This is the third article in a series about how to hack your sleep so that you can fall sleep more easily, and recuperate more in less time while staying healthy based on my years of self-experimenting, research, and biohacking.
Sleep hacking – getting more efficient sleep in less time – can be complex, but you don’t need to do everything possible to get a significant improvement in your sleep productivity. For type A entrepreneurs with too much on their plates (people like me), getting sleepy is a challenge. If you lie down and you’re not tired, you could waste a half hour or more just falling to sleep. That’s time when you aren’t working, recovering, or spending time with your friends and family. It’s a waste of time.
It used to be one for me. I had less than 5 hours of sleep per night on average for the last 18 months while maintaining my productivity and (mostly) my health. Many times I cut my sleep to 2-3 hours/night for 4-5 nights in a row. Part of doing that is simply not wasting time falling asleep. My Zeo sleep monitor says that my “time to zzz” is always under 6 minutes, and usually it’s 2-3 minutes. Like this:
In this post, we’re going to cover one of the aspects of hacking insomnia – the falling asleep part, leaving the staying asleep tricks for another post. Today’s focus is on foods, supplements, and drugs. The next one will cover electronics you can use, some of which were on display in my recent talk at the BIL conference.
Fall Asleep: Food, Supplements, Drugs
Here’s a list of things that will knock out most people, alone or in combination with each other. I’m specifically avoiding most herbs because the common ones recommended for sleep (like valerian root) have always left me groggy in the morning. Who wants to go to sleep fast, only to waste your morning in a fog? All of these are bed-time supplements, do not take them in the morning.
- Fat – have a high fat snack before bed. My favorite is a tablespoon of this collagen protein mixed in water with 1 Tbs of this XCT oil. (Those are very high end supplements and I don’t make much selling them – they simply aren’t available elsewhere on the Internet so I stock them. I know the inventor personally.)
- Magnesium – almost everyone is short on it – try up to 400mg. Too much will give you the runs, which doesn’t help you sleep! (I have worked up to about 800mg/day) You should be taking this if you want to live a long time anyway. The best forms are the *ates, including malate, citrate, aspartate, and others.
- Potassium – synergistic with magnesium; the combination will remove nighttime leg cramps for most people. Less cramps equals more sleep. My preferred forms are citrate and the harder to find potassium bicarbonate. The bicarbonate form is a part of the kreb’s energy cycle and can help you make more ATP. All potassium supplements can conceivably interrupt your heart, so you should not mega-dose. I take 400mg of potassium citrate at bedtime. Start with 100-200 and work your way up from there if you feel you need more. (you very well may)
- L-theanine in capsule form (not tea) helps with relaxation. I use 100mg of SunTheanine at night.
- Chamomile tea actually does help you sleep. So do many warm drinks except for coffee, black tea, or alcohol. (I find this is a weak effect but some people swear by it. There is science to back this up…)
- GABA is a neuro-inhibitory transmitter. It’s what your brain uses to shut itself down. Taken away from any other protein, it will dramatically calm you. Start with 500mg. I don’t need this anymore, since I hacked my brain with EEG, but I used to swear by it. I’ve recommended it to stressed out executives for use during the day on days when they were really tweaking. One ex-IBM executive was transformed by 500mg of GABA taken mid-morning during stressful times, for instance. For most of us, night-time use is best.
- Ornithine is a relaxing amino acid that helps your body to eliminate ammonia in the gut (excess ammonia causes stressful feelings). Some people sleep MUCH better with ornithine. Try 1-5 grams. It may improve growth hormone levels too. I take a mix of arginine and ornithine at night for growth hormone release. Arginine is stimulating for some people so be careful. Arginine also releases nitric oxide to cause capillary dilation, which is why it’s included in “natural enhancement” formulas for men.
- 5-htp is a precursor to serotonin and melatonin. It helps you fall asleep, but it makes blood serotonin levels much, much higher than brain levels. No one knows what this does to you in the long term. It was publicized when pharma companies used PR tactics to get the much stronger and safer L-tryptophan taken off the market in the 1970’s after a single batch manufacturing defect led to serious problems in people who took the altered batch (which wasn’t actually L-tryptophan!). This nicely reduce competition for sleep tranquilizer-selling drug companies. As you’ll see in the next bullet, there’s not a good reason to take this stuff anymore.
- L-tryptophan is again available over the counter, which is why I don’t recommend 5-htp for sleep anymore. Tryptophan is powerful stuff, especially taken with GABA. People who tell you to eat turkey or milk for the trace amounts of tryptophan in them are doing their best to help you, but it doesn’t work at those concentrations, except as a placebo. There is evidence that a high-tryptophan diet is unhealthy, so only use this stuff if you need it to fall asleep.
- Gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid, aka GHB, or a “date rape drug” is available by prescription and is vastly superior to, and safer than, Ambien and its clones. GHB is a naturally occurring part of meat and beer. It’s non-addictive and causes sleep along with a huge spike in growth hormone. It was maligned by a FDA-led media campaign controlled by sleep drug companies in the 80’s as a “date rape drug.” They never bothered to explain that it takes several teaspoons of it in a glass of water to knock someone out, and it tastes like table salt. Try mixing that into a drink without someone figuring it out. Funny enough, after the FDA broke the law by pulling the low cost supplement form of it off the market as a dangerous street “drug,” it’s now available as a “safe” prescription drug. This is one of the first times a pharma company was able to take a supplement off the market to remarket it as a drug. I don’t use GHB because I don’t need it to sleep, but if I could get it easily, I’d take it just for the beneficial growth hormone effects. I tried it by prescription a few times and slept very deeply, waking up uber-refreshed. GHB is non-addictive. Ask your doctor to try it before you accept Ambien.
- Melatonin is a potent hormone and antioxidant which your body is supposed to produce on its own if you get real darkness and enough sleep. Since you probably get neither, there is an open debate around whether you should supplement every day and risk further depressing your natural production, or do it occasionally. I do it 1-2 nights/week when I want power sleep. Most melatonin supplements are too strong – you only need 150mcg for men or 100mcg for women, but the common dosage you can buy is 3mg (3,000mcg). Unless you’re shifting your sleep time to earlier or later, I don’t recommend using melatonin without fully understanding what it does. Yes, I will blog about that too!
Finally, here’s some very new research for you. The Life Extension Foundation, one of my favorite biohacking info sources, just released some new research on bioactive milk peptides as being incredibly powerful for inducing sleep. I haven’t received my order yet, but I’m going to give them a try to see what the effect is.
Next up: electronics for sleep hacking, including the cerebral-electric stimulation, heart rate variability (a la Heart Math Institute), flashing lights, and more.
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