The author and human guinea pig asked elite performers for advice on getting better sleep. Here’s what they said.
For a recent episode of his podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show, Ferriss delved into a a topic that has been a lifelong personal struggle for him: sleep.
He has found that if you prioritize sleep—and recovery, in general—it magnifies everything else in your life, from your emotional health to physical training. To help you take better care of your mind and body, Ferriss shares his own lessons plus the best tools and tips for rest and regeneration from a selection of guests on his show that includes four-time obstacle-course-racing world champion Amelia Boone, Charles Poliquin, a legendary strength coach for numerous Olympic and professional athletes, and comedian Mike Birbiglia.
Here’s what Ferriss and and the others had to say.
Tim Ferriss: I have been a lifelong insomniac, specifically with onset insomnia. Certain people have trouble getting to sleep. I’m had been in that camp for many decades. Other people have trouble staying asleep. I am not in that camp, but a lot of the recommendations will apply. There are a few things in the last 12 months, in particular, that I have reapplied and reevaluated and continue to recommend. No. 1, a white noise machine of some type like a Marpac Dohm.
Temperature is probably the single-most important variable in sleep conditions and certainly sleep onset. For me, that means as cold as I can tolerate. Often around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Then there’s sleep timing: go to bed by 11:00 p.m.
I’m not a doctor and I don’t play one on the internet, but I’ve found that very low doses of N-acetylcysteine (NAC) and lithium orotate—we’re talking about five milligrams here—to be extremely helpful for sleep and also just general mental wellbeing.
Last, I’ve experimented with polyphasic sleep, which means fragmenting your sleep into shorter periods. There are many different formats. The most infamous of which is probably the uber-man protocol, which requires a mere two and a half hours or so of total rest per day, but you have to take many naps in order for that to function. If you miss one of your naps, you are going to have at least two days of complete zombie state.
I have found I function best across the board physically and mentally if I get around seven and a half hours of sleep at night and then another 90 minutes around 3:00 or 4:00 p.m., whenever possible. The 90 minutes is very important—60 does not do it for me. The full 90 will allow me to put in an entire additional work shift of like seven or eight hours without fatigue. It’s pretty phenomenal.
Let’s move on to more tips on sleep and restfulness from other folks that I hope you find extremely valuable.
Amelia Boone: After any long race that I’ve done—a 24-hour race or longer—I feel like I can’t sleep afterward. You feel like you should be able to because your body is so physically exhausted. But my mind is still on on overdrive, that I just can’t.
I’ve learned that one of the most important things that people should do after a big event is to stay moving. People want to just lay on a couch or go to sleep. That is the worst thing you can do because you’re going to wake up and not be able to move anything. I generally try to active. I will hop again on a foam roller or something like that. You don’t want to be too aggressive—you’re not going to hop on a softball and roll out your glutes because that’s going to hurt. But stay active. The next day, too. Gentle movement.
If I can get into an ice bath, I will, but it needs to be immediately after the race. If there’s a lake right there and it’s cold enough, I’ll use that as an ice bath. But if you’re waiting four or five hours, I don’t think it’s going to end up helping you in the end.
Charles Poliquin: People ask me which supplements I use for improving sleep. Personally, I’m a big fan of magnesium threonate. I take six capsules at bedtime, mixed with grams of theanine.
Mike Birbiglia: I find a FitBit helpful because it tracks my sleep. It not only tells how long you slept, but it tells you the quality of sleep. In other words, it tells you that you slept technically for eight hours, but you were awake for an hour of that. I’ve slept over at hospitals countless times for sleep studies because I have REM behavior disorder. It’s like $3,000 per visit. Some of it’s insurance, but some of it I have to pay. This thing basically does a sleep study and it costs $100.
There’s a good podcast called Sleep with Me. It’s this guy who calls himself Scooter. He has this really uncanny skill of talking in circles and slow and circling back to the first topic and then the next topic and then another thing and then a digression. The next thing you know, you’re asleep.