How to Need Less Sleep and Get More Done

Changing when you eat can change your life

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I’m experimenting with a new Time Restricted Eating schedule/intermittent fasting protocol.

My old eating window was 4–6. My new one is 11–1. I try to hit all the nutritional bases during this period (The World’s Healthiest FoodsOptimizing NutritionFood Rules, etc), following a ketogenic diet, with bulletproof coffee/tea in the morning and afternoon supplemented with exogenous ketones, and my delicious bone broth soup (with kelp noodles, avocado oil, turmeric, and other spices) for my fasting-mimicking dinner.

Most experts agree that it’s better to get the majority of your caloric intake earlier in the day rather than later. I’ve been wanting to move in this direction for a while, but it hasn’t fit our family’s schedule until now. I worried that I might experience the dreaded post-prandial food coma so common in the afternoons, but eating healthful foods in moderation has kept that at bay.

Since I’m burning fat for fuel instead of carbs, I’m not going to bed hungry and the switch to high noon eating doesn’t feel like a loss at all. In fact, I’ve noticed that this shift appears to be dramatically beneficial for my sleep.

When I was eating from 4–6, my body wanted around 9 hours of sleep opportunity and 8 1/2 hours of actual sleep. So I’d go to bed at 9 and get up around 6. But by changing my eating window from 11–1, and still going to bed at 9, I’ve found that I’m waking up fully rested before 5, sometimes as early as 3!

I might be concerned by this if it weren’t for the fact that my heart rate variability and corresponding morning readiness score has actually improved, and my energy throughout the day has remained steady. I’ve experimented with other sleep hacks in the past such as the polyphasic approach, but they were inconvenient and put me in a zombi-state. This is different. This feels so much better.

Undoubtedly, gaining 1–3 hours a day is a big deal. In an age when people are always wishing they had more time, and time is the new luxury, if there were a relatively safe, easy, and effective way to add more discretionary time to your day, why wouldn’t you do that? Just think of the possibilities.

So what’s going on here? Why am I getting higher quality sleep and needing less of it? I think it has to do with digestion.

I know from reading Matthew Walker’s book how important REM and NREM sleep are. I also know from experience how detrimental and uncomfortable it is to eat before bed, especially if I’m overeating and/or eating junk food.

It takes the body around 6–8 hours to digest solid food. And digestion requires energy. When we sleep, our bodies want to go into repair mode, and part of that includes shutting down the digestive process. But if we’re in bed and still working through that 6–8 hour digestion window, then we’re essentially playing tug-of-war with ourselves. We may be asleep, but it’s not high-grade sleep, and therefore we actually need more of it just to feel rested.

When we go to bed with our food fully digested, we set ourselves up for an incredible night of efficient and effective sleep, potentially adding 1–3 hours to each waking day.

So, is it worth skipping a traditional dinner if it means getting better sleep each night, having more time each day, and feeling more energetic? I think so.

I recognize that an eating schedule like this isn’t possible or desirable for everyone. It took me a while to want to get to this point, let alone make it work. I enjoy eating in the evening and before bed as much as the next guy, and our culture is oriented around dinner as the main dining event for most families.

But this doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. I enjoy connecting with my family around a nutritious home-cooked lunch, and then reconnecting with them around the dinner table in a new way.

Personally, I’m not a fan of the “rise and grind” mentality so common among entrepreneurial hard chargers. I believe that sacrificing your health in order to fit in an exhausted morning workout or groggily pursue your side-hustle is unwise and ultimately counterproductive. Let me be clear — this is not that. This is not about setting your alarm obscenely early in order to get a head start on the day and burn the candle at both ends. This is about going to bed each night at a consistent time, with your food fully digested, and letting your body naturally wake up when it’s ready because your battery is completely charged. The morning alarm clock then becomes your backup, not your enemy.

By pursuing a done early, up early approach, you could add 1–3 hours to each day and feel better than ever. What would you do with that extra time and energy?