Hacking Sleep (Part 2)

In my last post I focused on how I went from mediocre sleep to solid sleep by simply adding ZMA to the equation. And all things being equal, ZMA improves the quality and depth of sleep.

There are two further changes I’ve made in the past few months that have made an additional impact to my sleep that are worth sharing – one is an easy win, one is much more of a challenge. Both have improved the quality of my sleep, but incrementally, not by leaps and bounds like ZMA.

First, the easy win is adding a mattress topper. While reading one of my favorite self improvement hero’s book, Gorilla Mindset, Mike Cernovich (good book, and his podcasts are fantastic), where he talks about sleep- he mentions how much a memory foam topper can improve sleep. So I ordered one from a UK company called Eve since it seemed to offer a good balance of price vs quality.

I already use (and love) my Tempur memory foam pillow, so adding a memory foam topper seemed like a good idea. And it was. For £199, I wake up feeling even better than I used to (which was pretty good)

Second, the hard one – kicking the coffee habit. I quit coffee cold turkey a few years ago in an effort to improve my sleep. It was possibly the worst 5 days of my life – foggy brain, low energy, irritable…squeaking by on decaffeinated coffee to get a tiny bit of caffeine in my system… awful. But after about day seven – I slept like I hadn’t slept in decades. I think there’s still an imprint of my body in that mattress – I slept so deeply. But travel and life conspired to get me drinking coffee again – and I love coffee.

But then life and travel conspired again to make me kick the coffee habit again (3 months now and counting). I spent three weeks in Japan at the end of last year and started drinking matcha lattes in Kyoto (the home of matcha). No, matcha lattes aren’t authentic, but they are very yummy. And matcha does still have caffeine (25mg vs 150mg+ for filter coffee). Since I was there, matcha was local, I made a point of only having matcha or hojicha (roasted green tea).

Since I had already kicked my decades old coffee addiction, making this transition wasn’t very difficult. I also noticed after 4-5 days that I was clearer in the mornings, with no “gotta have that first cup” craving/fogginess that comes with coffee. Matcha is well known for it’s mental clarity qualities (and health benefits) which I won’t go into here. After 2 weeks I ordered some brewed coffee, and after half a cup I was sweating, felt jittery and my stomach ached – I realized in that moment that coffee and I don’t mix, and that was that. I haven’t looked back.

Dropping coffee appears to be permanent this time, because I made a lifestyle change by substituting it with matcha. I still have a cup of warm liquid in the mornings, but it only has 25mg of caffeine, and I only have one, sometimes a second one on weekends. This is still only 50mg of caffeine before noon vs 2-3 cups of coffee with 150mg of caffeine each.

I wake up feeling clear headed, with no craving for a cup of coffee (or matcha in this case). If I don’t have anything, it’s ok. Not having coffee a few years back was catastrophic – instant headache and irritability.

Quitting coffee is hard. But if you really want to improve your sleep and mood, you should do it.

There you have it – three key tips to improving your sleep: ZMA, mattress topper and quitting coffee. Good luck.

Hacking Sleep (Part 1)

My sleep habits for all practical purposes are about as perfect as real life permits. I excercise almost daily, I eat well, and I follow the old “early to bed early to rise” philosophy. I travel frequently, but if I’m at home, I’m dialed in.

However despite doing everything “right”, I noticed I was dragging in the mornings. Day after day. I would go to bed early and wake up before my alarm could go off. Solid 8-9 hrs of sleep. But still felt tired.

So I started doing some detective work:

Going to bed early (10pm) – check
Limiting screen time 1hr before bed – check
Limiting caffeine to before noon – check

These are the biggest items that can disrupt sleep, so I got my Sense sleep tracker set up again and started monitoring my sleep. Sense’s scale is 60s= Red 70s= Yellow, 80s+= green. The sensor looks at room conditions – temp, light, noise, humidity, sleep duration, deep sleep duration and agitated sleep. And it seemed like a fair reflection of my sleep. Since I was seeing red and yellow I wondered what it take to boost me to green…

So I started tinkering.
5 days with no changes. Yellow and Red.
Day 6, add ZMA. Green.
Day 7, remove ZMA. Yellow.
Day 8, no changes. Yellow.
Day 9, add ZMA. Green.
Day 10, add ZMA. Green.
Day 11, add ZMA. Green.
Day 12 – Travel –
Day 13 – Travel –
Day 14, add ZMA. Green.
Day 15, add ZMA. Green.

Seeing a pattern here?

Simply adding ZMA boosted my sleep score by 10+ points almost instantly. What is ZMA you ask? It’s Zinc, Magnesium and Vitamin B6. It has a host of benefits you can read about here, but the most important one for the purposes of this post is SLEEP.

Now, do I sleep *perfectly* every night? No chance. The real world intervenes but I have more green dots than yellow dots now and no reds.

I wake up after 9 hrs of sleep and I see I got 4.5hrs of deep sleep. No wonder I feel great.

Sleep is one of the most important things in our lives, yet many people often don’t focus on it. If you’re not sleeping well, run through the brief checklist above. And if you’re already doing these things and want to make further improvements – grab some ZMA. (I buy Phd ZMA in the UK, but if you’re in the US I’d recommend you get Jym ZMA)

Apple Watch – One Year Later

It’s one year that I’ve had my Apple Watch, and people still ask me “How is it?”

“I love it”, I always reply.

It’s as simple as that. It’s the best watch I’ve ever owned because it’s the one I *enjoy* wearing the most. Other watches just tell time (and maybe the date); this watch does that, plus gives me weather at a glance (that’s important in London) and is my credit card, on tap, on my wrist, always.

Yes, the watch does many more things, but those are the incremental functionality over and above a dumbwatch that have me hooked.

Haters ask “But would you turn around and go get it if you forgot it?” Well, no. But then, I wouldn’t go back for my snazzy Swiss time piece either. It’s a watch – not my primary communications device (aka iPhone).

Will I buy a new one when they come out? You bet. And they’re only going to do more things better, while getting faster, sleeker and sexier.

So, if you’ve been sitting on the fence, I’d say go buy one. And a year from now you’ll be glad you did.

I hear your final doubts: “But will an Apple Watch make me younger, thinner, richer and more popular?” Yes, it absolutely will. It also offers a time travel via a secret key press combo. But I’ll save that secret for another post.

Until then, go get your watch on.

Top 5 Apps of 2015

At the end of the year, I try to stop for a few minutes, reflect on the apps I’ve found (and found useful) over the course of the past year. Last year’s result was surprising (I was very pro Android), and this year’s result is equally surprising:

It turns out that three of the five most useful apps to me are Apple Watch apps. Yes, there are many Apple Watch haters out there (I seem to meet them all and they tell me what ridiculously stupid fan boy I am for wearing one), but I genuinely miss the watch if I’m not wearing it, and using Apple Pay on the tube and in stores has become a motor reflex – I reach for my watch, not my wallet…

So, my top 5 for 2015 are (in no particular order):

  1. Lifesum – health, food and fitness tracker out of Stockholm, Sweden. It’s the only health app I’ve used consistently – and has almost *every* single thing I eat already in the database. Reminders to drink water are reason enough to use the app. They have a great Apple Watch app too. Surprise.
  2. Fitstar Yoga – Yoga is awesome for your back, but getting to a yoga class is always challenging for me. Fitstar Yoga let’s me get in a 15 minute session in the mornings, keeping my back happy and flexible.
  3. Apple Weather (Watch) – The UI for the weather on the watch is fantastic (if you live in a place where the weather changes). I use the complication to check temperature and check % likelihood of rain during various hours of the day. Lifesaver for a Londoner.
  4. Apple Pay (Watch) – I’ve ended up migrating all of my purchases to my watch. I thought it was a neat idea, but never realized how quickly I would start reaching for my watch vs my wallet.
  5. Apple Activity (Watch) – Having an activity tracker on my wrist at all times has made a huge impact on my knowledge of my fitness levels. Yes, I use the dedicated app for running and workouts, but it’s the overall Activity app that’s really given me insight into how much I actually move on a daily basis. Wearing a dedicated tracking device never lasted for me, and using an app on my phone was never engaging enough. Seeing the Activity circles on my watch keeps it front of mind. Fitness tracking and payments are probably the two killer apps on the Apple Watch. And I use them both multiple times every day…
  6. (Honorary mention) Citymapper and Uber – the two apps I use every single day to move around London and can’t live without.

That’s it for this year’s list, we’ll see what 2016 holds… Feel free to add your favorites in the comments section or via twitter.

Investing in Yourself

I gave a brief talk at Slush 2013 on “Taking Care of Yourself”, (slides here). Slush is just around the corner, so I’ve stopped to reflect on which of these habits I’ve kept, lost or added to. This post is an extension of that talk, and focuses on the same fundamental building blocks: Mind, Body and Spirit.

The most important asset in any business is you: the Founder (or co-founder). Without you, the company loses it’s spirit and character. As an investor, I’d kind of like to keep the spirit and character of the companies I’m investing into in tact… Running a start-up is not the lowest stress job on the planet. Long hours, late nights, travel, etc. so, I always encourage the entrepreneurs I work with to take care of themselves – both for themselves and the people around them (friends, family, employees and investors)

Mind

You probably read a lot of stuff. You’re short on time, so quantity over quality is going to be optimal. I’ve spent the last few years trying to refine where I get my information. I discovered AI driven RSS readers ages ago, and never looked back. Zite was my go-to app for getting a personalized news feed. That’s now been bought by Flipboard, which I’m using daily now. I’m not sure the recommendations are as tech-centric, but I still get interesting articles that are relevant to me. Another great source of news is Wired UK’s AWAKE, with 10 recommended articles for the day.

Body

Fuel: A clean diet is the best diet, but not always the simplest. This site, the Whole Life Challenge, is a great place to start if you’re serious about overhauling yourself. I started eating (mostly) paleo about 2 years ago and managed to shed 15lbs over a 9 month period. If you don’t want to do that, try to focus on eating more vegetables and more fish, and cutting booze. Especially if you travel.

Exercise: If you’re working in a start-up, it’s likely that you’re not getting regular exercise. At a minimum, get some type of fitness tracker (or just use your phone) and make sure you’re walking those 10k steps per day. An Apple Watch is a nice one to use since it also tells you when to stand if you’ve been sitting too long. Once your past that, I would recommend bodyweight exercises because you can do them anywhere (home or work). Beyond that, I’m sure you can break the internet looking at training options. The key is to do something active, and track it.

Sleep: We spend 30% of our lives sleeping. How you treat this major component of your life impacts everything else. I started using a sleep tracker to better understand how I was sleeping (Jawbone UP is my favorite – I think it tracks deep sleep the best, and I like their app). Again, you can use your phone to get started with sleep tracking, but there are a few tips that will really help improve your sleep: 1) Get to bed early. Like you’re a kid. I targeted 9:30pm initially. This meant I woke up with no buzzing alarm clock. That alone makes you feel amazing. 2) Turn off your phone and laptop at least 1hr before bed. The blue light is wrecking your circadian rhythms. You can cheat if you use flux – but still, try to turn screens off and read a book on happiness or call your mom instead.

Spirit

This one can take a few different forms: religion/prayer, meditation/yoga, charity work, etc – anything to develop your inner self. Meditation 2.0 became a buzz word in the valley a few years back, but industry legend Steve Jobs was a long time practitioner of meditation. If it’s good enough for Uncle Stevie, it’s good enough for me. I started with meditation actively a few years ago to try to settle down my hyperactive, information overloaded mind and attempt to improve my ability to concentrate, focus and genuinely listen when I’m in a conversation (not just waiting to speak). As a result, it’s improved my social skills, my relationships and helps me with my day job. I try to have some form of meditation daily – I find Headspace to be easy (it’s guided), quick (20 min) and progressive – so it doesn’t get boring, and you can see you’re making progress. There a many options on this front – the point is that you find what works for you.

That’s it – Mind, Body, Spirit. I really encourage you to make these three parts of your life a top priority, and everything else will fall into place. These are essential ingredients to a happy and productive life – if you neglect them, your performance (and happiness) will suffer. We all skip the gym, eat badly, cut sleep etc – but that needs to be a short term exception. Life (and startups) is a marathon – not a sprint. Sustainable, healthy habits form the foundation of success – take the time to invest in yourself – it will pay dividends several times over…

Good luck!

Effortless Experiences

Ahead of the Apple Watch event, I thought I’d take a minute to lay out what it is I’m thinking about these days, what types of companies I’m looking for right now and what I think is coming next:

Effortless Experiences

What, exactly, do I mean by that? The easiest current example of an “effortless experience” is Google Now. If you haven’t used it, it is a contextually aware, predictive computing platform that tries to anticipate what information you need next based on a mix of your location, calendar, email and Google searches. Things automagically appear in Google Now, so – “effortless”.

“Smart services” is another way to start thinking about this. We invested into Waze years ago – this was (and is) an extremely smart service, that optimizes your travel path based on current traffic conditions. Very smart if you haven’t used it – and at times you get very unexpected turn by turn directions. There’s some work involved on the user side, but the results are something you or no human would have ever thought of…

Which leads us to yet another way to describe this: Artificial Intelligence. In the case of Waze, we’re talking about very narrow, domain specific AI (although the service has never been described in those terms) that’s delivering a smart service. But, I’m not suggesting you’re going to get Hal 9000 on your wrist (just yet).

Smart Watches in my view are going to usher in an era of effortless experiences. Why? The form factor is simply too small to be a heavy computing platform; but is a fantastic platform for things to automagically appear. I’m not clever enough to guess what types of great ideas are going to come out of this, but directionally, I’m comfortable stating where I think things are going.

We have the computing power in the cloud and on the handset, but the UI/UX  on a handset just isn’t that great for push services. A watch form-factor is an entirely different matter… Google Now takes on a whole different feel when it’s on your wrist vs taking a phone out of your pocket, unlocking it, opening Google Now to see if there’s something useful there. With a watch – it’s just there. Effortless.

So, where does that leave us? I think we’re on the cusp of some great new services, and that smart watches are going to be a key enabler that unlocks that future. That said, and watches aside; effortless experiences are what’s next in my mind.

P.S. If you really want to read more on A.I., I can recommend the following (lengthy and terrifying) blog post: The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence

Top 5 Apps of 2014

5. Evernote – It just keeps getting better. Simple UI for a complex app. Across all platforms.

4. Carousel –  not that the app is mind-blowingly great, but if you keep your photos in Dropbox, it does make life much better. Especially the latest update. Flashback is cool.

3. Headspace Guided meditation… it’s a paid app after the first 10 days, and it’s one of those things that gets more valuable the longer you use it. 12 months in I value this app *far* more than the first month.

2. Inbox from Google – Still in beta, but there’s no way I’m going back to regular Gmail. Inbox brings a lot of the goodness of Google Now by surfacing what you need vs making you dig for what you need.

Which brings me to my number one App of 2015:

1. Android 5.0 – Lollipop. Yes, technically it’s not an App, but the whole OS works together to make your life better and easier. Google Now continues to be amazing – combined with Inbox and Google Calendar, it’s a major winning combo. And this is coming from a long term member of the Church of Apple. I really like the new UI as well, but that’s form, not function.

Honorable mention:
Mac OS X, Yosemite – Yeah, this isn’t an App either, but I think it’s definitely the best iteration of OS X since it was first released 14 years ago. Everything has been simplified, and it’s a delight to use. It also works seamlessly with my iPhone.

Uber – because I use it *all* the time.

Shameless Portfolio Promotion:

Peak – Addictive games that help with your memory (and I need a lot of help on that front), along with other cognitive abilities. Featured in Apple’s “Best of 2014”

Yplan– Best way to figure out what’s happening, and get yourself a ticket (maybe even a VIP ticket). Currently available in London, New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas.