’s just been able to help me. A lot of it, I mean, you get it, dude. It’s self-serving. Really. I’m like learning. I’m trying to take the best of what people know so I don’t have to pay the dummy tax and get a shortcut.
The experiences of time. And so to have interviewed people like Tom and Lisa Billue, um, Tim Story, Anna Laki, Caroline Leaf, Dr. Gabo Mata, um, Mero Bouquet. I mean, the list goes on and on and on. Where it’s like, dude, I’ve interviewed the most brilliant people on planet Earth, and I feel very fortunate for that.
Um, but then I’ve interviewed people whose names don’t sit in the upper echelon of the society that we live in and whatever field you’re in, and they come with the most powerful stories you can imagine. So, you know, it’s amazing just to be able to really, it’s to be a storyteller, right? I mean, that’s what I get to do every day.
Mark Kinsley: It’s a, it’s a gift. It is fun when you can connect around something that you probably never would’ve talked about with somebody, and you can pick up the phone and call people and, and share their stories. You’re a great storyteller too. I know you’ve actually had Matt Smith, who’s from the mattress industry on the podcast.
Yeah. He has an amazing story to tell also, when you, when you look at your business and you look at being able to tell people’s stories, Uh, what are some of the things that you have picked up that have been big lessons for you that maybe you’ve applied in, in your thinking or in your business or in your life from these amazing people you’ve had on your show?
Michael Unbroken: Yeah, man. Just radical vulnerability. Around things you’ve already processed. It just opens up the door for other people to step into their vulnerability and to be able to process and heal. And, and I think without a doubt, as I look at some of the people who have sat across from me and, and had these kind conversations, the, the thing that is always so inspiring is like the realness.
Uh, uh, so I, it’s funny, man. I love that you asked me that question. So when I was. 25 ish. I was running this photography company and I was struggling and I was like watching Shark Tank every like all the time, right? I’m watching like Shark Tank, I’m watching Marcus Lamons. I’m like watching all these, these people moving and shaking.
Gary V popped on the scene, you know? And then like people like Marie Forlio and blah, blah, blah. And I was like, man, why do all these people have in common? It just, I was like trying to put my finger, I was like, why are these people successful? And it’s not a, and and to be honest, mark, I don’t think it’s about like being smart.
I don’t even think it’s about being effective or a great leader. Like truthfully, I don’t, all these people are authentically and unapologetically them. Hmm. And so when I sit across from someone and they’re on the show, I get that. I get a bear witness to that in real time with some of the greatest minds in the world.
And I think like that’s the cornerstone I. To my success as well is I’m just like, man, I’m just gonna lay it out here because I know every time I do, it helps people. And I know that every time I do, it gives people permission. Right. You know, depending on the stage I’m speaking at, depending on how much time I have.
Like I, I talk about things that people are like, I can’t believe you said that. That is like the darkest thing I’ve ever heard. And I’m like, well, one, I’ve already done the work around it so it’s healed, but two. There’s somebody in this room who had a similar experience, who’s been terrified and tell this moment to talk about it.
And then they find me after and they corner me, and then they tell me their story. And I’m like, now you have the ability to step deeper into it because you can heal what you don’t reveal.
Mark Kinsley: Hmm mm Write that down. A friend of mine said, people connect with your vulnerabilities, not your victories. And exercising that vulnerability muscle is really tough because we want to be seen as successful.
And like you said, once you open the door to that, a lot of other stuff can come out. And sometimes it can be a volcano.
Michael Unbroken: Yeah, totally. But you’ll learn a lot about yourself too. And, and one of the things that’ll happen if you’re really paying attention is you’ll notice the people around you will change also.
But also, I mean, since this is a sleep show, one of the things that happened to me is that I started sleeping better at night. Like I can really like, honestly like tie those things together cuz it was like the more honest I was in therapy, the more honest I was in coaching, the more I was in the journal exposing the, the truth of my experiences, getting the anger out, you know?
Physically moving, dropping all that weight, right? I mean, I probably had like freaking sleep apnea or something, right? And it was like, because of the effort of doing the work, I actually started to sleep better. And that started with the vulnerability. Like I literally can tie those two things together, man.
Mark Kinsley: I can only imagine, you know, people, what is the phrase that people say sometimes? Like, how do you sleep at night? You know? Yeah. How do you sleep at night? So a great one, you’re holding onto something. That needs to go away or something that you need to work through. How are you gonna sleep at night unless you die?
That’s really cool. I’ve never heard anybody actually put it that way, that they connected the dots through having these freeing moments, being vulnerable, working through it, getting it off your chest, actually doing the deep work that actually leads to healing and boom, I’m having a great night’s sleep, but it seems obvious now that I say it out loud though.
Michael Unbroken: Well, you know, if you read a book like Bessel VanDerKolk’s, the body keeps the score. All the information and evidence is there. When you hold onto the trauma, it stays in your body. It needs to release for whatever reason in this society. We think that it’s just like mental health that we need to address, but it’s our physical health too.
And as you address your mental health, your physical health changes. And so it, it’s really kind of, it’s a chicken or the egg kind of situation. Right. But I, I think you just have to kind of do
Mark Kinsley: both. I think you’re right. It’s not just one thing, you know, if you just over-index on trying to get. Buff or ripped or whatever it is, and your nutrition is awful and your sleep is awful, you’re gonna have a limiting effect there.
Um, yeah, do it all. That’s great, man. Well, I think in terms of doing it all, a lot of times mental health until recently has been left outta the equation. I think it’s becoming more widely acceptable to go to therapy, to work through your stuff, to be vulnerable. I think Covid. And the mental health challenges people had through that have fast tracked that to some degree.
Mm-hmm. And, and hopefully more people do feel it’s okay to do it. I mean, I went to therapy off and on for years, and now I go once a month whether I quote unquote, need it or not. Yeah. Because it’s part of my wellness routine and I don’t want things to become log jammed, and then you have to throw dynamite into them, which is un unhealthy.
Michael Unbroken: That’s right. And people wait too long cuz they’re scared and it’s like, it’s okay to be afraid, but it’s not okay to be a coward man. Like I know it’s Hucks, I know it’s dark. I know there, there’s a lot in there you’ve never even talked about that you won’t even address with yourself. But man, you bring darkness to the light and it loses its power over.
Mark Kinsley: reveal and heal, man. Hey, I, I got you to have you reveal something else. Yeah. Where is the strangest place you’ve ever slept?
Michael Unbroken: Well, you know, again, I, I kind of mentioned like being bounced around place to place. Um, but I, I think honestly, like, it’s not even maybe strange, but just being in a random bungalow on an island in Thailand.
Like during a, I wish, I wish I had more time to tell you the whole story, but basically there was, um, I went to an island called Coag in Thailand. I was staying in Costa Moi. When I got on Cogan, the freaking, uh, monsoon came and they stopped all the ferries and the only place I could find was, uh, bungalow on the beach.
And it was, The most terrifying night of my life. Cuz I was like, bro, I don’t know if this water is gonna take me with it or not.
Mark Kinsley: So the water is starting to creep in and you’re just hoping to keep your head under the tarp for a while. Huh? It it
Michael Unbroken: was crazy man. It was crazy. That’s wild. Well,
Mark Kinsley: Michael, hey, thank you for stopping by the Sleep Summit Show.
It was such a pleasure to meet you whenever we got to hang out. I saw the impact that you had from stage and sometimes people’s jaws escape and it, there were moments that were really hard for the audience to hear, hear, and your vulnerability opened their hearts. And I know it’s done it for millions of people all over the world.
So I encourage everybody to check out your firstname.lastname@example.org. Uh, appreciate you brother, man. It’s great to see you
Michael Unbroken: anytime, my friend. I’ll see you soon.
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