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I'm a CEO who wakes up at 3:45 a.m. without an alarm clock. These 11 sleep hacks helped me become a better leader.

Robin Madell   

I'm a CEO who wakes up at 3:45 a.m. without an alarm clock. These 11 sleep hacks helped me become a better leader.
  • Michael Koch is the CEO and cofounder of HubKonnect, a successful AI platform.
  • Koch learned the value of sleep and invested in optimizing his bedtime and productivity.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Michael Koch, a 45-year-old cofounder and CEO of HubKonnect from New York City, about his sleep hacks. It's been edited for length and clarity.

As a high achiever in the tech industry, where I focus on AI, I've created my own protocol to optimize my performance as a CEO. Sleep and bodily recovery are two non-negotiable pillars for me.

Sleep is the time we heal both physically and cognitively. So I started blocking off my sleep-time just like it's one of the most important meetings of the day. My night-time schedule includes these 11 sleep hacks.

1. I take a three-minute, 39-degree ice bath before bed

Getting in is always a challenge — that's why I use Navy box breathing. It's four breaths in, four breaths out, and then I hold for four in order to lower my breath and get control of it.

It's a shock to the system every time, but I remind myself that this helps prepare me to sleep. Even if I'm staying in a hotel, I'll fill up the sink with water, add ice, and dunk my face in the cold water. It's almost as effective as a full body ice bath.

Ice baths help lower my core body temperature and also urge the release of melatonin, which is a hormone that helps us fall asleep quickly and remain asleep until we've completed all sleeping cycles.

2. I do a ten-minute red-light session

I have a red-light therapy body unit that has four medical-grade red-light panels inside. I walk in, shut the door, drop trow, and stand in front of the light butt naked for five minutes in the front and five minutes at the back.

The red-light exposure increases the production of melatonin in the brain. This is how I balance my circadian rhythm and feel more rested during waking hours.

I take those 10 minutes of uninterrupted time to clear my head. I compartmentalize stuff into buckets for the next day, give thanks for the opportunities I've had, and slow down my breathing so that when I hit the pillow, I'm ready to sleep.

3. I wear blue blocker glasses three hours before bed

With my business, I'm on Zoom or in front of the computer a lot of the time, which exposes me to a lot of artificial light. This light sparks different chemicals in our bodies that keep us up at night.

The blue light blockers block out that junk light so that my natural circadian rhythm isn't activated or thrown off.

4. I stop drinking water at 5 p.m.

It's not an unbreakable rule. I always have a glass of water by my bed, in case I wake up parched, especially when I'm traveling.

I make sure to drink my gallon of water early — I'll drink up to about a gallon and a half per day. On nights when I don't have to get up to pee, I'm able to sleep deeper and stay in REM sleep because my body isn't triggering a signal that I need to go to the restroom.

5. I avoid caffeine after 3 p.m.

When I was living in Europe, I had a barista that would bring me espressos every day. However, by eliminating that caffeine intake after 3 p.m., I found that I was able to slow down and improve my quality of sleep through more rest and recovery.

I try to follow this in order to be at my best, but if I need to pull an all-nighter or jump online with the development team, then I'll drink coffee. There's a level of flexibility and forgiveness with it.

6. I set the room temperature to 65 degrees Fahrenheit

We need a lower resting heart rate to get into those deep levels of sleep, and cooler temperatures are one way to get there.

My temperature-controlled bedroom is always at 65 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the optimal temperature to maintain the body's core temperature. Even when I'm staying in a hotel, the first thing I'll do when I walk in is set the air conditioning to 65 degrees.

7. I use a bed cooling device to keep body temp low

I have a pad that I put over my bed. It cools my bed with the cold water running through it, and I can set the temperature to what I want it to be.

I also have a weighted blanket that has cold water flowing through it for the same purpose. The combination of the blanket with 65 degrees in the room, my cooling pad, ice bath, and other cooling devices is how I started hacking sleep and benefiting from my bedroom being a recovery hub.

8. I try not to have any devices in the bedroom

I don't bring my phone or other devices into my bedroom. I plug them into their charging stations in the living room for silence and darkness.

If I'm in a hotel, I'll unplug the coffee maker, TV, and the clock to create that dark environment. Darkness stimulates the production of melatonin.

At home, I'll also turn off the WiFi at night so that I can create a space where there's no blue light, technology, or electromagnetic fields. If I open my eyes at night, nothing is going to trigger me and evoke the chemicals that keep me up.

9. I use blackout curtains

Darkness makes us feel more relaxed which helps us fall asleep quicker and blackout curtains create that optimal dark environment. If I wanted to leverage a recharge nap in the middle of the day, the blackout curtains let me do so regardless of the time zone or hour.

10. I solely focus on the optimization of sleep, not the length

The perfect night of sleep is two hours of REM and two hours of deep sleep. Some people need nine hours of sleep to achieve that.

It's not about the duration — the goal is to achieve this ratio. I've mastered my sleep to get my 2:2 in six hours, all because I can get into those deeper zones faster with the environment that I've created.

11. I monitor my sleep behavior

I'm an AI data guy. I've tried every device on the market and the Oura ring has worked best for me. It's noninvasive and not bulky.

I can wear it on my finger, and it shows me the exact data I need to know about my REM, my deep sleep, my light sleep, and also my heart rate,. That's how I understand the nuances of what I do each day.

The data from this one device far outweighs any electrical signal the ring gives off, so I can constantly leverage this data to refine and refresh my sleeping.

I'm at a point where I don't need an alarm to wake up

I've optimized my sleep so much that I wake up naturally once my body dictates that it's fully recovered, which is usually around 3:45 a.m. I feel less rushed, more motivated, and in a better mood.

When I invest in my sleep, my output is unrivaled. Sure, it's a commitment to understand the value of sleep, but it's worth investing in. Without that investment, we won't be as effective during the time that we're up.

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