Nir Eyal: Sleep Habit Fundamentals, Adding Friction For Mindful Technology Usage & Future Of Optimized Rest - E320

· Thought Leaders,Creators


“Sleep is highly affected by placebo. Every culture has sleep aids. In Western culture, there's chamomile tea or a glass of milk before bed. A lot of it is purely the placebo effect, disparage the treatment, the herbs or whatever it might be. It's just that the placebo effect is super effective because again, the number one cause of insomnia is worrying about insomnia. So if you have something that gives you a sense of agency and control, Oh, I did something about it. was up at four o'clock in the morning. And I popped a melatonin pill. It actually doesn't matter if the melatonin is working. The fact that you took something gave you agency and control and power over something that you felt powerless over is very soothing, is very calming and lets your mind relax. They're called open label placebos. It turns out placebos work, even when you know they're placebos.” - Nir Eyal

“People always want a pill. They want an easy solution. There are so many risks that we don't think about. Many sleep medications can be habit forming, if not all out addictive. Even if they're not, just the mental wiring of thinking you have to take a pill every time you want to fix the problem, isn’t good. Sometimes medication is a good idea after you've exhausted all of the non-pharmaceutical options, because all pharmaceuticals have side effects. I'm not anti-medication, but I am anti this ‘just prescription’ pill mill that we have.” - Nir Eyal

“We have to be very careful with any source of media and make sure that it serves us, as opposed to us serving it. The reality of the modern world is that we have to learn these skills and specifically teach our kids these skills. One of the things I rally against is having any kind of technology in a kid's bedroom. We see there are lots of benefits to technology, and a lot of it gets a bad name. There are a lot of potential benefits to appropriate technology use, but the biggest downside is not the technology itself. It's what technology comes at the cost of, which is sleep. Again, there's nothing necessarily wrong with allowing your kid to have access to technology, but as a parent, we do not want anything in our kid's bedroom that interrupts sleep. That can be anything that beeps, buzzes, or boops, anything that lights up, or anything that makes noise at night that could potentially interrupt kids’ sleep should not be in a kid's bedroom and in the parents’ bedroom.” - Nir Eyal

Nir Eyal, The Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author, and Jeremy Au talked about three main themes related to technology, sleep, and personal growth:

1. Sleep Medication Impact & Melatonin Patent: Nir and Jeremy discussed the health implications of sleep medication and highlighted the lack of regulation in the supplement industry, including melatonin products. They touched upon the significance of understanding the origin, purpose, and dosage when considering sleep supplements. They also emphasized the importance of natural sleep cycles and cautioned against reliance on sleep aids without a deep understanding of their implications.

2. Technology in Sleep Optimization and Future of Sleep Predictive Analytics: They discussed various tools to optimize sleep, including a Kindle, for bedtime reading to earplugs for undisturbed rest. They talked about tools like the Oura Ring, which provides insights on sleep quality and patterns, and the Apple Watch, which tracks and analyzes sleep metrics. They believe that the future of sleep tech lies in predictive analytics, which would offer real-time feedback on sleep quality and help people in making healthier sleep choices.

3. Inserting Friction for Mindful Technology Use: They stressed the value of creating friction to make conscious decisions about technology use. Nir shared about an experimental approach such as the NFC chip tool that limits access to certain apps during work hours, requiring extra steps to access potential distractions. They explained that adding these friction points aids in a more mindful and intentional relationship with our devices, and ensures that they serve us instead of dominating our time and attention.

They also talked about the placebo and nocebo effects in relation to sleep, how a lot of sleep medications can be habit-forming, the importance of being vigilant in media consumption, and the significant effect of overstimulation in both children and adults’ sleep patterns.

Supported by Ringkas

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Jeremy Au: (01:59)

Hey Nir, excited to have us for our next monthly series and this time is going to be about sleep, our favorite hobby, or at least my favorite hobby, especially after a good meal. Nier, how are you today?

Nir Eyal: (02:10)

Good to see you Jeremy. And yeah, excited to dive into sleep. How do we optimize for sleep? Do we think about sleep too much? Is it overhyped? Is it good in the tech side? Is it good tech center to explore? So lots and lots of discuss here.

Jeremy Au: (02:22)

So I understand you recently got back from a vacation in japan. I gotta ask, did you sleep better? Did you sleep worse? How did it come about?

Nir Eyal: (02:29)

Yeah. So anytime my routine, gets disrupted, I don't sleep as well, which actually brings, to the first point around sleep is that, we all have been heard to death about how important sleep is. And I think by and large, I think we worry about it too much and that sounds counterintuitive 'cause if something is super important, you should worry about it a lot. But there's actually quite a bit of research that shows that one of the major causes of insomnia is worrying about not sleeping. You get into this repetitive loop where you keep ruminating on the fact that you're not getting sleep.

So part of what's really changed, and I used to really struggle with terrible sleep. I'm curious to hear your experience as well. But one of the things that I've been doing over the past few years is to not worry as much. So I know, on vacation, we stay out for later dinners and then we have to get up sometimes in the morning to go see something special. So my sleep is definitely more irregular, but then what happens when I come home? The first weekend that I have available, I sleep nine, 10 hours and I catch up on a lot of that sleep.

Jeremy Au: (03:23)

Yeah. I think sleep for me is pretty good, I've been working very hard and use a structure, with my memory foam pillow, I got the right mattress and I got my little eye mask. And then I've got my earplugs, and sometimes a little melatonin, sometimes little Valerian root. So I think that feels like my sleep routine. And now I'm trying my best to be like, Oh, those blue light glasses that I read my monochrome iPad at night. I try to read something relatively boring. And so that seems to be my sleep routine, in general. What is done is that I think I used to be a lot more swingy in a sense, was very much like, Oh, I can do an all nighter or something like that. And then, sleeping on weekends. But now I'm pretty consistent between six and a half hours to seven and a half hours. know, That's what Apple watch tells me. So I feel very optimized in that sense. But, you know, feels like it's been quite a struggle to get to where I am today.

Nir Eyal: (04:10)

Yeah. Yeah. And you have kids at home too. That I'm sure that makes it a little bit more challenging.

Jeremy Au: (04:14)

There's a soundproof door that I installed. That's a special door you get installed, and it helps isolate sound, and that's helped

Nir Eyal: (04:21)

I think the basics, a lot of people jump to magic solutions. I think a few years ago was melatonin. Well, now it turns out melatonin is actually not good for you. it repeatedly, it's really bad for you, right? It does all kinds of weird things to your hormones, specifically when it comes to testosterone. So there's a lot of new data coming out about how you really should not take pop melatonin in especially the diet for children. They were making a melatonin for children to take, and that's really not good. And I think it's a general lesson overall that I see in a lot of different areas. I Not only do I see this when it comes to sleep, but I see this in my focus around distraction, nootropics and medication, and all kinds of off-the-shelf type of products, some of them prescription products as well. And it's amazing how we jump to things before covering our bases.

People before think about the basics, like, okay, how about, do you have a bedtime? Do You have a bedtime? Right? Like, we say you have to have a bedtime. You have to go to bed on time. I used to tell that to my daughter and then she asked me one day, well, do you have a bedtime? And I was sad to admit I didn't. So like, you can't.

Jeremy Au: (05:20)


Nir Eyal: (05:21)

Get Enough sleep if you don't have a bedtime. Now I have a bedtime. It's in my calendar.

Jeremy Au: (05:26)

Oh, we got to share. What's your bedtime? If you share yours, I'll share mine. There we go.

Nir Eyal: (05:30)

Yeah, 9:30 is my to start. I start getting ready for bed. 9:30 to 10:00. 9:30 is when I need to get into the bathroom, start brushing my teeth. So that by 10 o'clock I'm in bed. In fact, our internet router shuts off at 10 p. m. So we can't use the internet past 10 p. m. That's helped a ton. Like, talk about just covering your bases. We pop pills like candy before we stop and think to ourselves, wait a minute. Have I gotten shades that block out the light? Am I using earplugs if I live in a loud neighborhood? Do I have a bedtime? These are all really simple things that I think we all should consider before we start putting anything into our bodies.

Jeremy Au: (06:03)

Yeah. It makes sense. I think my bedtime is about 10 PM. So that's when my watch buzzes me and say, Hey, time to go to bed. I probably get in by 10, 30, 11. I'm trying to be asleep by midnight, and I try to sleep seven half hours, and then I wake up before 8 a. my day starts.

Nir Eyal: (06:16)

Do you use something on Netflix or do you have a TV in the bedroom?

Jeremy Au: (06:19)

Oh, no, thank goodness. But you know, I felt very good about not having it. But then of course, I have my phone, which has YouTube and my iPad, and I uninstall all the apps. So adding iPad, I just uninstall every app unless it's a reading app or note taking app. And that's my version of a kindle. But I tried every iteration of that. I tried a Kindle. I think since I've Chromebook before, I don't know.

How about you?Do read paperback?

Nir Eyal: (06:39)

I used to, I never charged my phone near my bed. That's a big mistake cause it's too tempting, and, and I I have right here, my Kindle, I think this is actually the most underrated sleep medication you can buy. Getting a Kindle. I think a Kindle, now you don't have to get a Kindle if you can read on your phone. I find it incredibly distracting to read on my phone because email is just a click away, and YouTube is just a tap away and all the other stuff that you could be doing with your phone. So I like having just a dedicated device with a boring book. That is the secret. You have to have something boring to read. And it puts you out like a light because the techniques we know helps you sleep is something that disrupts the rumination. We talked a little bit earlier about insomnia is oftentimes caused by repetitive thoughts around not getting to sleep, and if I don't sleep soon I'm not gonna be fresh tomorrow morning and I got that big meeting and what time is that again? Am I prepared? So that rumination is what keeps you awake. And we know that having something to disrupt that rumination cycle. There used to be a very good app called mySleepButton that was clinically proven to help people sleep. was quite effective. And all it did was, tell you random words and ask you to think about it. So it'd be like, French baguette. VW Beetle. A mountain hilltop, like just random words, but it was incredibly effective at getting you to go to sleep.

Now the problem was, I used to use it for years. The problem was that you had to have something in your ear and it made it difficult for me to like, you know, I'd roll over and then I'd have my ear, I didn't like the electronic in my head the whole night. So the secret is that if you just get a Kindle, not only are the newer Kindles designed to not have any blue light, even though now we think that blue light, that was a myth. The whole blue light keeps you awake. Turns out there's not much evidence for that anyway, but not knowing does it not have blue light. If you read something that's slightly boring, it has that same effect of breaking the rumination chain. Sometimes I'll read half a paragraph after staying awake, tossing and turning for 30 minutes, I'll read half a paragraph and boom, I'm, I'm asleep. So having, I think, a dedicated device with you, it's certainly worth the price. Now, we don't have any affiliate links or anything, so that's just an honest endorsement.

Jeremy Au: (08:38)

If you talk about affiliate links, I just paid for this kickstarter where it's like the Bose sleep bud engineers has left the team because they're the sleep buds and then they're creating a new version three of it. So I definitely signed up, no affiliate link, unfortunately.

Nir Eyal: (08:51)

How does it work? What is it?

Jeremy Au: (08:52)

So it's like the Bose apparently had a product. It was just sleep buds that tented me across two generations. But it's basically, it's like one of those earpods you can put in, plays music, or whatever it is for eight hours or 10 hours. And then it wakes you up in the morning. It's supposed to be comfortable when you are a side sleeper. And of course, bose actually discontinued the product because they couldn't find a niche. At least, it doesn't matter for a company as big as Bose, but surprisingly they allowed the engineer that built it to build out their own technology team to launch a new startup that does it specifically. And I was like, Oh, that's great. So, you know, they're adding a whole bunch of software features and stuff like that. And I was like, Oh, this is a kickstarter.

Nir Eyal: (09:24)

So you, you can actually sleep with them all night?

Jeremy Au: (09:26)

Yeah, that's the promise. We really should get affiliate links for this one.

Nir Eyal: (09:29)

Yeah. Wait, so you've tried it or you ordered it?

Jeremy Au: (09:31)

No, I have not tried it. I just put down money on a kickstarter product.

Nir Eyal: (09:34)

Oh, they're a Kickstarter. Nice. Okay, so.,

Jeremy Au: (09:37)

It'll come out a year.

Nir Eyal: (09:37)

If we're talking about things you put in your ears, here's another show and tell item. These are the best I have ever bought in my life. Okay. And again, like this isn't, we're not getting paid for this. This is just an honest endorsement. So I got this in New York.

This was the most interesting thing. It's called MusiCares. You can see it there. And what they did is you go in, you make an appointment and you sit down and they fill your ear with this putty and they make a clay model of your ear canal. And then, weeks later, you get in the mail custom- made little earplugs that you can see they're clear, you can get them in a hundred different colors. And musicians use these for when they're on the road. Some musicians actually can have wired in a little speaker so they can become headphones as well. But in this case, I just wanted them as earplugs. They're amazing. You actually, you have to know which one is right and which one's left because your ear canals are not symmetrical.

So it's specifically molded for your ears. And when I'm on a flight and I want to sleep, these work way better than those little foamy dinky things that they give you sometimes on the planes or if you bought them. So that this is a wholehearted recommendation that those these work really, really well. And I always take these with me when I travel.

Jeremy Au: (10:41)

Yeah, I have a crate of the, basic three M orange, earbuds, and my wife is always complaining because I've always told me of them lying around and I toss them after a while, so I've got to check out these special ones.

Nir Eyal: (10:51)

Yeah, these are like, when I wear them. We went on a trip to Copenhagen recently and there we stayed in noisy part of town and I wore these and my wife had to nudge me to wake me up because she would talk in a normal voice and I couldn't hear.

Jeremy Au: (11:02)

It's not that I'm not paying attention, honey, I'm wearing wearing

Nir Eyal: (11:06)

Yeah. Well, what are you saying? I don't know.

Jeremy Au: (11:08)

Oh, that's great. What other sleep tag do you use or do you have? I'm so curious.

Nir Eyal: (11:14)

Yeah. So one thing I do as well, so back to this idea of not worrying about it so much and how, how often, and by the way, we should, it's probably been too long before we've said this, but as a disclaimer, some people really do have biological issues with sleep. So, you know, sometimes, the right course of action is to go see a doctor.

There are certain pathologies that will disrupt sleep. So absolutely, you if you have some kind of chronic condition that you've been suffering for months and months or even years, then that might be something you see a physician for, but the vast majority of people who think they have some kind of sleep problem really don't. It's basics like a dark environment, finding ways to eliminate noise. Weight loss, something that really helped my dad when he lost weight, he got rid of his sleep apnea. So he used to have terrible sleep apnea, which we know is very dangerous. If you snore, snoring is not normal, right?

A lot of people think, oh, that's just a normal thing. You know, if you snore, you really should go get out with a physician to see if you need a CPAP machine. Or the best thing you can do, of course, there's many benefits, but losing weight. So when my dad lost 10 kilos, he stopped snoring completely, and his sleep apnea disappeared, and he, for the first time, could sleep through the night. He used to get up 10, 15 times per night every time he would snore, and then that little thing in the back of his throat would get caught, and he'd wake up gasping. So losing weight did miracles for his sleep. So that's another one of those basic things.

Nir Eyal: (12:33)

Again, people always want a pill. They want an easy solution and there are pills out there. Of course, there's just so many risks that we just so many risks that we don't think about. A pill works for you and we know that sleep medication, many sleep medications can be habit forming, if not, all out addictive. And even if they're not, just the mental wiring of thinking, Oh, I have a problem, let me take a pill to fix it. Remember, pills don't teach skills. That's one of my life mantras. When it comes to so many of our problems, not that medication is always a bad idea. Sometimes medication is a very good idea after you've exhausted all of the non-pharmaceutical options, because all pharmaceuticals have some kind of side effect. So I guess that's just my biggest word of warning. Of course, for some people, medication is the right route. I'm not anti-medication, but I am anti this just prescription pill mill that we have.

In many parts of the world where, you go into a doctor, you say, you have a problem here. No problem. Take this pill and call me in a week. First try all the non-medical solutions. One of those non medical solutions is a technique that I found effective, and that is to have a mantra. And this is something I do probably once or twice a week. I'll wake up in the middle of the night, typically around three o'clock, and I'll be wide awake. So what do you do? And I used to get very stressed about that. You know, back to this rumination thing of I'm not going to be ready for work tomorrow. And this is going to make my whole day terrible, and I better get to sleep fast. And if I don't, what time is it? And so what you really want to do is to have a practice in place so that you know what to do when the situation arises. It's not the situation itself that that is the problem. It's how you respond to this situation. So one thing you want to do is have a standard mantra, because if you don't have a mantra, your mind will go into all these terrible thoughts. You'll start ruminating. So my mantra, whenever I'm having trouble sleeping, I just repeat to myself, I focus on my breath, and I repeat to myself, the body gets what the body needs if you let it. I just say that again and again. The body gets what the body needs if you let it. What does that mean? That if you have a bad night's sleep, what's typically going to happen, if you let your body, is that the next night is going to be a great night's sleep. That always happens, right? When I stop freaking out, when I just relax, when I stop ruminating and just repeat that mantra of the body gets what the body needs, maybe your body just needs to wake up for a few hours and that's okay. And you'll fall back to sleep in a few minutes if you let it. Now, where people go wrong is that they go to bed later and later and later. They'll stay up watching Netflix. And then they wake up and then they get freaked out and then that pushes their whole sleep cycle and that goes crazy. So if you let it, that's very important part about like, okay, I have my bedtime. I'm going to let my body get those seven, eight hours of sleep. I have it in my schedule. That's all I'm going to do. And if my body chooses to wake up on a Tuesday, well then guess what? On a Wednesday, it'll be fine. So having that mantra, feel free to steal mine. The body gets what the body needs. If you let it. Another thing, by the way, I've learned is that you really don't want to get up. Thanks. In the middle of the night. I don't know if this happens to you, but problem is I have no problem getting to sleep, but very often I would say two, three times a week. I have that three o'clock in the morning.

I feel like I need to go to the bathroom. And I'm not telling anybody not to go pee. That's fine. If you really have to go, go a lot of times. It wasn't that I would wake up because I had to pee. It's that I would have to pee because I woke up and that's actually a really important decision because if your body is designed to not wake you up throughout the night to go pee. Like, you should be able to hold it. And especially, of course, I get asterisks for men, there can be prostate issues, go get that stuff checked out. But for the vast majority of people, realizing that you don't have to get up. Now, why is that so important?

Nir Eyal: (15:50)

Because, turns out, you cannot fall asleep if your heart rate is above 60 beats per minute. You can't. It's like physically impossible. You can't fall asleep if your heart rate is greater than 60 beats per minute. So when you get up to go to the bathroom, you are elevating your heart rate. So if you can just chill out in bed, uh, a lot of times you'll be hot, right? Because the way your circadian rhythms work is that your body heats up in order to wake itself up. So if you can take off the covers, cool off a bit. And just do that breathing exercise, take long, deep breaths, count your breaths, or maybe do this mantra of saying in your head, the body gets what the body needs on the way in, the body gets what the body needs on the way out, just keep saying that breathing. You'll cool off, you'll lower your heart rate, and you'll put your mind in a state where you can get back to sleep.

Jeremy Au: (16:32)

Yeah, I really resonate with that. And actually, I think the story about your dad actually happened to me. I actually used to snore quite terribly when I was in New York. I was medically obese. And so my wife, when I was sleeping by myself, it wasn't a problem. And then my wife came over and she was just like, Oh my gosh, I can't sleep in the same room as you because you're snoring so loud. And then she'll get worried for me because she could hear me choke in the middle of the night, from her perspective, right? That's what she said. And so I was like, okay, fine, I have to get around to this. And so I got one of those sleep recording apps. And then you can actually record interventions. I guess we'll link to all these things in the transcript, so people can look at it. But it was really helpful because it would just use a microphone to record me, and then it would record and detect episodes of snoring or choking. And then you could also record interventions that you did to see what would help, for example, if you're drinking or so on and so forth.

And what I landed on in terms of interventions at that period of time was I got myself a wedge pillow and then I actually got, I would sleep on my side with a bolster, and I would also have one of those things, it would pull, it's a suction on your tongue, and I would sleep with my tongue pulled forward so that it would clear it up. And it sucked because what I realized at that point in time was that there's actually a bit of a flywheel where if you're not sleeping well, then you get more stressed, and then you get more fat. I'm not saying it's inevitable. And as you get more fat and maintain the weight, then it actually impacts your sleep terribly. So there's a little bit of a runaway cycle that could happen. And I was literally at a point where I was like, I have to do this stuff now so I can continue with my health and weight loss in parallel. I'd always have a little bit of a crowding out of that, and I think that was for like half a year to a year I had that problem until I finally, like, I said, lost about 10 kilograms and I was just like, thank goodness it disappeared, and I don't have to do that stuff anymore, but I was like, thank goodness, because I didn't want to do a CPAP machine, but I swear to God, I was like, looking at my phone, I was like, CPAP, CPAP in my 30s, is it normal? And all the articles are like, no, it's not normal. That was kind of like what the conversations were, even with my doctor right, because the doctor was like, Oh, you're snoring, you want a CPAP machine? I mean, from their perspective is more straightforward. He gave some flyby advice on losing weight and everything, but it was like a five second blub. He was like, and you can lose weight. Also your insurance, we can probably provide you a CPAP machine. And I was like, hold up.

Nir Eyal: (18:33)

Yeah. It is a shame that that is kind of pushes the first solution like, yeah, just take this machine. Just change. But do you think you would have believed that that was the case? Would you have acted if you didn't hear that recording?

Jeremy Au: (18:44)

Yeah, I think that was really helpful because I was not aware until my wife was. One, I mean, obviously I wasn't happy that she wasn't sleeping in the same bed as me because they're like Oh, you know, well, husband and wife and so so forth. So it does like a little bit defensiveness. Like you should be able to sleep even if I'm snoring, you know, everyone snores, every husband snores, every wife has to sleep with them anyway. I'm not saying that's the right way to think about it, but you know, you could feel that sensation in your head. And then after a while, I think when she came in more across like, concern, then it got me thinking like, I should just hear it from my perspective. So I think hearing the recording of my own snoring and me not breathing was one of the, I wouldn't say threshold or inflection points, but it was at least a small moment to be like, oh, okay, I should try to do something about this.

Nir Eyal: (19:21)

Yeah, I really wish more people would hear that message that snoring is not normal. It has been normalized as something everybody does but it's really not. It's it is dangerous. We know that people who snore have shorter lifespans. It leads to sleep apnea, at least all kinds of other problems. If you're listening and you snore, please go do something about it because we, has some pretty drastic effects.

Nir Eyal: (19:42)

And you're right to emphasize that point around this vicious cycle of, we know that when you get poor sleep, people tend to have less self control. They're more cranky, they're more irritable. They tend to compensate with eating, with snacking. And so it is this vicious cycle of lowering your threshold for self control because it's so important. Sleep is so critical for our, this part of the brain we call the prefrontal cortex, guides our executive function. So when you feel irritable because you didn't get a good night's sleep, you are to compensate with snacks or drinks or whatever you're looking for to kind of self soothe. So it does affect many areas of your life.

Jeremy Au: (20:15)

Yeah, and I definitely felt a weird feeling and I always tell myself that I'm very privileged, right? Because I could throw everything about it, right? So I could do my research, I could read the stuff, I could work on it in different angles, but it's still tough, right? And, like you said, I think it's normalized. I mean, if you tell someone you're snoring, most people, my friends are like, Yeah, I snore too. Or my dad snores, right? This is a very, like I said, normal thing. It feels like a normal thing. In fact, I would even say it's a macho thing in some situations.

Nir Eyal: (20:38)

Yeah, you think so? Huh. Interesting. Yeah. But hopefully there'll be more-

Jeremy Au: (20:41)

I'm not saying it's right. I'm saying.

Nir Eyal: (20:43)

Yeah, totally. I think another thing, by the way, on those same lines, and this actually I think is where technology really helped me kind of like your story around hearing yourself on the snoring app for me, drinking was unbelievable impact it had on my sleep. So I used to wear an Oura Ring. I don't wear it anymore because the new Apple watch pretty much does everything that the Oura ring does. But when I first got to Singapore, I was invited to a dinner party, actually at our friend Joanna's place and I had Oura ring on and I think I had throughout the night, maybe three drinks.

So I didn't go crazy, Like in the course of like, three, four hours, three drinks, that's not a big night. And my sleep score, went from like an 80 to like a 20, with just three drinks. And I had never, I never knew that. I never knew that because the thing with, booze is that you think you're having a good night's sleep, right? You're unconscious. So you don't remember all the tossing and turning you did because you were asleep. It turns out, and this is what I like about these devices. I think there are some downsides as well to tracking your sleep too much. You can kind of start obsessing about that.

Jeremy Au: (21:44)

Yeah, I agree with you. And actually, I think that's also something I realized from Melatonin, and to circle back a little bit, but it is kind of like a substance that people take, to sleep or what they think has an impact on sleep. And one of the most interesting things I've ever read was that, apparently the folks in Boston, when they first discovered melatonin, they basically realized that the right dosage was about 0.3 mg to 0.5 And so they basically patented that quantum range because they were like, this is the range for sleep dose. And so what was interesting was that supplement makers, in order to bypass this patent, basically started doing the dosages in one milligram, one gram, one milligram, five, ten, thirty, because it's outside the range actually. And so it's interesting where supplement ranges, if you go online or you go to any, guardian or pharmacy, all their dosages are actually multiples above the recommended dosage. The dosage is 0.3, but it's a legacy of supplement makers trying to bypass, effectively bypassing, the protections that the original scientists had. So kind of crazy because today, obviously everybody's like, bigger is better, right? The higher the number is, better. So you actually have to pay more for a normal dose. And so for me, I actually go online to look for a 0.3, which is rare. You get a shift and everything. It's kind of an interesting dynamic where the standard dose available in pharmacies is, this an order of magnitude higher than the recommended dose in every pharmaceutical and biological study.

Nir Eyal: (23:06)

Yeah, I didn't know that. Wow. I mean, it's, it's crazy how unregulated, like many times, even what the term, even what you think you're buying, there's really no quality controls and no quality checks. A lot of times what you put, what you pay for in that vitamin, it turns out when they take it to a lab, may or may not even have how much they say or the ingredient, the key ingredient in it at all. So, yeah.

Jeremy Au: (23:25)

It was a, like a scout's order, you know.

Nir Eyal: (23:26)

Yeah, that being said, I think what we don't give enough power to is the power of the placebo effect. And we know with sleep, sleep is highly affected by placebo. So basically, every culture has sleep aids. In Western culture, there's chamomile tea or, have a glass of milk before bed. Every, has, oh, this will help you with this or that or the other. And a lot of it is purely the placebo effect, disparage the treatment, the herbs or whatever it might be. It's just that the placebo effect is super, super effective because again, the number one cause of insomnia is worrying about insomnia. So if you have something that gives you a sense of agency and control, Oh, I did something about it. was up at four o'clock in the morning. And I popped a melatonin pill. It actually doesn't matter if the melatonin is working. The fact that you took something, gave you agency and control and power over something that you felt powerless over is very soothing, is very calming and lets your mind relax. So, I think we should all be taking more placebos. turns out What's interesting, it turns out placebos work. They're called open label placebos. It turns out placebos work, even when you know they're placebos.

Jeremy Au: (24:31)


Nir Eyal: (24:32)

You don't, you don't have to lie to yourself. Yeah, it's called an open label placebo. And we've done studies where doctors give patients, hey, this is a placebo. It's completely inert. There's no medication in it whatsoever. But placebos have been shown to be effective for certain symptoms like insomnia, depression, anxiety. There's many, and those were very effective. Placebos don't cure cancer, but they will affect the pain associated with cancer. So anything that is essentially a psychosomatic disorder, anxiety, depression, insomnia, all of these things, are very, very affected by the placebo.

Jeremy Au: (25:03)

You know, I've got to ask, have you ever done any all nighters? Any good stories? You know, we've been good boys talking about how optimizing for the best sleep, but we've got to share some, I don't know what you call it, horror stories of bad sleep or bad moments in our lives when we were not as enlightened. And I'll start first. I was in the military and I didn't sleep for like two days because You know, where I have to wake up at dawn, and, you know, do the tag, and dig through the day, and so forth. But, effectively, after two, three days, I was out of sleep. And by the third night, I basically saw a baby in a tree. Because I was so exhausted, and I saw a dead baby in a tree. But I was so tired, I didn't panic or anything, I just knew that I was exhausted. So I was just looking at this thing, and I was just like... I'm definitely hallucinating. And then I would like, have micro naps. So I would lean um, against a tree and I have a micro nap where I dreamt I finished the whole mission and I'll wake up less than a minute later because we're moving off. So that's kind of how bad it was, but where it showed the worst thing I ever had happened to me was the next, the fourth day effectively, we got back to base and I was quite happy that I didn't injure myself because I was exhausted and I remember I was biting something. I got Like a fork, right? I was putting something in my mouth and I fell asleep. And I've chomped on that fork and I chipped my tooth, that I have to this day. From that, because I fell asleep putting something in my mouth, because I was like putting the food in my mouth and I just fell asleep. And then I just like, I woke up and I chipped my tooth. And that was the worst thing I ever did. And after that experience, I was like, oh shit. I was like, do not do this. This is terrible. So that's my worst story of sleep deprivation or, not sleeping.

Nir Eyal: (26:27)

Do they still make people stay up that long?

Jeremy Au: (26:30)

I think it's just a function of you know, the work. And then I was not a very smart person because, I was taking coffee and, not managing my sleep and I was trying to plan. So I think technically there's enough time to sleep if you can't nap your way. It's supposed to be tough on your body, especially when you're like an 18 or 19-year-old. You kind of like feel invincible. But in retrospect, I was like, there is a limit to the human body. It turns out that sleep is one of those easier ones to break. So that was my personal lesson.

Nir Eyal: (26:54)

Oh, man. Yeah. I, I don't know if I have a story quite that extreme, but, I definitely had, in college, very late nights that I don't know if I'm particularly proud of, but

Jeremy Au: (27:04)

Like partying, clubbing?

Nir Eyal: (27:06)

Yeah, or just staying up, one night to be studying, one night to be partying, one night to be something or another. And you just kind of discount sleep. And, And maybe that's okay. If you choose to do that in certain parts of your life, then maybe that's all right. Like you're in NS, it's probably part of the job. As long as you let yourself recover, I'm sure on the fifth day, you probably slept all day. did you give yourself time to

Jeremy Au: (27:25)

I was asleep all the time. A hundred percent.

Nir Eyal: (27:27)

Yeah, yeah. I mean, again, the body gets what the body needs, if you let it. Eventually, your body's gonna spring back like a rubber band and get back what it needs.

Jeremy Au: (27:34)

Yeah. I mean, I think it's true. I think as a teenager, I definitely partied and clubbed as well until sunrise, and then the clubs are shut and just be like, you know, to play the it's closing time, just all those songs to be like, Hey, get out.

Nir Eyal: (27:47)

Yeah, well, now I don't understand how I did that. Now, it sounds so boring. I don't know. I'd so much rather just be in bed. feels so much better.

Jeremy Au: (27:57)

You travel back in time, and then your teenage self says, like, hey, why are you so boring?

Nir Eyal: (28:00)

Good to do it once in your life. Get it out of your system.

Jeremy Au: (28:04)

I mean, what's interesting is that we talked about some of the businesses around sleep, right? And I think in the previous episode, you mentioned that, for example, we talk about apps that help us sleep like Oura ring, Apple Health. And then the apps we talked about, but those apps that compete for our sleep, right? And you mentioned in a previous episode, how, for example, Netflix said that the competitor for Netflix was sleep, right? How do you think about that?

Nir Eyal: (28:24)

Yeah. I mean, part of what I write about in terms of distraction, that these tools are fantastic. It's wonderful that we live in an age where we can entertain ourselves with the push of a button and have so much access to the world's information and each other, and stay connected with family and friends. It's all wonderful. But of course, the price of all this amazing progress is that we have to learn how to restrain ourselves, and that's what becoming indistractable is all about. I'm very pro-tech and I'm really like angry and offended by people who think, Oh, you know, technology is melting our brains and it's addicting everyone. It's such a popular bullshit narrative. We have to take personal responsibility. We have to learn how to live with these devices because they're not going to take care of it for us. Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix said that Netflix competition is sleep. It's not anything else. It's not YouTube, it's sleep. And does anybody not know that? Does anybody think that the media companies are altruistic? That they give a shit about much time you spend with your family. They don't care. They want you to spend all their time with the media company, whether that's social media, whether that's cable news. Any form of media is going to monetize attention.

Nir Eyal: (29:25)

And so we have to be very careful with any source of media and make sure that it serves us as opposed to us serving it. I think it's just a reality of the modern world, is that we have to learn these skills and specifically teach our kids these skills. One of the things I rally against is having any kind of technology in a kid's bedroom, the technology, is so bad. We see there's actually lots of benefits to technology, believe it or not. I think a lot of it gets a bad name, but know, we know that, especially during COVID, boys, had a much less of an impact on their mental health than than girls. We think part of the theory is that boys were playing video games with each other, that we think that video games are actually socialization that boys got by having these multiplayer games together, Fortnight or World of Warcraft or whatever they were playing. and it was helping them connect with each other.

So anyway, there's a lot of potential benefits to appropriate technology use. But the biggest downside is not the technology itself. It's what technology comes at the cost of, and what technology comes at the cost of is sleep. And that's a big no no. So again, there's nothing necessarily wrong with allowing your kid to have access to technology, but as a parent, we do not want anything in our bedroom, or our kid's bedroom that interrupts sleep. So that can be anything that beeps, buzzes, or boops, anything that lights up, does not have a place in, in an adult bedroom, certainly not in a kid's bedroom. So that not only is that phones and computers, televisions. I think putting a television in a kid's room is a big mistake. Radios, any kind of aquarium or loud, anything, anything that makes noise at night that could potentially interrupt kids sleep with light or sound should not be in a kid's bedroom and should not be in the parent's bedroom either.

Jeremy Au: (30:57)

Yeah. I think it was interesting, because there's lots of stuff that we kind of know that we wouldn't do for a child, or we would recommend not to do for a child, but it's kind of normal for us as adults. And I think obviously, part of agency, and there's some limits, but I think there's also a little bit of hypocrisy as well, I definitely noticed. And I think I was reading this phrase called like "overstimulation", and I was just reading it for the kids. The concept is like a kid is just overtired, is not a way of saying, it's like you get so tired and, then you push through and because they're so tired they can't sleep, being overtired.

I was just reading this about the kid and I was like, oh, this applies to me too. You know, if I am awake till 11:00 PM, midnight, that's fine. I can go to sleep. If I'm pushing hot to two, 3:00 AM I'm overtired. I too also can't fall asleep easily afterwards. And I was like, Oh, you know, now I know this because I'm raising my kid. I'm reading this parenting book, but you know, I don't really practice that for myself, in some ways. So I thought it was an interesting, reflection I had.

Nir Eyal: (31:48)

Yeah, well, now you have all the tools right? Between the Kindle and the mantra and all these different tools we talked about, you'll, you'll be set.

Jeremy Au: (31:56)

Fingers crossed. And what's interesting as well, actually, is that you mentioned a, lot of companies where they're implicitly competing with sleep. I think clubbing obviously is an entertainment industry. The clubs only get good at 9:30 PM. So if you're there before, you're not getting the best music. And then, obviously you talk about video games to some extent. Netflix happens after binge watching, right? You get a whole season instead of, you're probably watching that overnight. So are there like requirements for changes or things like that? I guess one way I think about is like dark mode is a new thing now. One good thing that's come out of the industry, self policing itself. Is it self policed? But at least, a dark mode feels like it's a little bit better for night consumption.

Nir Eyal: (32:33)


Jeremy Au: (32:34)

How you think it?

Nir Eyal: (32:35)

It's a really encouraging sign that we see. I can't think of any other industry that has built into its products a way for you to use its products less. Can you? I can't think of any other and yet, Apple devices come with screen time. Android devices come with Google Well Being, like these devices are built with what we call digital seatbelts, because if you think about it, cars started getting seatbelts 16 years before any law mandated it. Why would car manufacturers put seatbelts in cars if there wasn't a law amending it? It was because, guess what, people like safer cars. They know they're safer. And that's exactly what we see with our phones. So what we, what we have seen and will continue to see is that when there's a feature, when there's an app, for example, that's super popular, but what do the phone manufacturers do? What do the OS makers do? They copy that feature. And that's what happened with with this blue light feature. There's a bunch of apps out there that put your computer or your phone into blue light mode. And so then Apple said, okay, well now it's going to be a standard feature and they built it right in. think we're going to continue to see that because it makes their products more desirable. And I think that's great. The problem is, is that people don't use them. That's the problem.

Jeremy Au: (33:39)


Nir Eyal: (33:40)

It's not that people don't use them. It's that people complain disproportionately to their level of agency. uh, People who use these tools, they don't complain at all. The people who don't use these tools complain a lot, which is totally ironic because if you're complaining about how distracting the world is and oh my God, the tech companies are, are hijacking my brain and uh, they're, you stealing my focus. But then you're not doing jack about it. Well, then you're just a hypocrite. You just like to complain, but if after you've tried these tools, even I wrote the book Indistractable and you bet on my phone, I limit myself to after 30 minutes of using social media, it tells me, okay, you've used 30 minutes of social media. You want to keep using it. Is that consistent with your values? And so we just need to use these tools that are built into our devices cause they're, pretty awesome. And there's more coming out every day. There's just, today I got uh, this tool. Have you seen this? This is called Unplug.

Jeremy Au: (34:28)


Nir Eyal: (34:28)

It's a, it's a little NFC chip that you keep somewhere. Like you can keep it as like a little key chain and you set, so for me, I've been experimenting, you know, people send me all these kinds of gadgets to play with. And so, you set during certain times, what apps you will not have access to. So I set so that between 9am and 5pm, Monday through Friday, I don't want access to YouTube, I don't want access to social media, I don't want access to certain apps during my working hours. Okay, not that I had access those sites during those hours, you have to find this little NFC chip and you have to touch it to your phone in order to gain access to overwrite. So it just puts a little bit of friction, like, could I get access to it? Of course I could, right? But now, I have I have to do something. I gotta go find this thing. It inserts friction, same thing by the way that I did. I remember I told you about my internet router that every night my internet shuts off at 10 PM. Could I turn my internet back on? Of course I could, but now I gotta go fiddle with the settings and I gotta do this and I gotta do that. Eh, nevermind. you know, I'll stick to what I plan to do, which is to go get some rest. So, you know, being mindful about how you insert friction in the right places in your life to make sure that you are conscious about those decisions, so that you're mindful rather than mindless, is a very simple tactic that we can all use, whether it's with an app, whether it's with hardware. There's lots of different ways to do this.

Jeremy Au: (35:41)

I definitely am one of those who has that screen time and, it requires a passcode to give yourself five more minutes, 15 I keep having to change that passcode because, you it tends to ingrain myself muscle memory wise. You know, it becomes too automatic. Speaking about features, is there any dream features or dream apps that you've, thought of? I'm so curious.

Nir Eyal: (35:58)

Around sleep, we, we talked about the Oura ring and I wore it for a few years and then I, I stopped wearing it and part of the reason I stopped wearing it, and this is what frustrates me with a lot of apps in this space, whether it's about health apps or fitness apps or sleep apps, is that they keep giving you the same information over and over and over again. So for example, with the Oura ring, it kept telling me I was deficient. I didn't get enough REM sleep. Okay, there's some things I did at first, which were very helpful. The basics that we already talked about, keeping your room cool, blocking out sunlight, noise, things like that. The simple stuff, when I did that, I actually did see improvement right away. And that was very encouraging then. But then, there wasn't anything else I could do. And I it kept telling me again and again, you're not getting enough REM sleep. Well, okay, if I can't do anything about it, it's very disempowering to keep telling me about it. And so my dream feature is if we could more closely tie together, " hey, here's the problem," and, "here's what you should do," proactively, not right now. Everything's retroactive. So for example, one of the things that came about most fitness apps, I wrote an article a few years ago called "Why Your Fitness App Is Making You Fat", and part of why what I was rallying against with a lot of fitness apps that you see, they're all retroactive, right? They tell you what already they're not proactive. Hey, it's eight p. m. And you only walked 5000 steps. You lazy schmuck, right? That's not healthy. I'm not gonna go out and start walking at eight p. m. and start getting more steps. It's too late. You should have told me a long time ago that I'm not getting there, right? So I want the more health apps and specifically sleep apps be proactive and say, Hey, we see on your calendar that you have a trip to Japan coming up. You know, Last time you didn't get enough sleep, so you should start banking sleep now, for example. I don't know. I just, I made that up, on the, just off the top of my head, but those type of, apps that could proactively tell you what to do. I think we were really missing. And hopefully we'll see more of that with the dawn of AI here.

Jeremy Au: (37:47)

You just inspired me actually. I think one nice feature I think of is, dreams, right? So you wake up in the middle of the night, there's a few things that you mentioned. And then, you know, I scramble for my phone sometimes. And most times I don't care, right? But it's an interesting. dream. I write it down on my notes app and everything. But, I do think about it because like you said, it's so boring. The context of this was a good night's sleep and this is seven hours, it averages out. But you can imagine, it's just like a no brainer just to add a feature to be like, here's a voice recording of you mumbling what your dream was about. It transcribed for you and maybe it inspires you to do some, therapy, self discussion exercise the next day, right? Not right on the week. It's a nice way.

Nir Eyal: (38:24)

Yeah. I'll show you an amazing technology. And again, we're playing show and tell here. So I'm showing you all my sleep tricks. So I showed you my Kindle is near my bed. I showed you those earplugs that are near my bed. And this is another thing that's always near my bed. I always this. This is the exact reason. It's a little notepad with a pen that's like attached to it. And I use my Kindle to create just enough light so I can see. And so I'll roll over in bed and if I have like a little thought or a note, uh, or a dream I want to record for some reason, I can just do it right there. And, it's super low tech, but I kind of like it low tech because again, I don't want the temptation of an app on my phone.

That's just a tap away to something that I know will keep me up for hours, right? Like having my phone near me. I know what I'm gonna do it.. I'm gonna check the news. I'm gonna check email. I'm gonna scroll for hours. That contradicts that mantra of the body gets what the body needs if you let it. Because now, if you're scrolling, you're not letting your body get back to sleep.

Jeremy Au: (39:13)

Yeah. For some reason, it reminded me of the tech of us, there's those couple bits now where there's those smart sensors and it covers you and your spouse's sleep patterns at the same time. Anyway, I was just thinking to myself, that's the newest tech that they have.

Nir Eyal: (39:26)

I haven't used one. Have you encountered those?

Jeremy Au: (39:27)

Oh, I haven't used that, but I think right now, the problem is I'm sleeping a little warm and I need more of the fan and even a little bit cooling and my wife is sleeping a little cooler. Anyway, so those classic spousal problems, like switch on the fan.

Nir Eyal: (39:40)

So there's a solution to this as well, actually. And we discovered the solution when we went to Copenhagen in the Nordic countries. They sleep with two separate blankets, genius. So it's weird in that, like we never did that before. We don't do it now either, but maybe we should because you have one down blanket that's typically good for one person and not the other. You said you tend to run hot and your wife tends to run cold. Is that right? Same with me. But when we went to Copenhagen, it was brilliant because they have three different blankets you could choose from. know, heavy, down, Same. So same bed, different blankets.

Jeremy Au: (40:13)

Does this break your marriage vows or something like that? If you sleep different blankets?

Nir Eyal: (40:17)

You, you can still have fun underneath one of the other's.

Jeremy Au: (40:20)


Nir Eyal: (40:21)

Even when couples, they always have to. That's just what they've always done, and they seem to be having plenty of sex too, so they figure it out.

Jeremy Au: (40:28)

Yeah, I had no idea. That sounds like a pro tip right there.

Nir Eyal: (40:31)


Jeremy Au: (40:32)

Yeah, that is not a bad idea to be honest. On that note, when you think about sleep in the future, what do you think sleep is going to be in 10, 20, 50 years? What do you think the future of sleep looks like from your perspective? I can start first. Yeah. I think for me, what's interesting is I think you and I talking about back to basics and so forth. I think what's interesting is that I do believe that sleep will continue to get more consumerized and more technologized to some extent. I think it's more Apple Watch, more cooling systems, more melatonin, more pills. So to me, it just feels like there's a whole industry that's going to keep going. So to me, I actually look at this category, even though we say it's back to basics, I suspect it's going to become more, processed, in that sense. So at least that's what I think about the future of sleep.

Nir Eyal: (41:15)

I do think, you know, one of the things that I really liked about the Oura ring, even though I don't wear it anymore, the thing I did like about it was that it told you when things were okay. We talked about how sleep has a very high degree of placebo effect when it comes to sleep. It also has a very high degree of nocebo. A nocebo is the opposite of placebo. Placebos are things that make you feel better. Nocebos are things that make feel worse. And so there's studies where they tell people, they put some people in a sleep lab, And they have a great night's sleep, and they tell them when they wake up, you had a terrible night's sleep.

And then they look at their performance throughout the day. And what do people report? Oh, I was sluggish, in a bad mood, I didn't do my work as well as I used to. Even though they had a great night's sleep, if you're told you had a bad night's sleep, then you performed poorly. And this is what would happen to me because you're only awake when you're conscious. You could be asleep seven and a half hours, eight hours in bed and you slept great, but what you will remember is that the fact that you woke up twice for 15 minutes and you'll think, I had a terrible night's sleep. Well, you didn't have a terrible night's sleep. You just remembered when you were awake. So what I used to love about the Oura ring, and now the Apple Watch Ultra does this too, is that I'll wake up and say, oh, I had such a rough night's sleep. And then I look at my watch and said, actually you had a great night's sleep. And then I feel great, lo and behold, I don't feel bad. I don't feel sluggish at all because it's in our heads. I think there's going to be more, but that needs to be more explicit. I think the future of sleep is going to be that you're going to have these predictive analytics as opposed to retrospective analytics. That's, I think going to be the future.

Jeremy Au: (42:45)

Yeah, on that note, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Nir Eyal: (42:48)

Yeah, my pleasure. Great to see you again, Jeremy.

Jeremy Au: (42:50)