4 Joyless Ways to Biohack Your Way to Higher Productivity
At Silicon Valley startup Nootrobox, Monday evening signals the start of the company-wide 40-hour fast. That’s right -- Nootrobox employees eat nothing between Monday evening and Wednesday around noon.
You might think not eating for nearly two days would just mean cranky, hungry employees, but CEO Geoffrey Woo insists the policy leads to a "super productive" Tuesday.
Woo and his team are hardly alone in their efforts to “hack” the human body to achieve more in less time. To preserve their edge in a hotspot of innovation, the Silicon Valley crowd is always ready to jump on the latest efficiency-maximizing idea.
Fans of the idea are also not shy about touting it to the rest of the world. The rest of the world, though, has often remained skeptical. In 2015, for instance, the New York Times declared the meal-replacement drink Soylent, beloved by some productivity-obsessed techies, one of the most “joyless new technologies” the world had seen in years (it was also pulled from shelves this October for making people sick).
Before that, Silicon Valley proclaimed that getting all your sleep in one chunk goes against biology. But most people who tried “sleep hacking” quickly realized that we need more than a few daily naps to make important decisions well.
This time around, biohackers are tapping into endocrinology, a branch of biology that examines how our bodies react to changes in the hormones. Here are four trendy examples. Try them if you dare (and maybe check with your doctor first).
1. Block out the bluelight.
Smartphones and other gadgets emit bluelight wavelengths which suppress the body’s creation of melatonin, a hormone that is key to our sleep rhythms. Bluelight tricks our brains into feeling more awake and often prevents us from getting a restful night’s sleep. In the likely scenario that you’re unwilling to part with your devices, there are tools on the market that can help you block bluelight out, which is recommended during the two to three hours leading up to bedtime.
F.lux is an app that can be downloaded for your smartphone or laptop to dim the bluelight emitted by your screen. Or, if you have the most recent update of iOS 10, bluelight blocking is a built-in feature available when you swipe up from your home screen.
To block a wider range of bluelight both on screen and off, pick up a pair of swannies. These are sunglasses with tinted lenses that block out sleep-disturbing light waves.
2. Butter up your coffee.
If blocking out bluelight isn’t enough to help you wake up energized, you could also try buying Bulletproof coffee, developed by famed biohacker Dave Asprey. An upgrade in commitment if only due to the $38 price tag, the coffee promises that regular drinkers will feel more energized and highly productive. You’ll need to give up breakfast as well, as Asprey recommends it as a replacement for your morning meal.
How does it work? The coffee is a mix of coffee, butter and oils, which sounds less than appetizing, but Aspray claims the butter, which comes from grass-fed cattle, supplies omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Remember hearing how good fatty fish is for you? Well, this coffee promises similar benefits. The fatty acids are combined with medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) that require less energy to digest and burn fat.
3. Freeze your way to good health.
It doesn’t sound very pleasant, but according to science the benefits of cold thermogenesis, or exposing your body to freezing temperatures, include higher calorie burn and mental focus.
If you’re brave enough to give it a try, begin by experimenting with a freezing cold shower every morning. Proponents of cold showers say they regulate the endocrine system, giving a boost to our adrenal and thyroid glands, making them more alert throughout their day.
Once you’re comfortable with cold showers, try cryotherapy, a trend that has celebrities and professional athletes alike immersing themselves for three minutes at a time in a -150 degree Celsius chamber.
4. Start fasting.
If all of the above sounds too tame for you, you can go a step further and join Woo and his team. Nootrobox’s weekly fast has grown beyond this one startup: WeFa.st is a support group/breakfast club where Silicon Valley members get together to trade tips on fasting every Wednesday morning. (It’s unclear if anyone actually eats at these breakfasts.)
The goal of fasting is to reach a state called ketosis, where the body runs out of carbohydrates and begins running off fat instead. This state is said to induce mental clarity and jumpstart productivity.
If fasting for 40 hours seems a bit extreme, you might start out with the 18 hour fasts recommended by biohacker Ben Greenfield -- he recommends periodic fasting between 6 p.m. and noon the next day. That should be enough to start burning fat and, according to Greenfield, it will give your cells time to free themselves of toxins.
If you want to try these at home, make sure to be safe and do enough research before embarking on your own biohacking journey.