How To Hack Your Sleep

by neill on August 17, 2011

This is a Q&A with Daniel from

Neill: Why are you interested in sleep and why do you think that we should be too?

Daniel: I’m a philosophy student, so I’m naturally very curious when it comes to things like consciousness and how our mind works. I always found it weird how we spend one third of our day just lying in bed and not being conscious at all (thought this is, incidentally, a myth). When I grew older and became concerned with things like productivity, I quickly became aware of the correlation between sleep and available energy and how a bad sleep schedule could mess up all my productivity. I’m somewhat prone to oversleeping, especially during the wintertime. This would frequently ruin my schedule and throw my projects off for days. I’d often sleep 10 or more hours per night and still felt tired when I got up.

Something had to be done. As I started researching the matter, I noticed that I’m not the only person who has sleep problems, and that it is actually rather the norm in today’s world.

Neill: So what’s wrong with our sleep?

Daniel: It’s pretty simple: our sleep system evolved for a totally different world than the one we live in today. We can theoretically stay up all night and busy ourselves with digital entertainment (or work, for that matter). We have access to light 24/7, so we can go to sleep whenever we want. Besides that, we live a highly unnatural lifestyle. This disrupts our circadian rhythm (the body’s sleep/wake system) and our hormonal balances.

All of this wreaks havoc on our sleep system and if we don’t sleep well, we’re not ready to function optimally during the day. If our sleep isn’t revitalizing, we’re not energized and we can’t give our best.

Neill: You mentioned your sleep problems. Are these the same kind of problems for everyone?

Daniel: Yes and no.
Let’s differentiate between two things: sleep itself and the effect it has on our waking life.
The problems we have with sleep itself are mostly the same for everyone. We all lead roughly the same lifestyle. We go to bed late, we eat unnatural foods, we sit at our desks too much and exercise too little, we drink alcohol and smoke tobacco. Then there are all the lights and sounds during the nighttime – it’s never really quiet.

All of this reduces the quality of our sleep.

Then there’s the effect this has on our waking life. Some of us are self-employed or students and can structure our days however we like. Many of us get up very late. We know that we could spend some very calm and productive time during the morning. We’d love to do our work in the morning and sit back for the rest of the day, but we don’t know how we can get up so early.

Then there are people who have to get up at a certain time every day. They are up early, but they often didn’t get enough sleep. Over time, they rake up sleep debt which decreases their creativity, level of concentration, memory and other cognitive functions.

Neill: How much sleep do we need?

Daniel: It depends. Healthy adults need between six and nine hours of sleep per day. It varies from person to person.

But there’s one clue: the relevant factor is not the time we spend asleep but the number of sleep cycles we run through. We can actually decrease our sleep time by taking a siesta in the afternoon. This is also speculated to be the reason why polyphasic sleep works.

Neill: OK, got it. Let’s turn to the more positive things now. You often talk about “sleep optimization”; what do you mean by that?

Daniel: Most of us probably know of Tim Ferriss and his recent book (The Four Hour Body). The book sparked a huge movement of people who track and quantify their own health data. People become more conscious of their bodies and their wellbeing and that’s a really good thing.
However, most of this tracking is focused at fat loss and muscle gain at the moment. Sleep doesn’t get that much attention yet.

So if I’m talking about sleep optimization, I talk about making a conscious effort to improve your sleep life, guided by the principles of the scientific method. Sleep optimization requires you to put in some time to find out what works best for you, how you personally can make your sleep as refreshing as possible while hopefully cutting your total sleep time a bit so that you function optimally during the day.

Neill: Sounds good. But let’s get to a more practical side, how can we actually optimize our sleep?

Daniel: When it comes to sleep quality, we already know most of the things we can do. We know that we should exercise and eat well. We know that we should avoid sitting on our computers until 4:00 AM. We already know all these things and that if we make an effort to improve our lifestyle, our sleep quality will also improve.

But let’s get to some more practical tips:

Taking naps is incredibly powerful. The key here is that you have to try a bit before it starts working. Just try a 21-day experiment: pick a certain time and nap every day at that time for 20 minutes. You can also get a notebook and measure certain things like concentration levels, relaxation after your naps and so on. After the 21 days are up, evaluate it and stick to it if it’s valuable.

Another thing you can do is to get a bedtime and/or morning routine. These are little routines or rituals you go through before bed or in the morning to prepare yourself for what’s next. We too often rush ourselves; we lack a transitional period between the stages of the day. Just try to take some time to get into the right mood for what’s ahead. Don’t go straight from laptop to bed or from bed to laptop. I compiled a small list of potential activities in the special report I created for your readers, so go ahead and construct your own bedtime routine and see how it goes.

Find out more at

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