Tim Ferriss’s Five Rules for Better, Faster Sleep

In an exclusive book excerpt, the lifehacker takes on Zzzs

By Kirk Miller

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02 December 2016

“My goal is to learn things once and use them forever.”

So says Tim Ferriss (The 4-Hour Workweek, The 4-Hour Body), a man who knows a thing or two about improving his life. And quickly.

In his new book, Tools of Titans, the lifehacker extraordinaire shares all of the things he’s learned once but plans to use forever, as told to him by some of the smartest and most successful people on earth.

The new book (out Dec. 6) collects the best financial, health and everyday advice he’s received on his popular podcast.

Think Malcolm Gladwell on the art of asking a great question. Building a barrel sauna with Rick Rubin. Dissecting the diet of an associate professor of molecular pharmacology and physiology who can deadlift 500 pounds after a seven-day fast.

It’s not as hard to learn these things as you think. This, as Ferriss notes, is “low-hanging fruit with immediate returns.”

Herein, we present an exclusive excerpt, wherein Ferriss tackles the most important part of his day: the five tools for better and faster sleep.  

*****

As a former lifelong insomniac, I’ve tried everything to fall asleep faster and remain asleep longer.

Here are five tricks that work. I deliberately omitted melatonin and prescription medications, which I don’t use unless adjusting to large time zone differences. I use the following in the order listed, starting 60 to 90 minutes before bed. Omit what you don’t like and try what you do.

(Optional) If I Have a Partner With Me, Acro Basing

I’ll put them in Folded Leaf and base them for a few minutes (detailed on page 55). After a day of sitting, this will push the head of my femur back to where it should be in the hip. This isn’t undone by the next step.

Decompress the Spine

I learned daily decompression from Jerzy Gregorek, a 60-something-year-old emigré from Poland and world record holder in Olympic weight lifting. He also wrote The Happy Body, which contains the morning mobility work that both Naval Ravikant (page 546, who introduced us) and I do on a near-daily basis. Jerzy considers hanging upside down mandatory after load-bearing training sessions. Keep in mind that Jerzy, at around 135 pounds body weight, can still throw hundreds of pounds overhead and land in a perfect ass-to-heels snatch position. Take off a little weight, and he can do the same on a wobble board (Indo Board). He’s unapologetically and refreshingly no-bullshit. Before my first training session with him, we sat down to have tea (he only drinks Mariage Frères Marco Polo black tea) and discuss goals. Midway through, he narrowed his eyes and looked me over. He reached across the table, pinched my tit, and announced, “You’re too fat.” My kinda guy.

Below are three options, listed in increasing order of safety. My protocol for any of them is 2 to 3 sets of 5 to 7 seconds and no more:

  1. Teeter EZ-Up Gravity Boots: This is my default and I often hold onto weights (20 to 50 pounds) to increase traction, but gravity boots can be fatal if misused, as you’ll fall on your neck. Do us all a favor and don’t die. Definitely skip this if you can’t easily do a strict pull-up or touch your toes with straight legs.
  2. Inversion table: I don’t use one myself, but several Special Operations friends swear by daily use. These are advertised on infomercials and are infinitely less likely to kill you than gravity boots.
  3. The Lynx Portable Back Stretcher or Teeter P3 Back Stretcher: This is a portable gadget roughly the size of a large camera tripod. I use this several times a week, when it’s too much hassle (after a late dinner) or risk (after booze) to hang upside down in gravity boots. It allows you to lock in your ankles, lie down, and use a dip-like movement to unlock lower back tightness. This is the fastest of the three options, but it doesn’t allow you to relax your upper (thoracic/cervical) back.

ChiliPad

This was first introduced to me by Kelly Starrett and Rick Rubin. Rick and I both set it to the coldest temperature possible about one hour prior to bed.

Let’s paint a familiar scene. A man and a woman are sleeping in bed under the same set of sheets and blankets. The woman’s temperature is running at roughly 700°F, giving off the heat of a pizza oven. The guy gets sweaty and kicks one leg out and on top of the sheets. Then he gets cold 10 minutes later and puts the leg underneath, repeating this cycle ad nauseam. He might even yank the covers like a child, upsetting the woman. It’s a huge headache for everybody. Sleep temperature is highly individualized.

The ChiliPad allows you to put an extremely thin — almost imperceptibly thin — sheet underneath your normal sheets that circulates water through a bedside contraption at a very precise temperature of your choosing. There are versions with two zones, so two people side by side can choose different numbers. Maybe your magic sleeping temperature is 55°F. Or 61°F, or 75°F? If you’re cold, you can increase the temperature of the ChiliPad underneath you instead of throwing a thick blanket on top that’s going to make your partner sweat to death. It can modulate between 55 and 110°F. Experiment and find your silver bullet.

Several of my close friends in Silicon Valley sheepishly admitted that, of all the advice I’ve ever given in my books and podcasts, the ChiliPad had the biggest impact on their quality of life. Several others have said the same about honey + ACV, described next.

Honey + Apple Cider Vinegar or Yogi Soothing Caramel Bedtime Tea or California Poppy Extract

Your mileage may vary, but usually at least one of these will work.

Honey + ACV: My go-to tranquilizer beverage is simple: 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (I use Bragg brand) and 1 tablespoon honey, stirred into 1 cup of hot water. This was taught to me by the late and great Seth Roberts, PhD. Some of his readers also noticed large and immediate strength improvements in exercise after a few days of using this pre-bed cocktail.

Yogi Soothing Caramel Bedtime Tea:

If you’re trying to avoid sugar (honey), this is an alternative. The packaging of this tea is targeted toward women to a comical degree. I recall dismissing it when an ex-girlfriend first offered me some, thinking it was for menstrual cramps. A few nights later, little Timmy found himself alone craving a hot beverage with flavor. I grabbed the caramel, let it brew for 5 minutes, and polished it off. Ten minutes later, I start getting wobbly, and then I felt like Leonardo DiCaprio in the pay phone scene from The Wolf of Wall Street. In the most awkward fashion possible, I dragged my ass to the bedroom and fell asleep. It was around 9 p.m. Note: This tea appears to affect only 30% of my readers this way.

California Poppy Extract

 If both honey + ACV and Yogi Bedtime Tea fail, try plan C: a few drops of California poppy extract in warm water. Yogi Bedtime Tea does contain California poppy extract, but taking it directly allows you to increase the dose.

Visual Overwriting

“Visual overwriting” is what I do right before bed to crowd out anything re- playing or looping in my mind that will inhibit sleep (e.g., email, to-do lists, an argument, “I should have said ...”). Here are two specific tools that I’ve found effective:

Ten minutes of Tetris before bed: This recommendation is from Jane McGonigal, PhD. The free version works fine.

OR

Short and uplifting episodic television: I’ll offer just one recommendation here: Escape to River Cottage, Season One. I’ve watched this series multiple times. If you’ve ever fantasized about saying “Fuck it,” quitting your job, and going back to the land, buy this as a present for yourself. If you’ve ever dreamed of getting out of the city and moving to Montana or God-knows-where rural Utopia, procuring your own food and so on, then this is your Scooby snack. It’s endearingly retro, like a warm quilt from Mom, and host/chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall will make you want to grow tomatoes, even if you hate tomatoes. And catch eels, too. Don’t forget the eels.

Into the Darkness

Sleep Master sleep mask and Mack’s Pillow Soft Silicone Putty (ear plugs): The Sleep Master sleep mask — great product, terrible name. I’ve tried dozens of sleep masks, and this is my favorite. It was introduced to me by Jeffrey Zurofsky, who was an integral piece of The 4-Hour Chef, where he appeared as “JZ.” Some of you may recall our “food marathon,” which involved 26.2 dishes in 26 different locations in Manhattan in less than 24 hours. But I digress ... The most important feature of this mask is that it goes over your ears, not on top of them. This may seem minor, but it’s a huge design improvement: It quiets things down, it doesn’t irritate your ears, and it doesn’t move around. Furthermore, it uses Velcro instead of elastic to secure the contraption to your head.

Mack’s Silicone Putty can be used for blocking out snores, water (for swimming), or just about anything irritating. Comfortable even for side sleepers, they’re soft on your ears, hard on noise.

Marpac Dohm DS “sound conditioner” white noise machine: If earplugs bother you — and they occasionally bother me — use a Marpac Dohm DS dual-speed sound conditioner white noise machine. This was introduced to me by readers, and it tunes out everything from traffic (why I bought it) to loud neighbors, leaky faucets, and fidgety dogs. It currently has nearly 10,000 reviews on Amazon and ~75% are 5 stars. If you want to MacGyver it, a cheap fan (needs to be loud-ish) pointing away from you can get close.

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