Blog PostHealth & Fitness

The Case for “Sleep Hacking”

Many people may not be familiar with the idea of “sleep hacking,” the idea that you can sleep less and feel just as alert if not more so.

I’ve been experimenting with sleep hacking for a couple of years now, with varying success. It’s always a work in progress, but when it works well, I’m able to sleep six hours out of every 24, and be more productive and more alert than when I sleep 8+. When it doesn’t work well, I find myself sleeping strange hours and catching up on sleep debt late into the afternoon.

So why mess with it?

Well, for one, it turns out that human beings are not meant to sleep in eight hour blocks. It is slowly but surely becoming mainstream knowledge that we are biphasic sleepers by design (with the New York Times, DailyMail, and HuffPo all concurring) , and should be breaking our sleep up into two or more chunks, no matter how much we sleep. Napping (or the “siesta”) as an institution is as old as modern man, and persists in many cultures from Spain to India. Only since the advent of modern electricity and white lighting have we been able to  “beat” our tendency to sleep biphasically – much to our own detriment. In fact, studies have shown that if left to your own devices in simulated natural light conditions (without the interference of fluorescent lighting), you would naturally gravitate to a split sleep cycle.  That 3PM crash you feel ever day as you rush to the espresso machine isn't because you're sleeping poorly at night; it's because your body is engineered to rest in the afternoon. This has numerous benefits, from caloric savings to significant improvements in brain function, memory, and stress reduction. That alone should be enough to have you checking out for a long lunch break and catching some Z's in the car.

But let's be completely honest. The more obvious appeal is to save time. Say you sleep 8 hours now (which makes absolutely 0 sense, because you wake up every morning as you’re entering your 6th sleep cycle… But as you wish). If you can successfully learn to feel rested and alert on 2 hours less per 24 hour period, that equates to 730 hours a year, or roughly 1 month. If you can sustain this from age 25 to age 65, the period between your intensive growth / brain development and potential retirement, that is about 3 and a half YEARS of extra waking time. Pretty dramatic, huh? Welcome to sleep hacking.

“But it’s not healthy,” you lament. Well, I’m not sure, actually. Cutting sleep outright is probably not healthy. Or is it? One study at UCSD actually found that sleeping 8 hours or more may shorten your lifespan.  For this reason, optimizing sleep and training your body to be more efficient during sleep is almost an unrivaled win. After all, Napoleon slept 3-4 hours a night. So did Edison. They both turned out relatively ok.

Imagine this actually did shorten your expected lifespan by 5 or so years (Though the limited amount of evidence we have is inconclusive but suggests otherwise). This hypothetically shortens the end of your life, where your time is less valuable, less enjoyable due to health and mobility limitations, and where you’re sleeping at least 30% of the time anyways. Are those extra 3 years of waking life between 85 and 90 really worth it?

You still come out on top, in my mind.

The trick is to learn to be rested and alert on less sleep… And that’s why sleep hacking is so fascinating.

Dustin Curtis has a cool article about it here:

There's a lot more to be said about Sleep Hacking, so expect many more resources to come. How have you hacked or optimized your sleep to achieve better results? Hit the comments below and share your thoughts.


Update: Dustin has removed the article form his site – not sure why. But, I’ve found a more comprehensive resource, though it doesn’t talk much about polyphasic sleep, that’s OK – because the only polyphasic sleep that works without fail for the average person is biphasic, in my mind, and he does cover that a little bit. You can check out the Udemy Course here.


The Case for “Sleep Hacking”