When it comes to “biohacking” your sleep, it seems that the single most important (and confusing) variable for most folks is deep sleep levels. I’ve addressed this topic a few times in previous articles, including:
- Ben Greenfield’s Ultimate Guide To Napping, Jet Lag, Sleep Cycles, Insomnia, Sleep Food, Sleep Supplements, Exercise Before Bed & Much, Much More!
- Everything You Need To Know About Sleep Cycles (And Four Ways To Hack Your Sleep Cycles)
- How I Track Sleep, The Top 7 Sleep Parameters To Track, Interpreting Your Sleep Trends & Much More.
- How Something Called Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy Can Make You Sleep Like A Baby (And Do Much More Than That).
- The Last Resource You’ll Ever Need To Get Better Sleep, Eliminate Insomnia, Beat Jet Lag and Master The Nap: Part 1, Part 2
- 5 Biohacks To Beat Insomia, Sleep Better On Airplanes, And Shut Down Stress.
- Why Your Brain Probably Doesn’t Make Enough Chemicals To Help You Sleep (And What You Can Do About It).
- A Tiny, 1/2 Ounce Piece Of Game-Changing Sleep Technology (And How To Use PEMF For Sleep)
- 18 Big Exercise, Food & Supplement Tips To Defy Insomnia, Enhance Sleep & Wake Refreshed.
So when my friend and Finnish physician, Dr. Olli Sovijärvi, MD, texted me and showed me consistent deep sleep levels from his Oura ring that were 25% and higher, I decided to pick his brain about what exactly he was doing to achieve such high, quality deep sleep levels.
And boy, oh boy – did he deliver!
Below is the most epic post you’ll likely ever read on achieving long-lasting, restorative deep sleep, using every technique that Olli has researched and tested. If you like what you read here, be sure to check out Olli’s comprehensive Biohacker’s Handbook, which comprehensively addresses not just sleep, but also exercise, mental performance, your workday, digestion, nutrition, recovery, and much, much more.
Introduction From Olli
My quest for better sleep has been ongoing for the past 10 years. I used to sleep only 5.5 hours per night, and the quality of sleep was poor. I was totally overworked and almost burned out after doing crazy hours in the ER and being literally on call for almost five years in a row. Working hours reached, at their worst, nearly 100 per week – average was easily over 60. So where did I cut the time for working out and socialization?
You got it right, sleep.
Since 2010, I had been trying out different medications, technologies, mattresses, pillows, beds, bedrooms, and all kinds of herbs for achieving better sleep. But nothing can make it better if you have only limited time to spend in the bed. So that particular feature was the first step in optimizing sleep: simply spending more time in bed and changing my life in such a way that it made sleeping more possible. For me it meant quitting the super hectic ER job and simply cutting back working hours. That was also the beginning for the journey on holistic health, integral medicine and biohacking.
This article delves deep into the secrets of better deep sleep. But I want to cover all the basics too so that you know what we are actually talking about. As Ben alluded to above, I also highly suggest reading my Biohacker’s Handbook. The sleep chapter is the first chapter of the book, and you can get it for free as an e-book here.
Medical disclaimer: The information provided in this article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. It's not a substitute for a face-to-face consultation with your healthcare provider, and should not be construed as medical advice. This article is for informational purposes only.
The Epidemic Of Sleep Deprivation
Sleeping problems have increased in conjunction with sitting and the increased usage of electronic devices. According to a 2011 study by the National Sleep Foundation, 63% of Americans say they do not sleep enough during the week. 48% of Americans report insomnia occasionally, while 22% experience insomnia every or almost every night. About 15% of adults between 19 and 64 say they sleep less than six hours on weeknights. 95% use some type of electronics like a television, computer, video game or cell phone at least a few nights a week within the hour before bed.
Artificial light exposure can disrupt sleep by suppressing the release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin.
People who experience sleeping difficulties may first turn to prescription sleeping pills. Sleeping pills are a $1.6 billion industry in the United States alone. The use of sleeping pills, however, carries a range of risks. These include dependency and withdrawal symptoms – such as sleeplessness, tiredness, and memory problems – undesirable brain changes, and many others. The drug Halcion, for example, was withdrawn from the UK market in 1993 but it is still available in most other countries, despite it causing depression and memory loss.
In other words, the harm caused by sleep medication may outweigh its benefits.
There is plenty of evidence that sleep is important. We can all recognize its value in our personal lives. Sleep is an anabolic state during which the body replenishes its energy storages, regenerates tissues, and produces proteins. Without enough sleep, the human body cannot function properly. More and more research on especially deep sleep is popping up after the researchers and regular people have woken up to the fact, that they are not sleeping enough. Many Oura ring users have collectively noticed that they get minimal to zero deep sleep. Many have also suspected this to be accurate, but after getting the same readings for other devices and even from sleep laboratory examinations, the shock has been enormous. This is a good thing, as becoming aware of how you actually sleep makes room for changes in behavior and habits.
Sleep deprivation causes unhealthy changes in the immune system of the body, including white blood cells. The common marker of inflammation, C-reactive protein (CRP), may also increase. Sleep deprivation has been shown to raise systolic blood pressure and increase the consumption of fat-heavy and sugar-heavy foods. Chronic sleep deprivation leads to insulin resistance, even with young test subjects. Lack of sleep has been shown to be a predictor of weight gain and increases the risk of traffic accidents, the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes (read up here, and here), mental illnesses such as depression, seasonal flu, and cardiovascular diseases. Sleep loss has been recently also shown to alter gut microbiota by altering the Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio in a way that predisposes people to obesity. 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%.
Sufficient and good sleep at night contributes to better performance, awareness, mood, ability to handle stress, skin quality, sports performance, the capacity to learn new things, and the ability to maintain general wellbeing. Sleep can also be seen as a metaregulatory system, which enables efficient moment-to-moment integration between internal and external factors, preceding history and current homeostatic needs. The aim 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.
How Sleep Stages Work
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).
Rat studies have shown that NREM sleep is important for turning off the norepinephrine, serotonin and histamine neurotransmitters, which in turn allows their receptors to “rest” and regain sensitivity.
Let's take a further look at the different stages of sleep:
- W – Wakefulness (beta waves):
Infrequent and low-frequency beta waves predominate in the EEG.
- N1 – The first stage (theta waves, 4–8 Hz), Duration: about 10 minutes:
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.
- N2 – The second stage (sleep spindles, 11–16 Hz), Duration: 20 to 30 minutes:
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.
- N3 – The third stage (delta waves, 0–4 Hz), Duration: 30 to 40 minutes. (Elderly people experience a shorter duration, by as much as six minutes):
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.
- 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 paralyzed 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 typically lasts about 90 minutes. From the perspective of getting a good night’s sleep, it is paramount to maximize the amount of deep sleep (N3) by going through at least three cycles. Getting enough sleep reorganizes one’s memory and improves one’s learning capacity. In the later cycles, the amount of REM increases and the amount of deep delta sleep decreases, until eventually, the latter disappears completely.
The Genetics Of Deep Sleep
You must know those people whose sleep is so deep that even if you’d play drums next to the person, he/she wouldn’t wake-up. And at the other end of the spectrum are people who wake up at the slightest disturbance whether it’s a sound or other sensory stimulus.
I tend to lean towards the latter, but with biohacking, I have been able to turn myself more into a deep sleeper although I still use earplugs and a sleep mask.
People with a polymorphism on the adenosine deaminase gene (ADA G22A) have deeper and more intense sleep than people without the mutation. In another study, the researchers found that people with a polymorphism in the adenosine A2A receptor (ADORA2A c.1083T>C) had altered brain activity during sleep. This particular mutation also sensitizes the body to caffeine making it a ”slow metabolizer”. The most significant SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) identified in a big Australian study published in 2012 was an intronic SNP in the PRIMA1 gene.
In 2016, a large mouse study published in the journal, Nature found that the mice with a mutation in the Sik3 gene had 50% more NREM sleep (deep sleep including) than mice without this mutation. The Sik3 gene plays an important role in the homeostatic regulation of sleep amount. The researchers described these mutated mice as ”sleepy mice” regarding to the fact that they needed significantly more sleep than the ones without the mutation. People with certain mutations in the Sik3 gene might naturally need more sleep, but the research in humans is not there yet.
Another interesting pilot study published in 2016 in the journal, Neurology found association between sleep quality and APOE ε4 in healthy older adults. People with the risk allele for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) have also more sleep disruptions when getting older. In this particular study the researchers outline that:
”Within our data, we have observed significantly worse objective sleep quality in APOE ε4+ individuals without an increase in subjective sleep complaints. The differences in sleep efficiency observed appear to be due to an increase in the amount of time spent awake after sleep onset, without an increase in the number of awakenings. This suggests that APOE ε4+ individuals are having the same number of sleep disturbances, but may be staying awake for a longer duration compared to APOE ε4− individuals. Overall, these data suggest that APOE ε4+ individuals without dementia may be experiencing a decrease in time spent asleep, decreased sleep efficiency, and increased WASO without recognizing their sleep quality is impaired… While our population is normal healthy adults, it is widely recognized that having an APOE ε4 allele increases the risk of dementia, specifically AD.”
Basically, this means that if you have an ε4 allele (like I do) you might need to pay more attention to sleep quality (especially deep sleep) and time spent asleep.
This short review of some of the genes affecting and regulating sleep quality was just a glimpse of all the possible genes involved in sleep. I am looking forward to a comprehensive review of all the genes affecting sleep.
How Deep Sleep Cleanses The Brain & Repairs DNA
Scientists at the University of Virginia found in 2015 a previously unknown connection between the brain and the immune system. Results were published in the highly respected Nature journal. The scientists discovered that the brain contains a lymphatic system (or glymphatic system due to its dependence on glial cells), which is linked to the general immune system. It was previously believed that the brain lacked lymphatic vessels completely.
So what does this have to do with deep sleep?
In a recent 2019 study, researchers found out that the waste removal system of the brain described above (the glymphatic system) is at its peak during deep sleep. The study, published in Science Advances, demonstrated in a mouse model that the waste removal system of the brain functions most efficiently in conjunction with slow-wave electrical activity of the brain that occurs during deep sleep.
This is important due to the reason that the brain accumulates waste as a result of metabolism, which needs to be removed. If this is not happening as it should it can predispose to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, which is associated with the accumulation of amyloid beta and tau proteins in the brain. Therefore, it is likely that getting too little deep sleep deters the glymphatic clearance and causes neurological diseases.
In another ”fresh from the press” article published in Nature Communications (2019), the researchers found a new mechanism involving sleep and its effects on fixing DNA and chromosome damage. The title reads: ”Sleep increases chromosome dynamics to enable reduction of accumulating DNA damage in single neurons.” Sleep has been previously shown to repair DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) in mice and fruit flies. In this particular study done on live zebrafish, researchers proposed a whole new model on how sleep functions.
”…during wakefulness, chromosome dynamics are low and the number of DSBs is accumulated in neurons. This mechanism suggests that chromosome dynamics can define single sleeping neurons, and that one of the functions of sleep is nuclear maintenance. Therefore the beneficial role of sleep is to increase the chromosome dynamics that are essential for the efficient reduction of the number of DSBs in single neurons.”
These DSBs are increased in the nucleus by both external and internal factors (see picture below).
Still, even when the research on sleep is moving forward and getting more detailed, the ultimate explanation to the question ”why must we sleep” remains without a comprehensive answer. And another question also remains to be answered: why some yogis need very little or no sleep at all.
But before we get all the answers to these two deep questions, let’s move on!
Step #1 For Deep Sleep Optimization: Fix Your Circadian Rhythm
Human beings have an internal clock that lasts about 25 hours and resets itself daily when it is exposed to daylight. Blind people can thus have sleeping problems, and yet, even without the ability to see sunlight, their bodies function mostly just fine.
It has been hypothesised in a couple of studies that the circadian system evolved in humans in order to predict and optimally time the behavior and physiology to the environmental periodicity associated with the Earth’s rotation.
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
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. It is directly regulated by the major circadian pacemaker located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) deep in the brain (pineal gland). Melatonin, among other things, promotes sleep and affects sleep quality.
Melatonin 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.
Circadian rhythm supports alertness in the morning and helps to wind down during the evening. It is also crucial to the maintenance of wakefulness in the afternoon. This homeostatic drive influences the quality of sleep and is responsible primarily for the deep sleep that is experienced mostly in the first three sleep cycles of the night. There might occur a ”conflict” between deep sleep and REM sleep if a person’s bedtime is too late and shifts by over an hour from normal. This means that the best time for deep sleep might have passed and the drive towards REM sleep increases.
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. You can read plenty more about this in Ben Greenfield’s article: “Sunlight Makes You Skinny, Blue Light Makes You Fat”.
The intensity of light isn’t the only factor in melatonin production; its wavelength also has an effect. During daylight, 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.
Here is what to do when optimizing circadian rhythm for more deep sleep:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day (within 1-hour variability on bedtime)
- It increases the quality of sleep (more deep sleep) and decreases health risks.
- Get enough blue spectrum light (short wavelength 450–490 nm) immediately after waking up and during the day.
- Best possible option is natural sunlight
- Next best option is a light therapy lamp used to prevent SAD (seasonal affective disorder) – SAD reduces the amount of deep sleep
- Block out blue light at least 3 hours before going to bed
- Use blackout curtains in the bedroom
- Block possible LEDs from electronic devices with black adhesive tape
- Use special lamps that change the spectrum of light according to the cycle of the day (red light in the evening that helps stimulate melatonin production)
- Use special shades that filter out blue spectrum light when going to sleep or when visiting the bathroom at night (such as Ra Optics)
- If you must use your computer in the evenings, filter out blue spectrum light with an appropriate computer program like f.lux or Iristech. (Ben's podcast episode on Iristech)
Step #2: Diminish Electromagnetic Pollution To Get More Deep Sleep
Some people may experience sensitivity to electromagnetic radiation. Dozens of studies (see here, and here) have been conducted on electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS), but its existence has been a debate for the past 15–20 years.
Many of the EHS patients have previously had a head injury or exposure to neurotoxic chemicals (especially mold), which clearly predispose to EHS. There are demands of recognizing this increasing problem of EMF-pollution since the health problems seem to be real and symptoms diminish dramatically once the exposure to EMF is reduced.
Some studies suggest that “grounding or earthing” can alleviate insomnia by reconnecting the human body to the Earth’s surface electrons. This makes sense since humans are also electromagnetic in their nature. Even the bacteria in our gut and skin react to static magnetic fields and radiofrequency electromagnetic fields.
A few studies (see here, and here) have shown that, for example, daily occupational EMF exposure is associated with disturbances in EEG (especially in NREM sleep) and poor sleep quality (less deep sleep, etc.) as well as nocturnal radiofrequency EMF exposure (cell phones, WLAN, etc.) The researchers from the occupational study also state that EMF exposure may damage human sleep quality rather than sleep duration. It seems that EMF, for example, from cell phones, increases EEG brain activity meaning more high-frequency beta and gamma waves and less deep sleep associated slow delta waves. But luckily, ”chips” have now been developed that reduce mobile phone-emitted electromagnetic fields and thus lower the harmful effects of EMF in the brain.
Try these hacks to reduce EMF exposure and get more deep sleep:
- Use a grounding mat.
- Place WLAN routers and mobile phones at a distance and switch mobile devices to flight mode or turn them off.
- Walk barefooted during the day (if possible) or use grounding (earthing) shoes.
- Take a sauna and a dip in the water to reduce accumulated EMF exposure.
- Scan the radiation levels in the bedroom (with EMF and EMC detectors) to find out the level of background EMF.
You can also review Ben’s recent podcast with building biologist Bryan Hoyer to learn how to identify any areas of electrical pollution in your home that may be affecting deep sleep.
Step #3: Focus On Good Air Quality (Especially In The Bedroom)
We spend more than 90% of our time indoors and breathe in 12–15 kg (26–33 lbs) of indoor air per day. According to studies, indoor air can be 2–5 times (and sometimes up to 100 times) more polluted than fresh outdoor air. Poor indoor air quality is a predisposing factor for respiratory infections, poisoning, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular diseases, lung cancer, and asthma.
By affecting respiratory organs poor indoor air quality can thereby also cause sleeping problems, including reduced deep sleep.
Unpurified indoor air contains various types of impurities such as fine particles (including mold and dust) and harmful gases (including chemicals from surface treatment agents, detergents, exhaust fumes, and smoking). Furniture paints and protective agents may also release volatile organic compounds.
Use these hacks to improve air quality and get more deep sleep:
- Ventilate bedroom during the day.
- If possible, keep a small window open during the night to get fresh air.
- Use an air-to-air pump to keep bedroom air fresh.
- Exclude the possibility of mold (professional measurements and/or home measurement kits).
- Use a wide variety of house plants to increase humidity, turn carbon dioxide into oxygen and release negative ions into the air.
For more, read this article by Ben Greenfield on air pollution and what to do about it.
Step #4: Optimize Your Body Temperature
Body and room temperatures play a crucial role in helping to fall asleep and get more deep sleep in the early parts of the night. Body’s core temperature fluctuates naturally during the day and it reaches its highest point in the late afternoon after which it begins to cool down.
Remember that body temperature regulation is also one of the circadian rhythms in the body. Lowering the body temperature also helps to trigger melatonin secretion in the evening.
According to the National Sleep Foundation (based on studies), the best temperature for sleep is approximately 60–67°F (15–19°C). Temperatures over 71°F (24°C) are likely to cause impaired sleep quality, which is also true for a too cold environment (53°F / 12°C or below). Sleeping in too hot of a bedroom deters REM sleep especially, but can also diminish deep sleep. People with sleep-onset insomnia have delayed temperature rhythms. Using a sauna or exercising too late may interfere with sleep-onset and deteriorate deep sleep. People with difficulties staying asleep often have nocturnally elevated core body temperature. Therefore it is also crucial too cool down your body before going into sleep.
For example, yours truly sleeps in a bedroom where the window is always open (even in winter) and the average temperature is around 15 C in winter and around 19 C during summer time. One anecdote also comes from yours truly from last summer when it was super hot (+28–30°C) five weeks in a row: the room temperature was around 26–27°C and during that time my deep sleep was about 40% below average.
Use these hacks to cool down and get more deep sleep:
- If possible, keep a small window open during the night to get cooler air into bedroom.
- Take a cold shower or ice bath 2 hours before going into sleep.
- Use an air-to-air pump to keep bedroom air at an optimal temperature.
- Use cooling sleep system like Chilipad.
- Use breathable blankets, pillows, and sheets.
- Try sleeping naked (might not suit everybody).
- Use (wool) socks while sleeping.
- Keeping your extremities warm helps to dilate blood vessels, which allows better redistribution of heat throughout the body.
If you don’t have a sauna and cold pool setup you can use at some point in the evening, Ben also recommends a hot-cold contrast shower sometime in the hours before bed: five to ten rounds of 10 seconds hot, 20 seconds cold.
Step #5: Beware Of Sleep Disturbing Substances
Here is a list of substances that can disturb your deep sleep.
- Avoid caffeine (coffee, tea, energy drinks, guarana, maté) 5–8 hours before going to bed.
- Avoid theobromine and theophylline (both found in cacao and kola nut) 6 to 10 hours before going to bed.
- Limit late-evening alcohol consumption to two doses maximum if you are male and one dose if you are female. Alcohol reduces especially REM sleep, but it can also hinder you from entering deep sleep in the first part of the night.
- Enjoy your last glass of alcohol no later than 90 minutes before going to sleep, if you’re going to drink
- Tyramine increases the production of noradrenaline, which boosts brain activity and keeps you awake.
- The following food products contain tyramine, so they it might be vice to avoid or reduce their intake at dinner: bacon, cheese, chocolate, eggplant, potato, sauerkraut, sausage, spinach, tomato and wine.
It goes of course without even saying that stronger stimulants (such as amphetamine and its derivates, cocaine etc.) will dramatically disrupt sleep.
Step #6: Time Exercise Properly For Deep Sleep
Regular daily exercise (20–30 minutes per day) has been shown to balance circadian rhythm and significantly improve sleep quality. Numerous randomised controlled trials have confirmed that exercise has multiple positive effects on sleep. These include better sleep quality, sleep onset latency, total sleep time, sleep efficiency, and lowered severity of insomnia.
On the other hand, low levels of physical activity are related to a greater prevalence of insomnia.
According to a large meta-analysis conducted in 2018, exercise interventions may alleviate symptoms in people with insomnia without the use of hypnotics. A vigorous strength training program has been shown to increase deep sleep probably due to the fact that the body needs more repair time, which is occurring mostly in deep sleep. Overall resistance training improves all aspects of sleep.
The timing of exercise is important for sleep quality. Exercise earlier in the day may improve the quality of nocturnal sleep owing to the fact that exercise stimulates the sympathetic nervous system. To improve sleep quality, enhancing parasympathetic activity by allowing time for the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system to diminish and allowing enough time for melatonin secretion to begin. The authors of this particular study, published in 2015, state that high-intensity exercise in the evening should be avoided. This means that you should not train too close to bed time.
However, according to one study conducted in 2014, the authors found that exercise an hour and a half before bedtime was associated with increased deep sleep and decreased REM sleep in healthy young adults. Especially individuals with greater self-perceived exertion during exercise had decreased light sleep and increased deep sleep compared to those with a lower level of exhaustion. That is something I have also noticed: the more vigorous my training, the more I get deep sleep and less REM sleep. But if I go totally overboard and simply train too much, also deep sleep begins to suffer. This has been seen in the research with overreaching and/or overtraining.
To summarize all the research on exercise and sleep:
- Exercise regularly (both aerobic and anaerobic exercise).
- Don’t exercise very close to bedtime (minimum of 1–2 hours before going into sleep or even more).
- Exercise with enough self-perceived exertion to stimulate more deep sleep.
- Practice regular resistance training for more deep sleep and growth hormone release.
Ben has plenty more he’s written on exercise, nutrition, supplements and sleep here.
How To Biohack Your Deep Sleep
Now that we have covered all the important basic aspects on how to optimize your environment for better deep sleep, let’s dive into all the tools and biohacks you can use to improve the quality of your sleep (especially to get more deep sleep).
But before we go through different supplements and other hacks, here is the regime I go through almost every evening to get on average nearly 2 hours of deep sleep per night.
I used to have a decent 1 hours and 25 mins of deep sleep on average (seen with 1.5 years of Oura use), but after implementing some new ”hacks” into my daily routine, I was able to elevate the amount of deep sleep dramatically. My record is 2 hours 48 mins (I’m almost 40 years old), which is a pretty spectacular amount of deep sleep for recovery, rejuvenation, and anti-aging.
After showing Ben the Oura ring photo above of my deep sleep levels, here is what I shared with him: the exact regime I currently use to optimize deep sleep (warning, prepare for a deep dive into technology and toys for sleep!):
- Infrared sauna 30 mins and cold shower 2–5 mins about 3–5 hours before going to sleep
- I use non-EMF Clearlight infrared sauna (use code: BEN for $500 off).
- Neurosonic low frequency (10–100 Hz) whole body vibration therapy to balance autonomic nervous system (25–41 mins)
- Use code: BIOHACKER for a 5% discount on the device.
- Read a more detailed description of the device and WBV at the end of this article.
- Whole body PEMF therapy with one of the oldest and most researched device, BEMER Pro (2×16 min programs work perfectly for my body)
- Note: Ben prefers the “BioBalance” mat from Dr. William Pawluk for laying on for an entire night of sleep, since it will run for up to 12 hours.
- Swedish spike-mat while lying on bed before drifting off to sleep
- Induces oxytocin and endorphin secretion, which relax the body and makes you feel good, literally, for an entire night of sleep
- Sleepstream 2 app soundscape
- Atlantic Ocean sounds or Pink Noise.
- Deep sleep binaural beats
- Deep breathing practices and meditation
- Advanced stack of various sleep supporting nutrients
- 600–800 mg of magnesium (consisting of magnesium malate, magnesium taurate, magnesium glycinate, and magnesium threonate) – Ben uses MagSRT from Jigsaw Health for this.
- 2000–2500 mg of L-taurine
- 2g of reishi mushroom extract (I cycle this on and off)
- 2g of lion’s mane extract (I cycle this on and off)
- Novanight supplement (1 capsule) consisting of:
- Melatonin 0.5 mg (optimal would be 0.3 mg)
- Passion flower extract 170 mg
- Melissa extract 40 mg
- Eschscholzia californica extract 4.2 mg
- Vitamin B6 0.21 mg
- Ben uses a similar supplement called “Sleep Remedy”,
- 600 mg of phosphatidylserine (especially on days with heavy stress load)
- 4000 mg of high DHA fish oil
- 30 mg of zinc in liquid form (consisting of zinc methionine aka Optizinc and zinc gluconate)
- 10–15 g of essential amino acids for neurotransmitter support
- In addition to this, I eat 2–3 organic green kiwis 1 hour before going to bed to improve sleep quality
To find out why I use all these hacks for better sleep and especially for more deep sleep, read on!
Top 10 Supplements For Deep Sleep That Actually Work & Are Backed By Science
Certain 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 N3 phase.
1) Use magnesium every evening
Magnesium is one of the key minerals in more than 300 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 possible deficiency as only 1% of magnesium is freely available in the circulation. Inadequate magnesium intake is associated with vitamin D deficiency as magnesium promotes the synthesis of vitamin D from sunlight on the skin.
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. Magnesium intake should be minimum of 6 mg/kg and up to 10 mg/kg (from food and supplements). Western Diet increases the need for magnesium dramatically.
The official upper limit for magnesium supplementation is 350 mg per day even though magnesium has not been seen to cause any significant side effects except for loose stools and gastrointestinal discomfort when taken too much. However, over 10 mg/kg supplementation with exhaustive exercise can raise cortisol levels. Sleep deprivation and chronic stress reduce the intracellular magnesium level and blood flow in humans. This might again turn into a vicious cycle since magnesium depletion impairs melatonin production.
Magnesium supplementation increases the amount of deep sleep and decreases nocturnal cortisol levels especially in the elderly. With a minimum of 400 mg magnesium supplementation daily it has been shown to reduce stress and increase parasympathetic activation and HRV. Magnesium supplementation also helps to wind down and lower anxiety and stress by activating the calming GABA receptors and inhibiting the NMDA receptor activity in the brain.
Use these forms of magnesium (Ben uses Jigsaw Health MagSRT to hit most of the bases below):
- Magnesium glycinate (such as Metabolic Maintenance Magnesium Glycinate)
- Contains glycine which is a calming neurotransmitter, which also supports liver function and glutathione formation.
- Aim for 3 grams of glycine for maximum benefits on getting more deep sleep (see here and here).
- Magnesium taurate (usually in combination with other forms of magnesium).
- See section on ”Taurine” later.
- Magnesium malate (such as Advanced Orthomolecular Research AOR Mag Malate Renew)
- Magnesium threonate (such as Life Extension Neuro-Mag Magnesium L-Threonate)
- Magnesium threonate crosses the blood-brain barrier and is able to raise magnesium levels in the cerebrospinal fluid by 15% in just 4 weeks based on a study conducted on rats.
Many people use magnesium citrate, which is also ok, but it does not contain any additional support to the body and sleep (compared to above-mentioned forms of magnesium). Magnesium citrate might also more easily cause loose stools (yours truly has also experienced this effect).
Notice: Do not use magnesium if you are taking prescription medication to treat a health condition without first talking to your doctor or if you are on a low-sodium or sodium-restricted diet. Kidney insufficiency might also impair magnesium metabolism.
2) Take taurine to calm down and sleep more deeply
Taurine is an amino acid rich in sulfur. The body is able to synthesize taurine to some extent from methionine and cysteine. Compared to physiological needs, the synthesis process is rather slow. Therefore, it is good to get enough taurine from the diet. Taurine deficiency has been found to be prone to depression, various neurological disorders, and brain dysfunction.
Taurine is one of the major so-called inhibitory neurotransmitters in the brain along with GABA and glycine. The effects of taurine are largely mediated via the GABAergic and glycinergic system. Based on animal studies, taurine has been shown to reduce anxiety (see here, here, and here). In human brain cell culture (in vitro) taurine has been found to stimulate the development of new brain cells. In vitro studies on taurine have shown that taurine diminishes the so called Excitatory amino acid transporter 2 (Eaat2) expression in glia cells in the brain leading to the promotion of sleep.
Take 1000–2000 mg of L-taurine before going to sleep to calm down and help sleep-onset and deep sleep (such as Life Extension L-Taurine)
3) Eat tryptophan-rich foods or take a supplement to support melatonin production
Tryptophan acts as a precursor to serotonin and melatonin. The conversion of tryptophan to serotonin is supported by folate, niacin, vitamin C, glutathione, vitamin B6 and zinc. Niacin (Vitamin B3) is an important metabolite of tryptophan. Adequate intake of tryptophan from the diet is associated with stable mood, learning, and normal sleep. 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: spirulina, whey protein, pumpkin seeds, liver, cashews, cheese, turkey, chicken, pork, beef, reindeer and herring. Contrary to what many think, bananas are not a very good source of tryptophan having only 13 mg per 100 g. Calcium and vitamin B6 facilitate the absorption of tryptophan.
One interesting effect on tryptophan depletion is prolonged REM sleep. So if your diet is lacking tryptophan and you get loads of REM sleep, but not enough deep sleep, you might want to reconsider your tryptophan intake. Take 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.
4) Optimize your zinc status for better sleep
In humans, zinc is needed in more than 300 enzymes and over 1000 transcription factors (proteins that regulate the functioning of genes). It works in enzymatic reactions as a catalyst accelerating their function. Zinc also plays an important role as a structural agent of proteins and cell membranes. In these, zinc forms a so-called zinc finger, which can stabilize many different DNA binding proteins.
Zinc plays also an important role in melatonin synthesis facilitating the conversion of 5-HTP to serotonin to melatonin. Sufficient intake of zinc also improves the quality of sleep by ameliorating sleep architecture and testosterone production. Studies have also shown that low testosterone levels are associated with poor sleep quality in men. Zinc also helps to sleep more efficiently and diminishes sleep onset latency. According to a study done on mice, it also increases NREM sleep (incl. deep sleep).
On average, about 33% of food zinc is absorbed. In fasting conditions, zinc is absorbed by as much as 60–70%. Zinc from animal products absorbs clearly better than zinc from vegetable sources. Many plants (especially cereals and legumes, and nuts and seeds) contain zinc absorption preventive phytates. Therefore if you are not supplementing with zinc you’d want to get it mostly from animal sources.
Best food sources of zinc are reindeer liver, oysters, beef, elk, liver (average), egg yolk, lamb, and vendace. Best vegetable sources of zinc are pumpkin seeds, cashew nuts, oat bran, and brazil nuts.
Use these forms of highly bioavailable zinc:
- Zinc Picolinate (such as Thorne Research Zinc Picolinate 15 mg)
- Zinc Orotate (such as Advanced Research Zinc Orotate)
You might also consider trying a “living” zinc supplement from Garden of Life consisting of 23 organically grown fruit & veggies providing 15–30 mg of zinc if you are not eating any animal products. Of course, if you’re as odd as Ben Greenfield, you can simply use a teaspoon daily of black ant extract for copious amounts of zinc (but it’s a nootropic/brain stimulant, so use earlier in the day). Optimal dosage for zinc implementation at night is 15–30 mg. Higher doses are not recommended for long term usage.
5) Consider trying L-theanine during stressful periods of life for better sleep
Theanine is a naturally occurring amino acid in green tea. To get the optimal dosage of theanine (200 mg) you’d need to drink 5–7 cups of green tea. But since it contains caffeine you don’t want to drink a lot of green tea just before going to bed. Therefore, supplementing with theanine is by far the best option for its biological beneficial effects.
Theanine is able to pass through the blood-brain barrier and thus has a direct impact on the brain. It enhances memory, observation skills, and cognitive functions when consumed together with caffeine. Theanine increases alpha brain waves and can be helpful for falling asleep (see here, here, and here).
Experiments with rats have shown that theanine improves the quality of sleep when coffee has been ingested during the day. This means that if you are a coffee lover (like many of us), you should consider taking L-theanine for better quality sleep. If you are having sleep problems it would be highly recommended to switch from coffee to green tea for deeper sleep. Take 100-200 mg of L-theanine (such as Now Foods L-theanine double strength) when drinking coffee (per cup) and try 200 mg before going to sleep
6) If you exercise a lot and live a high-stress life, try taking phosphatidylserine before sleep
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a phospholipid and an integral component of the human cell membrane, especially in the brain. Phosphatidylserine is mainly used as a supplement to support memory (enhances memory and prevents memory deterioration at least in the elderly – see here, here, and here), but it has also other beneficial effects in the body. Orally taken PS has been shown to absorb efficiently in humans and to cross the blood-brain barrier.
Phosphatidylserine reduces cortisol production under stress and speeds up physical recovery (dose 600 mg per day). This is the main reason for yours truly to use PS almost every evening for better recovery and deeper sleep (less cortisol). At a dosage of 200 mg, PS improves cognitive functions after psychological strain (decreases beta waves in the brain). If you are suffering from depression you might also consider taking PS with EPA and DHA (omega-3 fatty acids) to lower cortisol levels and to normalize the circadian rhythm of cortisol.
According to a single study conducted in 2014, a similar compound, pure amino acid L-serine (a precursor also for phosphatidylserine) was shown to improve sleep quality. The dose in this particular study for L-serine was 3 grams taken 30 minutes before going to sleep. For optimal effects on lowering cortisol and improving sleep, take 600 mg phosphatidylserine (such as Now Foods Soy-free Phosphatidylserine) before bedtime. I personally prefer soy-free PS, but if you don’t have any issues with soy-derived products you can go with regular PS
7) Try medicinal herbs to improve sleep quality
Many sleep-supporting herbs typically affect GABA, an anxiety-inhibiting neurotransmitter in the brain (see here, and here). I have personally experimented with many kinds of herbs and realized that the effects are also highly individual. For example, many people like to use Valerian root for better sleep, but for me, it just induces nightmares and actually causes stress responses. However, a meta-analysis and a systematic review on valerian root (Valeriana officinalis) conducted in 2006, showed that it can improve sleep quality without producing side effects. It is still necessary to say that on many herbal remedies the studies are quite often of poor methodological quality.
Here are my favorite herbs to promote deeper sleep and reduce stress:
- Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) is a well-known adaptogenic mushroom. Based on rat studies Reishi lowers stress, helps with relaxation and increases sleep duration (see here and here). Effects are possibly mediated via antagonism of 5-HT2A receptors.
Optimal dosage is 1800 mg water extract 1–3 times per day or 6 mg for alcohol extract. My favorite reishi supplements are: Dragon Herbs Wild Red Reishi Extract and Mushrooms 4 Life Organic Reishi Powder. Ben uses Four Sigmatic Reishi extract, especially before naps or times of high stress. Use periodically and have breaks (e.g. 1 month on, 1 month off)
- Ashwagandha is a widely used and well-known adaptogenic herb. It is also called Indian ginseng due to its wide range of effects on the body. Human studies have shown that it reduces anxiety and stress. Based on mouse experiments, Ashwagandha can also help with insomnia and can speed up falling asleep. The sleep supporting mechanism is explained by the calming effect of activating GABA receptors (GABAergic modulation). Optimal dosage is 2000 mg water extract 1–3 times per day. My favorite ashwagandha supplement is from a Finnish producer: Puhdistamo Ashwagandha Extract (powder). Use periodically and have breaks (e.g. 1 month on, 1 month off)
- Lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) is a large white mushroom used widely in Asia. According to studies Lion’s mane contains two brain cell growth stimulating substances (erinacines and hericenones). It has been shown to stimulate the synthesis of nerve growth factor (BDNF) in the brain. According to studies conducted on humans it enhances cognitive functions especially in individuals with mild deterioration of cognitive skills and it may reduce depression and anxiety. There are no human studies done on Lion’s mane’s possible effect on sleep quality, but considering its effects on stimulating BDNF/NGF it could very well also promote better sleep. Optimal dosage is 1000 mg water extract 1–3 times per day. My favorite supplements are: Mushrooms 4 Life Lion’s Mane and Fungi Perfecti Lion’s Mane Extract tincture. Use periodically and have breaks (e.g. 1 month on, 1 month off)
- Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is one of the most widely used herbal remedies. Chamomile has anxiolytic effects in humans and it may act as an antidepressant(see here and here). Chamomile used as extract capsules or as tea can improve sleep quality (based on standard PSQI questionnaire), especially in the elderly and women after childbirth (postpartum) (see here, here, and here).
- Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is an herbal plant that has been used wildly in different cultures in the form of tea, essential oil or extract. It has been shown to have anti-stress and anxiolytic effects in humans by regulating HPA-axis and the GABAergic pathway. Melissa also seems to benefit people with sleep disturbances taken alone or with Valerian root.
8) Microdosing melatonin – a better way of stimulating sleep?
Many people take over the counter melatonin supplements/drugs all over the world to improve sleep, to beat jet-lag and to treat insomnia. Most often the dosage is high (1–10 mg), much higher than the body would normally produce melatonin. Physiological nocturnal melatonin production rates, as estimated by deconvolution analysis applied to plasma melatonin concentration time series, are between 10–80 µg/night. If your circadian rhythm patterns are ”out of whack” or you are for example forced to do night shifts, it is often beneficial to take higher and more ”therapeutic doses” of melatonin to reset your circadian rhythm.
However, according to a few clinical studies, low-dose melatonin (0.3–0.5 mg) is often more gentle to the body and provides similar effects on increasing sleep quality and decreasing sleep onset as seen with higher doses. A low dose doesn’t usually cause awakenings after the effects of melatonin wear off, which often occur with higher doses. I have personally also experienced that effect with higher doses: I often woke-up 5–6 hours after ingesting melatonin (dosage varying from 1–5 mg).
In a study conducted in 1994, the research group stated the following: ”Serum melatonin concentrations observed after the 0.1- and 0.3-mg doses were within the normal dynamic range for nocturnal melatonin concentrations…. These results indicate that ingestion of an acute dose of melatonin, sufficient to increase circulating melatonin to levels within the normal nocturnal physiologic range, has hypnotic effects.” This means that you don’t need high doses to have positive and sleep-inducing effects with melatonin. You are also avoiding possible side effects that come with higher doses like daytime drowsiness (experienced that myself daily when using 1 mg or more melatonin), headache, dizziness, and nausea.
Ben “microdoses” with melatonin prior to sleep with a supplement that includes most of the compounds listed above. It is called “Sleep Remedy” and you can get it here. His pre-sleep strategy is one serving of this along with 30-100mg CBD oil before bed.
Note: Continuous melatonin usage does not usually result in tolerance, but loss of response to melatonin treatment can be caused by slow metabolism of exogenous melatonin due to decreased activity of CYP1A2 (e.g. SNP on a gene that decodes the enzyme).
Note 2: Melatonin production, triggered by sundown, affects blood sugar regulation and induces drowsiness. Melatonin receptors are located in the brain and the pancreas. The pancreatic receptors cause insulin production to decrease overnight while maintaining the level of blood sugar. Night-time eating is associated with an increased risk of diabetes. Individuals with the GG genotype of the MTNR1B gene are exceptionally sensitive to the effects of melatonin. They should avoid eating at night and even early in the morning.
9) Try fish oil or eat more fatty fish for deeper sleep
Fish oil and fish liver oil are recommended for individuals who do not eat enough fatty fish. General guidelines recommend eating fatty fish twice per week. Fish and other seafood contain long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA). Fish oil and fish liver oil are sold in various formats. When using omega-3 capsules it is important to make sure the capsules do not react with light or air. The oxidation of omega-3 fats causes harmful reactions in the body.
The intake of omega-3 fatty acids improves mood, increases attentiveness and generally improves cognitive functions. According to a study report, omega-3 fatty acids (particularly EPA) are highly beneficial especially in the treatment of depression. The intake of omega-3 fatty acids reduces silent inflammation, which is often a contributing factor to many chronic illnesses. Silent (or low-grade systemic) inflammation can also disrupt sleep and worsen sleep quality.
And on the other hand, sleep deprivation elevates low-grade systemic inflammation. Lowering inflammation with fish oil supplementation can also reduce obstructive sleep apnea.
The mammalian pineal gland, which produces melatonin, contains high amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid. According to studies conducted in rodents, a diet deficient in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids reduces nighttime melatonin production. Supplementing rodents with DHA corrected melatonin secretion to normal.
According to a large population-based study published in 2016 fish oil consumption is associated with better sleep quality. Even if you already ate the recommended amount of fish per week, an increase in fish intake is associated with further improvement in the quality of sleep. In pregnant women, higher DHA intake and DHA/AA-ratio was associated with better sleep quality.
In children, higher intake of fatty fish is also linked to better sleep quality and overall cognitive functions. In a 2014 pilot study done on UK children, the researchers found that higher blood levels of DHA may relate to better child sleep and that supplementing with 600 mg of algal DHA might improve sleeping.
If you are not eating fatty fish multiple times per week, try taking daily 2000–4000 mg of high-quality cod liver oil (such as Carlson Labs Norwegian Cod Liver Oil) or fish oil with enough DHA (such as LivingFuel Superessentials fish oil)
10) Supplement with essential amino acids
An essential amino acid (EAA) is an amino acid that cannot be synthesized in the human body (de Novo) – they are therefore needed as essential nutritional factors in food. Essential amino acids are involved, among other things, in the production of energy in the glycolytic pathway and in the citric acid cycle. These amino acids are used as energy when the body's carbohydrate or fatty acid levels are low. In addition, essential amino acids are used, inter alia, for the production of neurotransmitters in the brain and the central nervous system.
Here is the list of the nine essential amino acids and their main functions:
- Phenylalanine (Phe): Phenylalanine plays an important role in the production dopamine and other catecholamines.
- Histidine (His): Histidine is mainly needed for growth, tissue repair and the maintenance of the myelin sheath.
- Isoleucine (Ile): Isoleucine is a branched chain amino acid needed for example in hemoglobin synthesis, blood sugar regulation, hormonal synthesis, and energy management.
- Leucine (Leu): Leucine is an anabolic branched chain amino acid needed in protein synthesis, muscle tissue repair, growth hormone production, and blood sugar regulation.
- Lysine (Lys): Lysine is needed in carnitine and fatty acid metabolism, calcium absorption, and collagen formation.
- Methionine (Met): Methionine is a sulfur-containing amino acid needed in growth and tissue repair.
- Tryptophan (Trp): Tryptophan is needed for serotonin and melatonin formation as well as for maintaining normal nitrogen balance.
- Threonine (Thr): Threonine plays an important role in protein synthesis, connective tissue, and maintenance of gut lining.
- Valine (Val): Valine is a branched chain amino acid needed for tissue repair, protein synthesis, muscle growth, and gluconeogenesis as well as cognitive performance and emotional stability.
Especially if you are on a low-calorie diet, trying to lose weight or you are not eating enough protein, supplementing with EAAs can be highly beneficial for your body, also promoting more peaceful sleep. EAAs also contain tryptophan, which is crucial in the formation of melatonin. I have personally seen better sleep, including more deep sleep, when supplementing with 10–20 grams of essential amino acids before going to sleep.
Other Little-Known Methods For Optimizing Deep Sleep
We have now covered the basics on how you can get deeper sleep and we have also covered a wide variety of sleep enhancing supplements. In my personal recovery and sleep regime, I also use technology.
On the market, there are some very interesting technological innovations that might help you to get deeper and better sleep…
1) Hot-cold alteration therapy with saunas, ice baths, cold showers, and infrared heating rooms
The general effects of sauna and cold exposure on the body are discussed in more detail in the “Exercise” section of my Biohacker’s Handbook. The stress control method very familiar to Finns is the hot and cold variation: you go from a hot sauna to cool/cold water, which is repeated several times.
Also, winter swimming or swimming in itself are effective methods of balancing autonomic nervous system function and increasing overall well-being. Based on extensive hydrotherapy research, systemic exposure to cold (shower or bathing) can counterbalance the function of the HPA-axis in chronic fatigue syndrome. A regular dry sauna has been, among numerous other health benefits, shown to also improve sleep quality.
Cold exposure activates the parasympathetic nervous system and, in turn, hot exposure, the sympathetic nervous system. Acute cold exposure increases heart rate variability (HRV) (see here and here). Cold Exposure Exercise has also been shown to improve the body's ability to withstand oxygen deficiency and increase the overall autonomic nervous system adaptability.
Recipes for a proper sauna bath:
- Stay in the sauna for a minimum of 15 minutes at a time.
- Two 20-minute sauna sessions in more than 80°C (176°F) with a 30-minute cooling break in between may increase the production of growth hormone 2–5-fold (the hotter the temperature, the greater the growth hormone production).
- Spend 15–30 minutes in the sauna followed by 5–10 minutes in a cold shower – when done 2–3 hours before bedtime, this will significantly improve sleep quality.
- To maximize recovery and muscle growth, spend a minimum of 30 minutes in the sauna after exercise.
Try an infrared heating room (sauna) for better sleep and recovery:
Far-infrared (emitted in infrared saunas) has been found to have tissue-level effects, particularly on the mitochondrial respiratory chain in the cellular energy production process and on the blood supply of tissues by dilating blood vessels and improving circulation.
There are no conclusive studies done on infrared saunas and sleep quality, but based on its physiological effects (reduces pain, speeds up recovery, promotes detoxification, increases microcirculation etc. – you can read extensive scientific overview on infrared saunas from the Biohacker’s Handbook), many benefit from using infrared saunas also for improving sleep quality. When being in the infrared sauna, the body is heated up by the infrared radiation, and once you leave the sauna, it will cool down fast. This effect is beneficial for the body before bedtime. IR sauna is great for training your body’s temperature regulation system.
I use the Clearlight non-EMF infrared heating room or sauna almost every evening as well as every morning to increase recovery and improve sleep quality and boost detoxification. I also finish the sauna session with a 2–5 minute cold shower every time. Clearlight saunas are in my opinion the highest quality IR saunas on the market. Use code Code: BEN to save $500 off a Clearlight sauna.
2) Low-frequency whole-body vibration therapy
Many probably have noticed the effect of getting sleepy in cars while driving long distances. This is due to low-frequency vibration and its effects on inducing sleep. Also, the vibration of running trains has been shown to have a sleep-inducing effect. According to a study conducted in 2017:
”…the results showed that a frequency of 0.5 Hz and no fluctuation were optimal conditions to induce sleep… vibrations with frequencies less than 2.0 Hz have a possibility of resonance at a part of the body depending on the subject's posture.”
I have no idea if this bed used in the research is yet on sale, but that will probably happen in the near future. In the meantime, you might want to try a different device also using low-frequency vibration (whole body vibration treatment, WBV) to train your nervous system and get better recovery and improve sleep quality. This device is not used during sleep, but rather a few hours before going to sleep to prime your body for a more relaxed state optimal for sleeping.
A Finnish innovation called Neurosonic is the ultimate solution in this category. According to their site:
”Neurosonic affects the autonomic nervous system and mind via the body. The production of stress hormones is reduced, whereby the mechanisms associated with sleep return. A person calms down and it becomes easier to fall asleep. Nocturnal awakenings diminish and sleep becomes better and more reversible.”
In the preliminary research, Neurosonic has been shown to increase deep sleep periods as well as increase REM sleep. According to their research about 80% of the people using Neurosonic benefit significantly only after 1 to 5 times using it and get help with sleep disorders.
In a small pilot study published in 2016 in Finland conducted by the leading sleep expert in the country (professor Markku Partinen), they found that low-frequency WBV-treatment (Neurosonic) has beneficial effects on people suffering from primary insomnia. WBV-treatment also seems to relieve anxiety. No major adverse effects were detected in the study. According to the developer of Neurosonic, there is a major and methodologically high-quality study being conducted at the University of Oulu. They are planning to release it this spring (2019).
I have personally used WBV-therapy and especially the Neurosonic device for 1.5 years now. It has become a key part of my recovery and sleep routine every night. Use code: BIOHACKER to get 5% off the device.
3) Whole-body PEMF therapy (PEMFT)
PEMFT stands for Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy. Thus, it is pulsating electromagnetic radiation that induces certain physiological effects on the area to be treated. Already in the 1950s, it was found that electrical potential affects bone growth.
In 1974, positive research results on the effects of pulsating magnetic therapy on bone fracture and healing of various tissues were published (see here and here). Since then, several hundred studies have been published on PEMF therapy in animals and humans.
Over the past two decades, PEMF systems for treating the whole body have been developed, which can improve, for example, microcirculation and, consequently, metabolism. Based on a meta-analysis published in 2009, PEMFT can relieve pain and improve performance in people with knee arthritis. Some people also use devices as stress relieving therapies.
PEMF therapy may speed up the recovery of stress and, inter alia, increase the activity of the vagus nerve and increase heart rate variability (HRV). According to a 4-year study conducted by NASA, PEMF therapy helps especially in the regeneration of neural stem cells.
PEMF therapy uses low-frequency (0–40 Hz) and low-intensity (10–200 milligaussia) radiation, very close to Earth's vibration level of 3–60 Hz (so-called Schumann resonance). The most common frequency used is 10 Hz. Correspondingly, many potentially technological devices, such as smartphones (450–2700 MHz) and wireless base stations (2.4–5.9 GHz), which are potentially harmful to the body and especially the brain, use considerably higher frequencies.
Research on PEMF therapy for sleep is somewhat lacking, but there is at least one double-blind controlled study from 2001. In this particular study, 70% of the participants receiving PEMF therapy got substantial or even complete relief on their insomnia.
PEMF-technology is also applied straight to the brain. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) can help with depression. In one study published in 2013, it was shown to be effective in treating chronic primary insomnia. Why this is important is the fact that in many cases of insomnia, the underlying reason is very often depression.
I have used for over two years a BEMER pro set (B.BODY Pro), a whole body PEMF/microcirculation stimulation system, which is one of the oldest and most researched PEMFT systems around. Ben Greenfield has experience on many other high-quality PEMFT systems (Check out the BioBalance mat & Pulse centers for the home and the FlexPulse for use on the go.)
4) Photobiomodulation and red/infrared (NIR) light therapy
I will not go deep into photobiomodulation, but to keep it simple it means the utilization of non-ionizing photonic energy to trigger photochemical changes within cellular structures that are receptive to photons, particularly mitochondria. At the cellular level, visible red and near-infrared light energy are absorbed by mitochondria, which perform the function of producing cellular energy (ATP) via cytochrome C oxidase. Photobiomodulation has been used in many kinds of situations and health problems to promote healing of the target tissue(s).
Red light used in the evening is the ideal wavelength not only for melatonin production but also for stabilizing circadian rhythms (compare to blue light emission in the morning). As explained in the beginning of this article, many of our biological systems are regulated by light and the circadian rhythms.
There are a few studies on the effects of red light therapy to sleep either with direct measurement on sleep quality or with self-reported effects on sleep. According to a study published in 2013, researchers found that red light LLL (low-level laser) stimulation with a frequency of 10 Hz to the palm showed increased delta-bandwidth and decreased beta-bandwidth in the EEG. This kind of stimulation may be conducive to increased sleep in patients with sleep problems according to the researchers. Increased delta/beta-ratio seen in EEG is crucial for getting more deep sleep (according to sleep researcher Matt Walker, PhD).
In another small study done on Chinese female basketball players, a 2-week red light treatment (total body irradiation for 30 minutes per day) was found t increase athletic performance (endurance) as well as improve sleep quality (PSQI) and increase melatonin levels at night.
Red light and infrared light therapy has also been shown to increase sleep time in patients with traumatic brain injury. In another study done in 2018 on people with migraine headaches, the researchers found that red light therapy not only diminished the number and severity of headaches but also reduced anxiety and improved sleep disorders.
Personally, I would like to see larger and methodologically better studies on red light therapy and sleep, but for now, the preliminary results are still very promising. I use red light (or NIR) therapy (I have the JOOVV light mini and Redlightrising Full stack red/NIR) every day, usually in the evening. If I am tired in the morning, I simply take 5–10 mins of red light to the back of my neck and I’m ready to go!
5) Sound therapy, binaural beats, and white noise
As a species, we are used to different kinds of sounds, especially sounds of nature. Our evolutionary make-up has been built around different kind of noises. Rain, waves, birds singing, waterfalls, wind etc. all seem to calm the human nervous system and help to relax. In the past 20 years or so, different sound technologies have been developed particularly to help people relax and drift into deeper sleep. Nature sounds have been studied in clinical settings and found to be helpful in improving sleep quality and relieving anxiety.
For example, in a hospital environment, a study published in 2015 found that using white noise is recommended as a method for masking environmental noises, improving sleep, and maintaining sleep. Binaural beats (or Auditory Beat Stimulation, ABS) is another way of inducing different states in the brain. EEG measures have shown that different binaural frequencies help to create specific patterns like delta (0.5–3.5 Hz / deep sleep), theta (4–7 Hz / REM sleep & meditation), alpha (8–15 Hz / relaxation & meditation), beta (16–31 Hz / concentration & alertness) and gamma (32–100 Hz / attentive focus & TM meditation). There has been conducted a few small studies on using binaural beats in different situations. The results are encouraging in terms of decreasing anxiety and helping to relax and drift off to sleep (see here, and here).
In a 2015 review article done on ABS the researchers state that:
”…while findings for most putative applications up to now are either solitary or contradictory, several studies consistently report a diminishing impact of binaural-beat stimulation on anxiety levels. The underlying neural mechanisms are still yet to be unraveled… Many factors may impact upon the efficacy of beat stimulation, including the duration of the applied stimulus. Carrier frequencies may also play a role, as well as the addition of background white or pink noise, which may amplify the beat percept.”
I have used binaural beats for years now, usually just before going into sleep. I also use them when having a break or nap if my intention is to get a deeper relaxation effect. My favorite app is Sleepstream 2, which is the same app Ben uses, although he also has a few other favorite apps including Pzizz and Brain.fm (both of which seem to work particularly well for naps).
The British Academy of Sound Therapy published a study in 2017 on a specific piece of music created to help people to drift off to sleep more easily. There were 42 participants in the study (of which around 50% reported having sleep problems) worldwide and the results were very promising: almost a third of the people in the study reported falling asleep more quickly and feeling more positive about going to sleep. You can listen to the audio for free here. I haven’t yet tried this, but I certainly will give it a try.
6) Use meditation as a natural technology
Since the 1950s, hundreds of studies have been published on meditation. The most recent ones that involve brain imaging and EEG have rectified some of the methodological errors of earlier studies and deepened our understanding of the health benefits of meditation.
A comprehensive meta-analysis study published in 2012 covered 163 studies on the psychological effects of meditation. As many as 595 studies had to be excluded due to methodological issues. The most robust psychological effects have been reported in relation to emotional factors and human relationships. You can read more about the psychological and physiological effects of meditation in the Mind Chapter of my Biohacker’s Handbook.
The effects of various forms of meditation have been fairly adequately researched. For example, mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve sleep quality in a variety of clinical populations with sleep disturbance. Mindfulness has been shown to especially improve sleep quality compared with nonspecific active controls in the long-term.
In general, meditation techniques help to regulate the blood flow to the executive regions of the brain during sleep. Meditation practices also downregulate HPA-axis reducing stress responses. Meditation practices are also reported to normalize melatonin secretion and its regulation in the body.
No matter what kind of meditation technique you choose, it can still help you to relax and make your mind and body more receptive for entering deep sleep. Yours truly has been practicing various forms of meditation well over 10 years now and it has been probably the single most effective thing on controlling the mind and relaxing the body during the day and before going into sleep.
Note from Ben: I recommend the free “Ecomeditation” .MP3 that you can download here.
Wow! Ben Greenfield here again. There you have it.
I hope this has been as enormously helpful for your deep sleep cycles as it was for mine. I recommend you weave in as many recommendations as you can from the article above, pay attention to your sleep cycles with something like an Oura ring, and experiment with what works best for you.
Probably the most confusing/cluttered part of this is supplements, and what to take when. Again, it tends to highly vary from individual to individual, but I personally do well with limiting stress during the day with adaptogens such as Reishi or Inner Peace, then Sleep Remedy and CBD oil at night, which covers most of my bases (I also throw in melatonin micro-doses when traveling).
Anyways, for even more on sleeping, napping, and much more, you can dig into Olli’s sleep chapter in the comprehensive “Biohacker’s Handbook”, available in either digital or print form, and you can use code: BEN for a 10% discount. For a preview of what’s included in Olli’s book, read my article “14 Biohacking Secrets I Discovered In The Brand New Biohacker’s Handbook.”
Do you have questions, thoughts or feedback for Olli or me? Leave your comments below and one of us will reply!