Recover Faster

Six Secrets of Sleep Hacking to Get More Effective Rest

Stress got you up all night? From knowing your sleep cycle to eating fat before bed and changing your sheets, here’s how to rest better—even with small children at home.

Gabriela Medina/Getty

Everyone is looking for ways to squeeze more hours out of the day, and unfortunately for many, that means giving up on the one thing they need most: proper sleep.

Sleep quantity and sleep quality tend to have a linear relationship—as one goes down, so does the other—but they don’t have to. I can spend less time sleeping while getting adequate sleep quality to ensure I am able to recover, process, and thrive on a daily basis.

You may have heard of sleep hacking, but most of the methods don’t take into account the life of a parent. I have three sons under the age of 2, so no one in my house gets much sleep. If nothing else, the random nature of children waking up in the middle of the night or getting colds and disrupting your schedule makes most sleep hacking methods null and void.

Prepare to fight back with these six sleep hack tips.

1. Know Your Sleep Cycle

One of the best things you can to improve your sleep is take a page from the Quantified Self movement and start recording your data. My favorite sleep tracker is the Basis Band, which includes sensors for constant heart rate monitoring, skin temperature, and even perspiration so you can get an incredible level of insight into the way you move through your various sleep cycles (light sleep, deep sleep, REM sleep, etc). If you don’t want to spend the money or find a band uncomfortable to sleep in, the Sleep Cycle app for your iPhone uses the device’s accelerometer to determine which level of sleep you are in throughout the night. The information is valuable if you sleep for eight hours straight, but even if you are woken up six times a night by a crying baby, you can draw useful insights. While your perceived level of exhaustion may have you convinced you are getting no sleep at all, a pattern most likely will emerge. Once you identify that pattern, you can exploit it. Simply knowing that you average three-hour stints instead of the 15 minutes you thought you were getting can be a huge psychological windfall.

Get Fat and Happy

The cells in your body run on glucose from sugar and ketones from fat. Most people on the standard American diet have acclimated their bodies to a life of burning sugar. So that’s exactly what your brain does all night long while it’s processing the day’s events and helping your body recover. It’s one of the reasons most people wake up starving and their cravings point them toward that box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. However, if you provide your body with a nice injection of fat before you go to bed, it can use those efficient and delicious ketones to get through the night, letting you get better rest. So try nice warm cup of herbal tea before bed and add a tablespoon of grass-fed butter, coconut oil, or MCT oil, a derivative of coconut oil with concentrated medium chain triglycerides.

Change Your Sheets

If you really want to maximize your recovery time in bed, whether you are asleep or not, pick up a set of Earthing sheets. These sheets plug into the ground outlet nearest your bed—don’t worry, they won’t electrocute you—and allow negative ions to flow. Not only will you recover better from many injuries, but you will sleep better than you ever have, unless of course you’ve spent a starry night swaying in a hammock between two palm trees.

Clear the Way

Toxins in your dinner can seriously disrupt your sleep. Whether you ate a questionable plate of oysters or downed one too many tequila shots, taking activated charcoal tablets will set you on the right path. Activated charcoal is the same stuff you find in emergency rooms and Brita water filters. They pick up and help remove many of the nasty toxins you find in the things you regularly ingests, allowing your body to focus on good sleep and recovery rather than trying to clean out your liver.

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Set the Mood

During the day the sky is blue, and that signals to our bodies that it’s time to be active. When things go dark, our body begins to wind down and prepare for sleep. Unfortunately, all of your digital devices—iPhones, iPads, Kindles, laptops, and TVs—have blue light spectrum containing illumination. So if you read a Kindle book in bed and then turn it off and expect to be able to fall into a nice sleep quickly, you’ve got another thing coming. You need to avoid these blue light sources up to an hour before you want to go to sleep. If that sounds like a really boring hour, pick up an $8 pair of blue blocking sunglasses on Amazon and you can look at those screens all night long without signaling to your body that you should be awake.

Don’t Stress

Finally, the best way to realize a productive night of sleep is to have a clear mind. Download the Stress Doctor app for your mobile device and spend five minutes doing some Heart Rate Variability training. You’ll reconnect your mind with your nervous system, allowing you to calm yourself down and remain that way in the face of stress—because at the end of the day, your body can handle an enormous amount of stress if it doesn’t recognize it as stress.