This article is the first in a series I’ll write about how to safely(ish) hack your sleep. I’m a biohacker, not a physician (although I’m married to one of those), and even my die-hard 80 year old antiaging friends who attend Smart Life Forum and look like they’re 60 will shake their heads at some of the techniques that let you sleep less . So be warned before you read further: the rewards of sleep hacking are many, but the risks are higher than many other biohacking projects. And for God’s sake, don’t try to add massive muscle mass or lose tons of weight while cutting sleep. That’s a recipe for disaster.
I tend to post at 2am because I have a very demanding day job as a VP level technical evangelist for a large internet security company that just doesn’t allow time for recreational blogging. In Silicon Valley, you have to kick ass in your day job just to keep up with your colleagues. But being a biohacker and obsessed with getting more time and energy everyday, I still blog. And I use biohacking to get an unfair advantage in my career – more time, more energy, and less stress.
Hacking sleep is one of the many ways to get more productivity every day, but it comes with a lot of risk, as explained in this awesome chart. It’s wasteful to go without enough sleep (like almost everyone) while ignoring the simple things you can do to make that sleep count.
If you’re too tired to click that link, the bottom line is that lack of sleep can make you fat, increase your risk of dying substantially, give you cancer, or give you heart disease. It’s much safer to hack your fat or muscle. I did that first; losing 100lbs, and THEN I started sleep hacking. But if you want to have more time, it is possible to preserve your health and mental function and energy while trimming sleep.
It’s also possible to break your adrenal function or your thyroid gland if you go for long periods without sleep. Your body can literally begin to die and cortisol levels spike dangerously. The good thing is that if this happens, you’ll feel so foggy and tired that you’ll sleep more and hopefully eventually recover. According to Dr. Wilson, a foremost adrenal function physician who twice presented at my antiaging/biohacker non-profit Smart Life Forum, it can sometimes take several years to recover full adrenal function if it’s compromised. It did for me. You can get a copy of Dr. Wilson’s write-up from our 2009 meeting here (and join the nonprofit mailing list for more cool stuff while you’e there.)
A good biohacker can counter the things that happen from bad sleep, fortifying adrenal and thyroid function, and even controlling the blood sugar spikes that happen from lack of sleep. For the last 18 months, I’ve slept an average of five hours per night, without gaining weight, and without a drop in mental performance (on most days anyway…). I have a 6 pack and you can see visible veins in my abdomen, yet my total exercise in the same time period is NONE. I’m adding 40 minutes a week back to my regimen soon; but that’s another topic. All my anti-aging blood parameters (19 vials of blood worth, every 6-12 months!) show I’m doing well with hacked sleep. My earlier posting about fat, muscle, and sleep says that my results are surely not accidental.
To get sleep data, I’ve tried to use my EEG – the one I’ve used on and off for 13 years to hack my brain – while sleeping, but the annoying electrodes come off and make a mess, and the wires get tangled. It sucks, and even for a biohacker like me, the inconvenience isn’t worth the questionable data.
So I’m incredibly stoked that Tim Ferriss is sending me a Zeo Personal Sleep Coach as a way to thank me for buying 30 copies of The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman, an excellent biohacking guide that’s sure to help countless people be better at home and at work. I will send a free hardback copy of Tim’s book to the first two people who post thoughtful comments on this blog!
The Zeo has an EEG wireless sensor you wear on a headband. It tracks your sleep and wakes you at an optimal time, and it shows your sleep pattern online so you can optimize and hack it. I’m going to start wearing the Zeo and using the better data to hack my sleep, then reporting the results periodically in this blog. Along the way, I’ll show you the techniques that let you stay alert and awake longer without drugs (except safe ones!) while minimizing the risk to your health and sanity. We’re talking everything you can hack that effects sleep – diet, supplements, lighting, temperature, hormone levels, time of day, sounds, meditation, exercise, your mattress, mattress-related sports activities, and a few things like cerebro-electrical stimulation that you haven’t heard of unless you’re as big a geek as me.
And all the time, the Zeo is going to give me real data that is actionable. Feedback rocks! Thanks Tim. Thanks also to Ben Rubin, Zeo’s CTO, for sending some links about how to get raw data from the Zeo. Biohackers like me really like it when we can get the data. (and shame on you Emotiv for hiding your raw data! You’d be one of the cool kids if you shared …)
Here’s to a good night’s sleep…in 2 hours if I can pull it off!