J.D. Moyer

beat maker, sci-fi writer, self-experimenter

Willpower as a Commodity, Part II (counterintuitive sleep tips)

It’s strange starting a new blog.  On jondiandspesh.com I mostly wrote about dance music, clubbing, and the like.  I don’t think this blog will have any sort of focus.  Some of my favorite blogs are similarly unfocused.  Art de Vany‘s blog became popular because he posted pictures of his grain-free paleolithic lunches and his muscle-bound 70 year-old body, but he also wrote about statistics, Hollywood films, and economics.  Now he’s made his blog private (his bandwidth fees were getting out of control and he didn’t want to deal with advertising) but I enjoyed the eclectic nature of his writings for a long time.

I think the main reason I like to blog is to make sure I can express myself without boring my friends to death with info-dumps that they may or may not be in the mood to hear.  I assume nobody is making you read this — you’re here voluntarily.  You can stop reading at any time.  It’s a perfect arrangement.  I can “talk” uninterrupted for pages on end about whatever is on my mind, and you can leave at any time without any fear of an awkward social moment.

WILLPOWER AS A COMMODITY, PART II

In my last post I stated my opinion that willpower is more like an expendable resource than a muscle you can build, and that the two aspects of willpower management are:

1) Stopping the Leaks

and

2) Doing What’s Important

By “Stopping the Leaks” I mean finding the areas of our lives where we’re expending effort and tweaking our behavior and rituals so that those areas no longer drain our daily reserves of willpower.  I think most of us can “trim” willpower expenditures in at least a couple of the following areas:

  • Fighting sleep deprivation
  • Fighting carbohydrate cravings
  • Enduring annoying behavior
  • Doing unnecessary tasks
  • Excessive exercising
  • Ignoring inclination and mood
  • Having excessively high standards

SLEEP DEPRIVATION

Fighting sleep deprivation can be exhausting.  Being anywhere but in bed when you’re tired is a fast-track to misery.  When you’re tired, the simplest to-do items feel like Herculean (or Promethean?) tasks.

I’m going to try to avoid saying mind-numbingly obvious things in this blog.  I’m not going to say anything about the effect drinking ten cups of Peet’s coffee every day, or eating an entire bar of 85% dark chocolate right before bed might have on your sleep cycle.  I’m not going to suggest that you wear earplugs if your spouse snores like a wheelbarrow being dragged down a gravel driveway.  I’m just going to mention a few things that have had a drastic positive effect on my own sleep cycle.

ARTIFICIAL LIGHT 30-DAY EXPERIMENT

Last June Kia and I tried a 30-day experiment; no artificial light in the evening.  I first became interested in the effects of artificial light on sleep after reading this book and this article in the New York Times.  We wanted to experience what sleep might have been like in the pre-electrical era, so after when the sun went down (around 8:30 or 9pm), we turned off (or didn’t turn on) all lights, computers, TV’s — we even taped the fridge-light lever down.

A typical evening at home that month involved reading by candlelight from 9 to 9:30 (yawning the entire time), and finally succumbing to sleep around 10pm.  We *were* co-sleeping with our one-year-old daughter at the time (so we were more tired than usual) but nonetheless we found ourselves going to bed significantly earlier than we had the previous month.  It was a bit like going camping every night, except we were living indoors.

For the first few days we both slept longer than usual; I think about ten hours a night (paying off sleep debt).  After that, we probably both slept eight or nine hours a night.  Some nights I would get up around 2am and read for an hour or so (the NYT article discusses how the eight hour block might be a recent norm or expectation; pre-electrical people may have often slept in four hour blocks).

We both felt good that month.  We didn’t get sleepy during the day (which is unusual, considering we had an infant child).  The most unexpected thing was that we felt much happier that month.  We both had the experience of feeling spontaneous joy/excitement at random times during the day, for no particular reason.  This was probably incredibly annoying to our friends and family members.

With these results you might wonder why we didn’t continue the experiment indefinitely.  I can tell you — reading by candlelight every night is BORING.  However we do make a point to turn the lights down fairly early in the evening on nights that we’re just chilling at home.

So that’s one point — if you have trouble getting sleepy at night then turn down the lights.

VITAMIN D

The second factor that improved my sleep quality was taking prescription level doses of Vitamin D.  It was after having two colds in a row that I saw this video and immediately started taking 5K IU of Vitamin D3 daily (I’ve since reduced my dose to 2000-4000 a day).  No colds since, and I’ve been experiencing deeper and more restorative sleep than I have since I was in my twenties (I’m forty now).  The clinical research of this science dude supports my personal experience — adequate Vitamin D levels are important for deep sleep (not to mention reducing risk of nearly every type of cancer, improving mood, improving bone health, and positively affecting 36 organs in total).  Get your blood levels checked and if they’re suboptimal (like two-thirds of U.S. residents) then start taking supplemental Vitamin D (at least 2K a day), or get 10 or so minutes of summer sun on large areas of bare skin, with no sunscreen.  Ten minutes a day shouldn’t burn your skin or raise your chance of skin cancer, and adequate Vitamin D levels may be protective against melanoma (the most dangerous form of skin cancer).

Of course, I’m not a doctor and you should consult your doctor before doing anything.  I’m just sayin’ …

BONE-BENDING EXERCISE

Perhaps you’ve experienced sleeping deeply after exercising hard.  But who really has the time or inclination to consistently exercise the recommended thirty minutes (make that at least an hour with the commute to and from the gym) every day?  Only those freakishly disciplined types … and this isn’t directed at them.  The question in my mind was as follows: could I improve the quality of my sleep by exercising approximately 1 minute a day?  The answer, for me, was a definitive yes.

Try this following right now.  Get up, find the nearest open stretch of street, path, or whatever, and sprint at full speed for about one minute.  Unless you’re sitting there reading this in a Puma tracksuit, you can simultaneously exercise your nonconformity muscles at the same time.

So, how do your legs feel?  (No, of course you didn’t do it).  But try it some time, without doing any other exercise that day, and see how it affects the quality of your sleep.  I’ve found that vigorously jumping up and down for one minute also does the trick.  Undignified, yes, but it helps build bone density and release growth hormone.

One thing that happens when you get enough deep sleep is that your sugar and carbohydrate cravings go way down (and the converse is also true; as little as three nights sleep deprivation can reduce insulin sensitivity to a degree that is similar to Type 2 diabetes).  This post is getting way too long so I’ll discuss my experience with drastically reducing my sugar and grain intake in Part III.

EDIT: The Willpower Part III post is going to cover another topic, but I did end up writing about reducing grain products and sugar here.

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Willpower as a Commodity, Part I

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The Joys of Throwing Out Long-term Plans and Lowering Quotas

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