One of the biggest contributors to overall health has little to do with how well you adhere to “eating every color in the rainbow” of organic produce, how many acres of pasture the meat you eat has roamed on, how dedicated you are to your fitness regimen, how many steps you take throughout a day, the number of hours you don't spend sitting at your desk, or even the amount of time you spend practicing gratitude.
Yes, all of those factors are indeed important components of a well-rounded approach to optimal health and wellness—but everything I just mentioned could amount to diddly-squat if you are not consistently getting – you guessed it – restorative, deep sleep.
Sleep deprivation has been linked to obesity, diabetes, glucose intolerance, anxiety, cardiovascular morbidity, disease mortality, increased alcohol usage, and even the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle in 1986—but you probably don't need a rocket scientist, or a rocket explosion to tell you this because we've all experienced the effects that a night spent tossing and turning can have on athletic performance, overall mood, and cognition.
While there's no shortage of supplements, devices, biohacks, etc. that you can use to coax your body into falling asleep faster or to increase your deep sleep (many of which I use myself, have written and podcasted about extensively, and that you'll discover in the resources section at the end of this article), today's article—a guest post by Hylke Reitsma of Biohackopedia—is going to focus on five simple tenets of sleep hygiene that should serve as the foundation to just about anybody's sleep protocol. I briefly mentioned this 10-3-2-1-0 sleep rule in my “minimalist sleep tips” post here, but now it's time to dig into even more detail.
The 10-3-2-1-0 Sleep Rule
As explained by productivity and success transformation coach Craig Ballantyne on his podcast with Ben, and also used by “the world’s leading high-performance coach” Brendon Burchard in HIS slightly stripped-down version, the 10-3-2-1-0 Sleep Rule provides exactly what you need if you're having trouble sleeping: a practical, easy to follow guide that requires no fancy biohacking devices, supplements, or guesswork.
See, when it comes to navigating your way around sleep issues, simplicity is key, and it doesn't get much more simple than this routine, which can be summarized as follows:
- 10 – The hours prior to sleep in which you will not drink caffeine.
- 3 – The hours prior to sleep in which you will not eat or drink anything other than water.
- 2 – The hours prior to sleep in which you will not work.
- 1 – The hours prior to sleep in which you will not be exposed to screens.
- 0 – The number of times you hit the snooze button.
As practical as this 10-3-2-1-0 Sleep Rule may seem, any proper guideline should be backed by solid scientific evidence for its claims to be taken seriously and for the advice to stand the test of time. Let’s do just that and delve right into the meaty science behind each of these numbers.
10 – The Hours Prior To Sleep In Which You Will Not Drink Caffeine
As Dr. Olli Sovijärvi, MD warned you about in step 5 of his article “Deep Sleep Decoded: Everything You Need To Know To Increase Your Deep Sleep Percentages.“, sleep-disturbing substances include more than just coffee—certain teas, guarana, yerba maté, and yes, even decaf coffee all contain caffeine.
There is an abundance of research, which you'll discover below, that shows caffeine intake, even several hours before bedtime, can affect the quality of your sleep.
Nearly seventy percent of people consume coffee in the evening, despite growing evidence that consuming 200mg of caffeine (appx. 2 cups of coffee) as much as 6 hours prior to sleep can result in a loss of up to one hour of sleep. Caffeine negatively affects sleep stages 3 and 4 (deep sleep) through adenosine blockade, but it also increases sleep latency (the time it takes you to fall asleep). The effects on REM sleep seem to be milder.
So what is the exact cut-off time you should be aiming for?
While a 10-hour window is plenty for most people, individual susceptibility also needs to be added into the equation as caffeine sensitivity varies from person to person based on genes, age, and personal experiences.
For example, this study shows that middle-aged adults experience increased disturbances in sleep, as measured by electroencephalogram (EEG) analysis, compared to young adults. Another study suggests that as little as two cups of coffee in the morning may have negative ramifications on your sleep that night, leading to a significant reduction in sleep efficiency and total sleep time.
Various other studies have found that certain genetic predispositions may affect sleep quality, such as the DARPP-32 gene and the adenosine deaminase (ADA) polymorphism. Caffeine binds to adenosine and blocks its receptors, the role of the ADA enzyme is to clear extracellular adenosine. Therefore, genetics can also affect the sensitivity to caffeine. Check out Ben's podcast “What Is Ben Greenfield’s Current Daily Routine? 13 New Body Hacks, What To Do About Caffeine Sensitivities, Alternatives To Coffee & Much More.” for more on caffeine sensitivity.
For this reason, some folks, namely those who have trouble sleeping, should consider full-day abstinence. For the non-insomniacs among us though, this may not be necessary. As indicated earlier, this may be influenced through individual gene composition as much as anything else.
3 – The Hours Prior To Sleep In Which You Will Not Eat Or Drink Anything Other Than Water
Meal timing, and dinner timing specifically, may play a crucial role in determining sleep quality for the night ahead. Also, nocturnal rise in leptin and nocturnal levels of melatonin could be decreased because of late-night eating, although more evidence is required for this claim to hold.
What we do know for certain is that limiting food intake close to bedtime can assist in fat oxidation and increase the amount of slow-wave sleep.
Additionally, eating a smaller variety of foods and having an overall higher caloric intake are both associated with shorter sleep duration, and short sleepers also tend to consume less vitamin C, lutein and zeaxanthin (found in green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, broccoli, peas, and lettuce and egg yolks) and selenium (found in pork, beef, turkey, chicken, fish, and eggs). It should be noted that many of these studies do not exclude confounding variables so it is hard to draw the conclusion that factor X leads to result Y.
Now, late-night snacking is sometimes inevitable if you've had an unusually active day, have an intense workout planned for the next morning, or are simply still hungry after dinner. If you find yourself in a situation where you've got to eat something close to bedtime, glycine-rich gelatin is a great option because glycine has been shown to enhance the quality of your sleep. Ben goes over more into glycine and his pre-bed “gylcine Jello” recipe in this podcast, but, in a nutshell, all you do is mix up some gelatin with a little bit of hot water, add in some coconut milk or kefir, then a little bit of stevia flavoring of your choosing, put it in the fridge, let it set until firm, and that's all. For more of Ben's go-to late-night snack foods, check out his detailed evening routine here, which takes into account the planning and fasting window for the next day.
Of course, this is all quite important for food intake during the daytime hours that you're not sleeping, since we know that sleep deprivation can also alter appetite-regulating hormones and increase caloric intake. As your body tries to get in as many calories as possible, it sends out more signals that affect hormones such as ghrelin and leptin and can create cravings for more food the next day. If this cycle continues for long enough, it can eventually lead to obesity.
2 – The Hours Prior To Sleep In Which You Will Not Work
While caffeine and food consumption, and how they relate to sleep, can be objectively studied, “work” is a bit more nuanced and harder to measure.
Especially with smartphone technology being a fingertip away, it is not uncommon for many people to scroll through their emails late at night to inevitably find something on fire at the office needing their immediate attention.
Before diving into the problems (and solutions for) pre-bed work-related tasks, it is important to highlight some other common problems pertaining to sleep and your job. First, fighting against your circadian clock is never a good idea. Night shift workers, for example, can suffer from attention deficits, fatigue, and sleep disorders more frequently. If you must work the night shift, I highly recommend checking out Ben's podcast here, in which he offers some advice for “biohacking the night shift.” Additionally, working long hours, or having multiple jobs, can also jeopardize sleep, which is alarming considering the fact that over 10% of Americans work more than one job per week.
Whatever your work situation may be, the following tips are beneficial for just about anyone and you can do them straight away to minimize the harmful effects work can have on your sleep:
- Turn off notifications on your phone.
- Put your phone into airplane mode late at night.
- Separate work and personal email as much as possible.
- Set a time to step away from work every day.
The main factor related to wakefulness after work seems to be psychological stimulation. Sleep problems arise mostly from dysfunctional cognitions, automatic arousal, and consequential distress. Therefore, mind-body interventions such as meditation, mindfulness, Tai chi, and yoga have been proven by objective parameters such as polysomnography (sleep studies) to be effective in mitigating worry and rumination. In other words, the bedroom should be a place of “safety”, a concept Ben details here.
1 – The Hours Prior To Sleep In Which You Will Not Be Exposed To Screens
Even though the prevalence of screens everywhere is somewhat of a recent phenomenon (arriving notably later than food and work), there is no shortage of evidence supporting the benefits of limiting your screen time, and avoiding screens before bed, in my opinion, is the most important component of the 10-3-2-1-0 Sleep Rule.
More “active” types of screen time, such as that on a computer or mobile phone, have a heightened negative effect when compared to more “passive” engagement, such as watching a romcom.
The various mechanisms related to screen time that affect sleep can be subdivided into 3 different categories:
- Active psychological stimulation, like violent video games, can cause increases in heart rate.
- Most streaming services are set up in such a way to keep you hooked and engage in binge-watching.
- Screens emit light which can affect your biology. Melatonin levels are suppressed and your circadian rhythm can be delayed, totally disrupting your sleep architecture. You can learn all about this in Ben's article “Sunlight Makes You Skinny & Blue Light Makes You Fat: 11 Ways To Biohack Light To Optimize Your Body & Brain.“
The good news is that there is concrete evidence that the emission of short-wavelengths can be filtered out by means of blue light blocking glasses. Blue light radiation is a physiological stress factor that is frequently underestimated. Mitochondria are abundant in the retina, and blue light is easily absorbed due to its short wavelength and strong penetration capacity. The delicate balance of the mitochondria of oxidant and antioxidant systems is easily disturbed. This makes the retina highly prone to oxidative stress emitted through blue light exposure. The inner segment of the eye has a very high oxygen concentration which can cause oxidative stress and reactive oxygen species in the outer areas of the retina. This can lead to photoreceptor damage or even photoreceptor death.
Learn more about blue light blocking glasses on Ben's podcast “What Time Of Day Can You Eat A “Cheat Meal,” How Cold Can Make You Unstoppable, Lies We’ve Been Led To Believe About Sunlight & Much More!” with Matt Maruca, the founder of RA optics, makers of some of the most effective (and stylish) blue light blocking glasses.
0 – The Number Of Times You Hit The Snooze Button
Most often, the sleep cycle you're in just before waking is the restorative REM stage. When you hit the mighty tempting snooze button, you return to sleep, but you've now downgraded your sleep to a lighter, less beneficial stage.
In other words, you are depriving yourself of quality sleep by hitting the snooze button. No matter how good falling back asleep feels, that post-snooze sleep isn't doing you any favors. So, if you find yourself snoozing every morning, try setting your alarm closer to whatever time you wake up after snoozing.
The strength of a morning routine should not be underestimated, and making the decision not to snooze and sticking to it could be regarded as the first small victory of the day, setting you up for your most optimal day. This could eventually allow you to wake up without an alarm clock, in your natural rhythm, and not be disrupted in the middle of your sleep cycle by a blaring alarm.
With that said, there are some interesting things worth mentioning regarding snoozing, most notably that it has the potential to increase dream collection and lucid dreaming. There are studies that support a positive relationship between snoozing, dream recollection, and lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming typically occurs in a hybrid state between sleep and wakefulness. The frontal cortex is highly activated during REM sleep, and this cortical activation is associated with clear visual images and longer word length in dreams.
If you are in any way interested in Jungian Dream Interpretation, what a waste it would be not to grab the opportunity to see what the unconscious has to tell you, and if you're interested in lucid dreaming, check out how Ben is “upgrading” his lucid dreams via the use of herbs here.
While there is logic to be found in each of the 10-3-2-1-0 Sleep Rule steps, based on the research, it should serve more as a guideline rather than a strict framework. Here are a few key takeaways:
- Caffeine will affect most people if consumed less than 6 hours prior to sleep, or even over 12 hours prior to sleep. On top of being mindful of caffeine timing, full-day abstinence once every 14 days is something that should be considered for most people. Ben advocates for a 7-12 day break once every 1-2 months, as he discusses in this article. Caffeine susceptibility is highly variable per individual and age group.
- Limiting food intake close to bedtime can assist in fat oxidation and increased slow-wave sleep. More research is required to determine the optimal cut-off time.
- Psychologically stimulating work (which is nearly all work) should be stopped 2 hours before sleep. To offset any ruminations late at night, mindfulness meditation can be considered.
- Screen emitting lights have been proven to negatively affect sleep. The data that support this notion is overwhelming, so if you take one thing from the 10-3-2-1-0 Sleep Rule, cutting down pre-bed screen time would be my suggestion.
- Finally, be deliberate with how you wake up. If you are looking to be productive, skip the snooze button. If you want to explore your dreams, be flexible and allow yourself a drowsy wakeup.
For keeping track of your sleep, and finding out what works and doesn't work for you, I recommend getting started on your own self-quantification journey with an Oura ring. For a detailed guide on how to use it, check out Ben's article “How I Track Sleep, The Top 7 Sleep Parameters To Track, Interpreting Your Sleep Trends & Much More.” If you are curious about how Oura stacks up against other self-quantification tools on the market, check out this Biohackopedia article.
For more resources on sleep, check out the following Ben Greenfield Fitness podcasts and articles:
- Sabbath Ramblings: Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep (5 Key Principles For A Good Night’s Rest).
- My Latest Sleep Biohacks, Habits, Routines, Rituals, Longevity Tips, Parenting Strategies, Spiritual Disciplines & More!
- Deep Sleep Decoded: Everything You Need To Know To Increase Your Deep Sleep Percentages.
- Ben Greenfield’s Ultimate Guide To Napping, Jet Lag, Sleep Cycles, Insomnia, Sleep Food, Sleep Supplements, Exercise Before Bed & Much, Much More!
- The Problem With Sleeping On Your Side, How To Sleep On Your Back, Little-Known Sleep Enhancement Tricks & Much More!
- Everything You Need To Know About Sleep Cycles (And Four Ways To Hack Your Sleep Cycles)
- How I Track Sleep, The Top 7 Sleep Parameters To Track, Interpreting Your Sleep Trends & Much More.
- How Something Called Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy Can Make You Sleep Like A Baby (And Do Much More Than That).
- The Last Resource You’ll Ever Need To Get Better Sleep, Eliminate Insomnia, Beat Jet Lag and Master The Nap: Part 1, Part 2
- 5 Biohacks To Beat Insomia, Sleep Better On Airplanes, And Shut Down Stress.
- Why Your Brain Probably Doesn’t Make Enough Chemicals To Help You Sleep (And What You Can Do About It).
- A Tiny, 1/2 Ounce Piece Of Game-Changing Sleep Technology (And How To Use PEMF For Sleep)
- 18 Big Exercise, Food & Supplement Tips To Defy Insomnia, Enhance Sleep & Wake Refreshed.
Do you have any specific timing-related guidelines that you incorporate into your own sleep architecture? Are you more or less susceptible than others when it comes to timing on any of these strategies? Leave your experiences, comments, or questions on the 10-3-2-1-0 Sleep Rule below!