What I do when "tired & wired", can't sleep, but still need my brain to "function" the next day

As I'm writing this, it's 3:30am.

I'm suffering form what is commonly referred to as "tired but wired".

I'm tired, exhausted actually, but I'm guilty of not following my own advice and trying to get too much done over the past few weeks.

And despite my various "biohacks", my brain is saying ENOUGH!

This has been happening 2/3 times a week for the past 2 weeks, which is very unusual for me.

Nevertheless, I still have to "function" during the day. My job requires a lot of mental "presence and acuity". I need to be as sharp as I can, especially given that my job mostly involves deal-making and negotiations. 

So here are my top tips for you to be able to still function well during the day when suffering from insomnia and being "wired and tired" (and which I use myself).

First: clean up your sleep hygiene

When stressed and overworked, we often forget or skip a few steps in the evening, which can severely affect your sleep:

- Eat your dinner at least 3 hours before bed-time.

- Make sure you include some carbs, which is critical for lowering cortisol (stress hormone) and increasing melatonin (sleep hormone).

- Avoid bright lights, especially those from electronic devices (phones, tablets, computers). They all send a signal through your eyes that it's still "daylight".

- Install blue-light filters on your devices and use blue-light blocking glasses: as I'm writing this, my computer has flu.x installed, and I'm wearing blue-light blocking glasses.

- Take magnesium before bed.

- Make sure your bedroom is completely dark and temperature kept on the cool side (18-20c). Both are critical for deep sleep.

- Spend 10min on mindfulness when in bed, focusing on deep breaths and relaxing your body with every exhale.

- I've written a piece about sleep in the past, which you can read here.

Second: try to get back to sleep

If (like me) you wake up at 3am and can't get back to sleep:

- Don't force it: tossing and turning can frustrate you, causing an increase in cortisol (stress hormone) and wake you up even more.

- Close your eyes, and take 50 SLOW breaths, focusing ONLY on your chest expanding and contracting with every breath. Count every inhale and exhale, and with every SLOW exhale, relax your body more and more, feel the weight of your body on your bed.

- This usually does the trick, but if it doesn't: get out of bed slowly, but don't switch on the lights.

- Find a comfortable couch to sit on, make yourself a cup of herbal tea (ideally camomille), keep light at minimum needed, and crack open a "boring" book.

Third: nothing is working and it's now 7am, you need to "function"

Ok, so you've tried all of these tricks and can't get back to sleep.

Now you need to get to work and "function" for a full day.

WARNING: this is a "hack". It works for a day, maybe 2. But this is NOT a permanent fix and you will eventually crash if you attempt to do this for multiple days.

- Do a light workout OUTDOORS: oxygen is a natural stimulant, it helps you "wake up". Air quality in gyms is terrible, and oxygen content is lower than in the outside air (because of filtration systems and CO2 exhaled by people huffing and puffing in the gym).

Keep workout short: you want to stimulate your hormones to wake up, but not overly stress your nervous or hormonal systems: an intense 15-20min would do it. Alternatively a longer but easier workout (long walk, easy run or swim) would also do the trick.

- Finish your shower with 5min of "cold shower".

- During the day: every 25min, get up and walk around, breathing deeply, mobilizing your neck, shoulders, hips, and drink a glass of cold water.

- During the day: every 2 hours, take 10min, put on your earphones, and do a mindfulness session (I use Headspace). Studies have shown that 10min of mindfulness scattered throughout the day can offset the effects of sleep deprivation on brain and nervous system function (to a certain point)It is now being introduced into Special Forces training for this exact reason.

Avoid stimulants (caffeine): the caffeine will trigger a spike in cortisol and blood sugar, which will only last for a short while and then you will crash! 

- Use decaffeinated Green Tea: L-Theanine, which is in green tea, is one of the best psychoactive compounds: it helps your brain "focus" in a calm way, without the "rush" of caffeine.

Get outdoors every 2-3 hours and take a walk: again, outdoor air has a much higher oxygen content compared to office air quality.

Avoid carbs during the day, and focus on fats and proteins: carbs (even low GI ones) will cause an insulin spike, lowering of cortisol, and a sense of drowsiness (the reason why most people feel sleepy after lunch). Focusing on fats and proteins will give you "slow burn" fuel to sustain you during the day. In addition, your brain is made of 80% fat.

- If you're already used to it: fasting during the day is best. Being in "ketosis" when fasting means your brain functions on ketones (produces by your body from fat when no carbs are available). This will allow you to boost your focus and brain capacity significantly. This will only work if you're already fat-adapted and have experience with ketosis.


Finally: try to get back to a good night of sleep at the end of the day. "time to bed" is much more critical than "hours in bed", so get to bed early.

Also: a few months ago, I wrote a 2-piece article on the Top 5 Reasons for Feeling Tired All the time:

- You can read Part 1 about Physiology here.

- You can read Part 2 about Psychology here.

Hope this helps.