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.


Most Popular and Related Posts:

How to Lose 20 lbs. of Fat in 30 Days… Without Doing Any Exercise

From Geek to Freak: How I Gained 34 lbs. of Muscle in 4 Weeks

How to Travel the World with 10 Pounds or Less (Plus: How to Negotiate Convertibles and Luxury Treehouses)

The Art of Letting Bad Things Happen (and Weapons of Mass Distraction)

How to Outsource the Inbox and Never Check Email Again

How to Learn (But Not Master) Any Language in 1 Hour

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

Leave a Reply

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration.)

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

  1. Melatonin: I don’t have any scientific references, but my own experience is that 6mg of sustained-release melatonin helps me sleep like a baby. No morning “hangover” or other discomfort. I take it 40-60 minutes before going to bed, and then once my head hits the pillow, am usually asleep within 15 minutes.

    I used to have terrible insomnia. It was tough going to sleep at night, and then I’d wake up constantly. All the standard “sleep hygiene” tricks, meditation, yoga, exercise, even light/sound machines didn’t help. Sleeping pills would knock me out, but they weren’t something I wanted to take every day. Thankfully, the melatonin has done the trick. Of course, check with your doctor before doing something like this.

  2. Great information and it is so related to personal trial and error!! I have worked midnights for years and friends ask how I can do it… I just tell them that it’s a personal recipe of sleep and eat schedule … I also do some daytime commitments 3 days a week so I really have to find pockets of sleep. Typically it’s 4 days of 4 hours sleep right after my shift and then top off the evening with a 2 hour nap just before going in at 1030 pm . On my days (nights) off, it’s a free-for-all …. however the mood strikes me.


  3. The best tip I ever got for falling asleep easier:

    It’s very hard to impossible to fall asleep if your feet are cold. And often you don’t even realize they are cold.

    Normally I fall asleep very easy, but every time I had trouble falling asleep it was true: my feet were cold.

    Since then whenever I have cold feet I lay on my back with my feet tucked under my thighs for about 10 minutes. As soon as they are warm I fall asleep easy again.

    It was the best sleep advice I ever got and it works every time.

    1. Could not agree with this comment more! Cold feet keep me awake and that is the same technique I use to warm them up and send me asleep in no time at all.

  4. Nice post. Lots of stuff to think about.

    I have had serious insomnia problems, typically sleepng well for about 4 or 5 hours and then waking up wired and ready to go, problem is it’s 4 am. At 7 I am then tired again, but time to work … stress due to a lot of change in my personal life has contributed to this.

    I have been using a biofeedback device called the emwave (google it) to do a kind of guided heart meditation, it has helped a lot. Also put me in a much more positive state emotionally.

  5. My ‘normal’ bedtime is around 12 am , wake up at 6 … I have no trouble falling asleep or waking up.

    But … about twice a week – I must stay up until around 3am and wake up at 6:30 am …

    And – as you would expect – at 6:30 am I am tired.

    But about twice a month – I wake up on these ‘3.5-hour-nap’ mornings TOTALLY RESTED and refreshed! I even wake up BEFORE my alarm goes off??

    That is correct. When this ‘event’ happens … I am not tired when I get up – my body feels like I have rested for 6 hours or more!

    So, it has happened to me so often that I decided to post it here to see if anyone has had a similar thing happen>?

    Anyone know how I can repeat this more frequently … ??

    I would LOVE to only require 3.5 hours of rest a day.

    So here is some additional information about myself and my diet:

    I follow the bodyrx diet plan as the book with the same name ( Dr Scott Connelly ) and for my body size and weight.

    … 200 grams of protein a day and 60 grams of fiber. In addition I consume very few carbs ( 150-200g ) daily.

    Before bed I have fat free cottage cheese and two tablespoons of flaxseed oil.

    I drink coffee ( a lot … 1.5 pots a day ) … but usually my last cup is several hours before bed.

    I am 6’4″ … workout 4 days in a row, off two , repeat a 4 day cycle ( as per bodyrx ).

    My weight is 190 lbs – .. waist 34.5 –

    Any explanations about the 3 hour POWER REST?? …

  6. @Another Tim,

    I’m no expert, but drinking a pot (and a half!) of coffee does not sound like a sustainable solution. How long have you been doing that?

    I strongly suspect that your unusual sleep cycle is due to such a high intake of caffeine.

    I drink one cup of tar in the morning (I get 6-7hours of sleep) and I good for the whole day.

  7. Tim (and all those who have trouble falling alseep),

    Take a calcium and magnesium supplement before getting in bed . This combination is great for sleep. Can’t recall the science of it but it encourages the natural sleep process. works great for me — try it out.

  8. Hey Tim!

    As I’m righting this I’m shivering so much I can barely type. Yes, that’s right, I just tried nr. 2 on your list. You’ve got to get back to us on the whole sperm count-benefit-thing, because right now I’m feeling as though my privates will never again produce anything.

    Loved your book, by the way!

    Much love from Norway. 😉

  9. Hey Tim! Can’t believe you actually have time to read this!!

    Interesting research here. Beer does it for me. Just heard on the radio about a new scientific study that concludes that people who nap are more likely to develop seizures! Anyone else hear about this? Googled it but found nothing.

  10. I reckon a cold shower, in the dark, could be effective. Well it works for me.

    And I must add, BUY AN EXCELLENT mattress. I have a Wenatex and it is without doubt sleep inducing, and has about a 50% increase in sleep quality (ie 6hrs is like 9hrs in other beds)

    Sleep Deep!

  11. Great post with fun suggestions.

    Acupuncture zones me out. I noticed the effects have been heightened since I started a morning meditation practice (sometimes only 5-15 minutes).

    Once the needles are in, I literally bliss out for the length of the session (20-25 minutes). It feels like the back of my skull *drops* into the sea, cradled and calm. It’s that gorgeous mushy state of pre-sleep neverland — and it lasts until the LAc comes back in the room.

    And thanks for the bit about food before bed to avoid morning headaches. I’m looking for my walnuts now…

  12. I’ve found that running a marathon in the evening, followed by 45 minutes in a steam bath, tends to work wonders.

    In the rare instance that this combination fails, I tend to engage in some full contact origami at around 10:30pm. And then, while lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, I try to masturbate while wearing boxing gloves.

    Six hours later, I wake up feeling incredibly refreshed.

  13. I have to say I start taking the flax seed oil right after the initial posting: I suffered from a from sciatica nerve numbing in my right thigh, since taking 1-2 tablespoon of flax seed oil AM and PM – no more pain. Thank you

    Not having any sleeping problems in the past ,I do however awake feeling more refreshed.

    I’d like to know how to stop snoring????????????

  14. Tim,

    If I had the financing for it, I would love to do a study on the question: What is the interplay of the hypothalamus and RAS (reticular activating system)?

    This would be a fascinating study!

    Marie Ennis, RN, MSN

  15. Tim,

    Talk about timing – right when I needed to grow in my business, I come across the exact book I need. Thank you, Tim.

    I am going to try the ice bath for at least 7 days and track my results and thoughts. I am hoping for better sleep and then better productivity and energy in the day.

    Click on my name to the left to read more about my personal experiment.

  16. Hey, Tim…I thought the idea with the hot bath was the cooling off afterward? I.e., you raise your body temp with a hot bath or shower, and then you go to bed in a cool dark room and body temp comes down naturally, triggering that melatonin release.

    Anyway, thanks for this. I’ve dealt with chronic insomnia since I was a kid, so I’m always looking for ways to get to sleep easier without a prescription. I intend to try the flaxseed, too – I have capsules, but I’ve been taking them in the morning, and not with much consistency. Thanks again.

  17. Tim, very interesting.

    Particularly pt 4 – about sleep, and the need for pre-sleep, or factoring in time-to-sleep.

    I have trained myself over the years to be able to sleep. It started when I had this job in a bakery that had me starting at midnight (Sundays), 4:00am (Monday -Thursday), and 11:00am (Fridays). As you can imagine, ones’ sleep pattern was quickly shot to pieces!

    I had to learn to sleep, so remembered what I had learnt years before about deep breathing and meditation, and combined with what I had learnt about relaxion (in a self-hypnosis video I have) – combined it all – and Presto!!

    I usually fall asleep within minutes of going to bed. If I find I am not falling asleep readily, I go back and practise my deep-breathing/relaxation cycle. It always works.

  18. Magnesium supplements are very helpful for inducing relaxation and sleep; they could be taken with the bedtime snack. Magnesium lowers and stabilizes heart rate and blood pressure, helps with asthma, and is generally a relaxant; its agonist, which can elevate all of these, is calcium, so avoid the “cal-mag” combos often sold if you’re taking magnesium at bedtime.

    Magnesium oxide, the cheapest form, is poorly absorbed. Among the better-absorbed forms, magnesium citrate is the cheapest, but can cause diarrhea if too much is taken; magnesium glycinate, though more expensive, doesn’t cause this problem. You can mix the two forms in order to keep your dose of the citrate form lower: e.g., two 200mg tabs of magnesium citrate and two 200mg tabs of magnesium glycinate is a helpful dosage; you can also then add another one or two tabs if needed.

  19. I don’t know if these are global things that are directly transferable to other metabolisms, but they work for mine.

    To require less sleep and yet still feel awake, energetic and not sleep deprived in general:

    The single biggest factor for me has been the elimination of all dairy products from my diet. I have experimented with this over 4 years now and it is clear the most benefit is achieved with the most radical approach to this. In other words…removing dairy products completely from my diet has the biggest benefit. Yes this means no chocolate, no products with whey in them, no milk, yoghurt etc etc. it’s also interesting to see how difficult this is to do, but the benefits are so astounding from an energetic lifestyle point of view that I do it for long periods of time at a stretch.

    To recover fast from sleep debt:

    Have a nap before you go to sleep. Let me explain this a bit more:

    I regularly go for weeks with only 4 or 5 hours of sleep and then occassionally do a 2 hours per night evening and so am sleep deprived the next day. The best recovery obviously is to sleep as long as you need on a day off, but afterwards it take about 48 hours to re-normalise, this however is pretty essential I find when you have been sleep-deprived for long periods, that is weeks in a row.

    For periods of sleep deprivation that are not as long (say a week with little sleep) the fastest way to recover I found is to have a good diet beforehand (see above) (and this applies to all sleep deprivation in general) Then when you have to crash because you’re tired, do so naturally (for me it’s usually on the couch, I don’t even get to the bed. And wake up after about 1 or two hours. I don’t set an alarm, this happens naturally to me. Sometimes the nap is only 30 minutes or so. Then re-awake and do whatever you do for at least another hour or two before going to sleep. Again I don’t “force” this it happens naturally. One factor that i think is pivotal is that the nap should be taken in a different location from your regular sleeping place.

    Assuming this is your bed, then nap on the couch, on the floor, or wherever, but not your bed. Go sleep in the spare room if you have one, throw a sleeping bag on the floor of your lounge and lie there or wherever but make it a different place.

    This is becoming a long comment but anyway…the reason for the different location is that I think your body naturally will then just take the rest you need and not transition into a night’s sleep, but rather make you wake up when it’s done what it needs to do.

    Be careful of not then going all night again without sleep because you will feel refreshed after the nap. I sometimes do this and if you do it two or three nights in a row then you will need a big sleep to recover and a couple of days on the other end of that to rebalance.

    Generally I have yet to find another human that can keep up with me when it comes to going for extensive periods of time without sleeping, but I also think the emotional component is huge. The more energy you have, the happier you are (natural energy, not drug induced that is). The happier you are the more things you will try to do, and hence less sleep you will have. Mood is important. Getting a sense of peace and self-love (like hugging yourself you’re so pleased with your life) is also important to get to sleep quicker.

    I generally also suffer from onset-insomnia so had to figure a lot of this out by trial and error.

    Hope it helps.

  20. I’ve used the light snack with high carbs method before I go to bed. This works great for me and I almost always wake up feeling refreshed.

  21. I recently tried melatonin pills and found them to be extremely effective. I made the mistake of taking 2 tablets. 30 minutes later, I was profoundly drowsy. I then slept like a rock with intense dreams. The next day I was still drowsy and went through the day with heavy eyelids.

    Melatonin seems like it is pretty damn powerful. I found out later that I could take 1/2 a tablet with great effectiveness and no drowsiness the following day.

  22. The ice bath technique works because of tempeture variations which make us sleepy. An easier technique is to take a hot tub and sauna or steam shower, then stand under a cold shower for a minute or so. If you live in a cold part of the world you can just stand outside.

    Works better than any sleep drug including the brand name pricey ones.

    Dont have a hot tub or sauna? Read TF’s book and learn how to make more money, LOL!

  23. I invariably go to the bathroom about 2 times a night, even when I try to abstain from water before bedtime. What is that doing to my sleep cycle?

  24. Hey Tim,

    the best way to get complete refreshing sleep is to understand your sleep cycle.

    The best resource on it that Ive come across till date and has helped me personally is (no, its not a site promo)

    theres an excellent ebook written by the guy who runs the site about how to sleep less and have more energy that I use as a life hack to get the best from my day.

    No need to maintain complicated pre sleep rituals and snacks, just some intelligent bit of information and the best ways to apply them.

    Cheers man


  25. I would recommend using actual ground up flax seed and sprinkling 2 table spoons in/on whatever snack you’re going to eat. I’ve read an article recently that said flax seed oil can lose its beneficial properties if its exposed to light and it seems that would happen pretty easily. Also I think the seed itself tastes better (has a nice nutty flavor) :].

  26. I came to realize that caffeine naps wake me up very nicely. I am the kind of person that takes forever to just to force myself out of bed, so it feels very easy getting up when I wake up, drink a coffee which I left out the previous night(it is worth the cold coffee even), and then let the third ring of my alarm(pressing sleep twice) wake me up. This process does take a half of an hour, but it is just as long as it would for me regularly, and I seem to feel better throughout the day.

  27. I came to realize that “caffeine napping” wake me up in the morning very nicely. I am the kind of person that takes forever to just to force myself out of bed, so it feels very easy getting up when I wake up, drink a coffee which I left out the previous night(it is worth the cold coffee even), and then fall asleep and let the third ring of my alarm(pressing sleep twice) wake me up. This process does take a half of an hour, but it is just as long as it would for me regularly, and I seem to feel better throughout the day.

  28. My question falls into the category of how to sleep. On your back or side? Which is best for athletic recovery, in particular? I can’t figure it out. On my back, I wake up with a stiff back. On my side, after a heavy workout, my shoulders can feel tweaked. Hard surface, soft surface- there are different opinions. Anyone know some hard facts either from ancient wisdom or today?

  29. The great thing about caffeine naps is that the caffeine takes about 20 minutes to kick in so provided that you can dose off quick you should be able to fit a “productive” 15 minutes of shut eye into your schedule. I also briefly discussed how caffeine might also assist with naps by working on the adensine receptors.

    re. how to sleep…..side or back? well for me because I have severe sleep apnea it’s better for me to sleep on my side because my airways are harder to completely close over. In my opinion the best way to sleep is the easiest way to sleep. Some might say that it’s best to sleep on your side in the fetal position but if that’s painful then how is that the best way to sleep? There are various arguments out there for both sides (pun not intended).

  30. Tim:

    Good stuff, I’m interested in learning more on how this can be applied to shift workers. I work a compressed work week where I work from 7p-7a 3-4 times a week then convert(or at least try) to convert to the schedule of the rest of the world when I’m off.

  31. So much great information Tim.

    I am very curious to try out the caff-nap method.

    Never even occurred to me to try reading a fiction book before going to hit the dream machine of my sleep. I’ll have to go find a fiction book.

    I’m finding myself looking forward to reading more and more of your works. Thanks.


  32. I have severe insomnia. I cannot sleep if I know I have to be up at a specific time. Even if I was going to Disneyland I would be worried about not sleeping and therefore not sleep. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    The only times I can sleep are friday and saturday nights, but even on those nights, these days I am finding it hard to drop off. I find my nights anything but relaxing, and usually have to drink myself to sleep about 2 or 3 in the morning for about four hours (sometimes less) of alchohol induced sleep. I have been walking around this last year in a painful daze. And my spirit is completey depleted.

    I have tried so many things to get to sleep, but nothing has worked. However, I will give your 5 steps a go and get back to you. It is good to know that I am not alone with this insomnia problem. And I can say that there is nothing so soul-destroying as not sleeping.

  33. Interesting ideas, Tim!

    I’m not sure I like the ice bath concept either, but I did assemble a list of non-pill techniques to help bring on sleep in my post, so if anyone’s still reading these responses, feel free to take a look (in URL in name).



  34. uaaa!

    “2. Use ice baths to provoke sleep.”

    Already the thought of it makes my ‘you know what’ want to withdraw twoards the inside… (c:

    Over here in Europe it’s unfortunately not common that convenience stores sell bags of ice… that makes it a little bit more diffucult to get that much ice…

    but sure worth a try!

  35. oh, and BTW, Tim:

    you’re still owing as an explanation, I think, about the “fat-loss and the sperm count” (c:

    How on earth did you come up with the second one? I mean: is the change in amount just so obvious or is that one of the things the NR do with all their time, after having outsourced their live…? Huahuahu… sorry for the joke, but that was just too tempting (c;

  36. I have a sleep problem that’s ruining my life and wonder if anyone out there can help. The insomniacs out there will curse me because the problem is too much sleep!

    Why is that a problem? Well, sleeping 10 (often 12) hours sleep a night is an utter waster of time. Not to mention the fact that i don’t feel refreshed when I wake up and will often feel the overwhelming need to nap. As someone with ambition this is seriously cutting into my ability to get things done.

    I exercise, eat a balanced diet, have a positive outlook, have virtually eliminated alcohol and have tried the snack before sleep idea but continue to oversleep regularly and feel lethargic.

    People (including doctors) tend to take the problem with a pinch of salt, as if to pat you on the head and say “there there, just sent an alarm and stop being so lazy”. Condescending and unhelpful I’m sure you’ll agree.

    I hope someone out there has some good advice… I’m pretty desperate. Cheers.

  37. p.s. an addition to my plea above which may be of relevance:

    You know that feeling when you wake up and you can’t clench your fist through sleepy weakness? My entire body feels like that. My brain will be alert but my body is immobile. After 5-10 mins it feels as if my body is being flushed with energy from head to toe and I can jump out of bed.

    Strangely, about once every two months I will have the opposite. I will jump out of bed after 7-8 hours, full of energy and have the most incredibly productive day. I wish i knew the variables which caused this because obviously I’d just repeat them every day! But it seems utterly random and unconnected to my actions the previous night.

  38. Sebastian – Try meditating before you sleep….sounds like you have a lot of stress that is working it’s toll when you sleep.

  39. The ice bath didn’t really work for me. I gave it a couple of days and wasn’t even sleeping as well as I usually do. Besides, sitting in a bathtub full of 50° water wasn’t fun. I think I’ll stick with the bedtime snack suggestion and a few good books!

  40. Hi Tim,

    I couldn’t give you the praise you deserve without appearing to “suck up”, so I’ll just let it go. 🙂

    Two things: I have a recorder next to the bed in case I think of something I just HAVE to remember to do. Also, it’s much easier to control wake up time rather than go to sleep time.

    I noticed after my last post in “Things I learned and loved in 2008” that it got off the list. I hope my sword…errr tongue wasn’t too sharp.

  41. Hi Endre,

    I’m sure the effects of the ice bath will pass… or I wouldn’t admit that my son and I laughed until tears rolled down.

  42. Having a glass of red wine with dinner, a couple of hours before bed, sees me waking up two hours after falling asleep. Is red wine known to be disruptive?

  43. My top tip regarding sleep quality and energy, is to look at Rhodiola rosea as an herbal adaptogen. Extracted from a root found in high-altitude Arctic areas, it has been used to combat the effects of cold, dark, sleep deprivation, seasonal affective disorder. There’s a huge amount of research been done in Russia and the Scandinavian countries on its benefits – the more areas of health it’s been researched in, the more benefits seem to be found. It’s known as one of the best anti-stress herbs (which seems to equate to increased longevity), & increases physical tolerance to exertion. Not least, it doesn’t taste of cat’s piss, as some herbals for sleep can (Valerian a prime example), in fact it’s a pleasant-tasting rose-scented herb, and inexpensive as a tea, tincture, or supplement. I’ve been using the stuff for the last few years, since working in the nutriceuticals biz a few years back, and use it to manage night shift sleep and energy patterns, along with full-time house-husbandry, and will continue with it’s use for the rest of my (extended?) life.

  44. I was just wondering, so do the other countries have the right Idea with the naps in the middle of the day and we as Americans are “too busy”? I have serious trouble falling asleep all the time, even with medicinal or non-medicinal help. I have tried multiple approaches to this and still cannot find anything.

    If the lunch-times naps help, then I am doomed. I am in the military and it’s immoral for us to take a nap in the middle of the work day.

    Thank you,


  45. Years ago I decided to become able to sleep anywhere at any time. I mostly succeeded, and learned a few things.

    Cooling works well for me, but the ice bath is overkill. I just wear fewer clothes than necessary before bed. This time of year, I’ll take off my sweater and socks 10-20 minutes before getting into bed. I’ll be chilly when I enter bed and asleep as soon as I warm up.

    Another important thing is to reserve the bed as a place for sleep. Spending daytime/evening hours typing in bed either puts me to sleep at the wrong time or prevents me from sleeping at sleep times (or at worst, both).

    If I’m ever unable to fall asleep because my mind won’t calm, it really helps to get out of bed. I’ll write down important ideas, then play a simple meditative computer game to clear my thoughts for 15-30 minutes, in low light, while cooling back down. Much quicker than laying in bed.

  46. Thanks for the post-

    I don’t know how many of these suggestions I have tried in my life, but I will try some again. My rheumatologist says that my life time of insomnia combined with an over active autonomic nervous system has caused fibromyalgia. His prescription is for sleep. (He secretly wants me to drop out of my last term of school and somehow survive on working part time.) Without restorative sleep your body does not restore dopamine levels that buffer the pain receptors in the brain. I have done the sleep deprived hallucinations before, not on purpose (mine are scary). Chemicals make me “foggy” the next day, melatonin gives me restless legs, no sleep means a painful day. Any stroke of brilliance on that?

  47. Hi Tim. Great post.

    Testimonial for the cold bath:

    When my wife and I were stationed in Germany many years ago, we had occasion to vacation in Baden Baden and go the Romisch-Irisch baths. The end of the bath line is a dip in a cool (below 50 degrees F, I think) pool. The result was that Peggy and I barely made it through dinner, and had to go back to the hotel and crash. It was very tranquilizer-like.

  48. One question I forgot to mention – did you have dark rings under your eyes and subsequently get rid of them? I recall the photo on your old site, it looked that way. Now in your vids you don’t. Should dark eye rings be taken as an indicator of success in eliminating fatigue? One thing I realized is I didn’t know how tired I was, and took for granted a lower state of life. I’m searching for objective measures immune to complacency or simple ignorance about what’s possible to achieve in life.

    1. Hi JB,

      The two things that have helped me: 1) more sleep at regular hours, and 2) doing a sinal rinse (NeilMed) upon waking and before bed.

      Good luck!


  49. Hi Tim,


    I was finally able to achieve tremendous high quality sleep at will last night, thanks to carefully following your ice bath + melatonin – light method.


    One of the great advantages of the system is, I can exercise close to bedtime like I prefer, to burn off my late night energy burst, yet still go to sleep like a normal human being rather than “zoning out” till 3 am on overfocused work and play.


    I tried ice baths multiple times previously, with good results, but never cracked the “next level” until last night, when I reread your post and remembered to add 1 pill of melatonin. Since I get little sunlight during the day, I think this made a huge difference.


    I am very confident that I can take this system on the road with me, to conquer jet lag, strange and stressful environments, etc.

    Sleep really is the currency of high performance living!


    One tip and a question regarding ice baths for those without bathtubs. I have a Chinese style shower with toilet inside, so I sit in there with a T-shirt and belt. I ripped the t-shirt halfway down the front and pour the ice bag into the opening, cinching the belt below to hold it. I put the other bag on my head. I stop feeling cold after 4-5 minutes. How long does it take to stop feeling cold with the full immersion method? Should I go longer than 10 minutes since I’m not icing the whole body? I was thinking 15 minutes, but was wondering what the safe limits are, or if that matters.

    Best Regards,


    PS Here are additional details and my sleep case history, should it prove of interest to anyone!


    Facts relevant to melatonin production: I start with a warm shower, shave, and then proceed to the ice phase.

    I also carefully blocked out nearly all the light in my room, including PC, power strip lights, and multiple layers of tape, paper and cloth over my windows.


    Temperature – weather temperature changes were interfering with comfort at night and bringing me out of deep sleep. I stabilized by cranking the AC so that room temperature was unaffected by weather, and going to bed fully clothed in sweater, long pants and socks. Problem solved.


    I completely stopped using all stimulants, including Yerba Mate, because of GI effect on my IBS. I eat continuously during the day by having a loaf of French bread with me at all times. This seems to really calm the digestion and I consequently never “eat to dullness”.

    I did 2 tbspn flax seed oil too for the first time last night, don’t know if that’s related, and also cured my IBS for the first time this weekend. Those are conflating factors.


    I tried the morning sunshine routine, didn’t work. Still felt lousy and it wasted too much time.

    I tried ambient wave noise at night, which was nice from a relaxation standpoint, but no huge life impact. I used this in tandem with a voice recording system to capture my thoughts – if I’d not socialized that evening there would be many. Superceding the above, the most emotionally relaxing evening expedient I have found involves carrying phone game to its logical conclusion.


    Here are things I DIDN’T do that you recommend:

    Caffeine naps – I eliminated all stims and pharmaceuticals

    Meals at set times – continuous eating

    Turn off preoccupation – different method: captured thought bubbles into reliable GTD system; phone game evening emotional denouement.


    Here’s a partial answer to your question about the side effects of melatonin versus Ambien and Imovane, with which I unfortunately have extensive experience over the last two months.

    I was interested to read the airman’s comment on the bizarre effects occurring when mixing melatonin and ambien. It seems that may be an explanation for one or two episodes of weird afternoon sickness, going pale, getting faint, sleeping way too long, nightmares, and other bizarre effects. They seemed to be related to heavy melatonin use with intermittent sleeping pill use. My routine for a while stabilized to 1 melatonin at 9pm, another at 9:30, and an ambien or imovane (I rotated them) at 10pm if still awake. When I first started sleeping pills 2 months ago they worked great for maybe a week but they wanted to ramp up. Then the graduated system described above worked great for a month or so, but ultimately it wasn’t sustainable. Switching pills really helped sustainability, whereas taking the same pill two days in a row hammered me. But eventually I was taking the 6mg melatonins and then a sleeping pill on top nearly every night. I’m glad I’m on the ice+1 melatonin system now, it has none of the non-sustainability warning signals.

  50. Hi Tim,

    I thing a lot of people with sleeping difficulties – especially singles – should try removing the television from the bedroom. That sure helped me!

  51. I can really vouch for the power of sleep in building muscle, burning fat, and simply feeling good. I have a 9 month old that interrupts my sleep all the time. I feel worse, my results have not been as good, my knees hurt more than normal, blah, blah, blah. The list goes on and on. And my wife and I are going to have another one. So I need to find a way to get more sleep, work a full time job, run my website, workout, eat healthy, have a few nights of fun each month, and more… Any ideas?

  52. Hi Tim,

    I’ve got another thing you should try that is good generally for sleep but especially for onset insomnia: yellow or amber lights. (Red works, too, but is too dark to read by.) Studies done @ Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia have shown that the pituitary, which sets circadian rhythms, responds only to the blue wave length of light. At dusk, blue wave length goes away, signaling the pituitary to begin to make melatonin. At dawn, blue wave length comes back, telling it to stop producing melatonin.

    “White” electric lights all have a good amount of blue wave length (even normal incandescent bulbs, which look yellowish compared with say, white LEDs, which look bluer). So if you’re reading your 1 hour of fiction at night under a white bulb, you are not priming your body to sleep, but to stay awake. If you read for an hour under yellow or amber light (which blocks blue, but is bright enough to read with), you will be telling your pituitary to get ready for sleep. It takes an hour or more for your body to make the amount of melatonin necessary to make you sleepy. It takes me about 1 1/2 to 2 hours of yellow light to get really sleepy.

    To learn more, look at the info on You don’t need to spend money on their expensive bulbs. Just go to the hardware or grocery store and buy a yellow bug light. (Bugs are attracted to blue light, so bug lights work by eliminating the blue.) I’ve got a few lights with yellow bulbs that I turn on at 8:30 every night. (They could be on timers, but I’m just in the habit now.)

    This REALLY works wonders for me. And if I’m out later than 8:30 a couple of nights a week, it still seems to work, since my body has gotten into the rhythm. Of course, you can use the yellow sunglass approach described on the website, too, if you don’t mind people’s stares and questions…

    Thanks for you work, especially the 20/80 principle, which has worked wonders for my perfectionistic, slightly ADD tendencies. You don’t know how many times I’ve been paralyzed by overwhelm, wanting to get 100% done, and being easily distracted…nothing gets done. If I just challenge myself to get 20% done in x minutes/hours and then, when I start to get distracted, ask myself, “is this part of the 20%?” I stay on track and get a bunch done. Then I go and have some fun. And then later, having had fun, I tackle more of the project, bit by bit, using the 20/80 principle again and again. It’s easy to get that 20% done! Thanks for freeing me from the bulky burden of 100%


  53. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for the dark eye rings nasal wash tip. I have an update that’s superseded the ice bath method.

    I completely cured my insomnia and IBS and chronic fatigue by switching to the paleo diet. This only took 2-3 days. My sleep onset insomnia had lasted for over a decade, starting in my early teens. I also began having nightly memorable dreams, instead of rare nightmare clusters.

    After 4 days on the paleo diet, I started taking BodyQuick and immediately received the boost in energy I now use as my benchmark for an abundant life. BQ eliminated my social anxiety. The afterglow lasts all day on just a 4 pill dose – I weigh around 200 lbs. Thanks for taking the learning curve out of herbals and nootropics! I even used a double dose, 8 pills, to get through a peak sugar exhaustion day in decent spirits. My sugar reaction cycle had been triggered by a large quantity of ripe strawberries.

    Dark eye rings are nearly gone. I’ve been a little sleep deprived at only 7 hours this week, so I still have faint ones. I expect they will disappear by this weekend. I also expect it will take 4 weeks for the paleo diet’s full panoply of benefits to kick in, from the anecdotal account of a triathlete.

    Best regards,



    Using an addition diet, I started with only French bread and gradually added foods. Sugar was the primary irritant, giving me a 3 day insomnia and exhaustion and IBS cycle, including full-blown dark eye rings. Suspicious, I googled others accounts of sugar reactions and eventually stumbled upon the Paleo Diet as a conceptual model. I also confirmed sugar as the source of my adult acne, and was able to discontinue Benzoyle Peroxide use.


    I initially wasn’t used to being so alert at bedtime from BQ’s aftereffect. I thought I wouldn’t be able to sleep because my mind still productively examined whatever problems continually surfaced. However I could also feel BQ’s other effect of an openness to an enfolding in hypnotic sleep, a more lucid transition to unconsciousness than I’d experienced. Perhaps it’s Valerian root. I’ve read accounts of psychoactives on Erowid and felt this was a mild, pleasant one. I explored it by counting to body rhythm, 1-99 then back to 1, simultaneously visualizing the numbers, constantly returning to the picture of the number whenever my mind popped up another worry loop. I’ve fallen asleep at 50 and 350. Usually I don’t need to count. I needed it the first day I tried BQ and the day I took the double dose, I believe.


    This morning due to accumulating sleep deprivation and despite a BQ dose I couldn’t get started on work, although I could focusedly pursue my own interests. I hadn’t had much meat since lunch yesterday. After eating baby carrots and bananas without effect, finally I broke down and ate the fish (Orange Roughy) I’d saved for lunch. As soon as it touched my mouth, my spirits lifted, my energy increased, and I got back to work. The faint edge of nausea and background tiredness disappeared. My brain chemistry seemed to immediately reward me for eating meat. I ate a portion an inch and a half deep and the diameter of a circle formed by thumbs and forefingers. The conclusion I draw is that paleo diet is all about the meat, despite meat’s higher cost and more intensive preparation.


    I’m far less temperature sensitive but still wear socks. I keep the room dark but not fanatically so. I no longer require ice baths, but would use one to reset my circadian when traveling. No sleeping pills needed. Usually I just go to bed at the right time because I feel sleepy and drift off in seemingly 15 minutes.

    1. JB – So I’ve got dark circles around my eyes and wanted to get more exact information from you about what you did that you felt worked really well.

  54. I’ve reconfirmed the necessity of protein in combating sleep debt this morning. Again I got only 7 hours (Monday through Wednesday nights) and again I was a stupified zombie at work until I ate an identical portion of Orange Roughy. Then I immediately perked up and started working. This was at 10:30 AM, I could get nothing done before then, starting at 9:00. Eating apples and bananas didn’t help at all.

    I feel great now, perhaps because last night I ate 200g beef plus 350g scallop. I almost don’t feel sleep deprived at all, nearly the same as being on BQ.

  55. After sleeping from 10 pm to 7:30 am this Thursday morning, all sleep deprivation symptoms are gone. I feel tremendous, like I felt on BQ the first time, but without the “speeding” edge. I had a fish breakfast and then chicken and fruit at work. I do still have very faint dark circles under the eyes. There are a few more things I can improve in my sleep environment, and I had to wake up slowly to an alarm clock. So I’ve still got a bit more sleep debt in me. But it’s not affecting me. This confirms the paleo diet really has removed all of my mailaises (IBS, insomnia, fatigue, social anxiety) in only 1.5 weeks. Most of the learning curve was spent achieving the cooking pipeline and learning the relative balance of ingredients (1st meat, tied for 2nd fruits and veg, far last nuts).

  56. As a coda, I have enjoyed great sleep on the paleo diet and will continue it. However I continued to have problems one day per week. Today I diagnosed myself as suffering from fructose malabsorption. I was still triggering fructose overload by eating too much fruit on the paleo diet. The pattern became recognizable because the paleo diet made irritation infrequent rather than constant. I was able to trace fructose as the common cause in bouts triggered by tomato juice, eating several fruits at a sitting, cranberry juice, coconut juice, and 2 glasses sweet wine in a sitting.

  57. I’m having no sleep problems at all now, after eliminating alcohol – the glass or two of wine before bed leads to shallow sleep for me. Plus I find I can happily resist the effects of sleep deprivation without indolence or irritability – great for when I get rolling on researching some topic at night but have to work the next day.

    I need to eat lots of pure meat when sleep deprived – I find shrimp to be most effective, at a dose of 400 grams. St. John’s Wort takes away the stress and irritation of being tired, BodyQuick provides focus and energy, and gingko biloba adds an extra notch of alert activity. The only major difference is a disinclination for exercise. Sleep deprivation previously meant some degree of failure cascade polluting my week; now I can alternate a full night’s rest every other day without trouble.

  58. Not too long ago, I read in a book called Healing With Whole Foods, about the concept of eating once a day within a 1 hour period. The book references some Monks in Eastern Asia who employ this practice, and they eat between 11:00 am and noon.

    Apparently, the monks only “sleep” (the book put it in quotation marks like that, so I assume they mean something other than actual sleep, but rather a deep form of meditation) for about three hours per night.

    Since their bodies have taken the daytime to digest their one meal, their bodies can focus more acutely on repairing itself, cleansing, etc. during the night.

    The book suggests, for those of us non-monks who may want to attempt this lifestyle, that we can have much more restful sleep time, and may need much less of it, since our bodies would not be required to digest so much while we sleep.

    Earlier this year, I started to eat like this myself (Which is pretty difficult, considering I run a food blog). I am not perfect at it, but on the days when I am vigilant and don’t eat much after noon, I do tend to sleep better. I have not, however, come to the point where three hours of sleep is enough, but some nights I seem fine with 5 or 6, if I stick to the plan.

    One thing I learned is the insanity which our country embraces. We buy efficient houses, efficient cars (sometimes), etc. However, with our bodies, we try to constantly make them inefficient. Let’s see, how can we pack away another pepperoni pizza, and then raise our metabolism enough to burn it off? Our bodies are programmed to be efficient, and yet Americans are in a constant search to make them go the other way.

    I know you are constantly learning/experimenting. Have you ever tried this lifestyle. If so, what did you find?

  59. Caffeinating myself prior to taking a nap is certainly new information. Maybe I’ll try that someday. Somebody’s explanation about the time interval before the caffeine kicks in and the time you ought to get done with your nap actually makes sense.

    My sleep patterns gets affected actually by the methods and the times I do my meditation exercises. Meditating with digital aids e.g. brainwave entrainment sounds (for 30 minutes), for me, needs to be done in the mornings. Otherwise, it will keep me up until 4 to 5 am. Meditating without the digital aids actually helps me sleep better without specific scheduling.

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

    in my experience, meditation substitutes for sleep at a rate of about 1 for 2 (1 hour of meditation = 2 hours sleep). i have only tested this with TM/mantra-style meditation; it might be different for different forms.

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

    All I know about this is that it seems to help with the symptoms of sleep deprivation, especially grumpiness, lack of concentration etc. that are related to low blood sugar. I haven’t noticed that it reduces sleep debt per se though.

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

    Don’t know about Ambien but have read about and used melatonin extensively. The only side effects I have read about are positive ones! Best book I’ve read is “Melatonin” by Reiter and Robinson; some of the other books read more like propaganda. Many melatonin researchers use it daily, whether they need it (for sleep) or not.

    –As for sleep onset insomnia,

    I read of a technique used in some insomnia clinics based on a retraining protocol. It requires spending a weekend at the lab. Each time you go to sleep, you are woken within a few minutes and this continues for the whole weekend. I guess the idea is that you get so tired that falling asleep becomes easy. Anyway, by the end you are able to get to sleep quickly and easily, almost at will. I know of one person who has experienced this method and had slept well since then–it reduced her sleep onset insomnia as well as helping her get back to sleep if she wakes during the night. Since 2mg of melatonin works for me, and I’m happy taking it, I haven’t tried this more drastic method.

    NB. the desire to sleep less or more efficiently seems to fit in with the “more is good” movement, i.e. create more awake time in order to fit more into each day… I’m not convinced this is the most joyous way to live life 🙂

    There are studies that show that too little (or too much) sleep reduces life span. However AFAIK, reduced but more “efficient” sleep hasn’t been analysed–if anyone has data or anecotes, I would love to hear about it.