Sleep Hacking Part 2: Reboot Your Sleep & Fall Asleep Fast

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Insomnia is a major problem for many high-performing type-A entrepreneurs. Some insomniacs can’t fall asleep, and some can’t stay asleep. Neither of those is a problem for me anymore (at least that I’m aware of; my Sleep Cycle app will verify if I’m waking up without knowing it). I used to have real problems falling asleep because my “monkey mind” just wouldn’t shut the hell up making me rehash the day’s events or dwell on upcoming stuff. I also lowered my neurotransmitter levels by exhausting my adrenals from coffee abuse to help me sleep less, before I knew how to do it right.

Those were some expensive mistakes to make. Here is info on how to hack your sleep so that you can fall sleep more easily and sleep more in less time while staying healthy that I based on years of self-experimenting, research, and biohacking:

Unhacked sleep sucks. It takes forever, about 40% of your life if you sleep as much as your body will let you without an alarm clock (or two young kids in my case…) If you cut sleep down to only 20% of your life, you will still sleep about 5 hours a night. Assuming you plan to live to be 80, cutting sleep to 5 hours is like gaining 16 YEARS of waking life, equivalent to about 20 years of life including sleep and wake cycles. That’s enough to get FIVE PhDs, to have another career, to have sex, to play with your kids, or even to watch reruns of Gilligan’s Island – if that’s your thing.

Optimizing sleep really works. I’ve been fortunate to have far more experience than my 38 years would normally allow, including time running strategy for two billion-dollar companies, having 3 of my companies acquired, writing a book, working for a VC, advising dozens of startups, running a nonprofit, etc. One reason is that I sleep less. I’ve had an extra EIGHT YEARS in the first half of my life (or maybe 5 extra years if you assume I spent the first 18 years going to school). In any case, my career so far looks like that of someone in their mid-40’s, and I expect it will look even better when I’m actually in my mid-40’s.

This disparity is why we’re all sleep deprived. Proper sleep is wonderful, rejuvenating, and profound dreams are a part of what makes life interesting. It is possible to reap all the benefits of sleep in less time. Insomnia is awful. Nothing sucks more than setting aside time to sleep, then not even getting that done.

First, let’s tackle problems with falling asleep. If you can’t fall asleep, there are only three reasons for it. The first is simply not being tired. The second is having distractions, which come in many forms, all of which are hackable. The last is that you have a biological problem – a hardware problem in hacker-speak – that needs medical attention, like sleep apnea.

In my world, sleep is a conscious act, and rarely an inevitable thing that just happens. You can do things to make sure you’re tired when you decide to go to sleep.

To make yourself tired, there are things to avoid before sleep and there are supplements, drugs, environment, and food hacks you should use. Here is a list of things to avoid to help you sleep better. Look for more biohacking technology and supplements in the next couple posts.

Getting Sleepy Step 1: Avoid stuff

· Avoid bright lights for at least a half hour before bed. Dim your office lights, and kill the unhealthy florescent ones. Install f.lux on your PC to automatically dim the screen based on day/night cycles. Don’t stare at your TV, iphone or ipad until you’ve dimmed it all the way either – white light is not your friend at night because even 5 minutes of it shuts off your melatonin production.

· If it affects you, graphic TV violence may make it harder to sleep.

· Don’t exercise < 2 hours before bed, at least.

· Coffee, green tea, and chocolate, sometimes even before lunch, may affect sleep. Track them and measure them to see if it’s a problem.

· Hit the sack before 11pm. There is a window between 10:45 and 11pm when you get tired. If you miss it, you get a cortisol-driven “second wind” that lets you be productive until 2am, or keeps you awake until then. You also get better sleep from hitting the before-11pm window, and wake up feeling more rested than getting the same amount of sleep starting later and sleeping in. (I use biohacking tools to ignore this rule, but I may pay for it someday).

Note that all of these can be used in reverse to keep yourself up later, if you so choose.

The next post, scheduled in a couple days, is a complete list of foods, supplements, and safe drugs to use to make yourself sleepy no matter what’s happening around you. After that, I just finished writing a post about tons of ways to stop your thoughts from running and keeping you from falling asleep. Follow me on Facebook and I’ll notify you as soon as they go online.


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By Dave Asprey

  • ArmiLegge

    I think a lot of people are really deficient in sleep even though they’re “in bed” for 8-9 hours a night. After using the Zeo for a while, it’s easy to tell when you’re really getting quality over quantity as they say.This whole issue is very similar to exercise. People don’t want to take the time to do it right, so they just do an hour long run everyday and think they’re healing their bodies. They get sicker, and then exercise more to “get better”.When people have things like food intolerance, stupid exercise programs, poor lifestyle habits and no incentive to improve, they just think that sleeping more will fix the problem.I am curious as to the long term effects of hacking versus normal relaxed, perfect sleep, but the fact is our modern lifestyle simply doesn’t allow it. Cavemen didn’t have computers, businesses, light pollution and all the other factors we do today, so I think some hacking is almost a requirement in order t get stuff done.Too many people are also just used to feeling like crap all the time, and take it for granted. They just don’t realize how much better it could be…Thanks again Dave!Armi

  • Andrew Michaels

    I have a very irregular pattern of when I go to bed and only do so when I’m drop dead tired. I don’t have a problem falling a sleep, but I really struggle in the morning after 5 or 6 hours. Is there value in choosing a small window of when I go to sleep — even if I’m not tired? Also, I don’t drink coffee but find a successful boost from (I won’t mention the name but…) one of the “blank_hour_energy” shots that are all the rage today. Are those really all natural and a safe way to get a boost? Thanks in advance

    • Dave Asprey

      The sleep experts all say to sleep at the same time every night and day. It works, but I don’t do it. I am trained to go to sleep in a few minutes – certain breathing exercises always work for me (read the sleep hacking posts…) Some periods of time seem to be more efficient for me, such as going to bed at 3 or 4 am and waking at 8 or 9, or going to bed at 11am and waking very early. Switching between the two is kind of hard. Waking up often involves up to 5 minutes of being groggy. If you are over groggy and don’t wake up, check your thyroid.

      Since you use those 5 Hour Energy drinks, you might want to check your thyroid anyway. Fooling your body with zero calorie energy drinks isn’t a great idea, especially if they have sucralose, which isn’t well understood metabolically. You’re better off with a handful of amino acid capsules and some d-ribose along with a cup of Bulletproof Coffee. 🙂

  • Jahed Momand

    Hi Dave,

    I was a professional online poker player until April when the DOJ cracked down on it. I had an irregular sleep schedule, I basically had to be available to play at any hour of the day, whenever a good game was going at my stakes. Four months on, and I still have this odd schedule, except now it is such that I don’t get tired until 4am at the least. Falling asleep is not hard, but I would like to go back to sleeping at a semi-regular hour now, maybe 12AM or so. I have tried to stay up all night for a day and go to sleep at a normal time the next day, but inevitably I slowly return to 4am being my regular sleep time. You seem to have a lot of experience tweaking your sleeping patterns, can you share some wisdom on how to begin tackling this problem? Thank you.

    • guest

      Are you sure you dont have delayed phase sleeping syndrome?

      • Gareth

        I think i have DPSS i only fall asleep at 5:30 A.M.

  • Guest

    This sounds very plausible, but be warned of a condition called “delayed phase sleeping syndrome”. The “cortisol window” will not appear around 11PM vor those people, but much later, often not until 4AM! The difference between DPSS sufferers and those of us who just screwed up their rithm by playing Dark Sould until deep in the night (ahem… *cough*), is that we wake up feeling like we’ve been hit by a truck, while DPSS-ers feel better than ever because its natural for them. They should not try to force jetlag on themselves by going to bed earlier (which wont work for them), but rather find jobs that allow them to work late (or start their own business).

    • Jackson

      Dark Souls! Now that will get you myelinating axons!

    • Seth Zwicker

      Wow, I’ve been wrestling with that for my whole adult life without knowing it until you just put a name on it for me. My productivity @ 1AM is off the charts but I’m dreadful in the mornings.
      If I’m up before 8….i’m miserable.

      • Maxximilian Alexander Molano C

        Ditto, thanks Guest

    • Layla Rose

      That’s exactly my problem. If only more people & more companies could accommodate us. But sadly since I have other health problems as well as ADHD, it’s been nearly impossible to find any sort of consistent means of making a living.

      And it feels kind of like being hungover, but jet lag, that’s a good term as well. When I used to work 9-5, feeling hungover is how I woke up every day. It can also mess with your metabolism to work & sleep opposite your natural sleep cycle. As a person with delayed sleep phase syndrome, I can attest to this. I was always healthiest & happiest when I was working at night. But nocturnal deniers just don’t get this or accept it. That’s what I call the diurnal types who won’t accept that being nocturnal is natural for me.

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  • Jay

    Do you need to adjust the sleeping window for daylight saving?

  • What happens to the 11pm rule if you’re a “night owl?” I prefer to sleep until 8. I can get a good 6-7 hours while staying up past 11, but I still have difficulty falling asleep. I would hate to start preparing for sleep earlier though, since my peak creativity kicks in around 8pm.

    • MotherGinger

      In my experience, most night owls, including myself, have a problem either with blue light keeping them from getting sleepy on time, or inertia. I have both. When I followed the recommendations to use f.lux, get morning sun directly on my eye (no lenses or windows), etc., I get sleepy at least an hour earlier. And the rest of my problem is, “I like/need to do what I’m doing; I don’t want to stop to sleep!”

      I’ve gone from always going to bed at 2am to being so sleepy I can’t stay awake by 10:30, and stayed there now for many years. I still get the same number of hours of sleep.

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  • Mike Rogers

    Hey Dave,

    Ive been experiencing an issue of waking up at 3 a.m. every night. It is like a switch is turned on and Im wide awake. No problems falling asleep nor do i have to go to the bathroom at 3am. Any ideas?

    Currently taking Magnesium, Collagen, and Lexapro before bed along with 30min of meditation.

    • gaylep

      Lexapro might be the problem. I know it’s counter-intuitive, but look into it. Drugs like that work for awhile, but then, it’s as if it becomes a habit, your brain gets used to it, so you need more for it to work again. I’m not sure, but I suspect this to be the case.

  • Joe

    I’m interested in the trade-off between a consistent sleep pattern and the benefit of going to sleep before 11pm.

    In my schedule there are usually 2 nights a week where going to bed before 11 is possible, 2-3 where i could realistically go to sleep around midnight and 2-3 where I can sleep at around 3am earliest.

    Since i’ve started bulletproofing myself (its only been about a week) I’ve started going to sleep around half 2- half 3 every night in order to improve sleep quality by creating a more consistent sleep pattern.

    I wonder is this a good idea – or would it be better to go to sleep earlier on those nights where I can?

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  • Ari_Abubluiban

    this guy sounds very unhappy

  • Layla Rose

    But if I do allow myself to go to sleep at some earlier time on rare occassions when I’m sick (I have chronic fatigue) and throw up my hands and decide to go to bed at a “decent” hour, I end up waking up and being wide awake at about 3 or 4 am, closer to my natural bedtime, and not being able to get back to sleep or function until after 6 am and then sleeping all day to catch up and make up for the sleep deficit. It makes things worse. If I’ve gotten sleep the day before I can’t actually go to bed before 2 am or it’s like my body thinks it’s a nap. I’d rather just go to bed later and feel rested than try forcing myself into all these things that don’t work and never have. I don’t even date non-night owls any more. I just won’t. They don’t understand. They’re not supportive and only give me a hard time about something that I can’t control.

    I have a paradoxical reaction to sunlight as well, so the whole avoiding light, making it dark thing doesn’t apply either. Just can’t do it. That’s why I’ve chosen to work at night. It’s difficult to find decent night work. I had a job that I’ve recently been let go from. And am diligently working on my freelance writing and finding another night gig to pay for my life.

    • Maxximilian Alexander Molano C

      Right there with you, hope you’ve come up with a viable, sustainable solution. I too have struggled with this my entire life & find myself identifying with everything written here, to the point of laughing from relief.

      • Layla Rose

        No viable, sustainable solutions as yet. Gotta focus on getting a doctor & getting prescriptions at the moment. I’m out of money & unable to do much after paying bills & rent. It’s unfortunate that my body won’t cooperate with going to bed & getting up early, b/c sometimes I really miss temping & working in offices. I used to be an administrative assistant. But until they open Vampire Inc. I’ve pretty much resigned myself to these limited options.

        • Maxximilian Alexander Molano C

          A bit of a liberal solution, but cannabis is a huge sleep aid, or melatonin. Intense physical activity will do me in as well. Also, when my rhythm is completely out of tune, I find it effective to deprive myself of one night’s sleep, this way sleep by 10pm is a willing, highly craved result.

          The body is a machine, so although it may fight your attempts to correct its habits (which I personally attribute to a history of all-nighters, it’s programmed like a marine to function at any hour), the mind & power of will is an excellent, & highly underrated tool to outsmart your biological vessel.

          Hope that helps.

        • Layla Rose

          Nope not really. Sorry I know you mean well, but none of those things work for me either. I’ve literally tried everything. I have a paradoxical reaction to many drugs, including marijuana. It doesn’t relax me at all. I have ADHD, and many of us have paradoxical reactions to lots of things. Alcohol is also a stimulant for me.

          Anyway, I’ve stayed up all night so many times, I can’t even count them. All I’ve managed to do was wake up as early as 12 noon the next day. That’s the time I used to wake up on my own, but over the years, with my illness, continued dependence on sleep aids, etc. it’s simply impossible for me at this time. After my illness my body just doesn’t fall in line anymore. I just got up at 5 pm today despite going to sleep at 6 am. I often just force myself to get up even though I’m always tired & always sick. I just usually don’t feel like being in bed anymore.

          I have a doctor’s appt. next week. I haven’t seen a doctor in a long time. I am hoping that I can actually get some proper help, as doctors haven’t really been very helpful either. I’ve been dealing with this for 16 yrs. So I’m a veteran sufferer. I have an extremely delayed sleep phase disorder & night owl insomnia now. Even though I didn’t have it before. But I just don’t make appts that are too early. I can’t work morning hours at all any longer. I’m sick & run down when I try, can’t even get out of bed or function at all. Sorry this is getting so long, but I feel that it’s important for people, not just you, to really grasp what’s going on with some people. I have to take so many things: herbs, supplements, as well as meds to function minimally. And I just lost my job so I have no way to buy anything anymore. Just wish me luck that I’m able to get the meds I need from the doctor (I’m almost out) so I can find another job & buy my other supplmental things…

        • Maxximilian Alexander Molano C

          I wish you the best of luck in getting to the bottom of that, sounds like DSPD/insomnia as a compound result of another affecter.

        • Buster

          You sound like the poster child for catastrophically low vitamin D. Happens to the best of us–particularly in climates north of Atlanta. Get your 1,25 hydroxyvitamin D level checked.

        • Alrelady take vitamin D (5000 IUs). I was low once but not now. It’s not a supplement issue. I had plenty of supplements. I have a very long list of things which I need to take to be OK. I’ve figured it out. It’s the stimulants. I have a paradoxical reaction to opioid pain medication. it’s a stimulant for me, but without strong stimulants I can’t do anything. I recently spent about 95% of my time in bed for 2 mos. straight. I began sleeping normal again though for the first time in a good long while. I have DSPD, so sleeping normal for me is going to sleep around 4 or 5 am and waking at 12 or 1 pm. But still. I’m unable to do anything b/c of the fatigue. It’s not vitamins, or supplements. Also take Calcium Magnesium. Again I appreciate the help. But I’ve figured it out on my own. I either have to be bedridden or my sleep all wonky to be productive. Maybe one day I’ll find a happy medium.

    • adam flannigan

      Layla, are you using the bulletproof diet? I’m ADD and I was having horrible fatigue, to the point of depression, after I stopped my Adderall. I’m doing leaps and bounds better now that I’m trying the bulletproof diet. I know that protein is expensive and carbs are cheap, but it has seriously been worth it. Best of luck.

      • The bulletproof diet sounds… interesting. But my problems, as many of them are autoimmune, are not that simply fixed I’m afraid. I pretty much eat very close to this anyway. I find that everyone has to find the best way to eat for them individually. Too many fats, even the good kind (which are the only ones that I consume BTW) disagree with me and give me horrible heartburn. I do better with a plant-based lower fat diet. I also get SSD for other health issues. So I’ve found that a 3 dimensional approach has worked best for me: herbs; pharma; supplements. I use everything and do everything that I can do to be my best. But I honestly don’t have a lot of money or energy to buy very much in the way of food. Fallen on pretty hard times and rely on food stamps which is barely enough to live on. So unless you’re planning on taking me to Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods for a grocery shopping spree and also buying me a fridge to put the food in, I just have to do the best I can with what I have. Yeah I have a tiny mini-fridge as well. Which needless to say doesn’t really hold much in the way of produce and fresh veggies.

        And no dietary changes have affected my ADHD at all, except red meat making it much worse. Aside from that nothing else has any impact on it, except a very careful drug/supplement combo. Which is too long to go into as I don’t have a prescription for actual Ritalin.

  • James Silva

    I’ve been sleeping 5-6 hours every night pretty consistently for about 6 months now regardless of when i put my head down. Prior to that slept like a rock 8 hours or more. The problem is 5-6 hours doesnt feel like enough. I end up feeling groggy for the better part of a day and getting an energy spike in the night. Even when I feel absolutely exausted. The past year was a struggle emotionally, and financially. It was the first year living on my own. During that year I basically was on a ramen noodle diet and eating baloney sandwiches. I also started to consume more Marijuana on a daily basis although I doubt that could be it alone as I’ve been recreationally using canabis on an almost daily basis since I was 13. Anyway the struggle is over I’ve actually worked through the issues that my father and I had and I even came back home. Still can’t seem to sleep enough.

  • Luan Oliveira

    are the next posts released?