notes on sleep draft

Writing a post on sleep, with questions I have about sleep, my personal experiences with sleep. etc. Also planning an experiment in sleep deprivation on myself in q1 2020. Would be grateful for feedback / suggestions!


If you have suggestions for a good way to test effects of sleep deprivation on myself, I’m open to suggestions.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 means no desire to sleep and 10 is the sleepiest you have ever been, how sleepy do you feel?”

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My first reaction is to be skeptical that you would be able to draw any strong conclusions from the outcome of this experiment, whatever it is. But that is not an informed reaction. Can you canvas some examples of studies like this — small n, subjective measurements — that were done really well and that impressed you?

Why do we sleep in 1-2 blocks of time?

(personal answer) it takes me a long time to fall asleep, sleeping in one block minimizes overhead

If you have suggestions for a good way to test effects of sleep deprivation on myself, I’m open to suggestions.

I think these would be interesting:

  • ask a few people who know you how sleepy you seem each day
  • try writing a poem or a joke. I think these will be slightly better with less sleep
  • math or coding problems (how long to solve problems from a textbook?)
  • any assessment of your conversational and speechmaking abilities

What do you mean by subjective measurements? I’m planning to be using

Gwern has done a lot of really impressive experimentation on himself, for example:

I’m not sure I want to ask sleepiness questions. Obviously I’m going to be more sleep while sleep deprived. I’m much more interested in everything except for sleepiness.

You probably sleep too much!

all of these sound interesting (except for the sleepiness one – see my reply above to @wasoxygen) but they’re too noisy and too costly…

let me rephrase the first one: how clear-headed do you seem to others when sleep deprived? I don’t expect the answer to always be less so. I guess this is what my fourth point was trying to assess: combination of charisma and clarity of thought.

Also: perhaps this is going too far afield but it would be interesting to see how answers change with physical exercise.

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Why obviously? It sounds like you were often very alert during your StarCraft binge.

Someone posted a chart showing a strong urge to sleep in the evening after a night without sleep, some recovery the next day, then an overwhelming urge to sleep the following evening. I wonder if a circadian rhythm drives sleepiness, or if it depends on having something better to do.

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Hahaha, this is actually a very good point. I will consider recording sleepiness more seriously. Thank you!

Anecdata on sleep that may be useful.
A couple of years ago I read Hal Elrod’s book “The Miracle Morning”. One of the central pieces of advice was: get up early (he recommended 5AM) and start your day with a self-improvement routine.

The book convinced me to try waking up (I was less hardcore and went for 5:30) and I did it for a couple of years, getting five or so hours of sleep a night and being productive in my waking hours,

Then the habit deteriorated (Every productivity system stops working and there’s nothing you can do about it). I think I went back to the book to get a booster shot, but that wore off.

Then I bought into the “You need eight hours of sleep” bullshit and started a downward spiral. More sleeping meant less waking which meant less productivity. Less productivity led to less enthusiasm, which led to more sleeping.

If I woke up in the middle of the night feeling productive (like I am right now) I’d do things to get myself back to sleep and avoid doing anything productive because that might keep me up.

If mindless things didn’t work I’d take an Ambien. And if that didn’t work, maybe two.

Tonight I woke up and mindlessly went to the link in your New Years’ email preliminary notes about sleep and your challenge of the 8 hours of sleep cleared my mind.

So thanks for that. Also for a lot of your other stuff that I read before I decided to be productive instead of going to sleep.

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Thank you for this! This is super valuable. I used to do the same thing whenever I woke during the night, but now I just say fuck it and work if I don’t want to sleep. If you added a reminder a month into the future to update us on how this is going, that would be awesome.

My pleasure. And I will set the reminder.

I’ve become a huge fan of yours (as well as Scott Alexander and Gwern, so we both have good taste.)

I’ve started reading through your entire posting history as I did with SSC when I first came on Scott.

Last night and today was mostly dipping and skimming. I plan to start doing a detailed walkthrough as soon as I finish a couple of posts of my own that I had been working on, and i will comment until you are sick of me or we become besties.

Toward that end, I read your bachelor’s thesis this evening and I think there’s gold there. The idea that Planner and Doer are not adversaries negotiating with one another is important. I need to reread it more carefully, but I have this to offer.

In my journey to become a better functioning human being, I did a lot of Internal Family Systems Therapy The central insight is an amplification of Minsky’s Society of Mind - Wikipedia.

We are not unitary agents. That’s an illusion. We are instead a many agents, mostly unaware of one another and of the system. In my therapeutic experience all these “Parts” are trying to do “what is best” each from a limited, flawed perspective.

What you called Planner and Doer I called Manager and Worker and I wrote an imaginary dialog between them to try to understand the disconnect. Manager makes plans. Worker does other stuff.

Manager asks: “Why do you think I make those plans?”

Worker answers “I don’t know. I’m not a manager. I guess it’s what managers do.”

Manager says “I do them because I’m trying to optimize use of resources. I expect you to follow the plan–or to say something if you think there’s something wrong with the plan and not just ignore it.”

Worker says “That’s surprising. When I don’t follow the plan you don’t say anything. You just make another plan the next day. I figured you like making plans. How was I supposed to know that you wanted me to follow your plans?”