Girl on phone


Wellness Information Overload!

I’m a podcast junkie. Anytime I run across smart experts from my trainings or webinars in health, nutrition, functional medicine, mind-body, I can’t help myself…

I find myself googling them and hitting subscribe on iTunes, much to family’s annoyance. My work and home office airwaves are usually filled with amazing geek-out information as I post blogs, finish up charts, cook, and drive home. (I know, multitasking is actually not great, but I do this during the “mindless” parts of tasks).

Thankfully, my training in mind-body medicine and the importance of “unplugging” interrupts (along with pleading family members) or else I could easily spend my whole life listening to 30+ podcasts a week.

Due to the fact that I am a geek, this is actually fun for me. I love to figure out the puzzles of health and hear all different viewpoints to integrate and share with my clients and readers. So, what does this have to do with sleep? (Besides staying up too late at times listen to podcasts?)


What the Hack?

It was actually one of my clients that introduced me to “biohacking” with Dave Aspery. I find this whole concept of scientifically manipulating and modulating our biochemistry for peak performance enticing. I have to admit, I’m still learning fully what this term encompasses, but a lot of my favorite experts are embracing this. This tells me something is happening within this whole movement. Some call it edgy, but a few of the top experts and scientific gurus have been “hacking” around with discoveries for years.

Last week, as I was writing my blog on all the detriments of lack of sleep, I decided to look more deeply into some of the science on “sleep hacking.” Specifically, this means I looked into how hackers decreased the risks associated with less than optimal amounts of sleep while they optimized the quality of sleep. I also discovered how they manipulated their environment or biochemistry to optimize outcomes in all aspects of sleep.


Which Bear’s Bed Is the Best?


The Researcher



Dan Pardi is a researcher who works with the Behavioral Sciences Department at Stanford University and the Departments of Neurology and Endocrinology at Leiden University in the Netherlands. He reports that sleep effects decision making and cognitive processes like reaction time, memory, impulsivity, and food choices. In fact, he suggests that it isn’t just the timing of sleep but the combination of these 3 factors which determine how effective sleep is:

  1. Duration-length of sleep
  2. Timing-being consistent with bed time
  3. Intensity—how your brain and body respond to different stages of sleep

Pardi recently reported on how to tell if you are getting enough sleep in an interview with Dr. Mercola:

One of the easiest ways to gauge whether you’ve slept enough is to assess your level of sleepiness the next day. For example, if you had the opportunity, would you be able to take a nap? Do you need caffeine to keep you going? That said, research has shown daytime sleepiness alone is not a complete way to assess the impairments of sleep loss.

“If you were to measure objective measures of cognitive performance like reaction time, you would see that those would continue to get worse if you maintained an insufficient sleep pattern on a day-by-day basis. That’s one of the big problems in our society today. It’s that we basically accommodate feeling sleepy that that feeling starts to feel normal. But then we have continual impairment in how well our brain is performing.


The Hackers

Whereas the researcher reports that if you need caffeine and stimulants to be productive, you may be sleep deprived, sleep hackers may be pushing boundaries and using caffeine, nutrients, and other “smart drugs” to enhance performance. Many are accomplishing incredible feats and coming up with innovations in wellness.

For example, some things that sleep hackers do to modulate sleep restoration is to play with the quality and intensity over quantity. These factors include:


Light Hacking

A Cloudy Day







Due to the fact that light has a profound effect on melatonin and circadian balance, modifying exposure to sunlight by getting outdoors in the morning can help optimize sleep quality. According to the same interview above, there are 5 factors of light which have an effect on circadian rhythm:

  1. Timing
  2. Intensity
  3. Length of exposure
  4. How much light you were exposed to in 24 hours
  5. The light’s wavelength

Sleep hackers are modifying their exposure to different light wavelengths during night (red light best) and day (blue light best) and using eye wear and software to phase out blue light on their computers late at night to preserve melatonin.


Hacking Electronic Tablets

Interestingly, a study by the Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute aimed to determine the effect of tablet computers on melatonin and sleep in 13 participants. The researchers assigned study participants to one of three groups. According to Medscape Today:

  • Participant in the first group viewed their devices through a pair of clear goggles fitted with 470-nm (blue) light from light emitting diodes (LEDs).
  • Those in the second group viewed their tablets through orange-tinted glasses, capable of filtering out the short-wavelength radiation that can suppress melatonin.
  • Participants in the third group did not wear glasses or goggles.

All participants wore a dimesimeter which monitored light exposure and continuously recorded circadian light and activity levels. The team found that, after 2 hours on the tablet, there was significant suppression of melatonin and that the distance between the tablet and eye also affected the level of suppression.


Hacking Recovery with Light

Furthermore, a small study in the Journal of Athletic Training investigated the recovery effects of red light with twenty female athletes. The results of a 14-day red light irradiation positively affected sleep and melatonin secretion. They concluded:

Our study confirmed the effectiveness of body irradiation with red light in improving the quality of sleep of elite female basketball players and offered a nonpharmacologic and noninvasive therapy to prevent sleep disorders after training.

In an interview with Chris Kresser, Dan Pardi reported that he, too, uses orange light while reading with his iPad at night but he also discussed various caveats of any light at night affecting our body system:

There is always individual variability and there is even going to be variability in the different light receptors in the eye. I spoke mostly of the retinopsin producing intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells in the eye that perceive light and influence circadian rhythms but there are other ganglionic cells that are light sensitive (different classes) that likely influence this system – basically, any light that enters the eye has the ability to influence the system, regardless of spectrum (ie color).


Remember, getting intense light during the day increases melatonin secretion at night. Let’s review what matters with light for both affecting melatonin and circadian rhythms: light intensity, spectrum, duration of exposure, maybe the UV aspect of light, and of course timing (when the light occurs).

Get bright, outdoor light during the day. Take measures to limit light in the evening and night. Make these solutions practical in your life so they are sustainable.

Now…there’s other tricks -of-the trade that I discuss on sleep hacking…get the scoop on them here



  • The True Cost Of Multi-Tasking. Psychology Today. September 12, 2012.
  • Mercola, J. How the Cycles of Light and Darkness Affect Your Health and Wellbeing. January 19, 2014.
  • Dr. Mercola Interviews Dan Pardi About Sleep. YouTube. January 19, 2014.
  • Pardi, D. How light exposure affects health – an interview of Dan by Dr. Joseph Mercola. Dan’s Plan. January 19, 2014.
  • Aprey, D. Sleep Hacking Part 1: How to Sleep Less & Do More.
  • Ameer Rosic. How to get Better Sleep: 25 Steps to Hacking Your Sleep July 8, 2014.
  • Ben Greenfield. Podcast Episode 295: Red-Light And Blue-Light Biohacking Tips, Can Coffee Raise Cholesterol, The Ultimate Guide To Stretching & More! Ben Greenfield Fitness. October 1, 2014.
  • Light level and duration of exposure determine the impact of self-luminous tablets on melatonin suppression. Applied Ergonomics. March 2013; 44 (2): 237–240. DOI: 10.1016/j.apergo.2012.07.008.
  • Rattue, G.Sleep Can Be Affected By Back-Lit Tablet Computers. Medscape Today News. August 24, 2012.
  • Red Light and the Sleep Quality and Endurance Performance of Chinese Female Basketball Players. J Athl Train. 2012 Nov-Dec; 47(6): 673–678. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-47.6.08
  • Kresser, C. RHR: Why Most People Are Sleep-deprived and What to do About it. October 2012.
  • Gronfier C1, Brandenberger G. Ultradian rhythms in pituitary and adrenal hormones: their relations to sleep. Sleep Med Rev. 1998 Feb;2(1):17-29. PMID: 15310510
  • Lisa Morselli, Rachel Leproult, Marcella Balbo, & Karine Spiegel. Role of sleep duration in the regulation of glucose metabolism and appetite. Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. Oct 2010; 24(5): 687–702. doi: 10.1016/j.beem.2010.07.005
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