On Sleep Procrastination: Going To Bed At A Reasonable Hour

post by iamef · 2021-04-17T02:10:59.172Z · LW · GW · 22 comments

Contents

  Who Would Find This Article Most Helpful
  TL;DR
  My Personal Sleep Procrastination
    I Procrastinate on Sleep
  Why Sleep is Hard & Making the Mindset Shift
    Staying Up May (Sometimes) Be the Optimal Choice
    Variability in How We Feel the Next Day
    Stories of Successful People Who Sleep Very Little
    Wanting To Accomplish Something
    Insomnia
  Exercises To Try
    Reading Why We Sleep[6]
    Estimating Short-Term Productivity Decline from Sleep Deprivation
    Enumerating Failure Modes
  Recap
  Acknowledgments
  PS: Say hi
None
22 comments

Who Would Find This Article Most Helpful

TL;DR

Things I’ve Tried Shortened

Things I am Currently Trying

Mindset Shifts

Recommended Exercises

Helpful Resources

My Personal Sleep Procrastination

How I Procrastinate on Sleep

I procrastinate on going to sleep in a wide variety of seemingly unrelated ways:

Things I’ve Tried

Given that a lot of these interventions didn’t work, I hypothesize that shifting my mindset about sleep—even though I know it is quite important—is probably necessary to ensure that my system of tools actually works.

Why Sleep is Hard & Making the Mindset Shift

1. Staying Up May (Sometimes) Be the Optimal Choice

There are times when we do not regret staying up late. In fact, in the short-run, staying up late may well be the optimal decision. Here are some examples:

The general theme is that there is a hard deadline that one has to meet and that it would be much better in the short run to meet it than to get the extra dose of sleep.[1]

The Problem

We might extrapolate from the experiences where staying up later would be the optimal choice and assume that we should stay up late to be more productive and get more done. However, forgoing sleep could be thought of as a high-interest loan.[2] You’re likely to be less effective and feel awful the next day. In addition, it takes roughly 4 days to recover 1 hour of sleep debt in terms of performing at the optional level.

2. Variability in How We Feel the Next Day

Maybe sometimes you stayed up late and did something productive, and when you woke up the next day you didn’t feel that bad.

The Problem

With planning fallacy, you think that you’d end up ok tomorrow even if you sleep late tonight when that is not always the case.

3. Stories of Successful People Who Sleep Very Little

Elon Musk. Steve Jobs. Nikola Tesla. Thomas Edison. (Maybe) your friends at elite universities.

The Problem

Our careers span decades. Maybe being sleep deprived for a few years can work out, but this is unsustainable in the long run. Steve Jobs died young. Nikola Tesla wrote love letters to his pigeon. Elon Musk’s tweets suggest that he may not be thinking clearly. Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos gets a full 8 hours.

In addition, correlation does not imply causation, and we cannot extrapolate from the habits of successful people due to survivorship bias; there are many people who have slept little but were not successful. Numerous studies suggest that more sleep increases productivity and sleep deprivation is a major risk factor in terms of developing burnout.

4. Wanting To Accomplish Something

If you don’t do X tonight, you don’t think you’ll ever do X. Or perhaps you feel like you haven’t been productive for the rest of the day and have an urge to stay up late to catch up on some work.

The Problem

Is doing X more important than getting enough sleep? Does doing X even matter at all? If it was actually that important would I really never do it? Is it possible that you were unproductive during the day because you were sleep deprived?

Recall that numerous studies suggest that sleep increases productivity and decreases the risk of burnout.

5. Insomnia

If you probably won’t fall asleep anyway, might as well go to bed later.

The Problem

I’ve definitely experienced a lot of insomnia. I have plenty of recollections of being awake at 5am when I went to bed at a much more reasonable time. There are many great articles on how to fall asleep more easily. Personally, I found that wearing these blue / green blocking glasses[3] a couple of hours before sleeping (still experimenting with exact timing) and taking magnesium glycinate supplements[4] right before bed is a very low effort way to mostly get rid of my insomnia, though this may or may not work for you.[5]

Exercises To Try

1. Reading Why We Sleep[6]

Realizing that sleep is the foundation for optimal performance and good health (ability to eat healthy and desire to exercise are both impacted) has led me to write this post and want to prioritize sleep. An easy way to do this is listening to an audiobook while going on walks or doing chores like cooking.

I realize that there are many critiques on this book, but if you know that your sleep deprivation is actively harming you, which it was in my case, reading it is a net positive. Sometimes seeking out something helpful or useful in the short run may mean sacrificing a little bit of truth. This is sometimes ok.

2. Estimating Short-Term Productivity Decline from Sleep Deprivation

As someone who cares a lot about my productivity, having a rough number for how much less productive I will be if I were sleep deprived could be a useful exercise so I don’t fall into a planning fallacy of believing that the next day could be productive.

Note that these are extremely rough estimates. If you know of better estimates than I use here, please leave a comment and I can update these very rough calculations.

Let’s say

25% of the time when I am sleep deprived

This would amount to approximately 1 + 2.4 + 1.5 = 4.9 less productive hours in the day.

50% of the time when I am sleep deprived

This would amount to approximately 0.5 + 0.8 + 1 = 2.1 less productive hours in the day.

10% of the time when I am sleep deprived

This would amount to approximately 0.5 + 0.8 + 1 = 0.4 less productive hours in the day.

Therefore, the expected value estimate is that I will be losing 0.254.9 + 0.502.1 + 0.10*0.4 = 2.315 hours from a lack of sleep a day. My guess is that this is likely to be an underestimate because it doesn’t take into account poor decisions being made (choosing to prioritize task B over task A), the increased likelihood of falling sick if you are sleep deprived, and the increased likelihood of burning out for an indefinite amount of time, and the fact that it takes around 4 days to make up for the lack of sleep. These estimates also do not account for the likely decrease in lifespan that may occur due to a chronic lack of sleep.

That being said, productivity is not the only thing that suffers from the lack of sleep. It also impacts your subjective well-being, desire to exercise, ability to moderate your eating, social interactions, and more.

3. Enumerating Failure Modes

While I generally have an intuitive idea of why I fail to go to sleep early enough, explicitly listing out the failure modes leads to more concrete and effective targeting mechanisms.

Here’s an example

  1. I realized that I stayed up to finish a task (downloading software and trying it out)
  2. I list out this failure mode and strategize ways to combat it. I realized that I was excited to get the task done and afraid that I would not ever finish the task if I didn’t stay up to
  3. I started running a recurring script (for Mac) every night that will play "You might think that you'll never do the task if you don't stay up to do it. If the task really is that important, you will do it later; if the task isn't, then sleep is more important" to my speakers / headphones.

Surprisingly, it worked. This is probably because

Here is the link to a template for this spreadsheet.

I’ve been doing this consistently for a couple weeks already. I use Tab Snooze to automatically open up the tab every morning (recurring tab openings show up as a pro feature but I haven’t paid for it and it still works for me).

Recap

A copy and paste of the TLDR

Things I’ve Tried Shortened

Things I am Currently Trying

Mindset Shifts

Recommended Exercises

Helpful Resources

Acknowledgments

I appreciate Sydney Von Arx, Constantin, Chris Lakin, Raj Thimmiah, Talya, Kevin, Hawk, Ti Guo, Alan Taylor, Tony, and Aaron Gertler for reviewing a draft of this post and providing feedback. I take responsibility for all errors in this document.

I am also grateful for everyone who has nudged me towards prioritizing sleep and sharing strategies on how to do so. I definitely feel better with a more stable sleep schedule.

PS: Say hi

Some of my most interesting and life-changing conversations and insights come from people in the effective altruism community. Even if you don’t feel like you have anything to say, you probably have something interesting to share. All of us come from different backgrounds, so something that is obvious to you may have been overlooked by me.

What does this mean?

Cross posted on blog.emily.fan and EA Forum [EA · GW]


  1. However, if you commit to going to bed at a reasonable time, and as a result don't end up finishing the presentation, you will suffer in the short term. The next time a similar situation occurs, you will have a very hard incentive to start work earlier, and thus avoid this completely. Timeless decision theory [? · GW] may also be relevant here. ↩︎

  2. The notion of sleep as a high interest loan was inspired by a friend who was inspired by the CFAR handbook. ↩︎

  3. I found these red glasses more intense than the orange ones. Note that they smell bad initially, so you might want to first air them out. Also, this is an Amazon affiliate link if you feel like supporting me with your purchase and are based in the US. Otherwise, this link should work, and no hard feelings. ↩︎

  4. Again, this is an Amazon affiliate link if you feel like supporting me with your purchase and are based in the US. Otherwise, this link should work, and no hard feelings. ↩︎

  5. Another common supplement is melatonin. Melatonin worked great in terms of falling asleep quickly, but I did not wake up feeling well rested. ↩︎

  6. Again, this is an Amazon affiliate link if you feel like supporting me with your purchase and are based in the US. Otherwise, this link should work, and no hard feelings. ↩︎

22 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Raven · 2021-04-17T04:15:12.315Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I had terrible akrasia around going to sleep until I started taking 300mcg of melatonin an hour before I want to sleep. My problems pretty much vanished after I tried to play Dota after taking it and struggled to stay awake through it and the redshifted light from my screen. I did briefly have a lapse where I stopped taking it on schedule, but adding an alarm to my phone fixed that.

I also make it a point to lay down in bed and read on my redshifted phone, which likely helps. I've had no ill effects in the two years since, including addiction or tolerance (I can sleep just fine without it) and it's cost me maybe twenty bucks.

Give it a try. Maybe it'll be a miracle fix for you too.

Replies from: niplav, Zian
comment by niplav · 2021-04-17T09:27:32.195Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seconding the recommendation. iamef, maybe you want to play around with the dose; the usual dose is too high, and maybe you could take it ~3-4 hours before going to bed. (If you've already tried that, please ignore this).

Replies from: iamef
comment by iamef · 2021-04-17T18:05:41.754Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the recommendation.

I haven't tried playing around with the dose too much besides breaking the tablet in half (which is likely still wayyy too much).

If what I'm currently doing starting failing, I'll try that.

comment by Zian · 2021-04-18T07:07:15.771Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To expand on this point, I get the impression that you've worked really hard. It may be time to take this problem to a medical doctor to find out if there is something they can suggest such as a diagnosis of one of the many conditions that result in sleep phase delay a la HPMOR.

Replies from: iamef
comment by iamef · 2021-04-25T00:43:55.325Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is "you" referring to me, the author of this post?

comment by maximkazhenkov · 2021-04-17T11:43:51.064Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Our careers span decades. Maybe being sleep deprived for a few years can work out, but this is unsustainable in the long run. Steve Jobs died young. Nikola Tesla wrote love letters to his pigeon. Elon Musk’s tweets suggest that he may not be thinking clearly. Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos gets a full 8 hours.

This is motivated reasoning. Taking Elon Musk vs. Jeff Bezos as an example, if their sleep patterns were reversed you could have just as easily argued "See, that's why Bezo's rocket company isn't as successful as Musk's".

comment by tinyanon (aaron-teetor) · 2021-04-21T13:34:53.188Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For me, five hours laying in bed and three hours of sleep is much closer to eight hours sleep than it is three hours. There have been some studies on how much sleep you can replace with meditation and I don't remember the exact conversation rate, but you did say low barrier to entry on comments. When I'm stressing at being unable to sleep, as long as I relax everything and meditate I wake up feeling as good as if I didn't have insomnia issues. Note that it took me a lot of practice to be able to relax everything, you often don't notice some of your muscle tension. It's also an interesting thing to note that I sometimes have rapid involuntary eye movements while doing things which makes me think something sleep like is happening.

Replies from: iamef
comment by iamef · 2021-04-25T03:21:12.253Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm thinking of looking into meditation this summer! Thanks for sharing :)

comment by smountjoy · 2021-04-18T06:50:30.720Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This convinced me to take a nap.

Replies from: iamef
comment by iamef · 2021-04-25T03:21:27.457Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How did your nap go?

Replies from: smountjoy
comment by smountjoy · 2021-04-26T00:08:55.669Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It was great, thanks for asking!

In all seriousness, I am hoping to make a change bigger than just the one nap. I do procrastinate going to bed, and you've reminded me that the ill-effects of that might be much bigger than what I usually notice (e.g., long-term health problems, or having less mental energy even when I don't notice feeling tired). The first thing I want to try is measuring how much sleep I get. I installed a sleep tracking app (Sleep Cycle) but I haven't yet had enough time to see if it will give me the data I want, or if it will affect my habits.

Replies from: raj-thimmiah
comment by Raj Thimmiah (raj-thimmiah) · 2021-04-27T10:58:42.395Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

you might find exercise 3 useful if your issue is sleep procrastination. I had to slowly block alllllll kinds of things incrementally till I stopped screwing up my sleep

comment by Dentin · 2021-04-17T17:58:25.552Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've found lighting, melatonin, and caffiene regulation to be wonderful additions to my sleep regime.  I take melatonin pretty consistently at around 8:30 pm, and it seems like it helps make me sleepy ~45 minutes later.  As per SSC though, melatonin isn't particularly strong and the effect I'm noticing may very well be placebo.  I always have caffiene, but rarely after 2 pm, and typically not more than two cups of coffee per day.

That said, I suspect my lighting and light policy is having a much, much bigger effect.

The primary light source in both the computer room and bedroom are a variant of these:

https://www.amazon.com/MINGER-Changing-Lighting-Flexible-Decoration/dp/B07JP5375R

I have a number of presets configured; every single one of them is orange, with no blue enabled, in both rooms.  Even at full brightness, it's rather dim compared to even a single overhead bulb, and I switch to progressively more dim presets later on at night.  I only use the incredibly bright overhead lights if I'm searching for something, or working on a specific high-detail project.

My bedroom has blackout sheets on the windows.

I take all my showers/baths in the dark.  I started doing this to better understand some of my visually impaired friends; I quickly discovered that I liked it more than having the lights on all the time.

All of my computer monitors are all set for the minimum brightness level that still allows reasonable contrast and visibility, as well as the lowest available color temperature.

And lastly, all apps/terminals that I use are set to a black background, except for the browser; my X session background is solid black.  Websites in the browser are set to dark mode css if it's available, and I have a 'dark mode' extension for sites without a dark mode css.  All this said, I generally only flip on the extension in the evening.

I pretty consistently go to bed around 9:30 when I feel super sleepy, and can typically fall asleep in under five minutes.  I've found that even a few minutes of using the overhead lights after 7:00 pm breaks this; I both don't get as sleepy as normal, and find it harder to go to sleep if I go to bed anyway. Caffiene late in the day can also screw it up pretty badly, but that's far more rare than needing the overhead lights for a few minutes for some task.

Replies from: iamef
comment by iamef · 2021-04-25T00:47:02.696Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"I've found that even a few minutes of using the overhead lights after 7:00 pm breaks this; I both don't get as sleepy as normal, and find it harder to go to sleep if I go to bed anyway."

Are the overhead lights orange / red-shifted? Have you tried blue-blocking glasses?

comment by joshuatanderson · 2021-04-17T15:33:46.280Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

iamef, thanks so much for posting this!  This is a problem I've also been attempting to solve for myself.  I'd definitely love to collaborate on hack our own psychologies/physiologies to solve it together.  

So far, I've tried journaling bedtime/risetimes, melatonin, cutting caffeine, and recently, using a Pavlok to wake at the same time every morning (which proved very effective at waking me up, but recently has started to fail, because my willpower in the morning has been so low that I go back to bed after waking about 65% of the time).  My current hypothesis is that the low morning willpower is due to getting 6-7 hours to sleep.

I'll probably reach out to you via one of the ways you mentioned later.

Replies from: iamef
comment by iamef · 2021-04-25T00:52:42.573Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My personal take is that willpower over the long run is not sustainable; things ideally should feel natural, like a current flowing downstream. (This is my take from a lifetime of being flakey / failing to develop good habits)

comment by Arti · 2021-04-21T02:44:37.672Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's worth checking whether insomnia is caused by sleep apnea / sleep disordered breathing - it's more common than you might think (not just a thing old men have), and has serious effects.

(Commenting this because of the "low barrier" thing - I don't currently feel up to hunting down the diagnostic resources that convinced me to look into whether I had it, but I'm hoping the mention is better than nothing.)

Replies from: iamef
comment by iamef · 2021-04-25T03:20:17.863Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you think something like snore detection on an app like sleep cycle would be sufficient?

comment by becausecurious · 2021-04-18T10:55:57.134Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I recently listened to Huberman Lab Podcast (Youtube playlist) on sleep (episodes 2-5). This gave me a huge insight into how sleepiness works (circadian cycles & adenosine) and concrete advice to improve my sleep schedule (sun exposure in the morning and evening). At least for me, strategic sun exposure helps me feel really tired in the evening, so I quite naturally go to bed at a reasonable time (it feels almost effortless).

Another major positive intervention to my sleep was to setup computer and wifi autoshutdown at some specific time and consume new information in some less stimulating way after that (reading ebook or podcast in total darkness). This way I don't feel desire to undo autoshutdown, since I will still learn something new, but the medium slowly makes me sleepier. 

Replies from: iamef
comment by iamef · 2021-04-25T03:20:33.822Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll check out that podcast!

comment by dumky · 2021-04-17T07:06:04.823Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sorry to hear this has been difficult for you. It sounds like you really want to find a way to make durable change and tried many techniques already.
I think it's admirable and impressive to see how passionate and driven you are. But if it's having some negative consequences or making you unhappy maybe a bit of tuning could be useful.
How do you feel when you have trouble to go to bed? Taking a wild guess I'd say you might be feeling a bit anxious, inadequate, frustrated or maybe embarrassed. What thoughts do you have? Is there a deep-seated value that drives those? (maybe "a person's achievement drives their worth"?)
If this connects in any way, I'd suggest checking out David Burns' podcast or books.
It sounds like you enjoy systematic approaches and routines, maybe a 5 minutes journal could help express main goals and take stock.

Replies from: iamef
comment by iamef · 2021-04-25T02:24:50.396Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How do you feel when you have trouble to go to bed? Taking a wild guess I'd say you might be feeling a bit anxious, inadequate, frustrated or maybe embarrassed.

Sometimes this is true, but over time 1) I realised that having these thoughts aren't helpful 2) I probably did it too many times that these feelings don't happen as much

Is there a deep-seated value that drives those? (maybe "a person's achievement drives their worth"?)

Worthiness is definitely something that I've been contemplating a lot recently. Here's my current brain dump: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1XLavaM69FiJ1eQyKlLcYlJjG9xexzN4MkBc2VM6J424/edit