Debugging Sleep

Health, sleep

I usually feel motivated and driven but one day last November I was completely burned out. I felt depressed, demotivated, didn’t want to step outside the house. I even wanted to cancel an upcoming vacation for which I planned months in advance. I am glad I didn’t. During the vacation, I spent most of my time reading and contemplating. Asking myself what is going wrong with me? There were a few things that changed in the past six months or so. I switched jobs. I moved to a different country. The immigration process was stressful but it was is worth the effort. But the new job, quite opposite, boring and underwhelming. It feels like a waste of my time.

"All mental illness, from garden variety depression to schizophrenia, stem from common symptom of sleep dysfunction."

--- T.S. Wiley & Bent Formby

The book “Lights Out” by T.S. Wiley and Bent Formby found me at the right time. It discusses the consequences of chronic sleep loss. Following the references I stumbled upon some more related literature. Most of which discusses co-relation between sleep loss with depression. Although I didn’t feel underslept still I hypothesised that lack of sleep is the root cause of my problem. Then I tried to confirm.

"What gets measured gets optimized."

When you observe high latency on the server you benchmark your code. I knew where to start. I benchmarked my sleep. I used a Fitbit to track sleeping hours.

On my better days, I usually get more than seven hours. Those days I was getting between four to six hours. I knew I was not stressed or overworked but something was wrong. I spent too much time unfocused and that made me more anxious. High anxiety level during the day affects sleep.

I started reading up on how to cope up with anxiety. Things that came up most often were meditation and taking walks in nature. I followed. Then added a few of my own hacks. I replaced my desk at work with a standing desk and a bar stool and kept moving around throughout the day. I followed Max Lugavere’s book, Genius Foods to try to eat healthily. I woke up at the same time every day to form a sleeping habit. After almost a month and a half, I started to get seven to eight hours of sleep during the night.

The interesting takeaway for me; one, even though I am stuck in the same job that I hate. And I am living almost a similar lifestyle besides minor improvements in sleep and food. But my outlook completely changed as a side effect. I am not depressed anymore. Second, debugging is a transferable skill. Replace distributed systems and log files with biological systems and journals. Being methodical will help.

April 6, 2019 × Berlin