Lesson 1: Biohacking Sleep

Biohacking Sleep

From the biohacker’s perspective a sufficent and good sleep at night contributes to better performance, awareness, mood, ability to handle stress, skin quality,11 sports perfor- mance, the capacity to learn new things, and the ability to maintain general wellbeing. The aim of the biohacker is to reserve as much time as possible for important things, while simultaneously making sure that sleep is not compromised. This ensures that recovery becomes possible and that new learnings can be integrated and assimilated.

It is common wisdom that adults should get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. A systemic review conducted at the University of Warwick observed that the risk of mortality amongst people who got 6 hours or less of sleep per night increased by 12 %, but also the risk of mortality amongst those who slept for nine hours or more increased by as much as 30 %.12 However, sleeping ten hours is beneficial for those with increased need for sleep, for example for recovering athletes and growing children. The studies also show that there are some people – i.e. those who carry
a variation of the DEC2 gene – who can survive with two hours less sleep on average than other people. What is then enough? How can we make sure we get enough quality sleep without sacrificing any of the vital tasks that we want to get done every day?


Sleep alternates between two phases: orthodox sleep and REM sleep. These phases can be distinguished from one another in EEG (electroencephalography). The majority of sleep is orthodox sleep (deep sleep, quiet sleep, slow-wave sleep) that can be further divided into three NREM (non- rapid eye movement) stages: N1, N2 and N3. These are in contrast to REM sleep, or R sleep (paradoxical sleep, rapid eye movement sleep). W – Wakefulness (beta waves): infrequent and low- frequency beta waves predominate in the EEG. Meditative state with one’s eyes closed: increasingly synchronised alpha and theta waves are visible in EEG, along with Increased production of serotonin. A number of proven health benefits have been observed while using techniques such as meditation to increase one’s alpha and theta waves.

N1 – The first stage (theta waves, 4–8 Hz): EEG shows irregular oscillations. Theta waves are slower and higher in frequency than alpha waves. This is a transitory phase from wakefulness to light sleep. The sleeper changes position frequently, and is in a deep meditative state. However, if someone were to wake the person up, he or she might not feel like they had fallen asleep. Duration: about 10 minutes.

N2 – The second stage (sleep spindles, 11–16 Hz): A period of light sleep, during which there is little movement and the breathing is quiet. The second stage involves periodic surges in brain wave frequency, the so-called sleep spindles. Brain activity during the second stage is more active than in the first stage. Dreaming becomes possible. Getting enough stage two sleep improves motor skills. The person can still be easily woken up during this stage. Duration: 20 to 30 minutes.

N3 – The third stage (delta waves, 0–8 Hz): A period of deep sleep, where breathing is stable and EEG readings consist of slow delta waves. Muscles are completely relaxed, and the pulse, body temperature and blood pressure have decreased. Production of human growth hormone begins, and the regenerative mechanisms of the body are activated. The sleeper will not wake if another person walks into the room. Pulse, blood pressure and body temperature are at their lowest. Duration: 30 to 40 minutes. Elderly people experience a shorter duration, by as much as six minutes.

R – REM Sleep (alpha and beta waves): During REM sleep, the brain is awake, but the rest of the body is asleep. The muscles in the neck and the body are paralysed to prevent sleepwalking. During REM, the eyes are moving under the eyelids, and dreaming is at its peak. The typical adult has
an average of 4 to 5 REM stages every night. The first stage lasts about 10 minutes, while subsequent stages are often longer, around 30 minutes. REM sleep is important for the regeneration of the brain’s nerve cells. Tests measuring the effects of sleep deprivation have shown that REM sleep is absolutely indispensable as deprivation leads to irritability, fatigue, memory loss and reduced capacity for concentration. Infants experience a lot of REM sleep: On average 50 % of the total 16 hours of sleep per night is REM sleep. During a typical adult’s 7 to 8 hour sleep, the sleeper moves from the first stage, to the second, and to the third stage, then back again to the second stage. After this, the sleeper either wakes up or goes straight to REM sleep. From then on, the cycle repeats itself some 4–5 times.
One full cycle lasts about 90 minutes. From the perspective of getting a good night’s sleep, it is paramount to maximise the amount of deep sleep (N3) by going through at least three cycles. Getting enough sleep reorganises one’s memory20 and improves one’s learning capacity.21 In the later cycles, the amount of REM increases and the amount of deep delta sleep decreases, until eventually the latter disappears completely.


Circadian rhythms are biological processes linked to the cycles of the day. Many bodily functions vary according to these rhythms, including the following:

• Body temperature
• Pulse rate and blood pressure
• Reaction time and performance
• The production of melatonin, serotonin and cortisol
• Intestinal activity

Travellers who make frequent long-distance flights often have direct experience in the importance of getting acclimated to a new time zone. One’s inability to adjust can lead to sleeping problems and disturbances in cognitive functions. People who do shift work, or work under bright lights, can face similar issues. Problems arise whenever the daily rhythm is disturbed.Human beings have an internal clock that lasts about 25 hours and resets itself daily when it is exposed to daylight.22 Blind people can thus have sleeping problems, and yet, even without the ability to see sunlight, their bodies function mostly just fine. Light clearly has a central role in the regulation of our daily lives, and can be used to reset our circadian rhythms. Luminosity should reach at least 1000 lux in intensity to have such an effect – compare this to the 320–500 lux in a typical office and the 32,000 to 130,000 lux in direct sunlight. Light directly affects the production of melatonin, the so- called “hormone of darkness”, which is secreted mostly by the pineal gland during the hours of darkness. Melatonin plays a crucial role in the regulation of the sleep–wake cycle.

A newborn baby does not produce melatonin until it is three months old. From then on, the production increases towards adolescence, and finally settles down in adulthood. In a mid-aged person, the production of melatonin starts to decrease again. It is suspected that this is one of the reasons why older people do not usually get as much sleep as younger people. The intensity of light isn’t the only factor in melatonin production; its wavelength also has an effect. During day- light, blue light (short wavelength, around 420–485 nm) dominates, which blocks melatonin production. Research shows that white LED lighting is five times more efficient at blocking the production of melatonin than incandescent light bulbs.



Sunlight, moonlight and LEDs on electronics can disturb sleep. Instead, try:

• Using blackout curtains
• Darkening the LEDs of your electronic devices with black adhesive tape
• Switching lamps to brands that do not emit the blue spectrum of light
– Special lamps that change the spectrum of light according to the cycle of the day
– Dim salt lamps


Bed materials that do not breathe may induce allergies, and beds which are unergonomic may disturb your sleep. Instead, try:

• A mattress or futon made of organic cotton, wool, hemp or natural rubber (instead of being covered with polyurethane foam and chemicals that are potentially allergenic)
• Oat, cherry, spelt or buckwheat pillows
• Choosing materials for your sheets and blankets that promote better thermo- regulation (organic cotton, leather, silk, etc.)
• Sleeping without clothes (so that the rubber bands on the waist cannot block your lymphatic system)
• Sleeping without a pillow
• Using a pillow that supports the neck
• Having a pillow between your legs (when sleeping on your side)
• Sleeping on your back or right side. Other positions put stress on your internal organs.
– Use a heavy comforter and bed sheets if you have a tendency to change positions frequently during the night – Sleeping on your stomach is not recommended to anybody (except to those suffering from spinal disc herniation)
– Sleeping on your back is not recommended if you suffer from sleep apnea due to the risk of respiratory arrest


Some people may experience sensitivity to electromagnetic radiation. Dozens of studies have been conducted on electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS), but its existence has not been successfully verified. Some studies suggest that “grounding” can alleviate insomnia.

Instead, try:

• Using a grounding mat
• Placing WLAN routers and mobile phones at a distance of at least 10 m away from body, and switching mobile devices to flight mode
• Walking barefooted during the day, or using grounding (earthing) shoes
• Scanning the radiation levels in the bedroom (with EMF and EMC detectors)


Research shows that poor indoor air quality affects respiratory organs and can thereby cause sleeping problems. Instead, try:

• Ventilating the bedroom during the day
• Excluding the possibility of mold (DIY measuring kits or measurements done by professionals)
• The use of house plants to increase humidity, turn carbon dioxide into oxygen, and release negative ions into the air (for example, golden cane palm (Dypsis lutescens), snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata) and devil’s ivy (Epipremnum aureaum)
• Ventilating the bedroom properly at night, but avoid a direct draft near the head
• Air filtering (UV, HEPA, carbon filtering, photocatalytic oxidation, air ionizer)
• Adjusting humidity with technical tools. Most people prefer 30–50 % humidity.
• Having a house that ventilates properly and choosing appropriate indoor materials: natural construction methods, eco paints and finishing materials
• Using specific incenses and relaxing essential oils (ylang ylang, vanilla, lavender) may increase sleepiness at the cost of air quality

Temperature: The temperature of the body drops during sleep. Sleeping in a room that is too hot, or too cold, makes it difficult to maintain optimal thermoregulation. Instead, try:

• Adjusting radiators and air conditioning
• Keeping windows open and ventilating the space properly
• The optimal temperature for most people is around
18–22 degrees Celsius (64–69 Fahrenheit)


Get Enough Blue Spectrum Light: Getting enough blue spectrum light (short wavelength 450–490 nm) during the day, especially right after waking up, is an important factor in maintaining one’s alertness and circadian rhythm. Spend time in sunlight, Take a minimum 15 minute walk daily and Set up your workstation next to the window. Avoid the use of sunglasses during the day that block blue spectrum light as It may start the production of melatonin at the wrong time. Use a full spectrum light therapy lamp

Take Regular Exercise: 20 to 30 minutes of exercise daily helps balance the daily rhythm31 and significantly improves sleep quality

Get Rid of Muscle Tension: Pain in the muscles and connective tissue may cause insomnia. Try acupuncture, massage, sauna, yoga and stretching. Take relaxing baths (e.g. with magnesium chloride in the bath water during evenings)


Go To Bed By The Circadian Rhythm: Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day increases the quality of sleep and decreases health risks. Balances nocturnal body temperature. Minimise moonlight during the night, because it can interfere with melatonin production. Magnesium glycinate, magnesium glycerophosphate and magnesium taurate also provide amino acids that support liver functions at night. The appropriate dosage varies from 200 to 1000 mg. Potassium citrate, or potassium carbonate, works synergistically with magnesium. It can lower the incidence of nocturnal spasms in the limbs, and balance the quality of sleep. Tryptophan acts as a precursor to serotonin and melatonin. Tryptophan levels can be elevated in the evening by consuming some of the following food products about 1 or 2 hours before going to bed: white and brown rice, banana (not overripe), pumpkin seeds, nuts, whole grains, brown rice, lentils, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and avocado (not overripe). Calcium and vitamin B6 facilitate the absorption of tryptophan.

Relaxing adaptogens: lingzhi mushsroom (reishi), holy basil and Indian ginseng (ashwagandha). Theanine increases alpha waves and can be helpful for falling asleep. Experiments with rats have shown that theanine improves the quality of sleep when coffee has been ingested during the day. Zinc naturally raises testosterone levels, Sufficient levels improve the quality of sleep.


Supplements and adequate nutrients in your diet can support the body in the production of melatonin, help the body to relax, and induce brain wave patterns associated with the N1 phase.

• Magnesium Citrate acts as a mild sedative that helps the body to fall asleep. It also increases the amount of deep sleep and decreases nocturnal cortisol levels. An appropriate dosage is 400 mg.

• Taurine decreases stress and anxiety, and increases the amount of the anxiety-inhibiting neurotransmitter GABA in the body. An appropriate dosage is: 500–1500 mg of taurine every night1 hour before bedtime. 250–500 mg of GABA, 2–3 times a day

• Supplements with a therapeutic purpose (only to be used as a last resort):

– 200 mg of 5-HTP or 3 mg of melatonin an hour before going to sleep. The effect can be augmented with 50 mg of vitamin B6 and zinc. Their combination, ZMA (Zn+Mg+B6), is also recommended.

– 500–1000 mg L-tryptophan, 1–2 times daily, preferably at night time. It is best absorbed when ingested together with carbohydrates. Folate and vitamin C help in converting it to 5-HTP.

• Take vitamin D in the morning or during the day, with fatty foods. Do not take it in the evening, since vitamin D interacts with melatonin production.

Magnesium: Magnesium is one of the key minerals in more than 200 metabolic reactions. The body contains up to 20–28 grams of magnesium, one half of which is in the cells and the other half in the bones. It is estimated that 68 % of Americans suffer from magnesium deficiency of some type. Measuring the magnesium level in the blood is not sufficient to rule out pos- sible deficiency as only 1 % of magnesium is freely available in the circulation.45 Inadequate magnesium intake is associated with vitamin D deficiency as magnesium promotes the synthesis of vitamin D from sunlight on the skin.46 Magnesium has significant health benefits – it prevents stress, depression and many chronic illnesses and improves the quality of sleep. Magnesium also has an important role in the energy production of muscle and cardiac muscle cells.

Avoid Substances that disturb your Sleep: Avoid caffeine (coffee, tea, energy drinks, guarana, maté) 5–8 hours before going to bed. You can use 1000–2000 mg of vitamin C to make caffeine leave the body quicker (Kakadu plum, camu camu, Acerola cherry, rose hip, ascorbic acid). Alternatively you can chew whole cardamom seeds (5 to 10 pieces) to destimulate the central nervous system. Avoid theobromine and theophylline (both found in chocolate and kola nut) 6 to 10 hours before going to bed. Limit late-evening alcohol consumption to two doses maximum. Alcohol reduces REM sleep. Enjoy your last glass of alcohol no later than 90 minutes before going to sleep. Tyramine increases the production of noradrenaline, which boosts brain activity and keeps you awake. The following food products contain tyramine, so they should be avoided at dinner: chocolate, eggplant, potato, sauerkraut, spinach, tomato and wine.

Drinks that help you Fall Asleep: Some beverages will typically affect the GABA anxiety-inhibiting neuro-transmitter in the brain. Valerian 150–300 mg, at bedtime. Chamomile 400–1600 mg, at bedtime. Passion flower 100–200 mg, 2–3 times a day. Hops 100–200 mg, 2–3 times a day. Kava 120–150 mg, at bedtime.

Maintain Hydration Throughout The Night: Dehydration – but also excessive water consumption – can keep you up at night. Drink water, especially if you’ve consumed common diuretics (like alcohol, coffee or tea). Limit your beverage consumption in the evening if you notice you often wake up at night to go to the bathroom. A good dose is 2–3 dl about 90 minutes before going to bed. The liver is typically at its most active between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m., and wakefulness during these hours can be a sign of dehydration. Saw palmetto or nettle root teas might relieve prostate problems which may cause you to urinate a lot during the night.

Decrease Your Body Temperature Before Bedtime: The temperature of the body drops during the night, and the drop can be aided in a number of ways. Avoid exercise (= stimulation of the central nervous system and rise in body temperature) for two hours before going to bed. Induce cold thermogenesis in the evening (e.g. cold shower, winter swimming, or ice bath). Try sleeping naked.

Empty Your Mind of Worries: After a long work day, or with a large workload ahead, it is especially easy to get stuck with incessant thoughts, which stimulate brain activity and prevent falling asleep.Use meditation to empty your mind. Stop working an hour before going to bed. Write down a to-do list for work tomorrow, so that unfinished business does not get stuck in your head. Write in a gratitude journal before going to bed (e.g. three things that happened during the day that you can feel grateful for). Write down positive affirmations (to program your mind for the next day)

Take Care of Nightly Blood Sugar Levels: If blood sugar levels drop during the night, it releases glucose-regulating hormones such as adrenaline, glucagon, cortisol and growth hormone. This process can wake you up. Eat no later than two hours before going to bed. Consume slowly digestible foods no later than four hours before bedtime. This
allows the food to be digested in your system. Try 1 or 2 tbsp of MCT oil, or omega-3 oil, 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. 

Avoid Blue Spectrum Light in The Evening: Increasing red spectrum light and decreasing blue spectrum light kickstarts the production of melatonin. Avoid using the computer, mobile phone or television, for an hour before going to bed. If you must use your computer in the evenings, filter out blue spectrum light with an appropriate computer program or a filter (a layer of film) on top of your screen. Use special shades that filter out blue spectrum light when going to sleep or when visiting the bathroom at night.


Relaxation: Sympathetic nervous system activity can disturb sleep.Relieve stress with heart rate variability (HRV) training before going to bed. Use a spike mat to improve blood circulation in the skin and the release of endorphins and oxytocin which help you to calm down and relax. Practice breathing exercises. Listen to relaxing audio tracks. Make Love with your romantic partner. Go to sauna. These are all ways to calm down the sympathetic nervous system before sleeping.

Opening up your Respiratory Tract: Breathing problems can disturb your sleep. Learn to breathe through your nose. Use a nasal strip or a nasal spray to keep your respiratory tract open. Use a neti pot for nasal cleansing. Improve the air quality in your bedroom.

Sound & Light Stimulation: Many apps and devices based on sound and light stimulation are designed to help you fall asleep. Listen to binaural beats, a type of sound stimulation (to be used in conjunction with headphones that are compatible with sleeping). Create a natural soundscape with a computer or mobile apps. Light stimulation with red spectrum light that induces melatonin production.

Soundproofing: Distinctive sounds that stimulate too much cognitive activity can prevent you from falling asleep and reduce the quality of your sleep. Use earplugs suitable for sleeping. Use pressure regulating earplugs for airplane travel.

Blocking Out Light: Blue spectrum light, in particular, can easily disturb sleep. For example when you are travelling it is not always possible to isolate the entire room from external light sources. Use eye patches or sleeping masks that prevent the light from reaching your eyes. Use blackout curtains.

Electric Stimulation: Stimulating the brain electrically has been proven to have an effect on the production of neurotransmitters such as GABA and serotonin, which can help treat sleeping problems. Try Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation (CES), also known as “electrosleep”

Lucid Dreaming: During a lucid dream, the person knows he or she is sleeping. Write down a sleep diary to help remember your dreams. Try self-suggestion right before going to bed; and reality checks during dreams. Wake yourself up during a lucid dream and try to remember your dreams. So-called sleep herbs such as Artemisa vulgaris, Heimia salicifolia, Synaptolepis kirkii and Huperzia serrata may support the practice of lucid dreaming.


Wake up Naturally: Emulating a natural environment can reduce the stress response caused by a regular alarm clock. Use a wake-up light that imitates a natural sunrise. Create a gradually developing soundscape that emulates nature waking up to its full glory.

Jump Start your Body: The body has been fasting for the entire night. Muscles might be tense as a result – but there are ways to reduce this tension. Ingest 400 ml of water (for rehydration), 2 tbsp of lemon
juice (to balance gastric acids) and half a teaspoon of salt
(for your adrenal glands) within 30 minutes of waking up. Try inversions, and a hand- or headstand, to improve the circulation in your body and to boost your adrenal glands. Try yoga, jogging or stretching. Try a warm shower or bath finished by a cold shower (that closes the pores in your skin). Try vibration plate, jumping jacks, or mini-trampoline
to increase blood and lymph circulation.

Sleep Quality Can be Measured with: An EEG (electroencephalography): which tracks the various phases and cycles of sleep. An EMG (electromyography): which measures jaw muscle tension. An EOG (electrooculography): which measures eye movements. An HRV (heart rate variability): which measures stress level during the night and the body’s response. The parasympathetic nervous system actives itself during orthodox sleep while the sympathetic nervous system activates itself during REM sleep. Via Nocturnal movements: one’s sleep should have periods every night that last at least 15 minutes where there is no discernible movement. A MSLT (Multiple Sleep Latency Test). A MWT (Maintenance of Wakefulness Test). Melatonin readings from saliva.

Measuring & Tracking Sleep: The history of collecting data on the physiology of sleep goes back to the late 19th century. Sigmund Freud was already interested in dreams in a time before the invention of EEG and a proper understanding of REM sleep. In 1913, the French scientist Henri Piéron wrote Le problème physiologique du sommeil, in which, for the first time, sleep was dealt with from a physiological perspective. German psychiatrist Hans Berger recorded the first electroencephalogram (EEG) in 1924. The father of modern sleep research, Nathaniel Kleitman, performed ground- breaking work on the circadian clock and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep in the 1950s. Later on, in 1968, Dr. Allan Rechtschaffen and his colleague Anthony Kales co- published the iconic A Manual of Standardized Terminology, Techniques and Scoring System for Sleep Stages of Human Subjects. Right up to the present day, this has been the primary source for describing the various stages of sleep. In the last five years, technologies for measuring sleep have escaped sleep research laboratories and fallen into the hands of consumers. A modern biohacker, using affordable consumer products, can collect a lot of data from his or her sleep.

To maximize sleep quality, aim for the following:

• REM sleep representing 20–25 % of the time spent asleep
• Deep sleep representing 10–20 % of the time spent asleep
• Sleep for 7–8 hours per night
• Falling asleep quickly (in less than 15 minutes)
• Little to no waking up during the night
• Increased heart rate variability (HRV) during the night, indicating the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (RMSSD)
• HF component is sufficiently high (HF increases during the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system)
• Daily resting heart rate in the morning is constant or decreasing compared to the monthly average
• Little to no snoring
• No unusual restlessness or movements during the night
• The soundcape during the night contains nothing that stands out

It is not always possible to get enough sleep – traveling or a busy work schedule may mean reduced hours of sleep. When this is the case, pay special attention to the recovery of the nervous system (HRV), the time it takes to fall asleep and the amount of deep sleep in proportion to the total time spent asleep. If the morning resting heart rate begins to creep up, try to organize rest days to boost recovery.

Resources :



Philips Hue Red Amber Lamp
Salt Lamp


Essentia mattresses
Hästens beds
Keetsa mattresses
Innovation futons 
Tempur pillows 
Ayurvastra fabrics
Sheex beddings 


Air Quality

Preparation During The Day 

Blue spectrum light

Preparation for sleep

Drinks that aid sleep

Optimize caffeine

Decrease body temperature

Avoid blue spectrum light


Going to sleep

Opening airways

Relaxation and stress relief

Light and sound stimulation


Blocking out light

Electric stimulation

Lucid dreaming

Waking up

Wake up naturally

Measuring and tracking sleep

Laboratory tests

Measuring heart rate

Mobile apps for sleep

Mobile apps for snoring

Separate devices for sleep

Activity trackers with sleep function

Other tools for sleep

  • Sleepio sleep improvement program