After sitting up, I drink water from the big bottle right in front of me.
After drinking water, I get up and make my bed.
After making my bed, I shave.
After shaving, I brew myself a cup of coffee…
This is the routine I follow every morning after waking up: It is an autopilot sequence of behaviors—“a stack of habits”—where the completion of one action triggers the start of the next one.
This routine is extremely helpful and contributes massively to my happiness and productivity every day.
It also keeps me from going off the rails and into cyberspace:
You see, I have an iPad and a smartphone sitting on my nightstand.
In the past, I have always been tempted to use them after waking up: “What is the news?” “What is going on Twitter?” “Let’s check email real quick.” More often than not, I have given in to the temptation.
The next thing I noticed was that half an hour was gone, and I was running late.
It is Saturday, June 30, 9:30 am. I just broke my fast with some cashew nuts and almonds.
This was my fourth fast, and it was a bit harder than the previous one. My hunger never completely subsided. I changed a few things that may have contributed to this experience. For more on this, please see below.
But – this fast also made me appreciate the value of food again.
I still went to coffee shops to do some reading and drink black coffee. When friends ordered food or a takeout, I felt they were so lucky they could have nice looking and clean food and eat it.
It doesn’t feel nice to be hungry and not to be able to eat when food is plenty.
Feeling hunger, I felt connected with people who don’t get enough to eat.
I had to go to bed without food for 5 nights. But I knew that after 5 days I was going to have great meals again.
I have the cash to go to the supermarket and buy stuff to my heart’s content. I was already planning the great meals I was going to have.
Other people don’t have enough resources. They often go to bed hungry without knowing when they will have a satisfying meal.
They might only have a bowl of instant noodles with some cheap oil and lots of flavor enhancers. Not too bad if eaten once in a while, but while the noodles are high on carbs, they are low on protein and contain almost no nutrients.
But then, a bag only costs 50 cents. Mind you, the almonds and cashew nuts I broke my fast with cost more than that.
I sometimes eat these noodles too, because they taste good. Or a cheap fried rice dish. But then I remind myself that apart from energy there isn’t much in there and go and get some real food.
It might be a roast with potatoes and nicely grilled vegetables. Or I might go for Sashimi or Oysters.
Some people only have a dollar a day to spend on food. If they have children, the food goes to the kids first.
Today I pity them. Sometimes, I forget.
I am a lucky bastard to have a credit card and a bank account with money to buy nutritious food.
Giving someone good food to eat is sometimes better than money. The person gets to taste the happiness that comes with eating a hearty meal. The food pulls them right out of their hunger and feeling of dissatisfaction.
During the last couple of weeks, my mind wasn’t as fluid as it used to be. Reading, writing, analyzing, whatever I did, I tired much easier.
Also, about three hours after each meal, I felt a dip in energy, which I only slowly recovered from until the next meal. I have had this before – and I interpret it as a sign that my body has a hard time changing from feeding to fasting.
It appeared to me that as soon as most of the energy from eating was used, stored in the liver, or stored as fat, I ran low on energy.
What’s more, my weight was slowly increasing, my sleep was deteriorating, and I was getting digestive problems.
I was concerned that my fatigue might be due to increasing insulin resistance
I had been feasting excessively, drinking too many beers, and maintaining an irregular sleep schedule. As a result of all this, I suspect I was becoming increasingly insulin resistant. My blood sugar values were still OK, but I clearly wasn’t doing too well.
In a nutshell, my metabolism wasn’t running smoothly, I tired easily, abdominal fat was accumulating, and I was having a hard time burning fat (as indicated by my increasing body weight).
As I mentioned, I have had this before.
I resorted to the tool that had helped me last time to do a reset: Fasting.
I wanted to press that reset button again, so I committed to a 5-day fast. At the end, I made it a 6.5-day fast. Continue reading →
Working in intervals of 20 to 40 minutes (so-called timeboxes) interspersed with 5-minute breaks is an excellent way to increase productivity, overcome procrastination, and do something for your health at the same time. In an earlier post I have outlined some ideas on how to implement time boxing.
In the 1980s, Francesco Cirillo devised the Pomodoro Technique, a complete time management system based on the concept of timeboxing. According to him, the optimal length of a timebox is 25 minutes. He called this 25-minute interval a pomodoro. Cirillo’s technique has spawned a variety of productivity apps and timers. I’ll introduce you to one cool app below.
I have used timeboxing more or less for several years, but have also varied the work period depending on the task at hand.
If a task is very difficult or boring, starting out with only 15 minutes is fine, if that helps you to get started and avoid checking your phone. I can always do 15 minutes.
For writing, I much prefer 45 minutes of even an hour.
Recently, I got myself a Fitbit Charge 2 fitness tracker. I bought it to encourage me to move more during the day and track my sleep during the night. It also continuously tracks my heart rate and automatically recognizes and records different exercises. For example, it detects and records when I am walking, running, or using a cross trainer or treadmill and supplies stats such as duration, calories burnt, heart rate graphs…
I have come to like my Fitbit a lot – and it can help with time boxing / pomodoros as well.Continue reading →
Special blue-blocking glasses, lamps that emit no blue and little green light, and apps that shift the color temperature of our smartphones and iPads have been designed to remove potentially sleep-disrupting light.
But how do these blue blocking glasses and lamps help with sleep?
And how do they need to be designed and used to actually work?
A couple of years ago, I was often riding the subway home late in the evening, coming either from work or a night on the town. For the first couple of minutes, I usually felt very sleepy and was ready to go to bed. At the end of my ride though, I was completely alert. At some point, I started wondering whether the bright light in the subway car might be responsible for my alertness at the end of the ride.
I had previously heard of morning bright light therapy to wake people up and treat bad winter moods, and the subway car seemed to be doing just that.
The problem: we were in the middle of the night!
Looking further into the alerting effects, I came across a whole line of research that had identified the blue light portion of white light as the most potent wake-up signal.
In 2001, researchers identified novel photosensitive cells at the back of our eyes, and these cells were most responsive to blue light. What’s more, they are directly connected to our biological clock. It has been found that light exposure to these cells resets our internal clock, suppresses melatonin, and keeps the clock in sync with our 24-hour day.
Likely unaware of these findings, from 2005 on governments were starting to pressure manufacturers and households to get rid of incandescent light bulbs and replace them with more energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps and later white LEDs.
As it turns out, most of these lamps contain a lot more blue light than the old bulbs, and they have also been found to be a lot more effective at suppressing melatonin, the primary hormone that signals darkness to the cells in our body. The same goes for modern LED-powered devices including smartphones, tablets, and PCs.
Let’s look at how light impacts our biological clock
In this post, we will look at the most suitable white noise machine for sleeping, and how to use it for maximum effect and fewest side effects. I have also summarized research findings regarding white noise and sleep.
Many years ago, I stumbled across my first sleep-aid sound conditioner by chance. At that time, my bedroom window was facing a small, but pretty noisy street. During winter, I used a small ceramic heater that had a fan to distribute the warm air. As it got warmer in spring, I was ready to put the heater back in storage.
I noticed, however, that it was a lot easier to fall asleep with the little heater running, so I even put up with a slightly overheated room just to get my fan noise.
Later I used a normal room fan. It wasn’t loud enough for me though.
A friend had the solution: I punched a few holes in a plastic bag and covered the fan with the bag. Voila – I had a loud white noise machine.
I am aware that this isn’t a safe way of doing things: So don’t try this at home. Don’t cover your fan with a plastic bag.
At that time I didn’t know, but there are a lot better solutions readily available… Continue reading →
In this post, I want to provide an overview and detailed review of noise blocking earmuffs.
Regular readers of my Blog know that I am into blocking noise to reduce stress and improve cognitive performance and sleep. Many studies show a large positive impact of noise reduction on all kinds of mental tasks, including studying, reading comprehension, writing, serial memory, proof reading, mental math, and so on.
As a student and as a professional, you can improve your performance on almost any task by controlling the noise you are exposed to while working. In addition, by removing disturbing noise from your environment, you can reduce stress levels, improve general well-being, and prevent permanent hearing impairment.
Earmuffs are also becoming increasingly popular with people who are hypersensitive to noise, and sufferers from hyperacusis, misophonia, autism and ADHD.
I have found noise cancelling earmuffs to be among the most effective tools for studying. And it’s not only me: Search Google Images for memory championships and you will see participants wearing industrial earmuffs.
This review looks at general noise blocking effectiveness of different earmuffs and comfort and suitability for different types of noises, including low frequency noise and human speech. I focus on enhancing cognitive performance and general well-being rather than hearing protection in industrial settings and on the shooting range. That being said, you will find an in-depth comparison of manufacturers’ attenuation data.
In my quest to find the most effective, most comfortable and most fashionable earmuffs, I have purchased and used quite a number of different models. In this review I am going to look at the following:
Overall noise blocking effectiveness
Low-frequency and human speech blocking effectiveness
Manufacturing quality and durability
Earmuffs for sleeping
The models in this review include:
3M Peltor X5A
3M Peltor X4A
3M Peltor Optime 105
3M Peltor Optime 98
3M Peltor Optime 95
Howard Leight Leightning L3 (with some references to the Leighting L2 and Leightning L1)
My personal earmuffs ranking
Before I delve into the details about which earmuffs are best for which application, here is my overall ranking. Please note that this ranking is personal and does not only account for noise reduction, but also general usability, comfort, weight, build quality, and price. Continue reading →
Recently, during an extended stay in Taiwan, I started with floating sessions.
Every other week, I float for about 70 minutes in a tub filled with magnesium-sulfate-saturated water, a so-called flotation tank, also known as an isolation tank.
The water is kept at skin temperature, and the tank is supposed to be sound and light proof. Upon closing the door or lid, it is pitch dark, and you hear almost nothing. Float therapy was originally devised to answer the question “what happens to the brain in the absence of sensory stimulation?”
In the meantime, it has become a popular tool to reduce stress, solve creative problems, help with insomnia, and improve performance, among others.
So far, I have done two sessions, with more coming up.
I have found that floating can be very relaxing and uplifting. With this post, I would like to inspire you to try it yourself.
It depends on you, the kind of white noise you are using, the task you are working on, where you work, and even the time of day. This post looks at some of the intricacies and helps you to decide whether, when, and how to use white noise for your work and studying.
Speech and varying-state noise (e.g., typical office noise) are distracting and can significantly impair mental performance:
Experiments have shown that cognitive abilities important for both studying and cognitive work are negatively affected by noise: This includes serial memory (remembering the order of things), reading comprehension, mental arithmetic, proof-reading, and writing.
Most of these studies have included silence as a control condition. Some experiments have also included white noise for comparison. The results for white noise were ambiguous: White noise was mostly but not always benign.
My take is, compared to silence, it didn’t affect the average (!) participant’s performance negatively, but it also didn’t boost it.
However, people respond differently to white noise. Some people and tasks thrive on it, while others are slightly negatively affected. Read on to find out who benefits. Continue reading →
In my previous post, I explored how day-time noise impairs our cognitive performance and what we can do about it. But there is another big elephant in the room – our night-time sleep. Sleep or the lack of it has a big impact on our ability to perform at our best, both physically and mentally.
Less or disrupted slow-wave sleep, for example, entails poor memory and poor wound healing.
Among the worst offenders interrupting our night-time sleep is the all too familiar sound of SNORING. Snoring can be loud – very loud indeed. A loud snorer can reach more than 90 decibels of peak sound pressure level. That is about as loud as a lawn mower.
Intrigued by the capabilities of some of the newer devices to block out noise and sophisticated white noise apps, I decided to run an experiment to answer this question: What is the best way to block out snoring noise?
Test equipment and candidates
An iPad equipped with a sound level meter (Noisee for iOS).
Two different white noise apps: myNoise for iOS and White Noise by Tmsoft for iOS and Android.
Earplugs of different sizes by Hearos, 3M, and Mack with a noise reduction rating (NRR) of 29-33 (an NRR of 33 is about as good as you can get).
Good-quality earbuds (a good fit is vital for sound quality and noise isolation).
The best earmuffs I could find, with a noise reduction rating of 31 (3M Peltor X5A).
DIY noise isolating earbuds and sleep headphones.
The best noise cancelling headphones I could find (Bose Quiet Comfort QC35).