Book Preview: The 4 Hour Body – Engineering Better Sleep

December 15, 2010

2:51 pm

I was a big fan of Tim Ferriss's first book The 4 Hour Work Week as it offered some tips and tricks on how to escape the 9 to 5 for a lifestyle of freedom and pleasure. The 4 Hour Work Week was a New York Times Bestseller and since then Tim has been busy with a number of projects including a TV series. But now he is back with his second book called the The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman which was released yesterday.

In this book, Tim challenges weight-loss schemes and myths. From injecting stem-cell growth factors in his spine to enduring heat tolerance testing at Stanford, Tim puts it all to the test by trying everything himself. Tim aims to show that most of what consumers think is genetically fixed is not, and that anyone can recreate their body and reinvent themselves in 4-8 hours or less a week.

We got our hands on an excerpt from the book that is related to engineering. Well, not the engineering you may be thinking of, but engineering the perfect night's sleep, which we figured is perfect for our audience.


by Tim Ferriss

“God, what a beautiful beach. Calm. Translucent turquoise water. I should really go back to Thailand. I wonder what time it is in Thailand. But… why is there a mangy German shepherd on my beach? Orange collar. That makes no sense. Kind of looks like John's dog. Actually, I owe John a call. F*ck. Did I put his birthday party in the calendar? Birthdays and clowns. Clowns?! Why the hell am I thinking about clowns?!?”

And so my internal monologue continues until 3:00, 4:00 or even 6:00 A.M., rotating through images, ideas, commitments, anxieties, and fantasies. This mental slide show is combined with perverse sleep yoga: sometimes the twisted into-a-pretzel posture, sometimes lying on my back like Dracula in mock-paralysis, and always ending in a last-ditch fetal position with a pillow or arm between the knees. Fetal position never works, but I continue to try it, like a full-bladdered dog scratching at a door that never opens. I have insomnia. Horrific “onset” insomnia. My father and my brother are the same. It's not because we're stressed out, necessarily, it's not because we're not tired–it's because we just can't freaking fall asleep.

So, in the interest of finally getting a good night's rest and helping others with insomnia, I tried everything from folk remedies to smart drugs, from light therapy to fat leaching. Now I can say that I had chronic insomnia.

  1. Good sleep (8-10) was most dependent on the ratio of REM-to-total sleep, not total REM duration. The higher the percentage of REM sleep, the more restful the sleep. The higher the REM percentage, the better the recall of skills or data acquired in the past 24 hours. Higher-percentage REM sleep also correlated to lower average pulse and temperature upon walking.
  2. I could increase REM percentage by extending total sleep time past nine hours, or by walking for five minutes approximately four and a half hours after sleep onset. One walking of 5–10 minutes, approximately four and a half hours after sleep onset, dramatically increased REM percentage. It seems that one walking is not necessarily a bad thing, at least when intentional.
  3. Taking 200 milligrams of huperzine-A 30 minutes before bed can increase total REM by 20-30%. Huperzine-A, an extract of Huperzia serrata, slows the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. It is popular nootropic (smart drug), and I have used it in the past to accelerate learning and increase the incidence of lucid dreaming. I now only use huperzine-A for the first few weeks of language acquisition, and no more than three days per week to avoid side effects. Ironically, one documented side effect of overuse is insomnia. The brain is a sensitive instrument, and while generally well tolerated, this drug is contraindictated with some classes of medications. Speak with your doctor before using.
  4. The higher the percentage of deep-wave sleep, the better your subsequent physical performance.
  5. More than two glasses of wine within four hours of sleep decreases deep-wave sleep 20-50%. Even four glasses six hours beforehand did not appear to have this effect, so the timing is crucial. Conversely, taking 15+ drops of California poppy extract appeared to increase deep-wave sleep up to 20%.
  6. Eating two tablespoons of organic almond butter on celery sticks before bed eliminated at least 50% of the “feel like shit” (1-3) mornings. Ever wonder how you can sleep 8-10 hours and feel tired? The likely culprit: low blood sugar. Make a pre-bed snack part of your nutritional program. One to two tablespoons of flaxseed oil (120-240 calories) can be used in combination with the celery-and-almond-butter to further increase cell repair during sleep and thus decrease fatigue. Flaxseed oil tastes like a mixture of cat urine and asparagus, so–if you opt to include it–I recommend pinching your nose while consuming it, per Dr. Seth Roberts.

So there you have it. We thank you Tim Ferriss for sharing this useful excerpt. To everyone who read it, we hope you have pleasant dreams.


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Frank Gruber is the cofounder, CEO and Executive Editor of Tech.Co (formerly Tech Cocktail). He is the author of the book, Startup Mixology, Tech Cocktail’s Guide to Building, Growing, and Celebrating Startup Success. He is also a startup advisor and investor to startups. Find Frank Gruber online and follow him on Twitter at @FrankGruber.