Oldskooler Ramblings

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Archive for October 31st, 2019

Experiment results and changing tactics

Posted by Trixter on October 31, 2019

At the beginning of October, I pledged that I would do two simple things to see if I could improve my physical and mental state: Get enough sleep, and get a small amount of exercise every morning. I chose several physical, mental, and emotional aspects of myself to record during the month to see if they improved with regular sleep and exercise:

  • Foot pain
  • Back pain
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Procrastination
  • Bad food decisions
  • Anxiety level
  • Anger/irritation

Twice a day, I’d make a note of how these felt on a scale from 1 to 10. Since they are all normalized to the same scale (representing “bad” things) lower was better. The goal was to see downward trends in the data throughout the month.

While I gained some insight about my behavior and motivation, the experiment broke down: I was only able to get decent sleep about 38% of the month (up from 25%, but far short of the intended 100%), and I did not exercise at all because I couldn’t consistently get up in the morning to exercise while still getting to work on time. Despite this, some of the results were interesting enough to examine, so I’ll present the data here.


My left foot suffers from a longitudinal tear due to having flat feet, and needs surgery. Walking is painful, and sometimes my right foot gets tired because it is working harder than the other foot during my stride. I know that my left foot won’t get better on its own, but I was hoping more sleep might alleviate the discomfort a little. Did that improve?

I was not expecting that to improve, but I guess “more sleep = more time to heal” is glaringly obvious in hindsight :-)

I’ve been worried about my core, as I’ve had lower back pain for seemingly no reason ever since I turned 40 (a multitude of humanity cries out “Join the club!”). I have also had upper back pain (neck, shoulders, limited mobility) on and off for the last five years. Did those improve?

Same obvious results: If you get more sleep, your body has more time to heal. A tiny downward trend, but I’ll take it.

Getting more sleep should have helped my feeling of tiredness or general fatigue. Did it?

Anything under the midline is good, but I neither like nor can explain the upward trend.


I go through cycles of depression that, regardless of the trigger, I’m pretty sure are chemical: They usually last a few days, and then I’m fine again for 6-8 weeks. Did slightly more sleep help with that?

The takeaway here is not the flat trendline, but that my daily feeling of depression was all over the place. Some days I’m really depressed; some days I’m not. Maybe I don’t have a 6-8 week cycle like I thought I did. Maybe these numbers are linked to my levels of procrastination. More study needed.

The genesis of this experiment was myself getting alarmed at my anxiety levels, and frustrated with myself on how I am procrastinating more and getting things done less. These two factors combine into a perfect storm of compelling me to eat bad food to feel better. They’re all linked, so let’s see how all three did:

It’s possible anxiety got worse because I could see, day by day, that I wasn’t getting enough sleep. Because anxiety got worse, eating bad food stayed constant. Procrastination decreased slightly, which is what I was hoping for, although I wish it were a more significant change than what was observed.

Not listed on the chart: Continuous bad food decisions resulted in gaining 4.7 pounds this past month. Yikes.

As I get older, my mental state has shifted from more logical to more emotional. I’ve talked about this before, and gotten some good advice along the way (from “embrace it!” to “here’s how you can slow this down”). While some people like this natural transition that happens to most men as they age, I do not want. Besides, the last thing my family needs is a more emotional me. So, did slightly more sleep help with fleeting anger and irritation?

This is a very welcome outcome. :-) I guess it’s also obvious in hindsight, that more sleep reduces irritability, but it’s still nice to see.

Self-evaluation, and one more round

Despite mostly failing to improve myself during this experiment, I made some correlations that weren’t obvious to me going in (or, maybe I didn’t want to admit them until I saw hard data).

My self-evaluation: I suffer from anxiety. When it flares up, it manifests as mild OCD or unproductive behaviors, such as not being able to start (or finish) projects due to fear of… something, I don’t know, but it leads to procrastination. Instead of working on a project (which would be a good outlet for nervous energy), I end up wasting time in an effort to squash the anxiety. At night, I stay up late in a frantic cycle of trying to find something (computer games, youtube videos, movies) that will either calm me down or make me so tired that my mind finally shuts up and my body gives out — but this always leads to not getting enough sleep… which then leads to a higher anxiety level the next day… which perpetuates the cycle. And since I don’t have decent coping mechanisms for anxiety, I also make bad food decisions during the daytime (fast food, sweets, etc.) to try to reduce my anxiety level.

I probably need therapy or treatment for anxiety. Before going down that path, I want to exhaust my options for coping with it some other way. I’m not against drugs or therapy — several close friends and family have had great success with both — but I want to tell myself that I gave the problem a thorough, logical, scientific examination before I go that route.

So what will I change in November? I’ll go after the exercise I attempted in October. My excuses for not exercising in October were not entirely rational:

  • There’s no benefit to exercise unless it’s in the morning, to raise your overall metabolic rate
  • If I exercise too late at night, I won’t be able to sleep
  • Getting more sleep in the morning is more important than exercise

…etc. I’m going to throw these excuses out the window and commit to doing 20 minutes of moderate-to-intense cardio every single day, regardless of what time it is, even if it’s right before bedtime (that’s neither desirable nor optimal, but it has to get done). Ideally, the earlier the better, but if it has to be at 7pm when I get home from work, so be it.

I’ll check back at the end of November with a new set of data.

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