Harrison Harnisch
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28 December 2014
Categories Sleep

Hacking Sleep

At one point in your life as a human, you’re going to have trouble sleeping. My experience was like most as it was a slow progression to poor quality of sleep. I’ll start by laying out my pattern (not exact but typical) and then follow up with what I changed that led to a better nights sleep.

Some quick observations

  1. 6-7 hours sleep per night
  2. 3-4 cups of coffee
  3. All exercise is clumped into one event (consective hours of sitting)

It was eye opening seeing my day mapped out. Because this pattern had slowly formulated over the past few years, I’d barely noticed there was a problem. Feeling tired had become a part of life and even seemed like a natural state. Plenty of studies support that getting 6 or more hours of sleep is enough. It wasn’t until I saw Russell Foster give the Ted Talk Why do we sleep? that I realized I wasn’t getting enough sleep.

After watching the talk I spent the next couple months making some simple changes and writing down some of the qualitative observations.

Turn Off The Alarm

The first thing I did was turn off my alarm clock. Immediately this had the expected effect, the first day I woke up at 10 AM. I felt amazing that day! So amazing that I couldn’t fall asleep until 2 AM the next night. My body was catching up on months of sleep deprivation. After a week I was waking up without an alarm clock at about 8 AM. I started to notice that the post lunch sleepiness was minimal and I was feeling more focused (keeping this qualitative since I didn’t measure productivity). I wasn’t going for that 4th coffee at 3:30 in the afternoon anymore and I was going to bed earlier. I also started keeping the lights dim and night 1-2 hours before bed time and making sure there was plenty of sunlight in the morning (as per Russell Foster’s suggestion).

Less Coffee, More Water

After getting used to my new routine I made a couple more changes. The first was to limit the amount of coffee I drink per day to 2 cups and never drinking coffee after noon. The second was to increase the amount of water I to drink per day. For my weight and activity level it was a little less than a gallon per day. After a week I noticed that the mid day sleepiness went away entirely. I was also going to bed a little earlier and waking up at about 7:30 AM. The hardest habit to form was reminding myself to drink water during work. What worked for me was placing a water bottle and glass on my desk within reach.

Now my day looks more like this

Follow up observations

  1. 8.5 - 9 Hours of sleep
  2. 2 cups of coffee
  3. No mid-day dip in energy

The take away is that sleep has a huge impact on your well-being, and that it doesn’t take much to improve the quality of your sleep. I’ve felt more energized and focused when taking on the days tasks (coding, designing, housework, etc) and I’ve had more consistent amounts of energy throughout the day. These seem like things that just about anyone can do - provided enough flexibility to get used to waking up without an alarm the first week.

Have some thoughts on this? Reach out to me on Twitter: @hjharnis

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