Relax Like A Pro: 5 Steps to Hacking Your Sleep

I once went almost five days without sleep in 1996 just to see 1) if I could make a week (I couldn’t), and 2) what the side-effects would be.

I was a new neuroscience major at Princeton at the time and hoped to do research with famed serotonin pioneer, Barry Jacobs.

Hallucinations cut my sleep deprivation trial short, but I’ve continued to experiment with sleep optimization and variation as a means of improving performance.

Here are a few effective techniques and hacks I’ve picked up over the last five years from sources ranging from biochemistry PhDs to biologists at Stanford University…

1. Consume 150-250 calories of low-glycemic index foods in small quantities (low glycemic load) prior to bed.

Morning fatigue and headache isn’t just from sleep debt or poor sleep. Low blood sugar following overnight fasting is often a contributing factor. Just prior to bed, have a small snack such as: a few sticks of celery with almond butter, a mandarin orange and 5-8 almonds, or plain low-fat (not fat-free) yoghurt and an apple. Ever wonder how you can sleep 8-10 hours and feel tired? This is part of the explanation. Make a pre-bed snack part of your nutritional program.

1-2 tablespoons of flaxseed oil (120-240 calories) can be used in combination with the above to further increase cell repair during sleep and thus decrease fatigue. It tastes like a mixture of cat urine and asparagus, so I recommend pinching your nose while consuming it — thanks Seth Roberts, PhD. for this tip — or using capsules.

2. Use ice baths to provoke sleep.

Japanese have longer lifespans that do most other ethnicities. One theory has been that regular ofuro or hot baths at bedtime increase melatonin release, which extends lifespan. Paradoxically, according to the Stanford professors who taught Bio 50, cold is actually a more effective signaller for sleep onset, but it could have no relation to melatonin production.

I decided to test the effect of combining 10-minute ice baths, timed with a countdown kitchen timer, one hour prior to bed (closer to bed and the adrenergic response of noradrenalin, etc. won’t allow you to sleep) with low-dose melatonin (1.5 – 3 mg) on regulating both sleep regularity and speed to sleep. The icebath is simple: 2-3 bags of ice from a convenience store ($3-6 USD) put into a half-full bath until the ice is about 80% melted. Beginners should start with immersing the lower body only and progress to spending the second five minutes with the upper torso submerged (fold your legs Indian-style at the end of the tub if you don’t have room). I’ll talk about the fat-loss and sperm-count benefits of this in future post.

The result: it’s like getting hit with an elephant tranquilizer. Don’t expect it to be pleasant at first.

3. Eating your meals at set times can be as important as sleeping on a schedule.

People talk a lot about circadian (circa dia = approximately one day) rhythms and establishing a regular sleep schedule, but bedtime timing is just one “zeitgeber” (lit: time giver), or stimulus that synchronizes this biorhythm (like pheromones and menstrual cycle). Eating meals at set times helps regulate melatonin, ghrelin, leptin, and other hormones that affect sleep cycles. Other “zeitgebers” for sleep include melatonin, light, and temperature. Parting suggestion: Get a sleep mask if you have any degree of light in your bedroom.

4. Embrace 20-minute caffeine naps and ultradian multiples.

Test “caffeine naps” between 1-3 pm. Down an espresso and set your alarm for no more than 20 minutes, which prevents awakening in the middle of a restorative sleep cycle. Interrupting cycles often leaves you feeling worse than no sleep (though some researchers assert your performance will still improve in comparison with deprivation).

For longer naps, test multiples of 90 minutes, which is called an “ultradian” rhythm in some papers, though the proper term should be “infradian” since it’s less than 24 hours. Thomas Edison, despite his vocal disdain for sleep and claim to sleep only four hours per night, is reported to have taken two three-hour naps daily.

Don’t forget to factor in your time-to-sleep. It often takes me up to an hour to fall asleep, so I’ll set my alarm for seven hours ((4 x 90 minutes) + 60-minute time-to-sleep).

5. Turn off preoccupation with afternoon closure and present-state training.

I have — as do most males in my family — what is called “onset insomnia.” I don’t have trouble staying asleep, but I have a difficult time falling asleep, sometime laying awake in bed for 1-2 hours. There are two approaches that I’ve used with good effect without medications to address this: 1) Determine and set a top priorities to-do list that afternoon for the following day to avoid late-night planning, 2) Do not read non-fiction prior to bed, which encourages projection into the future and preoccupation/planning. Read fiction that engages the imagination and demands present-state attention. Recommendations for compulsive non-fiction readers include Motherless Brooklyn and Stranger in a Strange Land.

From fat-loss (leptin release decreases with sleep debt) to memory consolidation, sleep is the currency of high-performance living.

Have you taken time to master it like a skill?

Here are a few questions for the researchers among you:

-What is the fastest way to pay off sleep debt?

-Can you eat more food — or protein specfically — to compensate for sleep deprivation? To what degree?

-How do side-effects of ongoing melatonin use compare to drugs like Ambien?

-What is the interplay of the hypothalamus and RAS (reticular activating system)?

-Does insulin sensitivity change between waking and sleep cycles? How?

-Can coffee and its effects on adenosine affect sleep depth or length?

Sweet dreams.


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340 Replies to “Relax Like A Pro: 5 Steps to Hacking Your Sleep”

  1. I have played around with sleep cycle manipulation, to varying degrees of success.

    I have tried several 30 day trials (based on the poly-phasic sleep study conducted by Steve Pavlina at his site) and have settled on a bi-phasic approach of roughly 4.5 hours of core sleep and 90 minutes of afternoon “siesta”.

    This cycle has left me more energetic than ever before and fits perfectly in with my family life and online work schedule (I have a great night shift without interruption from my wife or 3 kids and I am recharged from my power nap for when the kids get home from school).

    To everyone, do some research and consider a 30 day “lifestyle design” trial with your sleep/awake cycles, you may be very surprised (positively) with the results.


    1. Hi, Thanks for your post. What time of night do you go to sleep and what time of day do you take your nap? Does it have to be the same time everyday? Aren’t you tired until after the nap with only 4.5 hours of core sleep at night? What if you don’t sleep well during the core sleep or nap? Finally, does it take getting used to and if so, how long?



  2. Tim,

    I’m interested in seeing the results of the questions at the end of the post when they are available.

    It’s kind of strange that this post popped up in my RSS reader right now — I was just contemplating why I was waking up in the morning with headaches for the past few days. I’m convinced that it is from not eating a meal prior to bed now. I thought it could have been from over sleep, but the fact that I cannot get 7 hours of sleep right now without an alarm clock and my diet has also changed (not eating before bed) I think you are right. Food!

    On a side note, I have found melatonin to be very effective at helping resetting my “clock” subsequent to a trip with a time zone change.

    I’m up for experimenting with some of those questions at the end, though. Especially the “eating more protein to compensate for sleep deprivation”.

    Thanks, Jeremy

  3. Hey Tim,

    What is the thinking behind taking caffeine right before a nap, is it restorative? Seems counter-intuitive to down coffee when you are trying to rest.

    great post though, it would certainly be interesting to figure out how to sleep better!


    1. Caffeine takes 15-20 minutes to start having an effect. A short 15 minute nap also leaves you waking up after the “rest” stage of the sleep cycle, so you are waking up rested just as the caffeine is kicking in.

      1. Having caffeine at 3pm for people who sleep at 830-930pm is not a good idea.

        All the others sound great, i’d also go for post airplane travel onset insomnia contrasting hot/cold for 10 mins in the shower.


    2. My understanding is that the caffeine takes roughly 20 minutes to kick in. Hence you are not likely to be able to nap for a longer period of time, which might leave you groggy.

  4. the idea is that the caffeine doesn’t kick in until when you’re about done with your 20 minute nap, so you’re refreshed, plus caffeinated…

  5. The “caffeine nap” is an interesting idea. I’m aware of the 90 minute sleep cycle, but I read somewhere that if you can’t sleep for 90 minutes, always sleep for less than an hour. Not sure what this is based on though.

    Tim, do you have any sources you can recommend that led you to these tips? Or was it primarily personal experimentation?


    Hi Teresa,

    It’s a combination of personal experimentation, conversations with a few sports specialists, and Q&A with the professors who taught Bio 50 at Stanford a year or two ago. If you search “PubMed” on Google, you can find a great index of recent research as well.


  6. I may not have understood have the words in this article but I am damn sure going to look them up. Very interesting read. Hope it will work for me. I am of the sleep deprived majority of America.

  7. For a time in my early 20’s I owned a new business that took about 70 hrs/week out of me. To pay the bills I worked at Domino’s Pizza 4 nights a week in another city 30 minutes away so my customers wouldn’t know I had to moonlight.

    I would drive up there at 7pm dog tired. Finally I bought an alarm clock and took 10 minute naps in the seat of my Nissan pickup at a rest stop midway between jobs. It was uncomfortable but I woke up completely refreshed each time.

    One day I left my alarm clock out of the truck but knew I had to have the nap. I looked at my watch and laid down. My eyes popped open and my watch read exactly 10 minutes later. After that I could always take a nap and sleep exactly 10 minutes without a clock, except for one variable.

    I decided to sleep at home one time. My brain recognized the different location and I slept for 90 minutes.

    The most incredible thing is that before this, it would take me an hour or so to fall asleep each night. Since then I fall asleep within 30 seconds of laying down 95% of the time and rarely lay in bed for more than 5 minutes before falling asleep.

    One last thing about the sleeping brain. I have been able to consistently ignore noises such as other’s alarm clock. I will wake up to mine but no one else’s. I even traded alarm clocks with my girlfriend and now wake up to the one for me but not hers. Nothing I did on purpose, just lucky.

  8. The caffeine nap works for me–I discovered it quite by accident in college–but for the life of me I don’t know why. Anyone have a clue?

    Meanwhile, I too would love to see the answers to some of those questions Time posed at the end…

  9. Getting to sleep (something I need to do in a few minutes) is key to getting up early, which is key to everything else. So… here’s my latest hacks which I just discovered:

    1. Count backwards starting at 100 or say the alphabet backwards. This takes the mind off worrisome things just enough for it to turn off.

    2. Listen to relaxing music. There’s a great CD that I just discoved called: “Bedtime Beats”. It a bunch of classical music that just makes me feel instantly sleepy as soon as I hear it.

  10. Tim,

    Interesting post, as a sleep specialist I would like to add a few comments:

    1) The Glycemic Index is always a topic of discussion, the data is quite interesting. If you go for High GI foods do it about 4 hours before bed, anything after that should be low GI foods. It basically falls around the idea of a sugar high and then crash. It is, as is everything, all in the timing.

    2) In fact I have not heard of this one before, but rather that HOT baths will raise core body temp then causing a drop, which is a signal to release Melatonin. But thinking about it, if you can be a polar bear, and get your body cold quickly it may work. However, be careful data has shown that sleeping in areas below 65 degrees can be disruptive to sleep.

    3) Great advice, I could not agree more!

    4) What I have been calling the “Caff-Nap” in my book (shameless plug here) Beauty Sleep is exactly what you are discussing. However I would add that espresso is not the drink of choice here but regular drip coffee (much higher caff content) and it should be luke warm (trying to fall asleep with burns on the roof of your mouth, just ain’t easy).

    5) This too is great advice, remember to also mention to people that the light source that they are reading with can in fact effect sleep. I ask patients to change the bedside table lamp to a 40 Watt bulb, or use a book light (check out the lightwedge, very cool).

    A while back I was asked to comment on Uberman and his sleep schedule in a blog called Health Hacks, it was an interesting discussion.

    Great post, keep them comming.

    The Sleep Doctor

    1. Hey Michael,

      Thanks for your reply. I`d like to ask if you think the Kindle Paperwhite light is bad or good enough like lightwegde – to read before sleep.


  11. I take a 20 minute nap at the end of my lunch break every day mon – fri … after drinking a skinny mocha ( two shots espresso , 1tbsp hersheys cocoa, 1tbsp hersheys dark cocoa, 2 tbsp sugar , 1/4 cup fat free land o lakes half/half —

    I go to sleep just fine … and wake up like I have slept for 39 years!!! … ok , well for about two hours ( seriously! )

    In other words, .. something is working. That ‘lunch espresso nap’ gives me some serious recharge.

    I challenge everyone to try it and compare the results .. it is more than a little unusual… very interesting isn’t it??

  12. I’ve found the single best thing to do is get outside light for 1-2 hrs early in the morning. At least one hour, optimally two hours. If you can’t actually be outside, sitting by a window seems to help. I’m outside on my porch (in the shade) every morning, working on my laptop. Sometimes I stand.

  13. My sleep cycles are incredibly unpredictable due to severe insomnia, but on week nights I get an average of 4 or 5 hours of sleep. It’s important for me to have one sleep-in day a week, otherwise I’ll burn out in about 10 days. That “day of rest” is a Biblical principle, and really helps.

    In response to Mike (above)… Sometimes I can wake up to an internal alarm clock, but often it’s the other way around. I can predict when I’ll fall asleep and how much sleep I won’t get in any particular night.

  14. I have sleep-onset insomnia and just wanted to add – light yoga and meditation helps me a lot more than reading or else I’ll stay up all night thinking about Martians and Heinlein. I’m glad it works for you, though.

  15. By experience,I don’t believe the cafeine effect per itself. I read recently that now researchers consider sensitivity to cafeine disappear when one becomes a regular user. That makes sense.

    My opinion is adults are like toddlers that will sleep if you give them their teddy bear, and will wake up fully after drinking cocoa. We are just more complex because we have different sorts of bears and morning drinks. I let you play with the ice bath teddy bear.

    I control pretty well my sleep, and don’t need more than 4 hours a night. Unfortunately, I’m not Edison.

    How do I do ? I can’t tell. I got used to it when I was a busy student and had to get up at 5, while I couldn’t sleep until midnight at best. Like Mike, after a while I saw I could do it on demand.

    **What is the fastest way to pay off sleep debt?

    Probably pranayama or similar energetic breathing practice.

    You may also need to drink water as deshydratation is common in modern life, do strectching, close your eyes, take a micro-nap, massage to stimulate muscles or skin. Eating ? I’m not so sure, you certainly feel more hungry for junk food when tired, but you probably shouldn’t eat more.

    About your number 1. Isn’t your flaxseed oil stale ? Be careful it can become toxic if kept too long and not stored properly in the fridge. Maybe that’s just a question of quality. Mine is sold a crazy price, but it tastes like oil, not good but not bad nor smelly. It’s tasty on a salad.

  16. Tim,

    From what I’ve read, the key is both getting to the right core temperature and having a declining temperature gradient as one goes down to the feet. The reason people take hot baths an hour before bed is to stimulate peripheral circulation. Then, once down, that helps to cool things off more rapidly. Ditto the use of foot warmers in the winter. They’d warm your feet, get the circ. going and then the feet would cool more quickly and you’d get the gradient vs. your already cold core.

    A few references are listed below.

    I’m still experimenting with my own sleep patterns out of desire for more productivity. Meanwhile, I wish you luck with your insomnia.


    Tigard, Oregon

    Physiology & Behavior

    Volume 90, Issue 4, 16 March 2007, Pages 643-647


    International Journal of Nursing Studies

    Volume 42, Issue 7, September 2005, Pages 717-722



    Volume 25, Issue 5, Supplement 1, November 2001, Pages S92-S96


    1. JR,

      My impression of heat therapy modalities is more of a/muscle relaxant for insomnia as opposed to increase in peripheral circulation %/or core temperature decline. Most patients report best sleep with warm bed and cool air in winter, I don’t think lowering body core temperature prior to sleep is therapeutic, unless you are being sedated for brain injury.

      I totally understand the caffeine nap as it is great way to hit liquid snooze button.

      I function best with 4-5 hr block of sleep with 30-45 min power nap. It destresses and gives 2nd wind.


  17. Hi,

    I have never tried the ice bath, but that’s now on my must try list! What I do however is take a colder than usual shower before going to sleep. This gently cools you down and sends the right signals to your body.

    Also check out NapSounds (link above) if you want help with power napping. Voice guidance and binaural beats are quite helpful to bring you in and out of sleep in a very short time.

    Sebastien – NapSounds

  18. This is a brilliant post. I’ve been thinking about the subject a lot in the past months, trying to figure out the post-waking headache and nausea. Been struggling with the onset-insomnia all my life as well.

    What I’ve recently started doing, (and it works really well) is to drink 1-2 cups of Lemon balm tea one hour before sleep – it induces a pleasant relaxed feeling that gets me ready. Turning off all audiovisual stimuli – no music, no movies – during this time is a must as well. I had the extremely bad habit of listening to high-energy music and turning it off just moments before going to bed – no wonder I couldn’t fall asleep for 3-4 hours at minimum. Nowadays, I just read fiction – if, for any reason, sleep won’t come, at least there’s a good feeling of doing something constructive.

    Do you think that the caff-nap works with yerba mate/green/black tea as well? Is there any difference between coffee or tea that’s relevant?

    1. not a scientific reference, but this article from a local tea shop here in az gives an interesting explanation of the difference between coffee and tea caffiene-wise. (i know this post is 2 years old, but i’m here now, ja?) i haven’t looked into this further but can tell from personal experience there is a big difference; i can tolerate an almost unlimited amount of caffienated tea but one cup of coffee and i thrash-and-crash.

      here’s the link to the full post, fyi (and quote beneath):

      The caffeine in tea is called theine (tay-eene) and metabolizes differently in the body than the caffeine in coffee. Researchers found, for example, that the high content of antioxidants found in tea slows the absorption of caffeine, resulting in a gentler effect that seems to last longer and does not end with the abrupt let-down often experienced with coffee.

      Besides caffeine, tea also contains the amino acid L-theanine (L-tay ah neen). L-theanine is relaxing and counteracts the stimulating effects of caffeine by increasing those neurotransmitters in the brain whose overall effect is to quiet brain activity. Instead of getting the jitters, tea drinkers experience a sense of calm with improved brain function. Recent studies also show that L-theanine may help protect the liver, alleviate high blood pressure and improve immune system function.

  19. Thanks for the great post, this is something that´s been on my mind for a while because I never seem to be able to cram all my stuff into the normal day.

    Although I won´t stop sleeping for five days I think I´ll give the 4.5 hour sleep plus nap schedule a try.

    Always great to read your posts.

  20. Hi Tim,

    Interesting stuff. Since everyone spends on average around 20 years asleep you might also want to look into lucid dreaming. Basically it’s the practice of keeping the conscious part of your brain awake whilst you’re asleep so you can control your dreams. Some people use it to live out their fantasies whilst other people use it for more practical reasons such as creating music, rehearsing scenarios or overcoming nightmares and fears. It’s been scientifically proven that people can do it. Have a look:

    Adam M

  21. Hey Tim,

    great post. For your falling-asleep problem there’s something called “Schlaftraining” (lit: sleep training). However it’s not easy: You give yourself only 5 and a half hours of sleep per night. No naps, no siesta. Do this for 3 Months (no exceptions). This is hard, but after those 3 months you’ll fall asleep like a baby.

    If you do it as therapy rather than experiment, there’s more to it like keeping notes concerning your sleep and awak periods. The general idea is to match your time in bed with the time you actually need to sleep. See: (german)

  22. Great post. Re: waking up with a headache–this is the time of year, if you’re in the north, that heated indoor air is desert dry. Waking up dehydrated can also cause a nasty, dull and/or pounding headache. Water all day, water beside the bed (if you wake up during the night, drink some water when you do) and water first thing in the morning. A humidifier will also help. I keep a cast iron kettle full of water on top of my woodstove and it’s often completely evaporated by dawn. Another good slow humidifier is an old crock pot set on low, with the lid off.

  23. Tim, you never cease to amaze me! First of all you knock out these posts like a seasoned journalist and second they seem to really hit GREAT topics.

    I was just talking to my wife yesterday about her problems sleeping. Headaches and fatigue when she wakes up, with problems sleeping through the night on occasion.

    I’m going to recommend a few things to her that you mentioned above.

    Great post!


  24. No thanks on the ice bath!

    Where did you get a picture of Julia Roberts sleeping?

    Great points, maybe i’ll sleep better tonight!


    LOL… it’s not Julia Roberts! Cute girl, though, I’ll admit. From Flickr under the Creative Commons. The link below it will take you to the photographer’s page.



  25. I hadn’t heard of Motherless Brooklyn so I will page it as soon as I get to work, but why Stranger in a Strange Land? I don’t get it.

    (It’s a great book but it doesn’t put me to sleep)


    Hi Barb,

    Good question. The books aren’t so much to put you to sleep, as reading has never done this for me, but rather for requiring visual imagination so you are focused on the present vs. what you need to do the next day. Natural fatigue and circadian rhythm would then initiate sleep.

    Hope that helps,


  26. Along with blogrdoc, I find that a meditative exercise does wonders to bring on sleep. I practise karate several times per week and discovered a couple of months ago that doing kata in my head at night puts me out like a light. I know 15 katas, but I never even get through the first one before I’m asleep. Falling asleep used to be a real problem for me as well.

    The suggestions for experimentation with different sleep cycles to maximise energy are very intriguing and I plan to try them.

  27. My favorite sleep hack is to treat the relaxing in bed before sleep as a meditation. I put the focus on feeling what’s going on instead of letting my thoughts run rampant. This helps me let go of whatever my mind is stuck on and enjoy the quiet time that I have. There is no forcing or rushing to go to sleep because that only makes me have more trouble settling down.

  28. One thing to consider if you wake up feeling dog-tired and with a headache is sleep apnea; that is, the body actually stops breathing for a few moments and then rouses itself to get a good snort of air. This causes a very disruptive sleep pattern and can even lead to heart disease and other nasty ailments (see

    Fortunately, it can be treated.

    So if you’re consistently getting elbowed by your partner in the middle of the night because you’re snoring, you might want to get checked for apnea.

  29. I find that a simple self-hypnosis routine is an easy and pleasant way to fall asleep.

    As soon as you lie down in bed, vividly imagine that you are relaxing on a beach (or other stress-free location). Tell yourself that your muscles are becoming relaxed, one-by-one, head-to-toe (i.e., my forehead is relaxing, my face is relaxing, my neck is relaxing, etc.) and really visualize it.

    I’m usually out before I get to my toes.

  30. A couple suggestions:

    Casein (a milk protien) is ideally suited for your evening snack. It’s slower digesting than most other protiens so you’re covered for a longer period during a sleep fast and you’ll get less of an insulin spike. Cottage cheese is the easiest way to get it, but many companies are now putting out protien shakes largely composed of Casein for body building.

    Fish oil (cod liver oil) may also be a better choice over flax seed, though you’ll have to take it in capsules (get the enteric coated, non-fish burp kind). The Omega 3’s in Flax seed oil (ALA) are not easily converted to the beneficial EPA and DHA that fight cancer, reduce inflamation, etc. Fish oil already contains EPA and DHA.

    Oh by the way I’m loving grand central. No more giving clients my cell number!

    1. Casein part: I second this as I have experienced it before.

      Horlicks: I find a glass of Horlicks taken near bedtime with milk not water helps improve onset of sleep.

      You should take a glass of Horlicks if you are feeling groggy but not sleepy.

  31. Good post, Tim.

    I rarely take naps, but I have this routine where, when I’m tired, I can lay down for maybe 10 minutes and close my eyes. It never seems like I’m falling asleep because I’m aware of my surroundings and if someone is next to me or near by, they don’t perceive me as sleeping. But after a few minutes of this, I open my eyes and feel refreshed, as if I’ve had a proper nap (proper naps have never worked well for me.) I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I don’t know why it works, but it seems to. Anybody else “nap” like this? Just curious.

  32. Tim:

    Great tips! I wonder if you have heard about benefits of sleeping with earplugs. I have discovered completely by accident that sleeping with earplugs I fall asleep immediately, and sleep deep in precise 90 minute cycles — I never had that regular sleep cycle before. I used to feel that I needed 9 hours to function, now after 3 cycles (usually about 6 hours) I’m ready to go. Also, as a side benefit, my wife says it stopped my snoring (I really can’t explain that one).

    I love the “commando nap” (coffee before 20 minute catnap). It works especially great with Pzizz.


    Hi Cliff,

    Dang — you’re right! I forgot to mention this and always travel with earplugs. Excellent recommendation, though I usually sleep at home without them because I chose a quiet neighborhood in which to live.



  33. Another way to help sleep is exercise. I have no idea of the science behind it, but even a 20 minute brisk walk every day helps me sleep much better.

  34. I used to have the same problem with dropping off to sleep. I found that listening to spoken-word audio really helps. Podcasts are great for this as there’s a number that have no commercials or music that can jolt you awake – plus they end after 30-60 minutes.

    My current crop are:

    Hometown Tales

    BBC’s In Our Time

    Make It So (Star Trek)

    Anything Ghost

    Table Rappers (audio book)

    1. It’s spoken word for me too, played very quietly. Works most of the time. If I really have trouble falling asleep though, it must be in a language I don’t speak, otherwise I’ll get more stressed trying to listen to what they’re saying. I tend to use the “sleep” mode on my radio to make it turn off automatically after 15, 30 or sometimes 45 minutes, depending on how restless or not I am.

      The problem is, I pretty much do everything that is suggested by “experts” (I have a regular pattern, no caffeine or alcohol before bed, certainly no long naps etc.), but I’m also having to do some moonlighting, so I think I simply don’t get as much sleep as I need.

      So what I’d really like to find out is how to get more rest out of the same amount of – usually- continous and peaceful sleep.

  35. Tim,

    Once again fascinating have one of the best blogs out there. It reminded me of a great book “Never Cry Wolf” by the biolgist Farley Mowat. He lived amongst wolf packs for months in the Canadian tundra and eventually adopted their sleep patterns. They usually nap throughout the day and night in 15 to 20 minutes blocks. He claims it’s most refreshing and even improved his health even though he never allowed himself to fall into a deep sleep. On an evolutionary scale it makes sense. The majority of our history as modern humans (about 85,000 years) centered around a hunter-gatherer society; agrarian, industrial, and the information age arrived only during the most recent few thousand years. New research shows that violence was more prevalent amongst hunter-gatherer tribes than previously thought. This would explain the advantage of never going beyond Stage 1 sleep in that one could be ready for action at any time. Some anthropologists argue that the extreme violence forced physically weaker humans into becoming farmers, being able to isolate and sustain themselves apart from the packs and incessant danger. I plan to test out this theory in my cubicle George Castanza style!!


  36. It’s not a physiological trick, but still useful – if worries are keeping you awake (‘oh crap, I have to take the cat to the vet… did I remember to give the emu his flea bath?… I think I left my keys on the steps’) just get up and write down a complete list of EVERYTHING that’s worrying you.

    Having that list off-loaded out of your brain gets you free of the ‘trying to remember what to stress about’ mode, and you can actually relax/sleep. Kind of like GTD applied to Insomnia.

  37. This is what I do. I put the image of a fish or some animal in my mind and then I animate it. It starts on a white background, things start filling in and I fall asleep before it gets much further than that.

    This has to be activating some part of my mind or shutting down another part.


  38. Great ideas. The suggestion to eat a snack before bed seems reasonable; however, I thought that if you ate before going to bed you increased the chances of having acid reflux problems. Is there a timeframe to eat before bed that will gain the sleep benefit and reduce the probability of developing reflux problems?

  39. Hmmm. I’ve mainly tried to cut down on sleep time. (Less time sleeping, more time to do fun stuff.)

    I’ve found the about 5 hours a night I can cope with fine, only it takes time to get to that amount.

    Like eating, I’ve found that I sleep usually more than I actually need to.

    Afternoon naps of 20 mins to 30 mins are great. (I learnt this in Spain – very civilised.)

  40. Tim,

    Great post – I noticed that you mentioned it takes you over an hour to zonk out. As a serial napper I regularly amaze my friends with my ability to go from hyper-awake to out-cold in 5-10 minutes max. My trick revolves around visualizations. I refer to it as lucid dreaming, but it’s not. So, let’s just call it lucid-pre-dreaming.

    Basically, when ready to go to sleep. Kill the lights, relax, close your eyes and begin to visualize a scene w/ activity (think of a mental movie). For propriety’s sake, let’s use a visual of flyfishing in the Colorado Rockies. Visualize the picture, and then play out the action/activity in your head. For me, the sensation is as though i am watching a movie on my eyelids. Allow your subconscious to play the movie out, while tweaking it with your conscious mind. As it unfolds, try and visualize as much as you can.

    The result is, even if it’s a daydream i’m really caught up in, i’ll be out cold in a flash. I think it’s largely tied to allowing my mind to clear, and focusing on something that doesn’t agitate my physiological state (such as whatever im excited about from the day, or worried about). If the dream is drifting in a direction I don’t care for I simply change body positions and face a different direction.

    I’m a spatial person, so the technique may vary based on visualization type – but give it a go.

    A second technique i use is learning naps. In college we learned that memory is transferred from short to long term memory in sleep. My solution to studying was to study hard for 15-30 minutes then to take a 20-40 minute power nap (on par with the caffeine naps you’ve mentioned). I would wake up, spend 10 minutes centering myself then rinse and repeat. After 2 or 5 sessions like this (depending on the material) I was golden.

    1. Alex,

      I do something similar. I’ve found that “daydreaming” like that is a close step into REM sleep (night dreaming). Having my mind already in some kind of dreamy/visualization mode helps a lot. Definitely a good trick.

      How do you get yourself to fall asleep after such a short time after waking up (for the studying)? After I wake up from a nap, there’s little chance unless I’m ridiculously (read: super ridiculously) sleep deprived of crashing again.


      Side note: I’m not sure I’m a visualization guy – so I may apply to more people than visualizers.

  41. Have you ever tried those heart monitor watches that are supposed to wake you up at the appropriate time to maximize your energy for the next day? They cost around $150 – where mentioned by the guys a while back.

  42. Thanks Tim for sharing these.

    For people who are currently taking tablets of any kind they first need to get off them safely, so here’s some videos with helpful info:

    It’s a 3-step hack for taking sleeping pills safely for the minimum time.

    So then you can get on with the ice-baths 🙂

  43. I like this post, some interesting stuff here. We’re really into promoting proper sleep with our athletes.

    A couple of things though, ice baths before bed! I thought that activated the sympathetic system.

    We use epsom salt baths, the relaxing effects of the magnesium make you sleep like a baby.

    We’d use soem tryptophan rich foods as well and maybe 5HTP or melatonin.

    Some of the players do well on growth hormone amino acids, like arginine.

    Keep me posted though like I siad there’s some great stuff in your site.

    Matt Lovell England RFU Nutritionist

  44. Interesting.

    For me sleep is the result of 2 aspects: Regular exercise and peace of mind (the absence of anxiety/stress)

    20-30 minutes of Meditation helps to quiet the mind and induce peace of mind (probably much like your fiction) Exercise causes the body to want to slow down and get some R&R.

    6-7 hours is all it takes for me.

    Tim, I love reading your blog, but I have to say that I am a bit worried that I might find a flashing circuit board behind your ears should we ever meet. From email filtering ninjas to 34 lbs in 28 days, and now this! Seriously, are you really an android? Or is all this super-human systematization just the extra-ordinary core of who you are?!

    Kudos once again,


  45. Tim,

    It takes me a while to fall asleep too, although I never have trouble staying asleep. How do you factor this in with your caffeine naps? I would imagine laying down, and after not having fallen asleep before 20-30 minutes the caffeine would already come into affect, making it even harder to get to sleep.

  46. After the first day’s experiment, here are my results!

    Bed time: 10.15

    Wake time: 6.23

    Total time in bed. 8hrs 7mins

    Estimated sleep cycles: 5*90=450mins=7hrs 30mins

    Estimated time to sleep: 37mins

    Pre bed snack: Half an apple, 5 spoonfuls of low fat yoghurt

    Pre bed activity: 4hrs before – dinner. 3hrs before – exercise. 2hrs before – hot bath. 1 hr before – relaxing music (and internet).

    Overall morning feeling: Great! It was nice to wake up with out an alarm and then hitting snooze 12 times.

    I think I woke up at 4:30 something as well but that doesn’t seem to fit into the 90 minute sleep cycles. Plus I haven’t designed a day that starts at 4.30 yet!

  47. Hi Tim –

    Thanks for the post. Regarding your question on how to counter sleep deprivation, here is my take (gotten from some source in the past that I can’t quite recall….never used to index my notes back in the day so it’s just categorized under useless info in my head! 🙂 )

    Sleep deprivation causes the body stress, and when the body is stressed it creates a lot of acid. Acid in the system wears the body down and makes you feel tierd, fatigued and sucks the energy out of your cells. The only real way to counter acidity is alkalinity. Green drinks (as disgusting as flax seed oil, I’m sure…or Cod Liver oil…even worst) are one of the quickest way to fire up your cells with alkalinity and restore the ph balance in your body. This has worked for me with lots of events – sleep deprivation being one, hangovers being another (miraculously cures hangovers instantly), and poor diet mixed with lots of stress being another. Now, I will say that I don’t think anything other than actual sleep – maybe induced REM can cure long term sleep deprivation – but the whole alkalinity bit is worth a try for a short term fix.

    For more of a long term fix, I mentioned induced REM. Meditation works WONDERS. They (again, I’m not sure who) say that people who meditate regularly don’t need as much sleep as people who don’t meditate. I fully believe this. In true meditation, your brain exponentially simulates a sleep cycle. I am not sure if it simulates REM….but 30 minutes of meditation can replace many hours of sleep.

    Hope that helps.


  48. One more comment….

    I’d like to add a ponderable to your current list….

    Ever have those sleep cycles that you just can’t wake up from? Ones where your dreams are so vivid and the interplay between the dream world and the real world is very very fuzzy because you are half awake and arn’t dreaming in REM. I guess it’s kind of like conscious dreaming. Then you finally wake up for the next 15 minutes you are not sure what is actual reality and what is not reality. What is this type of sleep cycle called and how do you get ridof it? For me, this is worst than sleep deprivation….it reverses the rest gained from sleep. Any scientific ideas?

  49. Tim,

    I’ve found that using ALCAR and Theanine before bed reduces the total need for sleep, at least in the short term. Take 700 mg ALCAR 600~800 mg l-theanine 2 -4 hours before bed; I found I would subjectively feel the same as if I was getting 8 hours in spite of the fact that I was getting 6 or less. Those who have followed this protocol longer indicated that your need trends back upward, but never quite reaches your baseline.

    I use melatonin and lunesta as smart bombs for sleep i.e. adjusting to new time zones.



    1. thanks for that link! there is apparently a lot of research out on this- originating in history and literature rather than science departments though, for obvious reasons. it’s too bad this is buried so far down in the comments section; i’d bet that if we were to take advantage of that used-to-be-normal mid-sleep gap, we wouldn’t be working so hard to find ways of falling and staying asleep…

      another great link of excerpts:

  50. This is probably my all-time favorite post on the 4HWW blog.

    Couple things to throw in the mix (none of which are particularly scientific):

    1. Ayurveda recommends massaging warm sesame oil onto the soles of the feet as a relaxation trigger before bed. Nice to do to oneself, even better if someone else is willing to pamper you. It puts me out like a light every time. Adding a little lavender or other essential oil might enhance the effect.

    2. Reiki – again on oneself or with a volunteer – highly effective for me at inducing warm fuzzies and sleep.

    3. Yoga Nidra – if you’ve ever been taught to systematically tense and then relax individual muscles before bed (my mom taught me this as a young child) – it likely came from Yoga Nidra. For Yoga Nidra you’re actually supposed to stay awake, but it could be effective for either “power napping” or falling asleep depending on your intention. Lot’s of resources out there – just do a search.

  51. Thanks for the good ideas.

    One thing that I’ve come to rely upon is Transcendental Meditation. It’s not a religion and it’s got nothing to do with any belief system. It’s a terrific techique for completely relaxing both the body and mind. I find that after a twenty minute sesion in the afternoon I feel as though I’ve had several hours of relaxing sleep. The trainers of TM recomend two sessions a day, once in the morning and again in the afternoon but I find that I wasn’t getting anything out of my morning meditation so I cut it out.

    If you go through the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi website you’ll end up paying about $2,000 do learn TM, but if you go to a local Natural Foods market you can usualy find a local trainer that will charge about $500 for the same training. It’s money well spent and there are a ton of other health benefits that don’t belong in this conversation. However, as “sleep replacement” or a “power nap”, nothing that I’ve ever tried comes close to the energized feel after a good meditation using TM.

    Thanks for the post and all the great ideas.

  52. I heard that it was the drop in body temperature that caused the release of melatonin, so if you had a hot bath, the subsequent drop in temperature in a normal room would cause the sleepiness – basically, don’t have your bed coverings too thick and you should be good, since your body wants to be a little cooler than normal during sleep.

    The icebath might do the same thing, kinda, but I’d’ve thought you’d want it quite soon before bed. And also, it sounds like it might be partially the body trying to shut down to cope with the energy loss caused by the cold bath. It may have hit you like elephant tranquilizer, but did you feel as good the next day?

  53. “Can coffee and its effects on adenosine affect sleep depth or length?”

    Nobody’s tackling this, so I’ll try my best. >_> The whole “how caffeine works” to promote wake in the brain is still a bit iffy, and people are still arguing over some things. Hell, I’m studying adenosine receptors right now and I still don’t have a full grasp of it.

    There are two adenosine receptors that caffeine blocks with more-or-less equal affinity: A1 and A2A receptors. Give a mouse caffeine at bedtime and it’ll be awake for a few extra hours. Give an A1 knockout mouse caffeine and it’ll also stay up. But if you take an A2A knockout mouse and give it caffeine, it won’t stay up any later… it just goes to sleep as usual. This suggests that caffeine inhibits sleep through blockade of A2A receptors. These receptors are actually present in a cluster of neurons in the brain that induce non-REM sleep by inhibition of wake neurons – meaning that caffeine acts by preventing non-REM sleep neurons from inhibiting wake neurons and thereby conking you out.

    Those same A2A knockout mice also will not show recovery sleep if you sleep deprive them for a few hours at bedtime (if they sleep from 9am to 9pm, keeping them awake until 1 will not make them sleep in to compensate for sleep loss).

    From this I’m getting the impression that adenosine, by action on A2A receptors, is responsible for inducing sleep by being a homeostatic marker of sleep debt. Whether or not it’s necessary for controlling sleep depth is something I don’t know about. But blockade or elimination of A2A receptors fools the body into thinking “nope, I don’t have that much sleep debt” or “Hey, I paid it all off already even though I stayed up until 4” and would probably then end up affecting sleep length at the very least.

    Half of that is pure speculation on my part, and the story as I told it is nowhere near that simple, but I tried. I think I need to read more. 😀


    Jessica, this is fantastic! I’m fascinated by adenosine, and this is the first potential explanation I’ve heard of the receptor-specific action of caffeine. Thank you!

    Here’s to clinical reading 🙂


  54. Some say eating high carb will cause you to need more sleep, and low carb will cause you to need less sleep. What do you think?

  55. No problem Tim. 😀 I’m doing research involving knockouts of those A2A receptors that should wrap up by the end of this year – I’ll be glad to tell you how it goes.

    By the way, very recent lurker -and- first time commenter. I have to say I nearly crapped myself when I read your About page; I didn’t know it was possible to do that much stuff by thirty! Now I have all this catching up to do! D:

    Love the blog and kudos to you.

  56. Gotta say, while I can get by on less sleep than a solid 8 hours a day, I find that I’m just plain miserable (grumpy, irritable, bitchy) if I do. I’ve made the choice that the quality of my awake time is more important than the quantity.

    Tim–to fall asleep: when I (rarely) have trouble with this, I find that closing my eyes and rolling my eyes up and back into my head somehow triggers a “relax” and “sleep” vibe. If I do this repeatedly it tends to knock me right out.

  57. Finally… Maybe I’m not so crazy After all! I’ve been doing 30 minute “caffeine naps” for quite a while now, with good results. This is the first time i’ve seen someone else talk about it. cool post… thanks tim.

  58. Wow, very useful tipps. Thanks.

    There is one gadget which helps you to get up at the right time:

    I am not associated with the comany 😉 – just read some reviews, and they where all very positive, so maybe worth to try.

  59. hi,

    It took me forever to fall asleep too. Then i bought myself the software. listening to this sort of meditation thing i usually fall asleep in 30mins.

    it’s sort of relaxing soothing voice talking over binaural beats. it also features a power nap mode.

    I was skeptical first. but i can highly recommend it!


  60. “it tastes like a mixture of cat urine and asparagus”

    …priceless. Sorry Tim…just can’t do the flax seed oil…whole foods gets enough of my money as it is.

    Love the tips…i’ll give it a go!

  61. Hi Tim. When I read your headline off popurls, I was kind of disappointed at first. I became a fan after learning a new language in an hour and this time around, I thought you were going to “reheat leftovers” instead of cooking us a tasty blog meal.

    I was so wrong. All of what you’re saying about sleep is profoundly insightful and completely new to me, and that says a lot because I’m pretty addicted to social media.

    Oh here’s my 2 cents on sleeping since I’m here:

    For the longest time I used to listen to pink noise. That was hit and miss. Just like listening to rain, thunder, or ocean mp3s. Then I bought a pzizz license and while it was very effective at first, it’s become too familiar now and has ceased to help.

    My secret for falling asleep now that I’m basically retired is that I just work/digg/red/stumb/clip/youtube until I can’t keep my eyes open any longer.

    Oh and Mile Davis’s (for all the punctuation cops out there, yes I know s’s is usually reserved for JC, that’s why I’m using it) Kind of Blue will help me fall asleep too because it’s so stilling.

    Thanks for keeping it real bro.

  62. There’s one group that won’t get any benefit from the advice to read fiction before bedtime: those who write fiction. Reading our peers’ work is like priming the pump, and if I read someone else’s book before bed I’ll be upm for an hour trying to figure out what parts, what stylistic and narrative skills were used, that I can incorporate into my own work.

  63. Eating just before reclining to sleep may help with energy demands the next day, but also highly increases your propensity to develop acid reflux. Just a point to keep in mind. Also, your ice bath is along the lines of hydrotherapy. Prior to sleep, alternate with hot-cold-hot-cold, always ending in cold. The alternations between temperature acts to shunt your blood to and from your viscera and extremities (e.g. flushing your system), thereby promoting healing and sleep.

  64. Tim,

    I too have had onset insomnia for years. The brain can keep me up for hours thinking, planning and worrying.

    My solution? Fiction books-on-tape (mp3). Light-hearted (and usually kid oriented) books on tape are pleasant and not too thought-provoking. Keep the volume on so low that in order to hear it you can’t move to prevent tossing and turning.

    My favorites include Harry Potter, anything by Terry Pratchett (lite comedy fiction), Ender’s Game, etc. Since using this method (5 years now) I find I usually fall asleep in 15-20 mins.

    My father’s solution? Meditation. He started meditating 5 mins at a time and now does 45 mins every day. It’s cut down on heart palpitations and stress and has visibly improved his relaxation and mood. He recommends Body Scan Meditation (from a mindfulness meditation cd) if you’re interested.

  65. Hi Tim!

    Very good tips (even the strange point 2 :P).

    To sleep and to have a good sleep, I’ve found very useful to drink a glass of water, before I go to bed and when I wake up (better if you drink water many times during the day).

    I think it is good for your body to have water for his operations during the sleep.

    The foods also are important to the sleep (thank for the tip 1): in the digestion phase you could be very tired, but I’ve seen it could give you a bad and poor sleep. I don’t know the explanation of it.

    Could you suggest some website about nutrition?

    [quote Kelly]…I find that closing my eyes and rolling my eyes up and back into my head somehow triggers a “relax” and “sleep” vibe. If I do this repeatedly it tends to knock me right out…[quote]

    When I was a child, I used this kind of eyes-technique to fall asleep and start a story I wished to dream while sleeping. Now it become harder to do it, I don’t know why

    Last question: how can I calculate the time that I need to fall asleep? When I lay to sleep, my time perception change and I know I don’t have a perfect 90min cycle



  66. Did anyone mention the obvious for going to be easily?

    Here it is:

    1. Wake up early.

    Here’s the recipe:

    Get up at 5 am. Do something obnoxious to yourself if you have to. (e.g. set alarm very loud and far from the bed).

    Don’t take any naps.

    Don’t do anything to rev up your mind after 8pm.

    Listen to soft, classical, piano music.

    If necessary – drink Nyquil.

    Do this once – and you’ll be set for the next day and the day after that… etc, etc.

  67. I’m a current Stanford student taking a class with one of the experts on sleep from the med school. In class yesterday, he specifically addressed the issue in #1 about still feeling tired even after you’ve gotten a lot of sleep–it’s because you’re still behind in your sleep debt, not what you ate or anything else.

    If there’s any other Stanford kids out there…drowsiness is red alert!


    LOL… drowsiness is red alert! Your Stanford folks told me about this professor challenge. FYI, I got a world-champion in benchpress to do this on camera for a Stanford friend. To your expert, though, I would suggest there are multiple factors that can contribute to post-sleep fatigue, not just unaddressed remaining sleep debt. Glucometer tests can shed some light on what I’m suggesting, but it’s just part of an explanation, certainly, not the whole explanation.


  68. While in grad school I found napping with earplugs gave a deeper, seemingly longer sleep. I used my phones vibrate feature to wake me up, and in twenty minutes I felt like a slept for a few hours.

  69. Those ice baths probably trigger early-stage hypothermia. That’s why you feel like sleeping. People become groggy fall asleep before they freeze to death.

  70. I used to have onset insomnia. I don’t know what I did, but now I’ve got the opposite: (Early Morning Waking?), often getting about six hours, which is not enough for me, and I can’t nap unless I’ve got a bed in a quiet place.

  71. Hi Tim, thanks for the hints.

    Circadian is a latin word, where ‘circa’ is to be translated as ‘around’ rather than as ‘roughly’. And *dia* is incorrect: the correct form is *die*, yes, as in ‘sine die’.

    Thus ‘circa die’ is not ‘roughly a day’, but ‘throughout a day’, althought both meanings fit well.

    Besides, it’s 1:47 AM here in Italy. It’s time to catch my 4 hours of deep (and almost dreamless) sleep.

  72. I’m a military aviator, which means by definition that I’m obsessed with my own sleep cycles, and techniques to optimize my performance on little or irregular sleep. 🙂

    During the beginning of the Afghanistan air campaign, we were all authorized pretty much unlimited use of what were jokingly called “go pills” and “no-go pills.” The go pills were some sort of stimulant. Honestly, I never took them, because I saw enough fighter pilots with the thousand yard stare and the shakes in the chow line that I feared them. But the no-go pills were Ambien. To be “prescribed” the drug, all you need to was present yourself at the flight doc’s tent and ask for them. Typically, you never even saw a doc, but were just given your baggie of little blue pills. “Crew Candy”, we called it. 🙂 I’m sorry to say I kicked back far more of those things that I probably needed to accomplish my mission, but I learned some interesting things.

    During the Tora Bora campaign, I was using them pretty heavily, because our schedules rotated constantly. You might fly a 11-hour mission (that doesn’t sound bad, I know, but include the pre- and post-flight and a poorly pressurized cabin, and it’s killer), and land at 6pm, only to find out that you were scheduled to take off at 4pm the next day for a 9-hour mission. Ouch. Ambien got us all through it by forcing our bodies to sleep when normally we wouldn’t wanted to have rested at all.

    I think for maybe three or four weeks I never had any sort of schedule. I remember once going to chow and being excited about pancakes, and when I opened the door, I was shocked that it was roast beef that was being served. 🙂

    Not surprisingly, the effectiveness of the Ambien declined, and my ability to sleep without also started to go downhill. When I realize done day I was using them for regular sleep, I quit.

    What’s funny is I was forced to find alternatives, and the first time I tried melatonin, it was like getting hit with elephant tranquilizer!! I was still “acclimated” to the Ambien, so I expected the melatonin to not be that big of a deal, but it laid me out!! Strange, I thought… and I quit with all chemical sleep aids. I decided being tired was better than being disoriented with super-weird dreams.

    Fast forward a few years and it’s Iraq, and I’m back in the air. During the Fallujah campaign, it was all the same insanity again. This time, I steered clear of the Ambien and tried a little melatonin. Very little effect. It was like nothing… one day I was driven to try some Ambien, and it didn’t work so well either; as if I’d never quit it. But when I went back to the melatonin again the next day, BAAM!! Elephant tranquilizer.

    I suppose that’s a rambling story… but I’m convinced there’s a link that should be studied. Since then, I stuck with Nyquil, the Aircrewman’s Friend. 🙂

    Thanks, Tim, for the interesting post… Hayley


    Dear Hayley,

    Thank you so much for this amazingly interesting comment! This is really fascinating — it’s as if Ambien sensitizes receptors to melatonin or otherwise upregulates receptors that are then hammered by the melatonin (something in the RAS?) when you make the switch. Fascinating stuff…

    Be safe and thanks for contributing!


  73. I like plenty of assistance with falling asleep like a rock. This is my Friday night catch up: 2 cups of skim milk warmed up with a tablespoon of sugar and a splash of vanilla used to down one 5-HTP cap, 6mg of melatonin and a 500mg tryptophan cap. Ten hous of the most refreshing deep sleep EVER! And I wake up feeling good and positive. Happy, almost.

  74. I loved that melatonin knocked me out. I’ve always had trouble with delayed sleep phase (my body, left to its own devices, wants to sleep from about 3:30 am to 11:30 am, and my most restorative sleep seems to be mid to late morning). That said, the melatonin also had one side effect: Violent, vivid nightmares that left me almost scared to go to sleep. This is on the lowest dose they sold, as well. I considered cutting one of those tablets in half… but in the end, I just stopped taking it and went back to being up all night. :-/ I’ll be trying out some of the other suggestions.

  75. Good tips, Tim. One should note, these tips are definitely not recommended, more as a last resort – I believe long term usage would seriously screw with your health…

  76. Great post. I have had trouble sleeping for years. Much like the “onset insomnia” you describe. I also hate getting out of bed. One thing that I have begun recently that has really helped is taking valerian root an hour before bed. I saw it mentioned very briefly in a Men’s Health article and I tried it out. Works really well. The best part is that you awake feeling very refreshed and just hop out of bed. Used to take Unisom, etc. and that was certainly not the case. The only downside is that the pills smell and taste pretty awful. Just have to swallow them quickly. The benefits are worth it. Thanks for all of the helpful advice.

  77. okay… I know we’re beating a dead horse now… but I just tried something last night and got fantastic results:

    1. First of all – I did get up at 5am the morning of, which helps

    2. When time to go to sleep (10:30pm), I grabbed my wallet and took a mental snapshot of my credit cart number.

    3. I lied down and just envisioned the credit card number over and over again. I imagined it being 10x bigger than reality and I was feeling the shapes of the numbers. I dabbled with the mathematical tricks of how to remember the numbers.

    Next thing I new – it was 4:50am, 10 mins before my cell phone alarm went off. A total of about 6.5 hours is all I need. I might take a 20min nap, which will supercharge me late in the day.

    In addition to getting a good nights sleep quickly, I’ve got my credit card number memorized.

    Tonight: my library card number!

  78. Great stuff Tim. I also commend all those who have commented and also given some great advice.

    Re. consuming low-GI foods and or protein before bed…. That’s great advice. This is especially great advice for people at risk of hypoglycemia. Re. a slowly digesting protein source…the more complete proteins such as the total milk solids and micellar casein are digested the slowest with aminoacids still trickly out into the blood stream up to 8 hours post meal (1). This is why perhaps the yohurt seems to be a good suggetion. Additionally the flax seed oil, being a fat, will slow down the digestive process as well.

    Re. using meditation to help you sleep…..I would necessarily recommend this to someone who hasn’t meditated before. Meditation (not guided meditation), in most, tends to turn up the flow of thoughts going through the mind. The awareness moves from the outer to the inner. Someone who is not accustomed to meditation may become even more fixated on their thoughts. Perhaps becoming acclimatized to meditation first by practicing it during the day until you learn how to maintain the focus on a simple object such as the breath, would be best before diving head first into meditation straight before bed.

    Contemplative single point meditation such as focusing on the breath has a profound effect on one’s neurochemistry.

    A review paper back in 2003 (2) discussed the complex mental process(es) involving changes in cognition, sensory perception, affect, hormones, and autonomic activity. The process starts with the willful intent to focus on the breath. The willful intent to focus on the breath is what starts the process by activating the prefrontal cortex.

    Here’s a snippet from the paper about just one part in the chain of events, the Thalamus. (see paper for references)

    “Several animal studies have shown that the PreFrontal Cortex (PFC), when activated, innervates the reticular nucleus of the thalamus, particularly as part of a more global attentional network. Such activation may be accomplished by the PFC’s production and distribution of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate, which the PFC neurons use to communicate among themselves and to innervate other brain structures. The thalamus itself governs the flow of sensory information to cortical processing areas via its interactions with the lateral geniculate and lateral posterior nuclei and also likely uses the glutamate system in order to activate neurons in other structures. The lateral geniculate nucleus receives raw visual data from the optic tract and routes it to the striate cortex for processing. The lateral posterior nucleus of the thalamus provides the posterior superior parietal lobule (PSPL) with the sensory information it needs to determine the body’s spatial orientation.

    When excited, the reticular nucleus secretes the inhibitory neurotransmitter ?-aminobutyric acid (GABA) onto the lateral posterior and geniculate nuclei, cutting off input to the PSPL and visual centers in proportion to the reticular activation. During meditation, due to the increased activity in the PFC, particularly in the right hemisphere, there should be a concomitant increase in the activity in the reticular nucleus of the thalamus. While brain imaging studies of meditation have not yet had the resolution to distinguish the reticular nuclei, our recent SPECT study did demonstrate a general increase in thalamic activity that was proportional to the activity levels in the PFC. This finding is consistent with, but does not confirm, the specific interaction between the PFC and the reticular nuclei. If the activation of the right PFC causes activity to increase in the reticular nucleus during meditation, the result may be a decrease in sensory input entering into the PSPL. Several studies have demonstrated an increase in serum GABA during meditation, possibly reflecting increased central GABA activity. This functional deafferentation related to increased GABA would mean that fewer distracting outside stimuli would arrive at the visual cortex and PSPL enhancing the sense of focus.”

    WOW! When I first read that review paper I was blown away. It’s well worth the read.

    Finally, re. the caffeine nap… that’s a hard one to explain. Someone had a go at it before and I think they are on the right track. It’s thought that caffeine increases the clearance of adensoine from the system. Considering I think that it’s a little more complicated than that. Adenosine (mainly through the A1 receptor) is thought to promote sleep by targeting arousal networks in the brain stem such as the cholinergic system (3) however caffeine is a non-selective adenosine receptor antagonist. Research looking into deep brain stimulation and tremor (4) suggest that nonsynaptic mechanisms involving the activation of A1 receptors suppress tremor supporting the clinical notion that caffeine, a nonselective adenosine receptor antagonist, can trigger or exacerbate essential tremor. Back to square one hey!?

    I did find something recent and perhaps promising recsearch that might shed some light on the situation (5). It involves Adenosine A1-A2A receptor heteromers. It is thought that the A1-A2a heteromer forms (in rats) during chonic use of caffeine producing an opposite effect (sedative??) than expected perhaps explaining the well-known phenomenon of tolerance to the psychostimulant effects of caffeine. If that’s the case it would be interesting to try and find out if the caffeine nap is more effective with people who use caffeine daily compared to someone who doesn’t drink caffeine.

    Anyhow….congrats if you got through all that I just wrote. I didn’t. I’m devastated. 🙂


    1. Lacroix M, et. al.

    Compared with casein or total milk protein, digestion of milk soluble proteins is too rapid to sustain the anabolic postprandial amino acid requirement.

    Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Nov;84(5):1070-9.

    2. Newberg AB and Iversen J

    The neural basis of the complex mental task of meditation: neurotransmitter and neurochemical considerations.

    Med Hypotheses. 2003 Aug;61(2):282-91

    3. Society for Neuroscience

    4. Bekar L et. al.

    Adenosine is crucial for deep brain stimulation-mediated attenuation of tremor.

    Nat Med. 2008 Jan;14(1):75-80. Epub 2007 Dec 23.

    5. Ferre S et. al.

    Adenosine A1-A2A receptor heteromers: new targets for caffeine in the brain.

    Front Biosci. 2008 Jan 1;13:2391-9.


    Doc, what an awesome review and contribution — thank you so much for the comment!

    Rock on with the clinical support and exploration 🙂


  79. I fall asleep to the same audiobook every night (Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods”, read by George Guidall). The spoken word narrative gives my mind something to focus on (music is too easy to ignore), and the familiarity of the story means I don’t stay up wondering what happens next. I set my computer/ipod’s sleep timer for 45-60 min, but it usually doesn’t take that long. I think part of its success comes from childhood memories of being read to sleep 🙂

  80. Hi Tim – It’s my understanding that the only way to pay off a sleep debt is simply to sleep more than normal (until you begin feeling alert throughout the day), but not though eating more protein etc. Am I correct in saying that?

    I’d love to hear your answers to the questions you raised, particularly:

    -What is the fastest way to pay off sleep debt?

    -Can you eat more food — or protein specifically — to compensate for sleep deprivation? To what degree?

    -Can coffee and its effects on adenosine affect sleep depth or length?

    Do you plan to cover these questions some time? Excellent post!

  81. I also have been doing the caffeine nap for many years. I think it makes sense because it takes a good twenty minutes after drinking coffee to really have an effect, even though most of us fool ourselves into thinking we wake up with the first sip 😉

  82. Tim, your “onset insomnia” is caused precisely by the coffee. I know, I drank coffee for a million years (being Colombian you are practically raised on the stuff). I suffered forever from laying in bed for 2 hours, sometimes I would just give up and get up for a good 4 hours. Until I read somewhere that caffeine “lingers” in your system for hours and disrupts your sleep at night.

    Over the course of a terrible week I left coffee (I had the suckiest continuous headache), but now I sleep within 5 minutes of going to bed.

    I also have a nice bowl of cereal (but not with milk but a substitute, usually almond milk because regular milk will sometimes give me heartburn and wake me up).