Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sleep Hacking

As you know from last weeks post, I recenly became a parent of twins. Every person that I spoke to about it gave the same advice:

"Get as much sleep as you can now, because when they are here you won't get any at all"

I love advice, and hit people up for it whenever I can. Thankfully I am also good at ignoring advice that sound fishy, even if it was given by almost everyone. Think about the quote above. What sense does that make? You cannot store sleep like that any more than you can store hours sitting in front of a television. If someone you knew was going to kile the Appalachian Trail, would you tell them "Good luck man, better sit on your fat ass as much as you can now, because once you hit that trail you are gonna be hurting."? Of course not. You would advise them to train for the task, and research any tips or tricks.

Now that both twins are home, sleep does not come easy. Since one twin was in the hospital for a week and the other was home, they are on very different schedules - a bog problem for parents of twins. Sleeping through the night was not happening with just one of them home. Now that both of them are home, the task is getting any sleep at all.

When I was younder I toyed around with biphasic and polyphasic sleep patterns ( as opposed to monophasic whic is the norm), but these all depended upon keeping a very strict schedule. Churchill for instance was a strong advocate of Biphasic sleep, but was very methodical about it:

"You must sleep sometime between lunch and dinner, and no halfway measures. Take off your clothes and get into bed. That's what I always do. Don't think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That's a foolish notion held by people who have no imaginations. You will be able to accomplish more. You get two days in one -- well, at least one and a half"

With the chaos of children I knew that I wouldnt really be able to keep to any kind of sleep schedule at all, much less a complicated one. So instead I am employing a bunch of little tricks that I have learned over the years to just sleep when I can. Here are some of my methods:

Caffeine Management: I am a coffee drinker. Under normal conditions I start every day with a Grande Americano that has 3 shots of esspresso in it. Unless I am going out late, this is all the coffee I drink in the day. When sleep is not easy to come by, the gut reaction is to increase caffeine intake. This is good on some days and not on others. Yesterday for instance, I knew that I would have to be up to receive company the whole day long with no naps. Given that I got about 2 hours of sleep the night before, I asked for an Octopus - 8 shots of esspresso. Which I drank right before company arrived. Today however, I had the opportunity to nap periodically throughout the day. A lot of caffeine would hamper these naps, I took only a small americano (2 shots) in the morning and than a caffeine nap on the afternoon.

Caffeine Naps: I am not a good napper. By an large, if I nap for a few hours I feel more groggy than I did before sleep. Caffeine naps changed all that. To take a caffeine nap, drink a cup of coffee or two. than go to sleep immediately. The caffeine takes about 15 minutes to cross the blood barrier so if you sleep 15-20 minutes, a length that is long enough to rejuvinate you but not long enough to enter REM or SWS, you will have burst of natural rest and caffeine hitting at exactly the right time. The trick of course is getting to sleep within that short time frame.

Sleep Yoga: While Tibetan Dream Yoga is certainly more popular and perhaps more interesting, there is such a thing as Sleep Yoga. This type of yoga is actually designed to minimize dreaming and give you the experience of clear light while sleeping. While I have not yet worked with it enough to say that I have experienced the clear light through it, I can say that I can fall directly asleep most of the time by doing it. When you do have 90 minutes or more to drop on sleep, its important that you progress through the fast wave sleep into REM and SWS to get the maximum benefit. The method involved visualization of a lotus with four petals. Each of the petals and the center are a different color relating to a different element and different stage of sensory engagement. One adopts one of the sleep postures, meditatively rests ones mind in the lotus and jumps through the five stages, than releases the meditation. Though the method that I use is from a restricted text You can read a morepublic version in Tenzin Wangyal’s book, “The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep”.

Drumming the Jade Pillow: After you have managed to figure out how much sleep you can get, the next step is fending off the signs of deprivation. One of my favorite methods for this is from China and is called “Drumming the Jade Pillow”. To do this, cover your ears with your palms so that your middle and index fingers are touching the base of your skull at the back. Place the middle finger on top of the index finger and than snap it down into the soft spot at the base of the skull called the Jade Pillow. Do this with both hands together or alternate. After 36 repetitions you will feel a lot of energy in the head and an increased alertness.

Shocks to the System: Yesterday morning, before I drak my coffee I went over my neighbors house an jumped into the ice cold pool. Colder the better. If you don’t have access to a pool, take a cold shower, or use another types of shock like loud music or a sudden burst of exercise. Do these only when you know you will be up for at least four more hours though.

The Bellows Breath: The following exercise is a quick way to increase energy in just a few seconds. The technique is simple. Take a full deep inhalation, than exhale rapid, short, sharp, forced bursts. You should be able to exhale about 30 short breaths in 10 seconds. After about three breaths like this, switch back to the vase breath. As you inhale, focus on drawing the breath deep down, towards the genitals. As you exhale, move your focus up the spine to the top of the head. The vital force will follow your mind. After a few vase style breaths in this manner, you can go back to the short sharp rapid exhales.

Be Nice: Lastly, its important to recognize that even with all this, you will still not be operating at maximum. Smile to yourself and to others. Recognize that your partner is feeling the effects probably even worse than you are. Bening nice, even faking it, will take the edge off of things and make your long waking hours that much more endurable.


  1. Congrats on your new bundles of joy, as a mom of two (but not twins! whoa!), I relate heavily to the lack of sleep issue. Mine was so bad at one point, a Dr told me I was about to do permanent damage to my brain.

    I'm curious what your devices will be in say, 12 months? [wicked cackle]

    Sorry, little sleep-deprivation humor there...seriously, the Nice thingie? That'll be VERY VERY VERY important in your upcoming future. And foot rubs.

    Off to get some sleep m'self...

    Babymoon Blessings and Sweet Dreams to all!
    K. Sequoia

  2. Hey there, sleepyhead,

    I like the picture. It makes me feel like crawling into bed and taking a nap.

    You are handling this parent thing so well!! I saw you in action so I know what I'm talking about. I need lots and lots of sleep and would probably have jumped out a window by now, but you're keeping it together. I admire that. I think you will be able to handle all challenges that come your way.

    And by the way, the twins are really cute and cuddly. There's something about holding a newborn to your chest that makes you want to sigh with relief.


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  4. Wow! Jason! This is a beautiful and helpful blog! Thanks for suggesting the Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep. I am totally going to read it! :=)

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