Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sleep Is Good: Get More

After watching the Peepcode screencast on productivity, I made it a goal to get healthier amounts of sleep. After I got Streaks, I got much, much better at achieving my goals much, much faster (which is a blog post in itself). Recently I was showing Streaks to a guy from my acting class and as an example showed him the "8 hours of sleep" calendar, where I had a streak running for weeks. "Eight hours of sleep," he chuckled. "If you get eight hours of sleep a day, you're a lucky man."

I do, and I am. It's important to get enough sleep. At the extreme of sleep deprivation is psychosis and hallucination. You start seeing shit that isn't there.

Even modest levels of sleep deprivation cause cognitive impairments, hostility, and decreased job satisfaction. That's why people say "sleep on it." Nine times out of ten, if you're pissed off about something, you'll be less cranky after a nap. Most people will chuckle at that and think, "yeah, but not me." No, I mean you. Yes, you. And you. You can't get around the basic realities of being human.

However, sometimes your sleep schedule gets out of whack. If you want to fix it, the steps are not necessarily easy, but they are simple. Most people think there's some kind of sharp delineation between morning people and night owls. I'm most often a night owl, but I've deliberately become a morning person several times. It's simple.

All you have to do to become a morning person is get up early in the morning and do something right away. Keep doing that for several days and boom, you're a morning person. As I said, it's simple, but it's not necessarily easy. Recently my internal clock got so jumbled I was routinely getting up at 2pm and going to sleep around 4am. Yesterday it got in the way of my being able to do or say anything useful at all, and I decided I'd had enough. I took some Nyquil at midnight and woke up at 7am. I got started doing stuff when I woke up; all I have to do is stay awake today, go to bed at night, and at some point during the day use hypnosis to experience deep relaxation.

I'll get to the hypnosis in a second. First, though, when I say I used Nyquil to knock myself out, and I say I need to stay awake all day, to a lot of people it'll seem logical if the next step is using coffee to make sure I stay awake til bedtime. No. Fail. Coffee is evil. Coffee is a terrorist.

For whatever reason, using a stimulant to speed yourself up messes with your internal clock a lot more than using a depressant to slow yourself down. I'm sure a doctor could tell you why this is, and, since I've been reading a lot of medical books recently, I'm equally sure another doctor could tell you why this isn't. Doctors argue with each other almost as much as programmers; I say almost because they tend to swear less and back up their claims with research more.

Anyway, I know this coffee thing is true for me, and it's true for a lot of other people as well, probably all of them. If you want to have a healthy internal clock, you should avoid caffeine, especially at the levels of intake which many people in programming keep up. Long story short, I won't be using coffee to ensure I stay awake; I'll just work out, the way I normally do, and the physical activity will keep me going.

Now the hypnosis thing, that's different. I know how that works, and it's true for everybody. If you use hypnosis for deep relaxation, on a regular basis, you establish deep relaxation as a normal component of your daily rhythm. Anything you make a habit of tends to find some kind of balance with all your other habits, and deep relaxation is no exception.

I got some e-mail from some lunatic who told me you can't manipulate yourself into sleeping unless you're weak-willed; this has nothing to do with hypnosis. In fact if you have such strong, irrational, and irrelevant negative associations with hypnosis specifically, you can skip hypnosis, because it doesn't really matter. Any powerful relaxation technique will get you the same results, and there are plenty from yoga or the Buddhist traditions which you can use instead.

The important element is a regular pattern of daily deep relaxation. If you go into a state of deep relaxation every day, your sleep patterns will normalize themselves. One caveat: it's not at all unusual for people with chronic sleep deprivation to fall asleep during their first experiments with deep relaxation techniques. It's a very natural response, and chronic sleep deprivation is so pervasive in industrialized cultures that if you speak enough English to read these words, you're at risk for it. But naps also reduce insomnia, so as potential side effects go, it's fairly unalarming.

Update: In the past I've succeded with this but this time around it's been utter fail. My sleep schedule's a total mess. I'll update this again when I figure out the fix.

Update: Solved the problem, needed to use hypnosis more regularly and get started on something the minute I woke up. But! It's 3 AM. My insomnia came back unexpectedly when I skipped a couple meals. Too tired to go into detail - I'm eating and then heading to bed - but there's research out there on hunger interrupting circadian rhythms. If you've got insomnia and you haven't eaten all day, chow down before practicing hypnosis, meditation, yoga, or whatever.

Update AGAIN: It took me a very, very long time, but it looks like I've kicked this. I moved back to my old apartment - the same one I lived in when I was getting up at 5am every morning and going to the gym - and resumed a morning-oriented schedule within a few days. The difference: windows. The morning-friendly apartment has huge windows facing the bed that fill the room with sunshine at dawn. (Note that it may be possible to fake this.)


  1. Any suggestions on where we can get info on using hypnosis for sleep and relaxation?

  2. I'm pretty disappointed you stopped about 550 slides too soon. :) Good stuff. I know I was told that lack of sleep and not eating right contribute to alot of mental health issues.

  3. Hi Giles,

    I live outside the US and the dollar exchange rate makes even $9 pretty expensive for me (it translates to roughly 500 units of the local currency here). But I am willing to do spend that amount and can, if it's really useful. I don't want to spend it on some MBA type. The reason I am asking is that even though I am a good programmer and have a a few trivial open source contributions, I don't ever seem to be living up to my potential.

    So if you could just let me know if you really felt the peepcode programmer productivity thing was awesome, that would be very helpful.

    A regular reader of your Blog.

  4. Never mind, I ordered and downloaded it.

    A regular reader of your Blog.

  5. Me too on "Any suggestions on where we can get info on using hypnosis for sleep and relaxation?"


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