Hacking sleep with the 10-3-2-1-0 approach

May 29, 2020

Hacking sleep

If you are anything like me you will want to improve your sleep to minimize stress and to kick-start clarity and performance for the day at hand. With alarming increases of insomnia reports, and the overall reduction in sleep time in our current generation we should all be looking for simple yet proven ways to support our good night's rest. The 10-3-2-1-0 routine, as recommended by fitness coach Craig Ballantyne, is a really simple method that you can use on a daily base to drastically improve your sleep hygiene. But how does it work and how solid is this advice really?

It can be explained as follows:

  • 10 - The number of hours before sleep in which you do not consume caffeine
  • 3 - The number of hours before sleep  in which you do not eat (or drink, but that is up for debate)
  • 2 - The number of hours before sleep in which you do not work
  • 1 - The number of hours before sleep in which you do not engage in screen time
  • 0 - The number of times you hit the snooze button

Now let us review whether any of these methods are actually backed up by science.

10 - The number of hours before sleep in which you do not consume caffeine

Although the cut-off limit of 10 hours before sleep seems safe, it might not be equally applicable to everyone. Individual susceptibility varies widely where older adults, caffeine sensitivity or even the female sex could affect caffeine induced insomnia.¹ 

And even though there are plenty of studies that have shown that caffeine intake up to a couple hours before bedtime may affect sleep.² Even 6 hours before sleep, through ingestion of ~200mg of caffeine, sleep loss was reported of up to a full hour.³ Especially deeper sleep stages 3 and 4 seem to be affected through adenosine blockade, but also sleep onset takes a hit.⁴

Now that we have established this, how far do we need to trace back our caffeine intake really? Well, hold your horses, because there are indications that even your morning coffee may exert some influence. A study conducted as early as 1995 has showed that 200mg of caffeine ingested in espresso may induce sleep EEG, which may indicate a more superficial sleep pattern.¹  

As much as you are going to hate us for saying this, but if you are looking to maximize your sleep duration as well as sleep quality there is even concrete evidence that a full day abstinence might do wonders!²


Also, caffeine in saliva seems to be elevated in non-controlled subjects, so people who drink coffee every day, versus a control group that engaged in 14-day abstinence, after which both groups ingested 200mg of caffeine twice.¹

Based on a quick review we can already tell that the number 10 feels kind of artificial, let's see what else the data tells us.

3 - The number of hours before sleep in which you do not eat 

The research seems to suggest that food intake prior to sleep can have negative impact on sleep patterns, and that limiting eating near bedtime can aid fat oxidation and increase the amount of slow wave sleep.⁵

Nocturnal melatonin levels and nocturnal rise in leptin could be decreased as a consquence of late night eating, however the jury is still out on this one. Rather, it must be said that going too long without food prior to dormancy, can also lead to more frequent wake-ups. 

It is surprising to find that so little research has been published around this topic, which get's confirmed in this scientific review paper: there is very little we can say based on the current state of research about generalizability of timing of our last meal of the day.⁶

The only thing that been convincingly proven at this point, is the cycle of eating more after sleeping less, as our body tries to get their hands on as much energy as it can get. This in turn may lead to obesity, which may then lead to issues getting one's head down. Probably not something you directly thought of when reading this headline.

2 - The number of hours before sleep in which you do not work

This one is going to be extremely hard to prove. Research has shown that shift working, working long hours or having multiple jobs could jeopardize sleep.⁷ˈ⁸

In fact, even though working late at night seems to have adverse effects, some studies find similar effects for starting work very early in the morning.⁹ 

Strictly working late is a difficult variable to isolate and it seems that outside of any of the aforementioned risk factors of work and sleep, it seems that psychological stimulation could be a risk factor here, which is more clearly researched through active screen time. 

1 - The number of hours before sleep in which you do not engage in screen time

Although media has only slightly more recently introduced itself into our lives than food and work, the evidence of limiting screen time is a lot stronger.¹⁰ Although conclusions on causation are typically hard to draw, all types of screen time seems to have it's effects. What is interesting though is that more active type of screen time like mobile phone and computer use seem to have a more adverse  effect on sleep than more passive engagement in screen time, such as watching Netflix.¹¹ You might want to reconsider watching The Conjuring before you hit the sack though.

The mechanisms at play here can best be broken down into 3 different categories:

1. As mentioned, psychological stimulation such as violent video games can lead to an increase in heart rate.
2. Replacing sleep time altogether. It is not uncommon to lose ourselves in a night of binge-watching for example, or waiting to see the extra-time and penultimate penalty series being played out by your favorite team.
3. Light-emitting screens can delay the circadian rhythm and disrupt sleep architecture. This too can suppress levels of melatonin. That being said, there is pretty strong evidence that the emission of short-wavelength can be filtered out through the use of blue light blocking glasses.¹² 

They no longer have to be the super dorky type of glasses anymore either. Check out Blublox who do worldwide shipping and offer some cool variety of glasses too.

0 - The number of times you hit the snooze button

Although the likes of Jocko Willink will definitely agree that snoozing is sub-optimal for kickstarting your day, there may be some exceptions to the rule. Not every alarm is rested with the standard 9-minute snooze button, which can now also be extended to longer time ranges. For the Inception fans among us, snoozing has actually proven to increase the likelihood for dream recollection and lucid dreaming. What a waste to keep yourself from using such a basic biohack!

Especially during COVID-19 times, when this blog was written, see if you can experiment by putting no alarm clock at all. You will find yourself waking up to your natural rhythm and not in the middle of your sleep cycle.

To conclude, even though the 10-3-2-1-0 method is not fully backed by research there is logic to be found in all of these strategies. However, it should serve more as a guideline rather than a strict framework, and if we were to add anything it would be -1 for caffeine abstinence once every 14 days. Please don't hate us for this.


1. Clark, I., & Landolt, H. P. (2017). Coffee, caffeine, and sleep: A systematic review of epidemiological studies and randomized controlled trials. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 31, 70–78. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.2016.01.006

2. Sin, C. W., Ho, J. S., & Chung, J. W. (2009). Systematic review on the effectiveness of caffeine abstinence on the quality of sleep. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 18(1), 13–21. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2702.2008.02375.x

3. Drake, C., Roehrs, T., Shambroom, J., & Roth, T. (2013). Caffeine Effects on Sleep Taken 0, 3, or 6 Hours before Going to Bed. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 09(11), 1195–1200. https://doi.org/10.5664/jcsm.3170

4. Roehrs, T., & Roth, T. (2008). Caffeine: Sleep and daytime sleepiness. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 12(2), 153–162. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.2007.07.004
5. Lopes, T. do V. C., Borba, M. E., Lopes, R. do V. C., Fisberg, R. M., Lemos
Paim, S., Vasconcelos Teodoro, V., … Crispim, C. A. (2019). Eating Late Negatively Affects Sleep Pattern and Apnea Severity in Individuals With Sleep Apnea. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 15(03), 383–392. https://doi.org/10.5664/jcsm.7658
6. Marie-Pierre St-Onge, Anja Mikic, Cara E Pietrolungo, Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality, Advances in Nutrition, Volume 7, Issue 5, September 2016, Pages 938–949.

7. Korompeli, A., Chara, T., Chrysoula, L., & Sourtzi, P. (2013). Sleep Disturbance in Nursing Personnel Working Shifts. Nursing Forum, 48(1), 45–53. https://doi.org/10.1111/nuf.12005
8. Marucci-Wellman, H. R., Lombardi, D. A., & Willetts, J. L. (2016). Working multiple jobs over a day or a week: short-term effects on sleep duration. Chronobiology international33(6), 630-649.

9. Helen R. Marucci-Wellman, David A. Lombardi & Joanna L. Willetts (2016) Working multiple jobs over a day or a week: Short-term effects on sleep duration, Chronobiology International, 33:6, 630-649.
10. Christensen, M. A., Bettencourt, L., Kaye, L., Moturu, S. T., Nguyen, K. T., Olgin, J. E., … Marcus, G. M. (2016). Direct Measurements of Smartphone Screen-Time: Relationships with Demographics and Sleep. PLOS ONE, 11(11), e0165331. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0165331

11. Hale, L., & Guan, S. (2015). Screen time and sleep among school-aged children and adolescents: A systematic literature review. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 21, 50–58. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.2014.07.007

12. Hale, L., Kirschen, G. W., LeBourgeois, M. K., Gradisar, M., Garrison, M. M., Montgomery-Downs, H., … Buxton, O. M. (2018). Youth Screen Media Habits and Sleep. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 27(2), 229–245. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chc.2017.11.014

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