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Sleep Hacking: Basics

Sleep Hacking Background

I hate sleep.  Loath it.  Sleep was ruining my life.  It was sucking up all my free time. Wasting my life minute by unconscious minute.   Several years ago, I went on a mission to hack my sleep and remove as much of it from my life as possible.  Uberman, everyman, siesta… I have tried every variation of polyphasic sleep out there that promises you will be able to sleep less.  Lesson learned after lesson learned… I crashed my system too many times experimenting with sleep hacking.  I am writing this article to provide you with the basic understanding of sleep hacking and provide you with the wisdom that resulted from my failures.

What Makes Quality Sleep?

Quality sleep is not about quantity… although sleeping longer definitely can help.  The first thing to understand is that when a sleeps the brain starts going through different patterns of brain waves which can be measured with a EEG machine like the Zeo Sleep Monitor.  The Zeo is a headband that users can wear at night, which then uploads graphs of their sleep cycles to their phone creating a sleep diary.  Each night is given a ZQ number which denotes how well a person slept based on REM, deep sleep, light sleep, total sleep, and number of times woken up.  One interesting thing with the Zeo is that I found out I was waking up multiple times during the night, but not aware of it.  5-10 minute periods where my brain was awake disrupting sleep, but physically I was still unconscious.  In order to understand exactly how to hack your sleep, a device like the Zeo is a must have.  The futuristic cool device and mobile app sells for $99 USD.

There are three major types of brain wave patterns your brain cycles through during sleep.  They are deep sleep, light sleep, and REM sleep.  These different types of wave patterns are important for different things. For example, you will need more deep sleep depending on how physically active you are or if your body needs to heal and injury.  Deep sleep is a key area of sleep that helps regulate metabolism and body composition through creating and releasing hormones.  REM sleep is where your brain solves problems and sorts memories into long-term recall.  So, the more excited your brain gets from socializing or thinking critically, the more REM sleep is required.  Light sleep wave patterns are in between REM and deep sleep frequencies.  Think of it as a transition range.

How do you improve sleep quality?   Sleep more.  The sleep hacker option is a bit more masochistic… time spent normally in light sleep has to be sacrificed to increase deep sleep and/or REM.  Doing this leaves you sleeping the same total duration or less, but achieving better quality sleep through increased periods of deep sleep and REM.

Does Your Sleep Suck?

In my pseudo-high opinion, most people have vastly inefficient sleep.  They either wake up multiple times throughout the night or spend the majority of the time sleeping in light sleep, which really does little for energy or focus.  My standard for efficient sleep is “REM+Deep Sleep > 50% of Total Sleep”.  This means anytime light sleep is greater than 50% of your total sleep time, you had poor sleep.

The ZEO sleep scores are misleading.  Here I got a sleep score of 91, in the 90th percentile of Zeo sleep scores.  However, in my opinion, this sleep contains lots of wasted time.  Notice the grey area representing light sleep.

Sucky Sleep Example: 29% REM+19% Deep Sleep = 48%  THIS IS INEFFICIENT SLEEP.  Ignore ZQ! It LIES!

34% REM+24% Deep Sleep = 59%   THIS IS EFFICIENT SLEEP!


While these two examples have similar sleep scores and total durations, all sleep is not created equal.  11% greater time in deep sleep and REM is huge when it comes to sleep.  Most people struggle to achieve a 2% increase in deep sleep.  A 2% increase in deep sleep could be a 2% reduction in body fat.

In the following articles I will go into detail tricks and tips on how to hack your sleep to get huge amounts of both deep sleep and REM to spark your metabolism, ignite muscle growth, and give your brain optimal performance.

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4 Comments  comments 

4 Responses

  1. Charles

    Hilarious top graph!

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