How can I hack my sleep?

by (10194) Updated April 25, 2014 at 4:08 AM Created February 14, 2010 at 9:02 PM

I read Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival and one of things the authors recommend is making your bedroom completely dark (Robb Wolf also recommends this). Has anyone tried this? Do you sleep better? Does it work?

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1302 · February 14, 2010 at 10:49 PM

It's not only our diets that have changed drastically since paleolithic times. Another thing that has important health consequences is electric lights, televisions, monitors, etc. These have been shown to shut down the body's production of melatonin (the sleep hormone). Lack of melatonin has been correlated not just with poor sleep but with cancer, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), Postpartum Depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and other ailments.

Just within the last decade it has been discovered that it is only the blue light that affects melatonin. There are actually blue light receptors in the human eye that are totally separate from the visual system and even detect a different frequency of blue light than the "cones" in the retina. The placement of these receptors is such that light from the blue sky would fall on them.

An image comes to mind of Paleolithic people sitting around the camp fire after dark, a fire emitting no blue light, so their bodies could produce plenty of melatonin.

For 42 years, Richard L. Hansler was a research physicist at GE Lighting. Near the end of his career, he was horrified to learn that his work (including more than 70 patents) may have inadvertently caused a lot of human suffering. He and others have worked hard to come up with a solution. LowBlueLights.com offers several products such as glasses that block the blue light, night lights and reading lights that emit no blue light, etc.

I've been using the glasses and night lights for only a couple of weeks (along with a simulated-dawn alarm clock) with amazing results. At 58, I've already experienced a few nights where I was able to fall asleep in minutes and sleep through till morning - something I've not experienced for many years if not decades. And yet I can use the computer, watch TV, etc. right up to bed-time.

140 · February 15, 2010 at 4:53 AM

I was in the Peace Corps in West Africa. I lived in a village without electricity, so very little artificial light.

I would start to get sleepy just after dark, sometimes as early as 7pm. That was really nice. I consider myself a "night person". It was a shock to be sleepy so early.

I miss it. When I came back to the States, the first thing I noticed was that it was not dark at night. I couldn't get tired. That's not to mention all of the TV/internet distractions available to keep me awake.

So, yes, I think a dark room will help. I've had good results with one of those eye masks that blocks out all of the light.

58 · March 02, 2010 at 2:40 AM

After reading Lights Out, what I took from it was that being in the dark is as important, probably more, than actually sleeping. Improvement in sleep may not be noticalbe but important hormonal reactions are occuring none-the-less. Sleep quality and quantity are controlled by a number of variables and changing one by only a fraction (I assume that we all sleep most of the time in a mostly dark room) will not likely result in dramatic change. Even if you don't feel like you are sleeping better, hedge your bets and keep it really dark, and go to bed as early as possbile as often as possible.

536 · February 15, 2010 at 6:19 AM

I've had good results wearing a knit cap down over my eyes. It does the job of an eye mask and keeps my head warm (which helps me sleep).

On the other end of the night, when it is still dark outside, I need to get up and catch a bus. I've found a sunrise alarm to be a life-changer: the light helps me wake up more naturally.

622 · April 12, 2010 at 6:56 PM

Last summer I rigged up a curtain using blackout cloth from Joann Fabrics and have enjoyed sleeping in total darkness ever since. However, now when I sleep anywhere else, the quality of my sleep definitely suffers. I'm not sure whether I've actually reduced my tolerance for sleeping in the presence of light, or if I'm getting the same quality of sleep I always used to get and only now recognize it as poor by comparison. Keeping my face covered with sheets or a shirt does help out a lot, though.

6832 · March 07, 2010 at 6:21 PM

Slightly off topic and in reaction to the above answers, but something that is really, really important for women if they want to hack their sleep AND regulate their menstral cycles is to leave a (small) light on for the three nights around the full moon, if women sleep in a dark room 100% of the time they can loose their regularity....

"I read recently that it is wise for women to follow the cycle of the moon in the sky if they want to live a life with a naturally fertile and regular menstrual cycle. This means sleeping in total and utter darkness every night, except for the three nights around the full moon, when a light may be left on to simulate moonshine coming through the window – or even better – actually letting the moonshine come in through the window. A regular menstrual cycle will kick-in gradually if darkness and light are made to mirror the moon’s cycle exactly. Women rarely show an absolute 28 day cycle as it is commonly believed; if given the right lighting conditions, they will follow the moon’s month; which is slightly longer. For young girls about to begin menstruation, I believe it is the moon’s cycle that triggers regularity right from the beginning." from here

The book cited is: 'Moon Time' by Johanna Paungger

30 · April 12, 2010 at 12:24 AM

To achieve zero circadian stimulus, the monitor must completely zero both blue and green channels. f-lux doesn’t do that. My batch file does But it only works for Nvidia cards.

The following two scripts can be copied and pasted into text files, then change their extensions to .bat. You can make a shortcut to them and set it to run minimized to avoid seeing the momentary command-line window too :)

Red Only:

rundll32.exe NvCpl.dll,dtcfg set_normalize_brightness 0 green 0.0 rundll32.exe NvCpl.dll,dtcfg set_normalize_brightness 0 blue 0.0 rundll32.exe NvCpl.dll,dtcfg setcontrast 0 green -82 rundll32.exe NvCpl.dll,dtcfg setcontrast 0 blue -82

Restore to normality:

rundll32.exe NvCpl.dll,dtcfg set_normalize_brightness 0 green 0.5 rundll32.exe NvCpl.dll,dtcfg set_normalize_brightness 0 blue 0.5 rundll32.exe NvCpl.dll,dtcfg setcontrast 0 green 0 rundll32.exe NvCpl.dll,dtcfg setcontrast 0 blue 0

105 · February 01, 2011 at 5:05 PM

One of the factors most people neglect about sleep is cortisol levels. Our ancestors experienced accute stress rather than than the chronic stress we experience in our tumultuous, complex modern lives. Their cortisol levels would be high in the morning which would provide them the vigor to get through most of the day, and it would gradually, reliably go down to nill as the evening approached. Most people nowadays though, have their minds racing all the times with the problems of the past and of the future. Even while they're in bed trying to sleep which of course disrupts it and makes them even more stressful and incapable of handling stressful situations the next day. Sorta like a feedback loop.

Step one as others have mentioned is to get rid of all the lights in your bedroom (including LED lights emitting from alarm clocks). Any for of light inhibits melatonin. Get blackout curtains. Also, get rid of your alarm clocks period. Next is exercise. You either fall into two categories of being lazy as shit or being an overtrained marathon runner. Too much exercise will leave you with elevated cortisol levels. Too little will do the same. The Primal Blueprint and The Paleo Solution are good sources on all these matters.

Robb Wolf also recommends taking vitamin C supplements in the evening before you go to sleep. (Emergen-C)

77348 · February 14, 2010 at 10:57 PM

I am very light sensitive when I sleep and find I do much better when I wear an ordinary sleep mask (and it's way cheaper than curtains!).

5916 · February 14, 2010 at 9:07 PM

I find I sleep longer when the room is completely dark, so in effect, I imagine my body is able to sleep as long as it needs or wants to - as opposed to sleeping until the daylight cues my brain to start waking up.

Though I don't have this at home right now, its mainly at hotels, and when visiting families that I get this benefit from darkness. I just don't have any curtains at home.

I think it is significant because one would normally think that sleeping elsewhere you would get less sleep from a non-usual sleeping place, but in fact I tend to sleep better on vacation.

I should probably get some curtains, eh?

45 · October 29, 2010 at 4:38 PM

I have also put up black out drapes and you really need to research this since so many say they are black out but when you hold it over your eyes and look through them in the stores many allow light through. I also want to be able to wash them semi regularly so I avoid those kinds with white foam on the back which can break down over time. I ended up buying these panels at JC Penney which look like fake suede which were premade but they are discontinuing them which is insane. They got like 4.9 stars out of 5 from 54 reviews and I can tell you they deserve it. http://www3.jcpenney.com/jcp/X6E.aspx?GrpTyp=ENS&ItemID=1557c58&DeptID=70751&CatID=70821&SO=0&x5view=1&Ne=5+1031+961+586+971+902+1008+8+18+904+949+833&shopperType=G&N=4294953318&Nao=189&PSO=0&CmCatId=70751|70821

I also bought valances and butted them right up to the ceiling to keep light from leaking in from the top. You could make a cornice instead. Also put drapes just a hair above the floor.

You need curtain rods that return to the wall so light doesn't leak in through the sides. You can achieve that two ways. One by using this very strong but ugly curtain rod or ones like this for sliding glass window or french doors.


If you use this type of curtain rod you will need to use rings to take curtains off to wash.

Or you can buy a curtain rod that will allow you to position a ring on the bracket that holds the rod next to the wall so light doesn't leak through the sides. Something like this:


I recommend rings since these curtains tend to have some bulk to them and they don't slide open easily and take up a bunch more room without the rings. This I learned from trail and error.

You can also buy tracking and the accessories and do those really easy to open hospital type drape systems too that you can bend to return them to the wall which I am trying out in another room and building cornice for.


One note it takes about two washings for the JC Penney suede curtains to plump up and not slip off of the rings so easily. Must wash some slick finish off of them.

Now we have very little light that comes in and this has helped our sleep significantly. What is amazing is there are tons of black out drapes that are now showing up in many stores but the rods are not there yet. So in this case of chicken or the egg the curtains are first and hopefully the rods will improve for blackout drapes. Pottery Barn had one but dropped it a few years back and no one else has reintroduced it.

2231 · July 19, 2010 at 12:18 PM

I am up reading this at 5am because I have been awake for hours and I KNOW that being on my computer right now is not helping my insomnia. I am a very light sleeper. I also have three kids. I sleep with my bedroom door open and the lights from the outside front porch light make my bedroom not dark enough. I use a sleep mask and ear plugs now that the kids are older, and I still wake up at the slightest noise, so I don't think my ear plugs are putting my kids in any danger if there was an emergency.

I try to think of inventions that will block out my light but allow the bedroom door to be open still. I sleep the best also in hotel rooms where my kids are in the same room and its very very dark.

All my masks i have tried and own don't completely stay put at night and also don't block 100% in my opinion. I have also used a t-shirt or towel over my face and I like it and use that as well or instead of.

I have noticed that when the power goes out due to downed power lines, there is a minute of complete silence (awwww, so nice) before I hear the hummm of neighbors generators powering on. So, there is a difference when there is no powered appliances on like the refer.

I love sleeping in my camper while camping. I feel like I am in a cacoon, more darkness and no electrical noise. Strange and high maintenance, but as you can see, I am a very light sleeper who has been suffering with this for years.

I try to not have computer/tv stimulation in my bedroom or before going to bed also. I will try the above responses. I will try just about anything right now...

312 · February 15, 2010 at 9:18 PM

I would say it makes a significant difference.

I can fall asleep with a light source in the room but it is very unrestful in the long run. I definately found that if the room is dark and cold my sleep is expnonetially better. After listening to the PSS podcast I started using "Natural Calm" (Mag Supp) and that made a significant difference. Also, if I am asleep before 11 it is a plus, but that rarely happens... lol

Now someone maybe able to confirm this for me on here but I thought I had read/heard that when sleep that your eyelids are not completely closed and that light on your eyelids starts the brain to fire up the "wake up" process.

1602 · February 15, 2010 at 1:17 PM

I've always found it easy to go to sleep when not all that tired, but since I started weight training, I've been much more tired in the evenings and found it even easier to go to sleep. I also feel better rested after the night's sleep.

A friend of mine who had trouble sleeping, found it easier after long walks, just after dinner. The only caveat about exercising for sleep is that you shouldn't do it just before going to bed, as you will be a bit hyped. I think two hours before and no later, might be a good thing to strive for.

240 · February 15, 2010 at 1:01 PM

When I have to sleep in a room that is not completely dark, I usually put a folded T-shirt over my eyes, as I find it less disturbing than a night mask.

Medium avatar
0 · April 25, 2014 at 4:08 AM

In addition to hack-my-sleep, I have 20 years success - a hack for Botox. Flexible ice pack [in a washable sock] pressed to the shape of my brow, and the cleavage between my eyebrows has not increased in these 2 decades! This creates a strong focus of relaxation, and eases into deep sleep. An added benefit is my eyes flood with gentle tears that seem to have eliminated the styes and other eye strain.

A new contribution is dropping dairy from my food list; apparently I was quite allergic to dairy, and my nose always becomes congested the night after dairy. So I sleep much better by not breathing through my mouth.

0 · April 01, 2014 at 11:38 PM

Things that have really improved my sleep:

- Tough physical exercise

- A pitch black room using these blackout window shades

- Daily vitamin d exposure

- Long barefoot walks (watching the sunset is even better)

- No artificial lights an hour before bed time

- Not eating two hours before bed time Good luck! Hope this helps.

193 · May 20, 2011 at 7:45 PM
85 · August 25, 2010 at 3:18 AM

Hi, Patrik. May I add, on the above melatonin recommendation by Dave and suggest that the dosage be no more than 1mg. I am assuming you are male. As it is a hormone, higher doses tend to lose their effect after multiple consecutive administration, and may have accompanied complications for male patients. (low serum testosterone and decreased semen quality). Regardless, a nightly 0.3mg melatonin tested equally as effective as the high 3mg dose.

As an anecdotal report, my menopausal mom responds better on a low dose 0.3-0.5mg versus the 1-3mg dose so I split her melatonin pills.

Thank you for sharing and best of health to you, sir.

22684 · July 19, 2010 at 2:16 AM

I found the magic mix, This knocks me out cold and I sleep great

  • 750 mg GABA
  • 100mg 5-HTP
  • 300mg Magnesium


11363 · February 14, 2010 at 10:03 PM

I lived in Iceland for a while, and I found the "blackout" curtains quite helpful in the summer. However, I doubt that Scandinavian paleoman decorated his lean-to with blackout curtains.

736 · February 14, 2010 at 9:06 PM

I believe it does, but I also sleep well in full natural light.

-2 · May 20, 2011 at 6:29 PM

Thanks for your question Patrik! I'm happy to report that you can now find the answer to your question here: http://bit.ly/iCt2v9.

Since Expert Answers is relatively new, we'd love to hear your thoughts about the overall process itself and the answer you received. Your feedback is crucial as we continue to fine-tune and tweak this process. Send me your thoughts (keith@myzeo.com) and thanks!

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