Circadian sleep rhythms are a tricky thing. Personal sleep habits are hard to break. But the new wave of sleep hacking promises a more efficient and productive way to get by with less. This article looks at sleep hacking and if it works in the real world.
The World of Sleep Hacking
According to sleep expert Dr. Michael Breus, certain people are more inclined to sleep like a log for eight hours straight, while others tend toward short periods of nightly sleep, which may be supplemented with naps during the day.
Is it even possible to “hack” your sleep schedule, becoming more productive with less sleep?
That depends. Few people in the world except Donald Trump can survive on four hours of sleep each night. Most require eight hours, and children need more. Occasional all-nighters are possible. But you’re better off recognizing and accommodating your sleep requirements and “hacking” your sleep hygiene instead.
Drugs and caffeine? They can help with short-term alertness. However, pills and drinks come with a price, including physical side effects. Without the restorative effects of sleep that your brain craves, you won’t perform at your peak and your mood will suffer. Weight gain might also result.
Healthy Sleep Hacks
There are a few healthy sleep hacks. Recent research highlights how naps, even micro-naps, can boost cognitive abilities, alertness, and performance.
Naps can boost cognitive abilities, alertness, and performance
According to Dr. Breus, naps are great wellness hacks for certain parts of the labor market, including shift workers. Timed naps decrease sleeplessness and improve performance. But for some, naps can interfere with nighttime sleep and should be limited in length and frequency.
Other Sleeping Hacks
Researchers have looked at exposure to bright light to see if they could influence the impact of shift work on sleep in order to help workers with better safety and improved health.
In one study, bright light given to employees during the night plus sunglasses at dawn did not significantly influence sleepiness compared to regular light. In another study, bright light given during the day shift did not significantly reduce sleepiness during the day compared to normal light.
Overall, the evidence is inconclusive. Even when given naps, shift workers find it hard to fully break their circadian rhythms and fight off sleepiness.
For non-shift workers, what other sleep hacks might work? Paleo nutrition expert Mark Sisson offers these suggestions:
Stop Working Before Bed
Get all of your work done before bedtime and begin a gradual glide into rest and sleep. You’ll maximize your time spent asleep and wake up better rested the next day.
Try lifting weights, doing cardio, playing sports, or engaging in lovemaking. Any type of daily activity that causes physical exertion will help you fall asleep faster and improve sleep quality.
Relax the Mind
If you worry too much or obsess about the day’s events, you may find it hard to fall asleep quickly. Rather than pull out your cell phone or iPad for a distraction, try relaxing the brain. Some people use meditation while others practice guided routines. Several studies have shown that meditation practice can improve sleep quality. So slow the mind, and the body will follow.
Sisson says that poor sleep is often related to chronic calorie restriction, leading to a stressful rise in cortisol. So get enough to eat and avoid any foods before bedtime that might upside your sleep routine or send you running to the bathroom during the night.
Here are some additional tips that Sisson recommends to optimize your sleep and maximize your productivity:
- Use a Dawn Simulator Alarm Clock
- When You Wake Up, Get Up
- Expose Yourself To Bright Light In the Morning
- Work Out in the Morning for Maximum Alertness
- Drink Coffee in the Morning, Not at Night
- Activate Your Circadian Rhythms with Protein in the Morning
- Cut Back on Electronics and Blue Screen Devices After Dark to Boost Melatonin
- Create a Dark, Relaxing Bedroom Mood That’s Conducive to Sleep
The healthiest form of sleep hacking is recognizing your need for sleep. The human body and brain are hard to hack. Like a battery, we need to be recharged at periodic intervals.
If you’re on the run, take a quick nap or indulge in a quiet moment devoid of stimulus. Use stimulants in moderation. Each person follows certain personal rhythms and long-term work schedules. Accept them. The experts say that in the long run you’re better off accommodating your sleep needs than trying to fight them. Slow down, put on a sleep mask, and give your brain a break.