1. Home
  2. Science
  3. news
  4. 7 'biohacks' founders and execs have used to try to boost their energy at work, from wearing electrodes while they sleep to drinking bone-broth breakfasts

7 'biohacks' founders and execs have used to try to boost their energy at work, from wearing electrodes while they sleep to drinking bone-broth breakfasts

Anna Cooban   

7 'biohacks' founders and execs have used to try to boost their energy at work, from wearing electrodes while they sleep to drinking bone-broth breakfasts
  • Some CEOs and founders use "biohacks" to boost workplace productivity and their overall health.
  • These range from enzyme injections to $300 sleep rings.
  • Many biohacks are based on limited scientific evidence.

Iterable CEO Justin Zhu was recently fired for "micro-dosing" LSD, a psychedelic drug, to improve his focus, he told Bloomberg last week. Micro-dosing, or taking small amounts of psychedelic substances, has gained popularity in recent years among entrepreneurs as a way to boost their creativity.

Plenty of other CEOs and founders who want to improve productivity and prevent burn out turn to so-called "biohacks," a broad term that encompasses everything from enzyme injections to fasting days.

Here are seven biohacks executives have used, along with the science - or lack of it - that backs them up.

Injecting NAD+ coenzymes to boost energy

Winston Ibrahim, CEO of water filtration start-up Hydros, told Insider he has a "regenerative medicine specialist" inject him with NAD+ (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) to boost his energy and prevent burnout. NAD+ is involved in all fundamental biological processes, including DNA repair and energy conversion in our cells.

Some overworked professionals swear by NAD+ "brain reboot" injections, citing higher levels of energy, focus and a faster metabolism.

Ibrahim said the injections mimic the effect of prescription stimulants, but without the side effects of taking them in pill form.

"You are literally giving your body and brain the optimum, most bio-available fuel to power peak energy and performance," he told Insider.

Some private clinics offer a single NAD+ injection for $400.

What does the science say?

The molecule helps regulate our sleep cycle, and low levels are associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer's and Type 2 diabetes, The Washington Post reported.

NAD+ naturally declines as we age, so it's not clear if low levels are the cause of age-related health conditions.

Other claims for NAD+'s health benefits, including that it can slow aging, are less strong. Studies in mice have shown elevated levels of NAD+ lead to small increases in lifespan, but the results can't easily be applied to humans. Simply raising the amount of NAD+ in human blood cells does not necessarily mean it can confer health benefits, or slow down the aging process.

Wearing electrodes at night to artificially generate deep sleep

Thriving on minimal sleep is the holy grail for many high-powered executives. Dave Asprey, founder of Bulletproof, a food startup famous for its butter-infused coffee, says he has spent $1 million trying to live to 180-years-old, including $200,000 on biohacking his sleep.

For Asprey, quality of sleep is more important than quantity.

"Wouldn't it be cool if getting healthy got you more hours every day?," Asprey told Men's Health. "That's the mindset that I've had. Because we don't all want to sleep."

Asprey has tried transcranial electrical stimulation (TES), where electrodes attached behind the ears pulse small electrical currents through the brain. It's supposed to induce "delta sleep," the deepest phase of sleep. Delta brain waves are associated with restorative sleep vital for the body's immune system.

What does the science say?

Evidence on the benefits of sleep is well established. Getting enough sleep lowers a person's risk of heart disease and diabetes, and helps fight infection. But whether TES can generate deep sleep is debatable.

Some studies into TES show limited impact on brain activity during sleep, while others have shown the therapy can extend the amount of time someone is in deep sleep.

In a study this year, participants receiving electrical stimulation stayed in deep sleep slightly longer than a placebo group.

"We're excited by these results, and we're moving to try to develop practical sleep therapy," Dr. Don Tucker, neuroscience professor at the University of Oregon and the study's co-author, told The Academic Times. "And this paper shows that it should be feasible."

Creating small, 'positive' moments of stress

When a person's stress-response system is activated, their adrenal glands release adrenaline and cortisol, increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar. Over prolonged periods, elevated levels of these hormones can increase a person's risk of heart disease and digestive problems.

Some execs deliberately expose themselves to short bursts of stress to cope with their high-pressured jobs. Bayard Winthrop, CEO and founder of men's clothing American Giant, has said he takes cold showers as way to introduce a small challenge into his mornings.

"There's this undeniable endorphin rush, a good natural energy boost," Winthrop told Inc. in 2018. "And I like the idea of starting the day by doing something challenging."

What does the science say?

Neuroscientist Dr. Tara Swart, senior lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management, argues that short intervals of stress can build resilience.

"Chronic stress is never good for you, even at low levels," Swart said to Evening Standard. "But times of challenge like giving a talk or doing a sporting event, asking someone on a date, helping a friend go through a really tough time, for example, can elicit the acute stress response which is not fright/fight/flight but involves you rising to meet the challenge and fully recovering your resilience afterwards - things like this make us more resilient over time."

Taking ice baths or cold showers have been associated with several health benefits, including improving circulation. Exposing parts of the body to a burst of cold water stimulates the supply of newly oxygenated blood to that area. Many athletes use ice baths for recovery.

However, Dr. Joon Yun, a physician and president of hedge fund Palo Alto Investors, and advocate of low-intensity stress to improve health, told CNBC that exposure to extreme temperatures is risky for some people.

Drinking bone broth, a slow-cooked form of stock, for breakfast

Nancy Fechnay, partner at Flight Ventures, says she drinks homemade bone broth for breakfast, or nothing at all.

"My approach is a tailored version of intermittent fasting," Fechnay told Forbes. "This is the rave in the Bay Area, backed by studies showing the benefits to the mind and body."

Fechnay said bone broth - a protein-rich liquid made by boiling animal bones and connective tissue - helps the immune system, maintains healthy skin and hair, and elevates collagen levels to fight aging.

"Bone broth is the most nutrient rich liquid you can drink," Fechnay said.

What does the science say?

There is a lot of evidence that bone broth, which is packed with vitamins and minerals, is healthy.

Animal bones contain calcium, magnesium, and other minerals important for bone health, while bone marrow provides vitamins A, K2 and immune-boosting mineral selenium.

However, it is easy to overstate bone broth's benefits. For example, there is no evidence to suggest it gives you better skin or fights aging, Harvard Medical School found after a review in 2015.

Bone broth may have surged in popularity in recent years, but it is not new: It has been a staple of different cultures' diets for centuries.

Bone broth is very similar to stock, except the bones are left to simmer for much longer.

Going for days without food to improve concentration

Intermittent fasting (IF) involves going hours or even days with little to no food. In 2019, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey told fitness writer Ben Greenfield that he ate just one meal a day, and fasted for the whole weekend.

For weekday dinners, he usually ate a protein - fish, chicken or steak - with vegetables, and a pudding of mixed berries and dark chocolate, he told Greenfield on his podcast.

Dorsey said this routine improved his focus and helped him sleep better.

"It really has increased my appreciation for food and taste because I'm deprived of it for so long during the day," Dorsey told Greenfield.

Other tech execs swear by it, too. Dan Zigmond, director of special projects at Apple, previously told Insider that he fasts for 15 hours a day, and Evernote co-founder Phil Libin doesn't eat for between two to eight days in a row.

What does the science say?

Popular IF patterns include the 5:2 plan, which involves eating normally for five days and then dramatically cutting calorie intake for two, and the 16:8 regime, where people fast for 16 hours and only eat within an eight-hour window.

Several studies in both humans and animals have shown that IF can result in health benefits for those with obesity and diabetes. Still, more research is needed to determine whether IF is healthy, or even feasible, if people do it for a long time.

Some nutrition experts say Dorsey's version of the diet is extreme and more closely resembles an eating disorder, and that any feelings of mental alertness associated with extreme IF are because the body is in survival mode.

"When people undercut their need for food with radical under-eating, the body doesn't care about the reasoning. It is just going react to save your life," Dr. Jennifer Gaudiani, a doctor who specializes in eating disorders, previously told Insider.

Gaudiani said that animals in starvation "should feel concerned and focused. They may interpret that initially as productive, but it's the brain saying, 'I don't have enough food.'"

Wearing a $299 ring that tells you how to improve sleep

The Oura ring tracks a person's sleep, collecting data on heart rate and body temperature. It then tells you how to sleep better. The $299 ring also works during the day, monitoring activity levels. Prince Harry, who recently took a Silicon-Valley job, has even been spotted wearing the band.

Jack Dorsey helped finance the start-up and shared his Oura dashboard with his Twitter followers in 2018. Jay Livingston, CMO of Shake Shack, and Jeremy Liew, partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, both previously told Insider they wear the ring.

"It's been meaningfully improving my deep sleep and REM, and making me feel more rested each morning," Liew told Insider.

What does the science say?

Some research has shown the Oura ring can detect when the body is in different phases of sleep. Other studies have suggested the device can give early warning signs for illness.

And one study by the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute last year found the gadget to be accurate in early detection of COVID-19.

The NBA announced last June that all players in Orlando would be offered an Oura Ring to help them identify asymptomatic cases of the disease. Oura's role in helping contain the pandemic helped it win Time's coveted "Best Invention of 2020" title.

Sleeping with your curtains wide open

Whitney Wolfe Herd, CEO and founder of dating app Bumble, sleeps with her curtains open to let the morning sunlight wake her up, she said in an interview with Entrepreneur.

"I think that's a healthy thing to do because even if you don't like to wake up early, your body does adjust," Herd said.

In February, Herd became the world's youngest self-made female billionaire when she took her company public. Bumble raised $2.2 billion in its IPO.

What does the science say?

Exposure to natural light in the mornings is a good way to tell your body it's time to get up.

Light-sensitive receptors in the eyes signal to the suprachiasmatic nucleus - the part of the brain regulating the sleep-wake cycle - to wake the body up. Melatonin, the hormone responsible for sleep, also decreases with sunlight exposure.

"Opening your eyes to a burst of bright sunlight can pull you out of your sleep grogginess before your alarm alerts you it's time to start your day," Dr Kasey Nichols, an expert in sleep disorders, told Bustle.

Many people choose to sleep with a sunrise alarm clock that mimics natural light.


Popular Right Now