Insomnia: one of the worst afflictions facing us in modern times.
I believe that we digital moderns have MORE insomnia than we did in the past.
Why and what is the culprit? Some thoughts:
Is technology to blame?
Yes and no. I believe that insomnia is primarily a physiological issue (not a ‘mental’ issue).
As someone who has had insomnia in the past (I no longer do), I have experimented a TON with different approaches and remedies. I will simply share MY personal experiences, and allow you to extrapolate from my experiences. I also encourage you to experiment based on my personal experiments. I cannot promise that I can help cure your insomnia, but I just suggest you to perhaps try some of the things which has helped me– and it might help you.
1. Via negativa technology
I don’t think technology is fully to blame. Certainly there are some things which are to blame.
People talk about all this stuff with the blue light from screens blah blah blah, and I’m sure it has something to do with insomnia, but my thought is more practical:
The psycho-visual-audio stimulation we get from the shows, movies, social media, games, YouTube, etc we get from the screens is the problem, not the device.
Once again let me reiterate — the technology and the devices are not to blame, it is social media, news, games, entertainment, Netflix, shows, etc which are to blame!
2. Not watching anything stimulating before sleeping
For example, I did a simple experiment:
- One night I watched a movie or Netflix in the evening and tried to sleep
- One night I just read a book (ebook on an iPad)
The night that I watched the Netflix movie, I was awake for another +3 hours. Instead of sleeping around midnight, I slept around 3am. Why? The action film was so exciting! It raised my blood hormones, adrenaline, cortisol, and whatever hormonal cocktails inside my body.
The other night, I enjoyed the philosophical thoughts of Goethe. The thoughts both enlivened me, yet soothed me. I just kept reading until I felt sleepy, then felt asleep.
Thus my first simple hypothesis is this:
If you desire to conquer insomnia, 100% cut out ALL shows, video games, movies, or any exciting stuff in the evening.
Assuming you have a 10-7 job (the new tech hours), then the simple suggestion is this:
Get rid of your Netflix subscription, your streaming TV subscriptions, etc.
I have a funny story of a friend in college who almost failed out of college because of the game World of Warcraft. Another who was killing too much time on Starcraft. In both scenarios, my friends simply (in a moment of extreme clarity and lucidity) BROKE the physical CD ROM in half! It’s like Odysseus’ strategy of having his men tie himself to the mast — once he made the decision, there was no going back.
Also for more extreme measures, once you get home after work, literally TURN OFF your phone. Turn off your iPhone and stick it in a drawer. Take your laptop and put it into your backpack, and leave the backpack inside a closet.
If you wanna read, read on an iPad (I like .epub and PDF books that I download for free on Gutenberg.org— mostly philosophy and Ancient Greek poetry/literature/tragedy). Or read on a kindle, or read physical books.
3. Extreme bodily exertion
Ok — I think this is the biggest one.
You must engage in extreme physical activity, if your desire is to physically exhaust yourself, in order to feel exhausted, in order to collapse and fall asleep into a mini-death-sleep/coma.
In some ways, I don’t like feeling sleepy, nor do I really “like” going to bed early. Ideally I’d always be awake, with 1000% energy, and going at it full-speed and constantly maxing out. But alas, the body requires massive amounts of recovery, if your goal is to always “go hard” everyday!
Anyways, I think the ideal is this:
In the evening, perhaps around 9-10pm, for your body to be SO EXHAUSTED that you have no other choice but to go to sleep.
Let me give you an example: one day I walked around all day (7+ miles), went to the gym (twice) and did “one rep max” attempts in dumbbell press and deadlift. I then walked around more (the whole day I’m fasting), and making photos, talking with strangers, writing, and thinking.
At night I meet Cindy at home, and around 6pm I gorge myself on perhaps 3-4 pounds of fatty pork ribs. I eat it with some very bitter kale (no dressing), and drink a lot of fatty meat broth. I then read for a few hours, and by around 9:30pm I’m so exhausted, that my body is forcing me to lie down. My eyelids become as heavy as anvils, and I just literally “pass the fuck out”.
Let’s think of this again. If you walked 20,000 steps in a single day (track this on your phone), stood all day (standing desk, no sitting), did maximal exertion at the gym (max attempt deadlift and dumbbell press), fasted all day, then broke your fast at night with 3-4 pounds of fatty meat, and then read a book at night — how can you even force yourself to stay awake at night, without promptly passing out and falling into a deep food-sleep-sweet coma?
Okay, I’m totally addicted to caffeine. I’ve found that the optimal is stop drinking coffee at around 3pm. And if I wanna keep drinking coffee into the evening, another simpler rule is this:
No coffee, tea, or caffeinated stimulants after dinner.
Also on an unrelated note:
Don’t work after dinner.
Treat your evenings as sacred. Use the evenings as a chance to chat with your loved ones, go on nice evening strolls, look through your photos, perhaps write and think, read books, etc.
5. Sleep is not a vice.
The modern thought which is anti-humanity and anti-life:
To sleep “too much” is a sin.
I think we get this notion from Protestant morality which says that sloth (not working for the greater good of God) is a sin. And sloth is associated with sleeping “too much”.
From a utilitarian perspective, the moral calculus is:
To be able to work more and more with less and less sleep is virtuous.
Honestly if we Silicon Valley folks could devise a pill which cut out the need of sleep, I think we would all take it. Or if we could sleep for only 2-3 hours a night and still be productive, I think we would do that (mild forms of this comes in cocaine, adderall, etc.
If you have ever felt guilty for taking a nap or for sleeping “too much” or “sleeping in”, you must rework your morals and ethics when it comes to sleep, recovery, etc.
I say that it is virtuous to sleep MORE than 8 hours a night. In fact, if I meet anyone who sleeps 10-12 hours a night, I’m impressed! Whenever people brag about how little they sleep (or brag that they hardly slept or didn’t sleep at all the night before), I become hyper suspicious and wary of them. To sleep little is to castrate yourself and to dishonor your body (if we assume “our body is a temple”).
Ignore all of this mumbo jumbo about “optimal sleep amounts”. The days when I do extreme deadlifts or squats, I will often sleep 10-12 hours (wake up without an alarm clock). And I think this is a good way to test how much sleep you desire:
Wakeup naturally without an alarm clock.
Also get rid of this notion of pulling “all nighters”. If you bragged to a hero of the Iliad that you stayed up all night to answer emails, do work, and “be productive”, they would look at you as a strange alien.
6. Just experiment for yourself
To conclude, just experiment for yourself. Your body physiology and life circumstances are different from everyone else.
To summarize, my suggestions:
- Extreme physical exertion (walk a lot, and powerlifting during the day)
- No Netflix, movies, shows, video games at night
- Extremely high fatty meat and saturated fat diet in the evening before sleeping
- No thinking that sleep is a vice — but instead, sleep at the ultimate virtue.
SLEEP ON! ERIC