A Guide to Biohacking Sleep
It’s not too uncommon to find hard-working individuals with a nearly prideful attitude towards not sleeping, but for the biohacker, sleep is a revered period of overnight restoration and body/mind optimization.
Nothing comes close to the benefits of a solid seven to nine hours of sleep, including 1.5-1.8 hours of deep sleep. For this reason, it is never compromised by other activities in the eyes of the biohacker.
From a biohacking perspective, maximizing sleep efficiency and quality with nutrition and technology optimizes virtually every facet of living, including improved stress resilience, skin health, learning and cognition, immunity, cardiovascular health, and overall health.
Attaining better sleep can be tackled from multiple fronts by hacking your biology, behavior, and sleep environment. Sleep technology using biometrics, either in the form of commercially available apps or wearable devices, can be used in the process to quantify how the hacks are impacting sleep quantity and quality.
Introduction to Biohacking
Imagine falling asleep and your bedroom adapts based on real-time biometric data such as your body temperature, heart rate, and sleeping position. All of your data is processed by the myriad sensors while your room optimizes to get you quickly through the lighter stages of NREM into deep sleep. This automation of sleep routines is one aspect of personal development biohackers are looking to bring into existence.
Biohacking encompasses a wide range of ideas, methods, and people. Some biohackers are interesting in the latest nutrition fad, perhaps intermittent fasting, a ketogenic diet, or something as simple as supplementing some vitamin D and extra DHA fats into their diet. Others apply an engineering mindset to not just healthy living but also sickness, old age, and death.
In general, biohacking is the art and science of changing your internal and external environment to gain control over and upgrade your own biology. Currently, biohacking can be broken down into three general categories: DIY Biology, grinder, and nutrigenomics.
Fostered by the internet and open access to cutting-edge data and methods, this community of educated eclectics takes a do-it-yourself approach to scientific advancement by bringing protocols, experiments, and funding from public institutions into the garage laboratory.
This democratization of scientific experimentation harnesses modern tools like DNA sequencing technology, molecular biology techniques, and live microorganisms for self-improvement and, ultimately, public advancement of science.
This subculture of biohacking applies biohacking principles to their own bodies. These body modifiers may implant magnets, microchips, and sensors all in pursuit of evolving the human body to do things better, faster, and stronger. These biohackers are informed by the philosophy of transhumanism, a movement that aims to augment and evolve the human body with the help of technology.
At this point, you might be thinking: Why does this sound familiar? It sounds familiar because we’re talking about cyborgs.
One of the linchpins of biohacking is using bioactive nutrition and supplements to influence our mind and body. This element of biohacking is referred to as nutrigenomics, an emerging science that seeks to understand the relationship between food constituents and gene expression.
In a later section, we will overview some common supplements for enhancing sleep onset and quality.
How do biohackers measure success?
Biohackers understand that health and wellbeing is a diversely interconnected system, and so their approach to better sleep is naturally holistic and integrative. In this era of personalized biometric data analysis, there are many ways the biohacker can measure success.
From mail-order genetic sequencing to personalized blood testing and sleep tracking devices, there are a wide variety of ways to quantify the inputs and outputs of the human system on the quest to better sleep (and overall health, as well).
Blood work is one of the foundations of biohacking. Biohackers may start with basic blood work that can reveal vitamin, mineral, cholesterol, and hormone levels, inflammation levels, and the functioning of organs and glands like the liver, thyroid, and kidneys.
For instance, these tests can tell you how the levels of important inflammatory markers such as C reactive protein, homocysteine, fibrinogen are trending; or give you insight into hormone levels related to peak performance and metabolism such as testosterone, estradiol, DHEA, cortisol, and insulin. Besides standard blood work at the doctor’s office, companies such as Wellnessfx offer a wide variety of personalized blood testing packages.
Blood sugar can be measured either over the long term or fasting, Continuous glucose monitors are used by some biohackers to continually keep tabs on how their blood sugar levels respond to things like fasting, ketogenic meals, and sleep
With the advent of affordable genome sequencing technology, companies such as 23AndMe, AncestryDNA allow the biohacker to gain insight into their genetic profile easily from home. Besides information on genealogy, these tests allow one to identify potential risks and predispositions to various illnesses, which can inform a wide range of lifestyle choices. These companies detect single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, which are essentially markers in each person's genome that vary across the population.
The biohacker can take the raw data from these tests, and feed it into third-party software such as Promethease or Nutrahacker, which can further analyze the data. These third-party tools can recommend supplements that are tailored to one's specific genetic makeup and give more insight into potential health risks.
For instance, these tools can tell you your ApoE phenotype, as certain variants (namely, ApoE4) are a major risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, mutations in sleep-related genetic markers can be discovered, such as mutations in the DEC2 gene. Individuals with this gene variant sleep about 2 hours less per night on average, without reporting any sense of sleep deprivation that others normally would under those conditions.
It’s important to note that lifestyle, diet choices, and various epigenetic factors can affect gene expression, so the results of these tests aren’t absolutely set in stone.
Researchers are establishing an increasingly tight link between the diverse community of gut microflora and chronic illness, sleep, mood, energy, metabolism, and more. Biohacking the microbiome may involve regularly eating healthy fermented foods, taking probiotics and prebiotics, and in some cases (especially with certain health conditions), even fecal transplants.
Various companies offer personalized microbiome sequencing to inform a data-driven understanding of one’s microbiome, including DayTwo, Viome, uBiome, AmericanGut, Aperiomics, and AtlasBiomed.
Biohackers can collect a wealth of data on his or her sleep from affordable consumer fitness and sleep tracker products. These devices can give a readout of daily fitness activity, such as the number of steps taken and calories burned, and/or may give a best estimate of sleep staging and sleep quality through an analysis of several sleep-related biometrics.
One may roughly track their sleep with smartphone applications, and then move on to more accurate measurements with wearable sensors such as smartwatches, smart rings, and pendants. The most involved biohacker may, in addition to wearables, utilize sleep trackers under the mattress or nightstand trackers that measure body movements with radio waves.
The most devoted sleep biohacker may also emulate, to the best of their ability, a clinical sleep study by using sleep trackers fastened to the head that sense eye movements (electrooculogram) or electroencephalogram signals (EEG) for more precise sleep staging.
The variables captured by these devices may include biomovements, heart rate, heart rate variability, body temperature, oxygen saturation, blood pressure, sound levels, and brain wave signals. Taken together, these can give a data-informed perspective on sleep quality and quantity. Learn more about sleep trackers here.
Sleep success by the numbers
Sleep quality to the biohacker is a multidimensional front tackled through a wide range of nutritional and behavioral hacks that we will go over in the following sections. Besides self-rated sleep quality, many of these variables can be tracked with consumer sleep trackers and sleep diaries to trend over time in order to figure out what success looks like.
In regards to sleep, the biohacker may aim for:
- Seven to nine hour total sleep time.
- Deep, slow-wave sleep for 20% of total sleep time.
- REM sleep for 20-25% of total sleep time.
- Falling asleep in less than fifteen minutes.
- Little to no nocturnal awakenings.
- Little to no snoring or restless movements during the night.
- Increased heart rate variability, including high frequency components, during the night, indicating parasympathetic nervous system activation.
- Daily resting heart rate in the morning is equal to or less than the trended monthly average.
Hacking your sleep with biohacking supplements
Dietary supplements can help support the body in the production of sleep-promoting hormones and neurotransmitters like serotonin and GABA. These supplements can be used in conjunction with a wholesome diet to help the body relax and induce brainwave patterns associated with rest. In this section, we’ll take a look at four supplements that support restful sleep.
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 75% of the United States population is deficient in magnesium. This mineral is crucial for over 300 reactions in the body and, in regards to sleep, plays an essential role in regulating melatonin and GABA levels.
While many forms of magnesium exist, magnesium glycinate is one of the most bioavailable. It acts as a mild sedative, increasing deep sleep while decreasing the time it takes to fall asleep, nighttime cortisol levels, and periodic leg movements which may disturb sleep quality.
How to dose magnesium glycinate for sleep:
- 200-400 mg depending on individual sensitivity and baseline magnesium levels.
- To maximize the therapeutic potential of this supplement, it can be taken with calcium citrate, which synergizes with magnesium and supports high-quality sleep.
- Learn more about magnesium as a sleep aid.
L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid and natural sedative that acts as a precursor to serotonin and melatonin. According to the literature, L-tryptophan can enhance subjective sleepiness and non-REM sleep while decreasing sleep onset latency.
How to dose L-tryptophan:
- 500-1000 mg one to two hours before bedtime.
- Calcium and vitamin B6 help absorption, while folate and vitamin C facilitate the reaction to 5-HTP, a precursor to serotonin.
- Learn more about L-tryptophan as a sleep aid.
Adaptogenic herbs like Reishi and Ashwagandha
Adaptogens help ward off physical and psychological stress and can promote restful sleep by balancing hormones and our immune system.
Reishi is a common adaptogen in traditional Chinese medicine. This calming mushroom is known for its potent immunomodulatory activity and may promote healthy sleep cycles through its ability to calm the spirit and reduce anxiety.
Ashwagandha is a potent herb that has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine. The main bioactive found in the herb is triethylene glycol, which may help reduce symptoms of stress-related insomnia, enhance sleep induction, and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
How to dose Reishi for sleep:
- 1-2g in the evenings is the optimal dose for sleep enhancement
- Best taken as an herbal extract to maximize the presence of bioactive compounds
How to dose Ashwagandha for sleep:
- 250-600mg of the herbal extract taken in the evenings.
Hacking Light: Optimizing your circadian rhythms for energetic days and restful nights
In order to keep a better tab on your sleep-wake patterns over time, it is recommended to use sleep trackers in conjunction with these hacks.
Since consistency is key when it comes to optimizing circadian rhythms, having a good idea of when you fall asleep and when you wake up every day can be enormously helpful towards achieving higher-quality sleep.
Align your circadian rhythm with the natural day and night cycles
Although in modern times the majority of us spend the bulk of our time indoors in the presence of artificial light, our entire physiology is intimately connected to the day and night cycles of our natural environment.
Circadian rhythms are evolutionarily ancient biological processes that are linked with the cycles of the day. Controlled in a region of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, this biological clock plays an intimate role in controlling our sleeping patterns, metabolism, physiology, behavior, and mood.
The most apparent circadian rhythm disruptions happen when we hop on transatlantic (or transpacific) flights and cross more than three time zones. However, more insidious circadian rhythm disruptions happen in our day-to-day non-traveling lives as well, although with less severity. It’s a disruption brought about mostly by our modern, light-polluted lifestyle.
One crucial element to biohacking sleep is to optimize circadian rhythms by strategically aligning our behavior with the natural day and night cycles. This, in turn, regulates the proper secretion and action of hormones and neurotransmitters like serotonin, melatonin, and cortisol which are key players in either our sleep drive or arousal.
Blue light exposure in the morning helps optimize our sleep/wake hormones
During the daytime blue light dominates, which suppresses melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycles by signaling to our brain it is time to sleep. It is secreted by the brain near the end of the day when environmental lighting shifts towards the longer wavelengths and eventually, total darkness.
Early blue light exposure can help optimize melatonin secretion so that our sleep drive occurs when we want it — namely, at night time.
Cortisol is another important hormone that’s levels fluctuate with the 24-hour sleep/wake cycle. Its production is most active in the first thirty minutes upon waking and slowly declines towards the evening. Blue light exposure in the first hour upon waking can help maximize the early morning cortisol peak (known as the cortisol awakening response) and facilitate an energetic, productive day.
To incorporate this hack, try:
- Exposing yourself to natural sunlight for 1-1.5 hours after you wake up in the morning.
- If you live in a place with less direct sunlight, try using a full-spectrum LED lamp or lightbox for thirty minutes to one hour after awakening.
- Neuroon is a commercially-available intelligent sleep mask that uses sensors, software, and LED lights for sleep tracking and bright light therapy upon waking.
Eliminate blue spectrum light in the evening to prepare for sleep
In the evening, the decrease in blue light exposure is the signal for our body to start ramping up melatonin levels for a good night’s sleep. Modern devices such as TVs, cell phones, laptops, eReaders, and light bulbs emit blue spectrum light that fools our bodies into thinking it’s daytime again, effectively boosting cortisol and suppressing melatonin production.
According to one 2014 study, using these devices in the evening may disrupt circadian rhythmicity and lead to decreased sleep latency, less REM sleep, and greater morning grogginess.
To put this hack into effect, you can:
- Refrain from using blue light-emitting devices in the evening.
- Use “night mode” on the device or programs like f.lux to filter out the blue wavelengths in the evening.
- Wear blue light blocking glasses at sundown.
- Use black-out curtains in the bedroom to eliminate moonlight and ambient artificial light.
Behavioral hacks for restful sleep
These behavioral hacks may help put us into a state of mind and body that is more conducive to quality sleep. These hacks are in part derived from sleep hygiene tips that are important to proper sleep routines.
Practice relaxation exercises like meditation and yoga
Relaxation exercises and lifestyle practices like meditation, deep breathing, and yoga create physiological changes in the brain that are similar to sleep. Developing a consistent practice can enhance both sleep quality and quantity.
To put this hack into play:
- Try a 7-20 minute guided mindfulness meditation or yoga session as part of your bedtime routine. Check out our free meditations on the Customer Portal.
- Keep the yoga poses light. While more intense exercise in the early part of the day can facilitate sleep, they may increase cortisol and keep us awake if done near bedtime.
- Wearable biofeedback headbands such as SleepShepherd track brain waves with EEG sensors and output binaural beats to produce brain wave patterns that are conducive for sleep.
Lower body temperature before bedtime
In addition to light, temperature is another cue the body uses to signal sleep. Before the start of a sleep cycle, our body temperature naturally falls a few degrees. Keeping cool at bedtime can increase sleep efficiency and sleep onset.
- Keep the bedroom between 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Take a shower or bath before bed. While it may seem that this would increase body temperature, it actually draws blood flow towards the surface. Here, heat more easily radiates to the environment, lowering our body temperature.
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
Consistent sleep/wake routines can be very effective for supporting healthy circadian rhythms. Since we sleep in roughly ninety-minute cycles, it can be helpful to have our waking time reflect an even amount of cycles.
When we wake up in the middle of a cycle, especially in the deeper stages of NREM, we may suffer more intense sleep inertia. Apps such as Sleep Cycle track movement data to wake you up at the lightest stage of sleep.
To put this into effect:
- Start the bedtime routine at the same time every day and set the alarm for the same time every morning. Even on weekends.
- Additionally, using the bed only for sleep reinforces a healthy sleep/wake cycle and more strongly reinforces the link between the bed and sleep, which may make falling asleep easier.
The essence of biohacking is self-experimentation and fine-tuning the hacks so that they are best tailored towards your own individual biology. If you suffer from sleep deprivation, these hacks may help bring deeper sleep and ultimately, better mental and physical health.
It is worth noting if you are having trouble sleeping despite sufficient time and opportunity to do so, it is best to consult with a medical professional to rule out any physical basis for the sleep disturbance.
Getting quality sleep is part science and part art. It takes a holistic approach to turn around years of bad sleep habits. A biohacking approach is a great framework to begin tweaking and optimizing the multiple variables that are affecting the quality of your sleep.
At Remrise, we believe strongly in taking an integrated approach to improving your sleep quality. That means blending personalized supplementation with, meditation, exercise, diet and tracking results. Learn more...
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