Bio-Hack Your Sleep

Erica Cornwall
Feb 9, 2018 · 5 min read

I always laugh how we say “new age” when speaking about ancient old wisdom from Eastern Medicine to things like the “new” trend of polyphasic sleep; sleeping multiple times — usually more than two — in a day. It seems we are circling back to more of “the way we used to be,” from farming in our backyards to adding yoga and meditation to our days. As healthy sleep is a struggle for many, maybe we can learn from the past here as well.

After industrialization, electricity became standard and convenient, but caused sleep patterns to shift from going by natural light to artificial, training our bodies to un-sync with nature. Our “sleep drive” aka internal need for sleep, gets stronger the longer we stay awake, a restless night will leave our drives higher, causing more tiredness, think jet lag or days you think you need coffee at 3pm. This sleep drive combined with our circadian clock; the 24-hour sleep-wake which keeps us alert in the day and night, ebbs and flows throughout the day, and then comes our sleep hormone melatonin releasing when our bodies feel its bedtime. These all have to be in sync with one another to maximize healthy deep sleep, but patterns of sleep strongly vary person to person, so we all need to determine the best sleep schedule for ourselves and our families.

Researchers found corresponding changes to the timing of the release of melatonin and shifts in circadian rhythms when any new style of sleeping is adopted, including when we travel, so many find using melatonin supplements help to avoid jet-lag. Pre-Industrialization, biphasic sleep was most common; sleeping in two periods, one longer period and one afternoon nap. Biphasic sleep is still practiced by many cultures, usually five to six hours at night with a 30–90 minute nap once a day, think a “siesta,” common in Mexico, Japan and many cultures around the world outside of the US. Most all Americans practice monophonic sleep; one period of sleep over 24 hours.

Lately biphasic and polyphasic sleep are becoming increasingly popular. Many creatives, tech gurus and parents with young children have adopted polyphasic sleep; sleeping multiple times a day, generally more than two. Polyphasic sleep is controversial as some doctors claim it causes sleep depravation, yet many also say its the best they have ever felt and works well with their lifestyle. History has shared Leonardo da Vinci, Edison, Thomas Jefferson, Bruce Lee, Winston Churchill, Benjamin Franklin, and Nikola Tesla all were biphasic or polyphasic sleepers. Today, Air Traffic Controllers are polyphasic sleepers, they can work 3am-11am tonight, 1pm-9pm tomorrow, back the next day 7am-3pm then 6am-2pm, and again that night 1030pm-630am, much like we witness dogs, cats and other animals sleep. Interestingly this is how all human babies sleep for the first few years of life. One Air Traffic Controller said he gave up caffeine, enjoying an occasional decaf coffee now, and takes melatonin, magnesium and calcium regularly before sleeping, which brings me to my list of how to hack your sleep complied from creatives, to people controlling our airspace — a very important job for the lives of all in the sky and below.

  1. Use your bedroom or sleep space only for sleeping, avoid or at least limit use of phone, computer, watching TV or doing work in this area. Keep it as dark, silent and cool temperature as possible, back out curtains are amazing
  2. Sleep around the same time each night, give or take an hour, don’t stress if its not exact, but the more regular your schedule is the better sleep you get
  3. Avoid drinking or eating two hours prior to sleep, especially alcohol, caffeine and sugar — no caffeine after 2pm — try to skip heavy meals
  4. Meditate or listen to something relaxing right before sleep, some enjoy listening to manifesting mantras, positive I AM statements or journaling right before sleep, your subconscious mind is always working and whatever you hear before sleep will influence your dreams, depth of rest and how you feel when you wake. I often visualize a really dreamy beach holiday I loved to calm me down and remind my body of how it felt back in that moment of rest
  5. Select the most comfortable beddings, pillows, sheets, and bed
  6. If you are not sleeping deep, take calcium and magnesium an hour or so before bed, melatonin can also be helpful but should be taken with caution as it varies in effects
  7. Set your alarm to wake you to something you love, a song or sound you enjoy that will brighten your mood — if you can sleep without an alarm and allow your body to wake when its ready, obviously this is not always possible for most of us, but great to do on vacation or downtime. Eventually our bodies adjust with a proper schedule and will wake before the alarm regularly
  8. Stay consistent, determine the best schedule based on your lifestyle needs, expect sleep disruption when going through difficult times and aim to increase your work out routine when times are more stressful, meditation and yoga as well as physically challenging heart rate increasing work outs can really help balance emotions and sleep
  9. Keep a journal by your bed to write down anything that comes to mind so you can let go of the worry of forgetting, especially those creative ideas that sometimes come while we are really relaxed
  10. If you have children, enroll them in a schedule too, make it fun for them, reward them for following the plan (if you have pets remove their collars before sleeping so they don’t jingle and wake you if they are restless)
  11. Try some of the latests bio-hacking technology available, Bullet proof Labs offers meditation pods and various NASA used machines to hack health for astronauts, Cryotherapy has been known to aid in deeper sleep, and obviously, the easiest hack of all — make sure you hydrate! Over 75% of American’s are chronically dehydrated, if you can’t sip enough water, add some electrolyte runners powder into your water daily, and especially when you fly. If you can hop in a sleep pod on a layover, make sure to take advantage of it

Most of societys’ influence encourages monophonic sleep so common activities conform to this pattern, but you should try what works best for you. It is becoming more common that parts of days are now allocated to resting, meditation, napping, yoga, or even deep sleep as many find this increases happiness, productivity and overall well being. Women in particular should use caution when changing their sleep schedule as their hormones can be dramatically impacted, sometimes for the better but sometimes not. Its important to learn your own body rhythms and needs. Each of us have a varied circadian sleep rhythm, some have a biological need to sleep shorter times or longer times, so investigate your own sleep style to see what truly works best for you.

Studies do show naps benefit function, as does meditation periodically throughout the day to bring our minds into that sleep like state of peace. Just take care to not undermine your needs and listen to your body, you know what you need better than anyone else.

Thrive Global

More than living. Thriving.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store