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Sleep Hacking Part 1: How to Sleep Less & Do More

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 2 in the morning 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 as biohacker who is 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.

Sleep Hacking is Risky

Hacking sleep is one of the many ways to get more productivity out of your every day routine, 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, substantially increase your risk of dying, give you cancer, or give you heart disease.  It’s much safer to hack your fat, or muscle.  I did that first (losing over 100lbs) and THEN I started sleep hacking.  If you want to have more time, it is possible to preserve your health, 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 high.  On the bright side, you’ll feel so foggy and tired that you’ll sleep more and hopefully recover over a period of time.  According to Dr. Wilson, the 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 counters 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 I did not exercise at all during this time.  I’m adding 40 minutes a week back to my regimen soon, but that’s another topic.  All of my antiaging blood parameters (19 vials of blood, every 6-12 months!) show I’m doing well with hacked sleep.

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, 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.

Sleep Hacking Part 2

As I mentioned, this is a sleep hacking series, a series for you to understand your sleep and hack it! Sleep hacking is no joke and should be treated seriously because messing with sleep can be dangerous, but I want to help people hack their sleep because it is one of the most important things you can do for your health and longevity, and this series does just that: helps you hack your sleep as safely as possible.

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

Insomnia is pervasive in todays society, many have trouble falling asleep and many more have trouble staying asleep. This is an extremely expensive problem and one that is worth hacking. In part two I break down the math for you to understand how its costing you precious years of your life. You will learn to get sleepy faster, my favorite pre bed rituals, stuff that you should be avoiding and the best habits to get into for more efficient, quality sleep (hint: its actually less hours of sleep than you may think).

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 was a great product, but it is no longer available :(

The Sleep Cycle App

I’ve now opted in for the sleep cycle app, an amazing app that actually tracks you while you’re sleeping. I use sleep cycle every night and its how I know if I got a good sleep or if I was tossing and turning all night, it tells me what time I fell into a deep sleep and how long I maintained that deep sleep. It has an alarm clock that does not jolt you out of bed by scaring you with some really loud and obnoxious noise and its super easy to use.

Here’s to a good night’s sleep…in 2 hours if I can pull it off!

By Dave Asprey

  • bsrubin

    You may indeed be crazy – this is like Tim Ferris unfiltered and off a cliff. Love it – show us what works! And keep the awesome blog content rolling – I’m still waiting for the formula for ripped on no exercise…

  • Dave Asprey

    Ben, I would offer to send you a copy of Tim’s book, but I know you already have one, since he wrote about the Zeo in it. :)

  • herbkim

    2nd blogpost I’ve read of yours; 2nd one that was fascinating :-)

  • Dave Asprey

    Thank you Herb! Got two more in the pipeline that are at least this good. I appreciate you reading them! Almost 20,000 page views on the site (over last 6 weeks) so far with no marketing. People really care about this stuff! :)

  • Adrian Grey Marsden

    Still shocks me about our lack of knowledge concerning sleep. Seems all the ‘main scientists’ know is that too little can kill you, yet there are still very little facts as to what it actually does – just lots of theories. I really like your “Jump and see” approach, it’s like having a free man in a video game when I hear your stories, which through learning and discovery are really helping many of us out, especially those like me who are new to the subject and more ignorant.. Thanks for keeping us all in the loop, I’m sure if DiVinci were alive today, I’m sure he’d really be focused on maximizing his downtime with sleep.

  • Dave Asprey

    Adrian, good to see you at the BIL Conference this weekend. The difference between biohackers and scientists is that scientists spend more time on theories and less time on testing, and scientists put very little weight on their own observations, believing that until a double blind study exists, the data somehow isn’t real. Long years of biohacking have moved me to trust my perception more than double blind studies, for three simple reasons. First, most double blind studies are paid for by someone with an agenda, and we all know what that leads to. Secondly, there has never been and will never be a double blind study for most health observations whether they are true or not, simply because they take forever and are expensive. Pretending something doesn’t exist or is not true because there’s not a “scientific” study of it is wasteful. Thirdly, nearly every double blind study ever done in medicine and health ignores a key variable: the person providing the treatment. We know from the Heart Math Institute research I discussed in my talk (video goes up tonight!) that the physiological state of one person in a room will influence the state of the other person, yet we pretend this isn’t a variable in tests.<o:p></o:p> That’s why biohacking and clinical observations are more valuable, especially with results shared in forums like this one, than many double blind studies in existence. This will piss off half my engineer friends and half my Wharton MBA friends of course. I took the same statistics classes they did, but in the course of hacking my body and mind, I had to go far beyond what double blind studies can do, and I found there was valuable knowledge to be had that was unavailable to those who were doubly blinded. <o:p></o:p> The trick to sleep hacking is not losing a day when your experiment doesn’t work. The top three ways to fix a bad night’s sleep are liposomal glutathione, deep breathing exercises, and modafinil. <o:p></o:p> From: Posterous [mailto:

  • Garth

    Good sleep is better than how many hrs you sleep. I would sleep 9hrs a night and still wake up hard. It was because I moved around so much. I bought a body pillow and it keeps me still in a good sleep position and now I sleepm between 6-7hrs and fell great when I wake up.

  • Dave Asprey

    @Garth – right on! A mattress or body pillow is a great investment and makes sleep more efficient.

  • ArmiLegge

    Great post Dave. Excellent work!As an athlete and an entrepreneur, I’m always looking for ways to save time and facilitate faster recovery. I’ve been using the Zeo for a while now, and absolutely love it. Thanks for the excellent intro post and pointing out some of the dangers of too little sleep. I think a lot of bio-hacker wannabe’s basically drink some chamomile tea, stay up for 3 days, and then think they’ve cracked some code in life right before they pass out. There really is a lot to doing it right, but it can be done!I particularly liked your comment in response to Adrian in which you talked about how scientists theorize too much without enough implementation. Setting up an experiment based around solid theory is excellent, but that’s why we have theories-To Test!Great work Dave:)

  • Armistead Legge

    I am almost as big a geek as you:)

    I’ve been reducing my sleep for a few weeks now, and have felt pretty good. I haven’t used an E-stim machine or needed many supplements, but I have been using a zeo to track my sleep patterns. I’ve found that it really helps to only consume fat in the 3 hours prior to bed time. I make sure the brunt of my carbs/protein occur earlier, and I think this really helps.

    I also think SmartWake is the best feature of Zeo. It’s almost as good as a cup of BP coffee!

    I’m curious why you’re adding int he new exercise regimen? any new experiments coming up?

    P.S. I’m guessing the free 4HB deal is off? 😉


  • Joseph

    I know this is kinda late and not very thoughtful, but is there still a free copy of Tim’s book available. I read the book cover to cover, but it was borrowed from a friend. I would really love a copy to refresh my memory on some stuff and maybe lend it to someone too.

  • ehow Solutions

    Good effort nice post…….

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  • Jedarojr

    Will the “smart wake” feature work if your sleep isn’t hacked yet? in other words, if you enter multiple REM sleep states for short duration, will it wake you after only one, or does it take that into account?

  • Jon

    Have you tried the “powerfulsleep” program on how to reduce your sleep? Ive seen many comments by people who have had a lot of success with it.

  • Dmitri

    I don’t understand WHY

  • Miguelinileugim

    Did you know that economical incentives are not a great way to boost creativity? The more you offer for a “thoughtful” or “creative” comment is surely going to reduce the amount of people writing that sort of comments.

    And this is thoughtful anyway! But who cares! Even if you still kept your offer it wouldn’t make sense to accept it!

    P.S: Also, great post!

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  • ethan chong

    Hey, do you know that getting the sleep that your body needs is much more important compared to your daily activities? Go to to know how you can get the sleep you need to become energized throughout the entire day!

  • PJ

    A few questions that are popping out to me:
    Why do we want to sleep less?
    What do we want to do that we don’t have “enough time for”?
    How will having more time effect our use of our time?
    What will we gain with more time? What will we lose?

    Something that goes beyond the cool and wtf factor that has
    (thats why we are calling it bio-hacking instead of changing sleep patterns)
    “hey dudes, I’m sleep 4 hrs a day”
    “cool” “crazy” “how do I do that”…

    according to the chart (“awesome chart”) not sleeping is bad…
    but we want not sleeping to be good…
    So, we can see there might be a fine line between not sleeping which is barely bad enough to call it good (at least for what we get for the bad)

    We can push the capabilities of humanity by stretching our use of time (efficiency) and stretching the amount of time we have (duration).
    plain and simple. Because those are “easy” things “to do”

    Striving for improvement is a constant nagging mom I carry around with me.

    Is the Zeo an answer to this?

    Numbers can be good results. They can tell me about stuff….
    Like give me numerical values to validate that my sleep schedule is off
    and that if I regulate it, I might feel more regular and consistent.
    Cool, whatever helps and gets you to “improve your life”

    Is this book The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman” an answer to being a bad ass? Effort gets you places. This might be a cool way to get there. I don’t know… It would be fun to find out.

    In my experience, I have enjoyed pushing and flexing my boundaries; physically, mentally, socially…

    These all give the appearance of tools to get you where you want to go in life.
    My only thought is, why don’t you use the tools we have to get us there…?
    Mystery, Discovery, Ambition, Effort.
    I guess having a yellow brick road can help those things happen too…

    What do you think about…
    How can we do more by getting more sleep?
    How can we do more by getting less sleep?
    How can we do more by not changing our sleep?
    Is changing our sleep worth the effects it has on the rest of our lives?
    Are we sleeping as well as we could?
    Is there a standard way to improve our sleep?
    Where is the sleep doctor?

    • camoguard

      In order to blog about a specific interest, tons of tangential discussions are left on the table. The blogger is clearly interested in sleep hacking personally. That doesn’t mean that sleep hacking is or should be interesting to everyone. But it does mean that the reason the author did not address your concerns is because those aren’t his concerns.

      If you do blog about any of those topics you mentioned then it’ll be because that was interesting to you, and if you link them here, I’ll certainly give them a look over.

  • Austen Fownde

    Two things not mentioned that for nearly 30 years have impacted on my sleep and the way my life has ultimately unfolded, are 1) intense lower back pain, and 2) intense anxiety. I’d do anything to put those two to bed.

  • Amod Oke

    Ummm, where’s the sleep hacking part?? :S

  • af

    ml fulz

  • Clairneedsgoodsleep

    Hi, I’ve been suffering (REALLY!) with Insomnia for 5 years, I just can’t get to sleep…my sleep regiment: 1/2 cup epsolm salts in a hot bath, muscle relaxer, basmati rice (1/2 cup), prescribed sleep medication (Ivedal) -which doesn’t work so well anymore, urbanol (10mg) to relax me, 1 cup hot milk with 2 magnesium pills, then HOPEFULLY I won’t wait another 2 hours before dosing off…I’ve built this regiment up over years. I’m foggy most of the morning, then, when the sun sets, I suddenly get super-charged (urgh!). The doc just has me on more medication, but I’m like ?! ! My sleep just isn’t optimal…and I’m not married, 30, and just qualified as a pastor this year.



  • Squirrel

    Some one needs to punch you in the head

  • jake

    The guy just talks about himself. He sounds like a loser trying to talk great about himself but really this fool couldn’t even explain his point.

  • JennyDahlBakken

    I refuse to believe 2 hours of sleep is healthy, regardless of how many “hacks” you use. The human body was never meant for sleeping that little. Besides, sleeping is wonderful. It’s one of the best things there is. So why would I want to do it less? 😛 LOL. No, seriously, I would like to not be as tired in the morning (chronic B person) but I love sleeping, so I wouldn’t want to only sleep for 2-3 hours.

    Now I sleep at least 7 hours each night and I am still somewhat tired when I wake up. I am always at my prime from 10 am, and can be really energized in the evening. But I am more tired most of the time than a lot of people I know, so I think I just need more sleep. I heard 7-8 is the standard but some people need around 9, this is due to their day rhytm being “different”, their body not adhering toa 24-hour clock but for instance a 26-hour one. I don’t know if this is true.

    I also live in a country in Northern Europe where there are only a few hours of daylight in the winter and only a few hours of darkness in the summer, which can mess with your circadian rhytm, so your “waking with the sunrise”-advice really wouldn’t work here.

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