In the predawn darkness, you can see an eerie red glow shining from the windows of the Hudson, Wisconsin, home of Thaddeus Owen and his fiancée, Heidi Sime.
The couple are awake, having slept in their Faraday cage — a canopy over their bed that blocks electromagnetic fields like the Wi-Fi signals or radiation from cellphone towers, which they believe are harmful.
Their “primal sleeping environment” also has special pads under the bed that are supposed to mimic the effect of sleeping on the ground under the influence of the Earth’s magnetic field, thus combating “Magnetic Field Deficiency Syndrome.”
Their house is bathed in red light because they think white incandescent, LED and fluorescent lighting robs them of sleep-regulating melatonin hormones. They wear special sunglasses indoors for the same reason, blocking the blue light from computers, cellphones or televisions when it’s dark outside.
Their morning routine includes yoga in a shielded, infrared sauna designed to create an “EMF-free ancestral space,” and putting tiny spoonfuls of bitter white powders under their tongues. These are “nootropics,” so-called smart drugs, which are supposed to improve focus, mood or memory.
When day breaks, they go out in their yard and face the rising sun — Thaddeus in shorts and no shirt, Heidi in a sports bra and yoga pants — doing Qigong in the snow and 25-degree air.
Getting early-morning sunlight, they believe, will correctly set the circadian rhythm of their bodies. Exposing their skin to the freezing temperatures, they hope, will help release human growth hormone, stimulate their immune system and trigger the body to burn fat to heat itself.
Forget Blue Zones. This is what your morning looks like if you’re biohacking your way to an optimal you.
DIY HUMAN ENGINEERING
Biohacking is a DIY biology movement that started in Silicon Valley by people who want to boost productivity and human performance and engineer away aging and ordinary life spans. Think of it as high-tech tinkering, but instead of trying to create a better phone, biohackers are trying to upgrade to a faster, smarter, longer lasting, enhanced version of themselves.
Owen, 44, describes it as a journey of self-experimentation, using “practices that are not talked about by mainstream media and your family doctor.” His aim is to combine the latest technology and science with ancient knowledge to modify his environment, inside and out.
“My entire goal is to basically age in reverse,” he said.
Owen, who is from New York, studied chemical engineering in college. He worked for Procter & Gamble, helping to create beauty care products, and for pharmaceutical firms, developing manufacturing processes.
Now he works from home, managing worldwide product regulations in the sustainability department for office furniture company Herman Miller. But he moonlights as a biohacking guru.
He started a Twin Cities biohacking Meetup group that organizes weekly cold-water immersions at Cedar Lake in Minneapolis. He’s given a TEDx talk urging audience members to wear blue-light-blocking glasses indoors at night.
He founded the website primalhacker.com and he and the 45-year-old Sime (who also goes by the name Tomorrow) run a website called thaddeustomorrow.com, where they market biohacking products like red light panels, a baby blanket that blocks EMF radiation and a $5,499 Faraday cage sauna that’s the same type used by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey.
Owen said he relies on “tons of research” to support avoiding blue light at night and the healing properties of the early morning sun.
WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH BLUE LIGHT?
The Harvard Health Letter, for example, said that blue light from devices, LED and compact fluorescent bulbs can throw off the body’s circadian rhythm, affect sleep and might contribute to cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Some studies have shown that exposing people to cold temperatures burns calories and repeated cold-water immersions might stimulate the immune system.
And those infrared saunas? They don’t appear to be harmful and maybe they do some good, according to Dr. Brent Bauer, an internal medicine expert at the Mayo Clinic.
But being healthy really doesn’t need to be that complicated, according to Dr. Michael Joyner, a human performance specialist at the Mayo Clinic.
“All these things sound great,” Joyner said of the biohacks. “There’s a ring of what I call ‘bioplausibility’ to them.”
But Joyner said it’s often hard to find evidence that biohacking practices actually work and that most Americans would be healthier if they just followed basic advice: go for a walk, don’t smoke, don’t drink too much and don’t eat too much.
But Owen’s goal is not to be merely healthy.
“I want my biology to be shifted to that supernormal range, where I’m optimally healthy,” he said.
When he started biohacking about 12 years ago, Owen’s goal was to improve his sleep. As a competitive athlete, he was fit, but he had problems with anxiety and insomnia.
So he started wearing special glasses to block blue light. His co-workers used to think he was odd. Now Owen’s company is asking him for advice on what kind of lighting should be used in work settings to keep employees healthy. And his sleep and anxiety problems have gone away.
“I went from being the weird guy to being consulted,” he said.
“We all sort of watch what he does,” said Gabe Wing, director of sustainability at Herman Miller and Owen’s boss. Wing said Owen has influenced some co-workers to try blue-light-blocking tools.
When Owen first got into it, he didn’t know of any other biohackers in the Twin Cities. Now there are more than 500 people in the Biohackers Twin Cities Meetup group.
Although many biohacks seem odd now, Owen is convinced that some of them will become common practices.
“This whole blue light thing, it’s not going away,” he said. “More research comes out every day and it’s becoming more mainstream.”
Owen and Sime have five of their children, ages 8 to 17, living with them. The kids wear blue-light-blocking glasses when they watch TV, but they’re OK with it, the couple said.
“I think cellphone radiation is going to be the new lead, asbestos and smoking,” said Owen, who turns his Wi-Fi off at night, keeps his cellphone in a special Faraday pouch when he sleeps and sometimes wears radiation-proof underwear.
(The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences says “scientific evidence has not conclusively linked cellphone use with any adverse human health problems, although scientists admit more research is needed.”)
Owen eats what he describes as a local, seasonal diet: local vegetables, fruits, nuts and honey during the growing season. That’s followed by a high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet in late fall and early winter. Then an all-carnivore diet in late winter, including animals he’s raised at a friend’s farm.
Owen doesn’t have a particular longevity goal, unlike biohacker and Bulletproof Coffee founder Dave Asprey, who has said he wants to live to at least 180.
Owen just wants to be healthy and independent for as long as he lives.