Performance 13 min read

7 Scientific Ways To Optimize Your Sleep For Better Performance

by Natasha Wanderly August 26, 2018

In our society today, we are so focused on the work hustle… On the bustin’ out… On the go, go go!

… But what about the recovery? What about the restoration?

Why do we feel guilt and shame surrounding something so fundamental to our productivity, health, and wellbeing?

Why have we made such a taboo of sleeping?

Fortunately, Dr. Michael Breus breaks these nonsense taboos —once and for all— in a recent Mindvalley Podcast episode with Vishen Lakhiani, Optimizing Your Sleep.

Here’s the selfie Vishen posted with Dr. Breus on his Instagram.


A post shared by Vishen Lakhiani (@vishen) on

Dr. Michael Breus is famously dubbed The Sleep Doctor, and for good reason — he has written 3 best-selling books and has dedicated years of passionate research to helping people optimize their sleep and perform at their very best.

Here are 7 science-based tips from Dr. Breus to help you get the most restorative, restful, and deep sleep possible.

1. Forget The 8-Hour Rule

Everybody’s sleep need is different. 8 hours is a myth, let’s just start right there. Not everybody needs 8 hours.

— Dr. Michael Breus

Dr. Breus gets 6 hours of sleep per night — and he’s the Sleep Doctor.

Crazy, right?

Not quite.

Once you understand how we’ve computed the “8-hour myth,” you’ll understand how un-crazy this is.

We need about 5 sleep cycles a night, and we’ve been told that a sleep cycle is 90 minutes long. This is where we derive our popular sleep metric: 5 (sleep cycles) times 90 (minutes) equals 450 minutes, which rounds up to approximately 8 hours.

But here’s the thing — not everyone’s sleep cycles are 90 minutes long. Actually, the length of a human sleep cycle can range anywhere between 75-90 minutes.

So, if you are like Dr. Breus and have a shorter sleep cycle, you’ll require less sleep.

Now, how do you figure out how much sleep you need? You can use a handy dandy method invented by the Sleep Doctor, himself.

Dr. Breus’ Bedtime Calculator

1. Set a wake up time

Most of us have a socially determined wake up time — whether we need to wake up for work, to take the kids to school, what-have-you.

This socially determined wake up time is a good thing. In fact, Dr. Breus recommends keeping this time consistent through all 7 days of the week to help lock in your circadian rhythm.

2. Set a bedtime

Now, let’s say that you need to be awake at 7am. Count 7 ½ hours backward from 7am, and make 11:30pm your new bedtime.

3. Note when you wake up

Set your alarm for 7am, and note what time you naturally wake up.

If you find that you naturally wake up at 6:30am, then perhaps you only require 7 hours of sleep.

If you find that you are still groggy or tired when your alarm goes off, then perhaps try setting an earlier bedtime. Don’t feel bad about this, either — the world’s top performers get an average of 8 hours and 36 minutes of sleep per night.

This is how you discover how much sleep you need a night. Wear it proud!

4. Adjust as necessary

Sometimes, our lives are far busier than normal. Other times, we suffer from illness, jet lag, or an influx of stress. During these times, allow yourself any additional sleep you may need to recover.

2. Dig Into Your Sleep Patterns

Everything you do, you do better with a good night’s sleep.

— Dr. Michael Breus

Just by missing out on a single sleep cycle, your cognition can go down as much as 33%… Your risk taking goes up, while your rational thought about the risks you are taking go down.

Hmm, does the sleeplessness of places like Las Vegas make a bit more sense now?

The amount —and quality— of sleep you typically get directly affects your immune function, cognition, mood, and overall health and wellbeing. The more you come to understand the importance of sleep, the more you will respect it and the better it will get for you.

To further educate yourself, you can get a sleep study done. During a sleep study, you can learn about any sleep disorders you may have (snoring, sleep apnea, periodic limb movements, etc.).

Then, take the steps necessary to resolve them. This is the future and there are things you can do to combat these common problems.  

3. Moderate Your Caffeine Intake

Caffeine has a half-life of 6-8 hours. This means that, after about 7 hours, half of the caffeine you’ve ingested is still in your system.

For this, Dr. Breus suggests that we stop drinking caffeine at about 2pm. This will give you enough time to get at least half of the caffeine out of your system by bedtime.

Coffee fanatics (like myself), you can switch to decaf after 2pm.

4. Mind Your Nighttime Alcohol

Alcohol is, undoubtedly, the most popular sleep aid in the world.

Alas, using alcohol as a sleep aid is a bad idea. While alcohol can (sometimes embarrassingly) cause you to pass out like a narcoleptic, it isn’t conducive to deep, restorative sleep.

There is a big difference between “going to sleep” and “passing out.”

It takes the human body an hour to digest an alcoholic beverage. So, an easy way to fix this problem is to just give yourself 1 hour for each drink. For example, if you finish your third glass of wine by 8pm, go to bed at 11pm.

Voilà! Problem solved.

5. Time Your Exercise Well

We needn’t toot the horn of exercise when it comes it our health, we all know those benefits. However, did you know that proper exercise is the best way to improve your quality of sleep?

And we don’t mean bustin’ out hard at the gym for an hour, either — 20 to 25 minutes of moderate exercise will do the trick. Moderate exercise is any movement that gets your heart rate up slightly, this includes exercise as simple as walking, slow dancing with your dog, and light yoga.

Here’s the catch — exercise, of any kind, too close to bedtime may be a bit too exciting for your body. Dr. Breus recommends winding down for 4 hours before bed.

But wait, what about the bedroom sport, sex? Don’t worry, Dr. Breus has some great ideas regarding our unique chronotypes and the best time to have sex.

6. Optimize Your Light Exposure

Our exposure to different spectrums of light and our circadian rhythms go hand-in-hand.

To keep your circadian rhythm on track, it’s important to get 15 minutes of direct sunlight within 30 minutes of waking up. Taking Fido on a short walk or eating your breakfast outside do will the trick splendidly.

Also, if you get tired during the day, you can try to take a “sunshine break” instead of a coffee break.

However, if you don’t have an opportunity to soak in the sun’s natural rays, you can purchase light bulbs that emit a blue spectrum of light. This blue light spectrum (400−495 nm) is a high-energy spectrum that acts like coffee for your brain — it turns the “melatonin faucet” off.

For this same reason, it’s important to avoid blue light at night.

Blue light emits from screens of all kinds, including our phones. Many of us try to counteract this by using the red light emitting “night mode” setting on our phones. But unfortunately, as Dr. Breus states on the Mindvalley Podcast, this setting is a complete bogus.

While the screen may give off a red tint, the blue light is still being emitted.

He recommends using a software that isn’t bogus — rather, it’s scientifically proven to adjust the light your screen emits depending on the time of day. It’s called F.lux software, and will adjust to a blue, sunlight spectrum during the day, and a warm, red hue at night.

If nothing else, you can also opt-in for some stylish (yes, they are cool) blue light blocker glasses.

Within your home, you can replace light bulbs with GoodNight bulbs, or a number of other spectrum-specific lights by

7. Nap Like A Pro

This is another taboo-breaker: contrary to popular belief, napping is extraordinarily productive. A 26-minute nap increases performance by 30%.

During our podcast, Dr. Breus recommended two different modes of using naps as a superpower.

1. Traditional Power Naps

An ideal power nap is approximately 26 minutes.

The trick to optimizing your power naps is to know that naps have 3 different benefits depending entirely on the time of day you take them.

Morning naps boost memory and creativity.

Afternoon naps (siestas) boost alertness.

Evening naps can help to revitalize your focus.

2. The Nap-A-Latte

Catchy name, we know.

The Nap-A-Latte is a legit biohack which can drastically boost focus, alertness, and memory for at least 4 hours.

It’s simple.

Step 1

Chug a 6 oz cup of cooled or iced black coffee.

We say cooled or iced because we care about your mouth and don’t want you burning yourself (this hack is cool, but not worth a week of tastelessness), and we say black coffee because we care about your health (you can learn more about that in Vishen’s coffee post).

Step 2

Once the 6 ounces are down your hatch, lie down for a 20-minute nap.

Don’t worry— the coffee won’t affect the quality of your nap at all. It takes 20 minutes for the caffeine in coffee to reach plasma concentration levels and kick in.

Step 3

As you sleep, you will rid your body of the biological molecule that causes sleepiness, adenosine.

After about 20 minutes, just as your adenosine reserves are depleted —BAMM— the coffee kicks in and you feel like a zillion bucks.

According to Dr. Breus, this effect should work, solidly, for at least 4 hours. He also wants to make a special note that while this serves as an awesome biohack, it shouldn’t be used every day in place of proper sleep — proper sleep is number one!

Hope you enjoyed this guide and if you want to hear more about the science of sleep, tune in to the Mindvalley Podcast episode with Dr. Breus.

Do you have any sleep hacks you’d like to share with us? Please do so in the comment section below!

by Natasha Wanderly
Natasha is a happy no-mad with a love for living lucidly, dancing with fire, and talking to strangers. She's also an enthusiast of self-development and personal growth, and is constantly reading and writing about it. From living with Shamans in the Amazon to studying hieroglyphs in Egypt, she is always on some type of adventure. Every day, she wakes up with two goals: 1) Be here 2) Be love.

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