You’ve probably heard of intermittent fasting, but I bet you haven’t heard of intermittent sleeping. It’s one of the hacks I’ve used to train myself to fall asleep anywhere in under a minute.
For years, I’ve been intrigued by the idea of “sleep hacking.” I’ve always looked at it as a way to win back extra hours of productivity, and I’ve tried a bunch of strategies for catching Z’s, including:
- The typical, monophasic eight-hour sleep cycle
- Biphasic, four-hour cycles divided by mid-day naps
- Polyphasic cycles of six short naps taken throughout the day
- More extreme experiments, such as sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber and forcing myself to stay awake for multiple days at a time, and then making up for the subsequent deficit with 20 hours of continuous sleep on the weekend.
Unfortunately, I’ve found each of these strategies restrictive or impractical in their own way.
What I’ve come to realize is that there is no “one size fits all” solution for sleep. Everyone is different, and everyone’s body reacts differently to various stimuli and sleeping hacks.
Here is a list of the more practical tactics and sleep experiments that I’ve tried. Try these for yourself to find what works best for you:
Physical Hacks (Great for Beginner Sleep Hackers)
It’s important to determine what sensual configurations are most conducive to your best sleep. These vary from person to person, so it’s important to adjust to what your body responds best to. And, yes, it’s important to pay attention to all the senses. Here’s how each can play a role:
- Pitch black vs. some light: If you need it pitch black, invest in blackout curtains, sleep masks, and other means of blocking your sight. If you prefer some light, consider buying something like a nightlight or a colored led light — nothing distracting, but something to provide a bit of light.
- Ambient noise vs. total silence: Some people prefer ambient noise. If you do, invest in a white noise (or pink noise) machine, fan, or speaker you run on low volume. If you prefer total silence, consider using earplugs to block out all noise.
- Soft pillows vs. firm pillows: Your pillow is a key investment when it comes to your sleep. Determine whether you sleep better with a firm pillow or a soft pillow. This, once again, is different for everyone.
- Soft mattress vs. firm mattress: The same goes for your mattress. Luckily, there are a variety of options available. Test between them to see if you sleep better with a firm mattress, or a soft one. Once you determine which is best, buy a high-quality one. They last a long time and are worth the investment.
- Light blankets vs. heavy blankets: The weight of your blanket can make a difference, too. See if you sleep better with a light blanket vs. a heavy one. Weighted blankets are especially useful for those who suffer from anxiety.
- Lots of pillows vs. just a few pillows: It’s critical to consider what kind of pillows prove most comfortable for you. If you like a lot of pillows, consider investing in something like a body pillow.
- Finally, take note of your sleeping position when you wake up. This is likely your most comfortable sleeping position, so it should be the one that helps you fall asleep easiest.
- Warm vs. cold: Some people need it to be hot when they sleep. Some need it cold. Depending on your preference, you can try sleeping with the windows open or closed, with the A.C. on or off, and with warm socks or pajamas. You can also use chilling devices for your pillow or bed, just as you can use heat blankets and extra linens to make your bed warmer.
Mental Hacks (More Advanced Tricks)
Mental hacks are just as important as physical ones. It’s helpful, in this sense, to think of sleep as a skill you can practice and get better at over time. Here’s how you can do that.
Train yourself to be able to fall asleep anywhere through “intermittent sleeping.”
- The goal of intermittent sleeping is to train your body to think of sleep as something that’s valuable and scarce, as opposed to something that’s simply necessary and abundant. Think of it as the sleeping equivalent of intermittent fasting; it takes about 30 days of preparation to perfect. Here’s a schedule you can follow:
- Week 1: 5 days of normal sleep; 2 days of reduced sleep (60% of typical amount. Ex: 5 hours per night instead of 8).
- Week 2: 5 days of normal sleep; 1 all-nighter; 1 night to catch up on sleep (120% of typical sleep amount).
- Week 3: 4 days of normal sleep; 3 days of reduced sleep
- Week 4: 2 days of normal sleep; 1 day of reduced sleep; 2 days of normal sleep; 1 all-nighter; 1 night to catch up.
Practice clearing your thoughts.
- Try the “zen fist hack.” First, think about relaxing the muscles in your face, including your tongue, jaw, and the muscles around your eyes. Then, clench your fists for 2–3 seconds, release, and focus again on relaxing your muscles. Clenching your fists and releasing should (surprisingly) help you relax some of the muscles in and around your face.
- Even before you go to sleep, there are steps you should take to clear your mind. Turn off “work mode” at least 20 minutes before going to bed. Thinking about work will keep you up, especially once the lights go out and your mind looks for purchase to start racing.
- Consume a piece of fiction (instead of non-fiction) before shutting off the lights. It doesn’t matter if it’s a TV show, book, or audiobook. All that matters is that it’s something that can transport you to a “new setting.”
- You can also try listening to calming music before going to bed, or taking a bath or shower. Immersing yourself in water has a naturally relaxing effect.
At the end of the day, what matters most, however, are your lifestyle choices.
No cadre of hacks will help you achieve quality sleep if you’re simply living an unhealthy life. This is especially true for startup founders, who are prone to making unhealthy choices, such as eating poorly, staring for too long at harsh blue light, and sitting all day.
So your real first step in improving your sleep, before trying these hacks, is to start doing things like exercising during the day, limiting your alcohol and caffeine intake (especially in the hours before bed), and refraining from using your computer or phone late at night.
Ultimately, everyone’s body reacts to different stimuli in varying ways. The best sleep hacks and choices will always be personalized — so take some time to experiment with what works the best for you when it comes to catching Z’s. I’d love to hear in your comments what has worked best for you.