How to live better by looking at the sun.
WOW! The power of a keystone habit—a small, regular habit that spark “chain reactions that help other good habits take hold,” as explained by Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit. My new habit of simply getting my naked eyes outside to see the sun twice a day—within 30 minutes of waking up and at about an hour before sunset—has dramatically changed my life.
My previous post explains why scientifically this practice is important, as it’s a part of various behavioral “sleep levers” one should use for good sleep health. (Yes, my sleep has improved, which I’ll get into later in this post.) But also, the sunlight viewings have improved my mood, making me happier, less lonely, calmer, and focused, as well as increased my daily movement and calorie burn.
Ever an optimist, I didn’t realize just how depressing my depressingly dark apartment actually was. My workaholic, WFH lifestyle meant plenty of days that I didn’t go outside until nightfall or even AT ALL. I’m a total extrovert, and I have been battling the post-pandemic loneliness for months if not years now. Waking up and immediately going outside to see the sun with my bare eyes is a physical expression of hope; watching nameless neighbors jog, walk their dogs, and get their coffees reminds me that I’m not alone and forgotten in this city—I’m still part of what makes it thrive. It’s been cloudy most mornings, so to get enough sun exposure per Huberman’s prescription, I walk ten minutes to the East River so I can comfortably loiter, looking in the direction of the sunrise for 20-30 min. This inadvertently kicks off my daily steps and calorie burn in the morning that I hadn’t been getting before.
Tip: Create a go-to morning sunlight viewing outfit. Feeling like I needed to choose my outfit for the day stalled me from getting outside in the morning on the fly. My new habit forced me to work around that—now I wear the same thing, every day, just for that half hour in the morning so I have no excuse. It’s winter now, so it consists of snow pants, my warm puffy long coat, and lined rainboots—I can slip this on while still in my pajamas or even nothing at all underneath and still be warm enough to walk to the river. NO EXCUSE!
P.S. I aspire to have a sun viewing outfit as chic as this.
I also find that if I have to focus in the direction of the sun to get its photons in my eyes, I can’t be playing on my phone. It’s still on “do not disturb” mode at this time in the morning, meaning no possibly anxiety-inducing notifications have popped up yet. I have nothing to do but look at the clouds and the waves on the river and just be... so I’ve naturally taken this moment to meditate, contemplate, and set intentions for the day. I used to start my day with the notifications and the stress, but now, I’ve taken that power back, almost by accident, through a small change.
Similarly, my sunset viewing habit has grown. I found that if I am bothering to both take a break in the afternoon to get on the street and to walk somewhere where I could actually catch the sun (due to my being on the east side of the city around tall buildings), then it gives me momentum to take a walk longer than the 5-20 min of prescribed sunlight time. I have taken beautiful strolls through Central Park, or walked to an evening commitment instead of taking the subway—again, leading to more steps, more contemplative/meditative time, more being inspired by the energy of the city, and more feeling a part of my local community.
The only regimen I am holding myself to right now during Sleep Health month(s), is, of course, the sleep regimen. I’m eating without any particular restraints and maintaining status quo with my fitness routine, which over the holiday months had dwindled down miserably. I let myself do what I feel like doing as long as I stick to the sleep regimen. Wouldn’t you know, that in chain reaction to my new habit, I suddenly have more energy and motivation to go workout? Without putting any additional pressure on myself, I’ve at least doubled my weekly workouts!
But most importantly — I have felt so. fucking. happy. and uplifted… more consistently than I have in well over a year.
Body Progress Report
My stats were a little better starting off in 1/10, but being sick, dealing with a stressful houseguest/bed partner situation (I can’t even go there right now but will at some point, ha!) and then going on an all inclusive vacation threw off my sleeping, eating, and drinking so much that I gained weight by the time February rolled around, causing me to start this whole experiment anew on 2/6.
2/6 2/20 Weight (lbs) 150.4 148.8 Muscle % 33.2 33.3 Fat % 22.9 22.5 Water % 55.4 55.6 Neck circumference 13.5″ 13.25″ Waist circumference 30″ 29.75″ Hip circumference 41″ 40.5″ Thigh circumference 23″ 22.75″ February 2023 weight & measurements
Not much change to see yet here visually, but I have lost 1.6 lbs and 1.25″ overall, and that’s without going on a diet whatsoever. Especially since I almost completely stopped drinking alcohol, I’m going through a bit of withdrawal and thus craving sweets (which normally I never do). I let myself satisfy those cravings, focusing solely on keeping that sleep regimen. The days after I’ve slept poorly, I am aware of how much hungrier (especially for bad food) I feel; recognizing that fact, either two things happen. I talk myself out of the craving when I realize I’m not actually hungry but just tired (an excess of that hormone ghrelin!) Or, if I’m too weak to do that, I satisfy the craving while recommitting to a good night’s sleep that evening so I won’t subject myself to feeling ravenous again like this tomorrow. So, the current weight loss is from a combination of compassionate choices plus all the extra exercise I’ve inadvertently been doing as an effect from my new sleep behavior habits.
I thought it would be interesting and hopefully positive to create an exercise throughout all of this of finding my sexy at any weight or age, hence the photo above. Your health, your life—you can’t take for granted, so even if I strive for perfection(ish)ism, I should still appreciate what I have in the moment.
Sleep goal #1: Find the ideal amount of time my body needs under normal conditions.
Average, based on 2.6 – 2.20 data: 7h25m
The week of the 6th, I was being disrupted and agitated by the houseguest/bed partner I alluded to earlier, resulting in getting to sleep later than I wanted, having to take some sleep aids, and waking up by an alarm instead of naturally. That week’s average was 7h16m.
The week of the 13th, I took back full control of my space and thus my schedule. I did start taking the supplement apigenin from Huberman’s sleep stack and using yoga nidra to help me fall asleep quickly. I woke up naturally before my alarm every single day except Sunday, which I attribute to disrupted sleep from having smoked some weed Saturday night. That week’s average was 7h34m.
Sleep goal #2: Find what’s my best consistent one-hour window for waking up and going to bed seven days a week.
Average wake time, based on 2.6 – 2.20 data: 7:06am
Average bedtime, based on 2.6 – 2.20 data: 11:02pm
I’ve had my daily morning alarm set to 7am as a safety net (8am after a heavy workout day or a day I felt really tired so I don’t miss out on sleep I may really need, especially as I’m not sure what my window should be), and remarkably, I’ve pretty consistently awoke 10-15 minutes before 7am. Most times, I’ll let myself lie in bed for a little after 7. The Oura ring will count this as “light sleep”, even though I feel like I am pretty conscious, and will mark my wake time at when I truly get up out of bed.
As you can see in the below table, what a contrast these two weeks have been compared to the past holiday, high-stress, and post-daylight saving “dark” months at the end of last year. January, I started doing the behavioral sleep levers, although inconsistently while fighting sickness and situational stress.
Bedtime Wakeup Total Feb 6-20 11:02p 7:06a 7h25 Jan 11:49p 7:51a 7h1 Dec 12:13a 9:28a 8h14 Nov 12:20a 8:30a 7h1 Oct 11:19p 7:31a 7h4 Sep 12:09a 8:12a 7h2 Sep 2022 — Feb 2023
Sleep goal #3: Define my factors for optimal sleep latency.
I am really honing in on my bedtime routine. I’ll dive into it in future topic-specific posts, but the biggest game-changers for me has been practicing yoga nidra, mitigating stressors, and abstaining from both CBD and weed (substances I sometimes use at night to relax). Controlling the wild that is my racing mind has been my biggest challenge to falling asleep in the past, despite following common advice like turning off blue light early, etc. This is amazing for me, because as a busy working person, sometimes it’s impossible to be off my laptop or phone two hours before bedtime; yoga nidra, for example, has made that a non-issue. It’s honestly magic!
I’ve been on apigenin for the past week of 2/13, which has had better sleep quality and results than the week of 2/6. However, 2/6, I had some disruptions to my experiment, mainly “the houseguest” who wasn’t out of my hair until the 9th. Apigenin “can support in the transition to sleep through its anti-anxiety and relaxation properties.” I can’t tell, though, if the sleep pressure and chillness I am feeling at night this past week is from the apigenin, or just the extra exercise and now peaceful, controlled home environment I have.
I’m going to take this upcoming week off from the apigenin, relying solely on the behavioral levers. We’ll see how week of 2/13 compares to 2/20!
Caffeine is good for your sleep and other surprises.
Will a layered 5-week approach to sleep health using the Huberman Lab’s “Sleep Toolkit” help me reach my three sleep goals? (And can I stick to the regimen enough to find out?)
January was Sleep Health Month, and I had pictured every month in this process to be contained neatly in one month. That simply wasn’t possible after my Christmas flu domino’ed into five straight weeks of illnesses, ending for my birthday at the end of the month—which I celebrated with a week-long Caribbean vacation.
There’s no real reason why any of these “health”-focused months can’t be more or less than a month’s time of research and experimentation, so here we go again.
The 5-Week Approach
Of the Sleep Toolkit, Andrew Huberman explains that there are behavioral and supplemental levers that can be pulled to optimize your personal wake/sleep cycle. Start smart with the behavioral sleep levers, since these are all changes in your natural, physical behavior. Then, add different supplements to your system and discover which may further enhance sleep quality. Understanding how to pull these levers the right way for your body seems to be key to optimizing your sleep.
First, I’ll solely make consistent behavioral changes for minimum one week—maximum three—to establish consistent data and work towards my three sleep goals. Then, every week following, I will layer in one of the four supplements suggested in Huberman’s “sleep stack”.
Your brain and internal systems need cues to know if the body should be awake or asleep. The external cues are: photons (particles of light); darkness (absence of photons); and temperature. Other factors that work as cues are food (timing of when eaten and the amount); exercise, which generally makes us more alert; caffeine; supplements; and digital tools. Huberman explains there are three critical periods in which to use different combinations of these levers.
Critical Period 1: Morning Wakeup (the first three hours of being awake)
The “foundational power tool for wakefulness and good sleep”, here’s a break down of the levers to pull during this critical period.
- Make cortisol peak within 30-60 min after waking by getting enough sunlight in your eyes. You do NOT want cortisol to peak later in the day, which will be whenever you finally see the sun. You want the sunlight to be coming at an angle from the horizon, i.e. sunrise, and not directly above, as in midday.
- Stay looking in the direction of the sun for an appropriate amount of time based on cloud cover. On a bright, clear day, ~5min will do. For cloudy days, ~10min. For heavily overcast days, ~20-30min.
- If you skip a day, double the time of sunlight viewing the next day.
- Especially on cloudy days, try using a ring or tablet light at your desk on all day after your morning sunlight viewing session.
😳 My apartment is a sunless box and most of these winter WFH days I don’t venture outside until my work day is over… if at all. Huberman stresses that you need naked eyeballs on real, sun-based photons: no wearing sunglasses, looking through a glass window, or using artificial lights as a substitute. The latter simply doesn’t emit the necessary amount of photons as the sun. Remember that your eyes are filled with neurons (melanopsin cells, to be exact)—receptors that signal straight to your brain; enough photons need to touch these cells to jumpstart the WAKE UP signal. I measured my indoor and outdoor environments with a light meter to see how great the disparity was.
(In the podcast, Huberman offers solutions to those who don’t have access to sunlight or who work night shifts if you’re curious.)
A seemingly bright read on a somewhat cloudy sunrise; likely the river’s reflection of the sunlight is a helpful factor.
Here’s the light meter’s read over an hour later that morning from inside my apartment, all interior lights turned off. It is embarrassing, almost concerning, how dark my apartment is. My windows face the brick wall of the tall building beside me, perpendicular to the north side of the street.
This Verilux Happy Light is meant for light therapy in a sunlight-mimicking way, so I was curious to see how it would compare. When I turn this puppy on, it feels blinding in the darkness of my apartment. However, the cloudy day light appears to be 3.5x more powerful!
[OK, spoiler: I already started making the very simple change of making an effort to see the sun in the morning throughout January and it has drastically changed my sleeplessness at night.]
You want to increase your body temperature as it increases cortisol (in a good way), resulting in a revved up metabolism and increased focus.
- Take a cold shower for 1-3 min. When your brain perceives the cold, it will release a burst of adrenaline that in turn increases core temperature. This also gives you a nice dopamine hit with which to start your day!
- Exercise or do any modest movement that gets the heart pumping, such as a walk, jog, skipping rope, kettlebells, or flow yoga.
- Eat some food (if that’s your thing.) Digesting food warms up your insides. It’s okay to skip eating in the morning if it’s not normally a part of your routine; the cold shower and/or morning movement can certainly be enough.
- Delay drinking caffeine for 90-120min after waking. This will mitigate your chances of having an afternoon crash, and give the effect of caffeine a long arc without having to drink it again in the afternoon.
- Do not drink any after 2-4pm
I am generally not a coffee drinker as I am naturally energetic in the morning, and I find it gives me a really bad stomachache and terrible jitters. Coffee-dependency has a bad rap, so I was surprised to learn that Huberman is an enthusiast of caffeine when used correctly—and it was fascinating to learn how and why.
So how can accurately timed coffee consumption actually help you sleep? Caffeine is a psychoactive compound, which is a substance that affects how the brain functions. The chemical adenosine builds up in your brain as a by-product of being awake/brain activity. Like sands piling up in an hourglass as a measure of when to be turned (poetically-speaking), adenosine creates “sleep pressure” in the brain until finally there is enough buildup that its receptors signal that it must be time to sleep. Caffeine is an adenosine receptor antagonist, meaning that it blocks the receptors from the adenosine buildup, making you feel more awake than not. However, the good thing is, once the caffeine wears off, the blocked adenosine that has been being produced all along doesn’t disappear; it all at once loads onto the receptors. None of the incurred sleep pressure is lost, and you’re hit all at once with the sleepiness you deserve at that point.
So, timing is everything. Have caffeine late enough (but not too late!) so that the sleepiness crash is when you should be winding down for bed anyway.
Critical Period 2: Day through Evening
A mix of the levers already covered in CP1, plus general tips to manage your circadian rhythm:
- Don’t drink caffeine. See above—you don’t want to have any after 2-4pm.
- Nap, but not too late or too long, as it will mess up your nighttime sleep. Don’t nap if you don’t need to.
- Try NDSR, yoga nidra, or the Reveri hypnosis app, especially if you’re not a napper but missed out on enough sleep the night before / feel tired. A short session can be just as rejuvenating for your brain as a true nap.
- Exercise intensely to further increase your body temperature and delay your circadian clock from giving you a midday lull.
- Late afternoon / sunset sunlight viewing. Just as in the morning, you want to go out and have sunlight at a low solar angle hit your eyes for 5-30min depending on cloud cover. This protects against the negative effects of artificial light we’ll see later in night time hours. There are different cells in our eyeballs this time than in the morning that are at play here. These can sense the low solar angle the sunlight is coming in at; that is, these cells recognize that the sun is setting on the horizon and signal to the circadian clock that evening is here and sleep is coming.
It’s even harder for me to do the sunset sunlight viewing. I live and work on the east side of Manhattan, and both my apartment and my office do not have a clear line of sight to the horizon. I should probably work harder to find that perfect spot in a crossroad where I can stand and see the sun go down, but it’s a bit of a pain. It’s winter now, so the sun is down before my work day ends.
(As I piece these levers together, I’m realizing why I sleep much better in the summer than in the winter, even though there’s so much more nighttime in the latter! It’s really hard to catch the sunlight cues in the winter due to timing and weather.)
If I had my way, I’d work out in the early afternoon, but with work, it’s easier to do it in the morning. I’m NOT a napper (did I mention my natural, caffeine-free energy?) so I’m going to try Reveri or NSDR (non sleep deep rest mediation) on those days I feel fatigued from a restless night. I’d love for that to work for me; there are many times where I wish I could take a nap, but I truly don’t know how to fall asleep in the daytime. How do people do it??
Critical Period 3: Nighttime 9pm-4am
- Avoid bright, artificial lights of any color. Blue-light blockers are great, but they can’t stop the wakefulness properties of the light. It takes very few photons to keep your brain up after sunset (which is a very annoying, very opposite fact to what’s needed to wake up your brain in the morning.)
- Especially avoid overhead light.
- Use the lowest light necessary for your nighttime activities, like candles and dim bulbs. Light destroys the natural melatonin production that should be happening in the evening.
This I am already a fan of following. I have lots of low lamps and candles around my apartment. Once the sun sets, I instinctually have an aversion to bright, indoor overhead lighting.
- Take a hot bath/shower or sauna trip. Like the cold rinse in the morning, the extreme temperature has a reverse effect on your core temperature. Your brain will perceive you are hot and will start to cool you down from the inside out.
- Make your sleeping environment cold by at least 3º to keep your core body temp down. You can layer as many blankets as needed to feel comfortably warm to fall asleep in bed, but your head, hands, and feet will naturally peek out as the body needs to dissipate heat.
I love this excuse to take a hot bath before bed, and it’s a nice ritual to log off my electronics, turn off the artificial lights, light some candles, and decompress under the shower head. It’s like washing the day off of you! I also have a long skincare ritual, so coming out of the shower and ending with all the lotioning and self-care is really helpful to take the thoughts of my day out of my head.
As for the cold room… if you’ve ever shared a bed with a man, a cold bedroom is not a new request. Men run generally hotter than women, and I’ve definitely felt tortured in the past by boyfriends on this. But now, I open wide my bedroom windows while I’m in the hot shower. I’m so flushed by the time I come out, that the colder air is welcome. Then I jump into the bed with all my blankets before I have time to “feel cold.” I have my AC window unit at the foot of my bed, so I also turn that on a low fan setting, gently pulling the outside winter air in.
I started doing this earlier in January, and it feels strangely divine. Especially living in a classic NYC apartment where you can’t control your heat in the winter so they bake you alive to keep you warm, it’s great to not wake up hot and parched halfway through the night.
Listen to the podcast for the scientific details on any of these that may catch your interest:
- Don’t drink alcohol or use THC too close to bedtime. Both greatly disrupt your sleep architecture. (More on this in future posts; too much to unpack here!) Even CBD disrupts your sleep patterns… but on the flip side, it can lessen your anxiety, which may help some fall asleep.
- Eye masks and ear plugs can help you stay asleep.
- Elevate your feet by 3-5º to encourage glymphatic washout
- Train yourself to be a nose sleeper. One way is by taping your mouth shut with medical tape! Or, you can force yourself to breathe through your nose during cardio exercises.
- Keep the same sleep schedule all week, and avoid sleeping in any later than an hour on a weekend or late morning, for example. It’s much better to wake up at consistent time and then take a nap.
- If you wake up in the middle of the night, try the NSDR / yoga nidra to help you get back to sleep.
The rest of the podcast talks about the supplements you can use as levers, so I’ll come back to those when I start layering them in over the weeks to come!
I’m admittedly 37 minutes past the time I should have turned off my computer and extra lights, but I finally wanted to get back on a good posting schedule. (Implementing science is hard.)
Next post I’ll share my “before” stats to kick this experiment off: my personal sleep data from the past month plus body pics.
Sleep your fat away.
If you’ve been following along, it’s currently my Sleep Health exploration month. I also shared six intentions for 2023, one of them being to start losing weight in a long-lasting way through lifestyle changes.
Getting adequate, restorative sleep is a foundational way to be at a healthy weight. When you sleep, levels of the hormone leptin rise; leptin subdues the feeling of needing to eat. If you deprive yourself of sleep, the hormone ghrelin instead increases, this being the hormone that tells your brain that you’re hungry.
To double down on this, I’m doing Dry January and not drinking. Not only does alcohol negatively affect your sleep, but I tend to binge eat both the night I’m drunk and the next day when I’m hungover.
Without changing anything else, as in no specific new diet, besides cutting out alcohol and committing to 7+ hours a sleep per night, I’m very excited and curious to track my weight loss.
These are my usual eating habits, to level set:
- loosely intermittent, I’ll normally eat my first meal at noon and stop eating by 8
- I naturally, genuinely really love fresh, nutrient-dense vegetables so they’re always a part of my diet — even if accompanied by other garbage choices 😆
- water, water, water all day long
- I’m picky about meat and dairy options (unless I’m in full-on trash panda mode) for health and environmental reasons. I prefer to be plant-based on weekdays, giving myself weekends to search out and enjoy fine, sustainable animal products (or cook them myself!)
Of course, all of these habits easily go out the window if there is free food involved.
Here are my stats as of January 10. I’m 5’7″ and 36 years old. I used my biometric scale and a measuring tape to gather the below. :
Weight 147.8 lbs Muscle % 33.4% Fat % 22.4% Water % 55.8% Neck circumference 13″ Waist circumference 30″ Hip circumference 40″ Thigh circumference 22″ my weight stats as of 1/10/23
I collect fat around my stomach and lovehandles first; then you’ll see it in my face, neck, and shoulder/armpit area. 145 lbs is a threshold for me—as soon as I pass it is when I start to feel uncomfortable in my body. My arms can’t hang at rest without bumping annoyingly into my armpit fat at that point, which is where I am now.
I luckily was blessed with good legs so I haven’t had to worry about cellulite and saddle bags. My thighs are going to be the last place where you’ll see noticeable weight loss, but on the flip side, they are the last place to gain weight there in the first place!
I think my heaviest weight ever was 152 lbs. In recent years, like last five, I felt really good at 137. But, I want this to be more about how I feel and look than what’s on the scale.
How to not be nice.
nice /nīs/ adjective
- pleasant; agreeable; satisfactory.
a·gree·a·ble /əˈɡrēəbəl/ adjective
2. willing to agree to something.
“Nice leaders want to be liked so much that they don’t hold healthy boundaries. They avoid conflict and give in when they ought to take a stand.”
Coming back to this exercise because work stress definitely affects my sleep, and some of that stress I could mitigate if I were setting better boundaries. First, the article asks:
- How does your desire to be liked affect your leadership style?
- Does being nice sometimes compromise your effectiveness?
- Are you in balance?
I’m giving more to people than I’m receiving. I’ve over-indexed in appealing to their interests and rescuing them from their weaknesses or inability to do something. I’ve accepted things short of what I was hoping before under the shadow of a doubt of my own good taste and judgment, or not wanting to embarrass them, or not believing it was reasonable to ask for better. This unfortunately has all resulted in my department’s output falling short of the business’s expectations.
If “nice” means in one sense “to agree”, then it makes perfect sense to NOT consider simply being nice a good quality for a leader. As a leader, you have to essentially disagree with everything that is net negative for the business.
The article goes on to ask, ‘identify your beliefs about being nice’ with the following fill-in-the-blank.
- I learned that being nice is: for survival, it’s how to get people to accept me
- When I am nice: I feel secure
- Nice people: should be the prerequisite, though. I’m never impressed if someone is simply just nice. It doesn’t mean I’ll like them. If I meet someone and I don’t like them, even if they’re also really nice, I still won’t like them.
Holy shit. Those answers flew out of me, but I had never questioned these beliefs before. I didn’t realize what has been living inside of me, guiding so much of my life. The stark difference between why I hold myself to the standard of being nice to everyone all the time versus what I believe about nice people. My reasons for being nice at all costs stem from self-centered insecurity. Even though I would agree that someone being nice because they want to be liked, without giving much reason else to like them, is the type of nice person I have no interest in.
“Now ask yourself if these beliefs still serve your organization and highest self.” Not serving me at all as it’s redundant to worry if I’m accepted here—I was given the job. It’s moot to worry if I’m secure here—it’s a startup, which is inherently a gamble, and even if I were to get fired, I have outright owned equity. It’s a case of cognitive dissonance if I believe one thing about nice people and another about myself being nice.
“Watch your nice patterns. Notice the situations in which you tend to be inauthentically nice. Write down: (a) what triggers you, (b) what story you made up about it, and (c) what might happen if you were authentic instead.” One example is I don’t feel like I should negatively critique the work of my team if I’m not able to tell them exactly how to fix it— it makes me feel like I’m a fraud without having the answer. It reminds me of how frustrated I felt when previous bosses did the same to me, forgetting the fact that those situations were the trial-by-fire that pushed me to grow to what I am today. If I were instead authentic, then either they are challenged and grow, or I realize sooner that I need to resource the situation differently, saving time, money, and effort down the road.
“Find your right labels. Consider how you want your positive soft side to be described (other than “nice”). Now consider how you want your harder side described. Start to use these preferred labels to think about and describe yourself to others.”
- I want my positive soft side to be labeled as: supportive
- I want my harder side to be labeled as: direct
“Assess your organizational culture for how being nice is treated. Notice if it is conditional or expected at all times, rewarded or punished, and equitable at all levels. Notice other related behaviors, like dealing with conflict, too.” Being “nice” is not rewarded, recognized, or exemplified top down from leadership. At times, it feels punished or spited, for example, nice comments being deliberately ignored and unanswered in public. A nice person who overworks to be nice will definitely be taken advantage of to get things done, but it won’t protect them from harsh criticism in future or put them in better favor. Conflict is either completely avoided and dealt with passive-aggressively, or done explosively.
OK, let’s ignore the fact that this paints a picture of a very toxic workplace that will need to be dealt with, one way or another…::nervously laughs then cries:: But in the context of this post, it definitely doesn’t sound like being nice is worth it at all in my workplace!
Here’s to making positive changes for myself and others by being supportive yet direct.
“The body keeps the score.”
Great nugget from my therapist today.
How to use Oura Ring data.
I started using the Oura Ring in September 2022, so luckily it’s had a few months to calibrate to my body’s baseline. Developed in Finland, an Oura Ring is wearable tech, worn 24/7 on your index finger. Its sensors track a range of body metrics to give you information about your wellness—especially sleep.
I ordered the Heritage Gold—pricier for that gold finish but all my other jewelry is yellow gold. I find it to be seamlessly comfortable, even while lifting weights.
This tool will be key for tracking my goals during this Sleep Health month. I’m passionate about making data-informed decisions, but admittedly I am not trained in data analysis. Often I’ll collect a lot of data but then won’t know what to do with it! As an advertising creative, I thrive on using solid findings from my strategists—but I rely on them to first read the raw data and draw correlations.
My one frustration to date with my Oura Ring is having all this data literally at my fingertips but feeling overwhelmed on how to draw actionable meaning from it. Not to say that the app doesn’t already do a lot of that for you; it does provide at-a-glance information and personalized suggestions. But there is still so much more to explore and absorb.
(I read once somewhere that there are exponential gains focusing on your strengths instead of trying to better your weaknesses; we simply can’t be good at everything. So, disclaimer to myself, I’m not going to waste hours attempting to be a data analyst.)
Anyways, I faced my intimidation, and it took me a focused hour and 15 minutes (not bad!) to look at my Oura ring data in a new way and define clear goals for this month. I made a table of the monthly sleep data averages that, to me, had the most obvious correlations against which I could test hypotheses over the next month.
- Bedtime and Wakeup (time) is self-explanatory
- Total = total hours asleep
- Readiness = this is a score that Oura calculates based on different factors (balance of your sleep stages, heart rate variability, etc) that rates how good you’ll feel to take on the day ahead. 85 or higher is Optimal
- Deep / Light / REM refers to the different stages one cycles throughout sleep
Note: I was sick for two weeks in December, which damages your sleep quality.
Bedtime Wakeup Total Readiness Deep Light REM Dec 12:13a 9:28a 8h14 59 2h1 4h9 2h3 Nov 12:20a 8:30a 7h1 64 2h15 2h49 1h56 Oct 11:19p 7:31a 7h4 75 1h51 3h14 1h58 Sep 12:09a 8:12a 7h2 73 1h56 3h11 1h54 My Oura Ring sleep data averages
Sleep Goal #1: Find the ideal amount of time my body needs under normal conditions.
Under normal conditions meaning not while being sick, sleep-deprived from the night before, recovering from intense training, etc. From paying attention to those days I sleep without an alarm, go to bed before midnight, and feel great when I wake up, it’s about seven hours, never a full eight. The table above seems to agree, although the two months with the highest Readiness scores are a few minutes over seven, and I am still far from an Optimal (85) score. My guess is I need 7h15m-7h30m. (Adults in my age group need 7+.)
Approach: It’s hard to live life without an alarm, but if I can use my alarm as the latest possible safeguard yet hope to wake up naturally before it goes off, I can test my ideal total sleep time. I’ll start with working backwards from this safeguard alarm time, starting with a 7h15m of proposed sleep time.
Sleep Goal #2: Find what’s my best consistent one-hour window for waking up and going to bed seven days a week.
Knowing how many hours of sleep I need is one thing; when to sleep those hours is another.
We should get up and go to sleep at the same times daily, even on weekends and days off. This makes sense in theory if you’re aware of the circadian rhythm—the natural, internal 24-hr sleep-wake cycle in your body—but is difficult in practice. From the joy of sleeping in on a day you have nowhere to be to the compromise of waking up a lot earlier twice a week to workout before work to staying out late to spend time with friends…it’s really hard to commit to the same bedtime/wakeup schedule.
Yet, this disruption in the body’s circadian rhythm can lead to obesity and an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease, all three of which have led to mortalities in my family.
Per the table of averages above, my bedtime window roughly is between 11:30pm–12:30am. However, the weekly graph of my bedtimes on Oura shows consistent spikes of very late party nights on weekends with catchup early nights the next day or midweek.
An interesting thing about sleep cycles, which I’ll present sources on in future posts, is that it’s not just the total hours of sleep, but the time spent in each cycle that makes a huge difference—the time of night during which you cycle into a certain sleep stage is dependent on your body’s own circadian rhythm. So, you could get eight hours of sleep on two separate nights, yet one night being of much better quality than the other because the timings were different. The night you woke up earlier may have, for example, cut you off before a critical last REM cycle.
With that fact in mind, I wondered if earlier bedtimes resulted in better Readiness scores. After cross-checking the early nights on the graph (8:30-10:30pm bedtimes), the sleep quality seemed to really vary so there wasn’t a quick conclusion to be drawn there.
Looking at both the monthly table above and the weekly graphs, the two best Readiness scores happened loosely when my average bedtime was before midnight.
Would it be fair to guess that my ideal bedtime might fall between 10pm and midnight?
This reminded me of my 23andMe report, which says my DNA indicates I am more likely to be a night person/late-riser. (A post on this later!) As a self-admitted overachiever, I fight feeling ashamed of this possibly being true; we live in a society that idolizes the early-bird go-getter and insists that early mornings is the one path to success. Pre-pandemic, I’ve awoken early my entire life. It wasn’t until the WFH lifestyle that I realized, half in denial, that I started to slip into later and later mornings.
Approach: Take away the late party nights for the month to avoid skewed data, power down at the daily suggested “wind down” time my ring gives me, and let myself fall asleep unaided by supplements or alcohol until a strong trend forms.
Sleep Goal #3: Define my factors for optimal sleep latency.
The Oura Ring defines your sleep latency as how quickly you fall asleep. “Ideally, you will fall asleep within 15 to 20 minutes of lying down. Falling asleep in less than 5 minutes could be a sign that you are going to sleep too late or not getting enough sleep.”
Latency is the bane of my sleep life. There is nothing worse than tucking in for a good night’s sleep and laying there, staring at the ceiling forever.
The Oura Ring tracks lots more than just the sleep metrics I’ve been sharing in the post so far, but again, just focusing on these small bites to test hypotheses to support my health goals. (In May, for Heart Health month, I’ll get into all the heart rate data.)
In the table below, I cross-checked some sleep metrics with daytime activity ones.
- Midpoint = the midpoint of your night’s sleep. Oura considers your sleep timing to be optimal when the midpoint of your sleep falls between midnight and 3 a.m. (the darkest period of the night).
- Inactivity = how much time I spent during the day, aside from sleeping or resting, sitting or standing still. Oura recommends less than 8 hours of inactive time daily.
- Activity Score = how active you were during the day and cumulatively in the previous week, with 85+ being Optimal
Bedtime Latency Midpoint Inactivity Activity Score Dec 12:13a 8m 4:56 6h40 N/A Nov 12:20a 8m 4:25 9h45 89 Oct 11:19p 22m 3:34 9h36 91 Sep 12:09a 18m 4:18 9h26 93 My Oura Ring sleep and activity monthly averages
December is a bit of a wash as I was sick for most of it and taking a lot of Advil PM to knock myself out. Again, my best months are October and September, with slightly earlier bedtime and higher activity scores.
The Oura Ring allows you to add tags to your days to track factors that could affect your sleep like alcohol, late meals, caffeine, and more; plus now they’ve upgraded the software so you can write your own unique tags.
I’d like to be a person who falls asleep within 15–20 minutes of being in bed. How much does my lack of daily activity affect my latency? On the flip-side, how late before bedtime should I work out or be active? When is the best time for me to unplug from electronics and dim the lights? When in the day should I cutoff from eating spicy or heavy foods or drinking alcohol? (Luckily I don’t really drink caffeine so that’s not a concerning factor for me.)
Approach: Starting tomorrow I’ll be more diligent with tagging daily factors.
How to track your new year’s resolutions.
I do these differently every year. As explained in my previous post, I’m rolling out a nine month plan focused on nine different areas of health. The last three months of 2023, I will take my learnings to establish which habits work best for me.
But what do I want to achieve? Well, perfect(ish)ism, yes. But defined by what?
I just happened to have listened to this episode, “We Give Away 7 Profitable Side Hustle Ideas for 2023”, of The Crazy Ones podcast. I’m a new listener to this pod, hosted by Alex Lieberman, Sophia Amoruso, and Jesse Pujji, and have been enjoying their banter on business. At 24:08, they each share their approaches on year-end reflection/new year resolutions and I’m using some of that as a way to gauge the start and finish of my own quest for this year.
Amoruso, whom I know and admire as the founder of Nasty Gal, shared her six questions to track 2023 intentions. Here they are below, with my answers. (The start of each question being, what do you want to ______.):
- QUIT: Being nice. I already mentioned how being nice is getting in my way, both professionally and personally.
- LEARN: How to gamify credit card points. Okay, so I had a lot of items that I want to learn, but when I looked at them altogether, most of them cost time or money. I figured that learning how to exploit credit cards would not only be fun, but would create a financial platform for those other interests down the road. I always hear about the “Points Guy” or colleagues who book crazy trips totally paid for by points—I’m certain I’m missing out on something. I have excellent credit and no debt so I feel safe diving into this subject more.
- START: Losing weight. Speaking my truth here, despite this being such a tired resolution and despite my having a good, healthy body as it is. It’s all vanity pounds at this point, but damn it, I want to fit the cute clothes I bought when I was ten pounds lighter. I’m in objectively good shape, but let’s just say I’d like to “tidy” some things up here and there. I’m talking about lasting weight loss and body definition that is a result of a lifestyle change, and not from extreme, get-thin-fast dieting.
- STOP: Drinking to cope. I waffled on how to fit my alcohol consumption into my resolutions. The facts tell us that there is absolutely nothing redeemable about drinking alcohol, yet the idea of truly never drinking again sounds sad. I don’t want to move into a space of deprivation. However, I have so much to blame my past overconsumption for—the two-day hangovers, the hangxiety, the shame, the depressing thoughts, poor choices, missed goals and commitments, lack of energy, breakouts and wrinkles, extra pounds, illness… Yet, I definitely have had healthy relationships with alcohol, too—celebrations, relaxations, giggles, dancing, freed inhibitions for the better, amazing flavors and meals, special rituals, big experiences. Things go south when the drinking comes as a symptom of something deeper that’s going wrong, so this intention felt like the right compromise. Lately, I’ve been drinking to cope with stress and loneliness. To reset my system, I’m doing Dry January, and then plan to abstain through March.
- HAVE: a posse. Pretty simple—I’m an extrovert who’s too cool to be this lonely. Pandemic took its toll on me: people moved out of the city in droves (or stayed in the city and had babies), I went through two breakups, work became WFH, and I was cutoff from my dance community when the studios were shutdown. A lot of friendships and routine run-ins with people were lost. When the world reopened, it was like I was back to zero. Not to mention that my upward career move put me at the very top of my company, and as they say, it’s lonely at the top.
- BE: the center of attention. I think this one is a double down on not being afraid to take up space (aka stop being so nice) and wanting to have a posse. I’m extraverted but considerate. I’ll take up as much attention as I can before feeling guilty about it, then will make sure to share it with others in the room. No more! If people want that attention, they can try to take it for themselves. I’m not the guardian saint of wallflowers or the insipid.
Lieberman, co-founder of the Morning Brew, shares how he creates a compass of how he wants to spend his time in the new year. He also mentioned this idea of habits versus goals, and the effectiveness of creating “keystone habits” that support the achievement of any goals we want to introduce. Similarly, I’m hoping my nine month health plan (I need a name for it!) will do.
Sharing his “compass” questions and my answers here:
- What gave me energy in 2022? I had a new relationship at the beginning of the year, and I loved all the planning that went along with it. Plans for the summer, plans for vacation, plans for dinner, meal plans, plans to socialize and meet people, plans for hosting. Anticipating bringing a vision to life.
- What did not give me energy in 2022? My job started to feel like it was sucking me dry when, across, the business, I started rescuing instead of resourcing. My instinct was to pour more of myself indiscriminately into any detail because it made me feel useful and secure in my loyalty to the brand; yet, it provided diminishing returns, which only made me feel worse. Secondly, being around people whose creative energies or social graces just didn’t match mine.
- What do I want to do more of in 2023? Allow myself to experience pauses and downtime without feeling guilt or anxiety. Host things — parties, outings, dinners, classes — that bring people I enjoy together and close to me.
- Where do I see myself in ten years? I plan to be financially independent / retired early. It’s funny as I’ve talked to some people about FIRE who say they couldn’t not work because they need structure. I’m naturally structured and have so many ideas I want to work on that I truly look forward to keeping myself busy. By this time, I’ll have my vacation home in my happy place and look forward to hosting friends and being a part of the local community.
- What would a successful 2023 look like? Having internalized what my role’s true purpose at my job so that my decision-making has a clear compass, leading to some truly uplifting, great moments to not only be proud of but significantly improved our business. Having a healthy routine filled with sunshine, downtime, friendships, and social interactions.
- What would an unsuccessful 2023 look like? Besides the inverse of everything stated here, feeling like I kept doing the same habits while expecting the same results.
“Figure out how to delegate that allows you to sleep at night.”
My CEO said this to me during a recent one-to-one meeting. Whether or not he’d figured out how to do that for himself yet (which he hasn’t), the truth was still there. Racing thoughts on what needs to be done or what wasn’t done well have been the biggest obstacle both to my falling asleep at night and to waking up feeling refreshed and optimistic.
Without my body, there is not my mind. Without my mind, there is not my livelihood, interests, and influence. My choice to focus on these sectors of physical health as a path towards perfect(ish)ism is deliberate, the simplest hack to see a ripple effect of improvement in all areas of my life.
Anyway, he’s right. If I want to improve my sleep health this January, limiting daytime stressors would make a big difference. I’m currently an executive at a burgeoning startup, and this is my first time in the C-suite. This is that make-or-break moment to go from The #1 Doer (the legacy of my career) to The #1 Delegator.
Apropos of that truth, I ran myself down working so hard this month that I became deathly ill with the flu for over a week. My body collapsed; I could do no more. And I had time to think about all I was “doing” wrong.
This leads me to my next self-improvement step: quit being so nice. Because being nice isn’t getting what I need out of people. “Whether people like us or not, we need to make good choices about when to be nice and when it’s time to take care of ourselves.”
I’m too nice everywhere—at work, to the general public, with friends, in relationships—and this sentence describes exactly what happens next: “Being nice all the time means holding in negative feelings, tuning out your needs, quietly resenting others–and maybe occasionally exploding.”
I’ll come back to do some of the exercises shared in that article, as well as some I started on my own the other evening thinking these things through. I’ve turned it all into a role-playing game to layer onto next month’s antics…
Nine Month Health Plan.
My current idea for 2023 is to focus on nine areas of health, dedicating one month at a time to each area, walking away with a conclusion that works best for me that I carry out for the rest of the year. Instead of trying to fix everything all at once, I stagger out my focuses and create new habits slowly over time.
I have been guilty of setting myself up to fail with too many high expectations to be carried out at once. My theory now: to toe the line of perfectionism involves being compassionate, slow, and logical with one’s approach.
So here’s my proposed nine month plan:
- January — Sleep health
- February — Gut health
- March — Brain health
- April — Blood health
- May — Heart health
- June — Lung health
- July — Joint health
- August — Muscle health
- September — Skin/hair/nail health
Which perfectly leaves me off to (hopefully) enter the holiday months of October through December, looking and feeling fabulous while having a moment to both relax and celebrate my journey.
“The difference between passion and addiction is that between a divine spark and a flame that incinerates. Passion is divine fire while it enlivens and makes holy. It gives light and yields inspiration. Passion is generous because it’s not ego-driven, while addiction is self-centered and a thief. Passion gives and enriches.” — Gabor Maté
Starting somewhere, starting here, because there are too many scraps of paper with notes on them scattered across the surface area of my life. I’ve started this blog to compile my thoughts, ideas, and goals in one place.
Since childhood I’ve never been able to write in a journal for fear of messing its fresh pages—what if I start something that I can’t finish? Or that is inconsistent? Wouldn’t that be a (shameful) waste?
A work friend called me a perfectionist today. I don’t label myself as one, mostly because I don’t think I’ve ever completed anything perfectly…
I’ll leave the diagnosis to the professionals.
What types of books do I normally read? Overwhelming non-fiction, usually science-driven and data-heavy books. Or informative biographies and historical accounts. If I take the time to read, I have the propensity that it must be in order to learn something new—it must help me in some tangible way. These books would often be categorized under self-help, but I’d be embarrassed to admit this genre as my most read; I guess because a self-help junkie sounds like someone unsuccessful at helping themselves. And, baby, I’m all about success.
My personal calendar is one of my most intimate items. At the moment, it has 17 sub-calendars, all color-coded, all representing different sectors of my life. More often than not, my days are accounted for down to every 15 minutes I am awake. It’s been some version of this since senior year of high school.
I absolutely love my calendars. It gives me a sense of calm and control, and I can truthfully credit it to supporting the successes of my life. It also acts as an exquisite itinerary of my past, prompting what could be easily forgotten details of my life’s story. Sometimes, though, “calendaring” is something I do to procrastinate, veiled as productivity. In order to counteract that and “test the fence”, so to speak, I often challenge the systems of how I calendar—what am I tracking and why?
Probably the dangerous relationship I have with my planning habit is that I look to it as a means to a perfect ending, and when I fall short of those expectations, it robs me of the joy of the moment or the appreciation for what I was still able to accomplish. Per Maté’s quote, it brings to light the self-centered thief that is addiction.
Yet striving for perfection—in the sense of striving to be my best self—also brings me joy and passion.
Maté also talks about how the same activity can be an addiction for some and a passion for other. Can I figure out how to toe the line? What does the spectrum of perfectionism look like for me and where on it gives me the most happiness and fulfillment?
2023 is around the corner, and my aspirations are as high as ever. I’m going for another shot at a perfect(ish) year, but this time I’m challenging myself to track the process, document my feelings, and consider the facts. And maybe after some reflection, I can separate the addictions from the passions in my life.