Category Archives: reading

Sleep and my attempts at hacking it

A few quick notes from a whole bunch of sleep related books I’ve been reading, and some of my sleep/wake experiments I’ve been running on my own. It may be relevant for most people but more so for programmers like me.

You don’t need 8 hrs of continuous sleep, most current research seems to suggest that for every 2 hrs of wake you need 1 hour of sleep. Sleepiness increases as the wakeful hours build up. This means that catching naps is quite effective in being alert. One of the biggest thing to look out for is a full sleep cycle, in which you pass from light sleep to deep sleep and then REM sleep. REM sleep is the last stage of each cycle and possibly the most important (studies have shown that ability to learn goes drops dramatically when deprived of REM sleep).  It is also the easiest to awake at the end of the sleep cycle (depth of sleep gets lower as you approach REM sleep), typically this period is about 90 minutes to 110 minutes long. You feel freshest waking up at the edge of your sleep cycles, and disoriented when woken in the middle of deep sleep. The trick is to sleep in a quite room and wake up naturally (as against using alarm).

Color of light during the day and evening before sleep is very important, lots of us use Flux which changes the color of your computer monitor to brownish/reddish during the evening. It helps because blue light from monitors/iPads/TV’s/fluorescent lamps etc. delay the onset of sleep. It’s important not only important to change the monitor color but also switch over to incandescent bulb during the evening for the same reason. On the other hand wakefulness in the day is enhanced by bright of light, so having bright (blue light or natural light) is great to maintain alertness during the day.

Most humans have a period of day called the ‘wake maintenance zone’, this is the time around dusk when despite sleep build up we resist sleep, supposedly this was the period in the day when humans were under highest threat from animals during our stint on the savannah. We’ve evolved to be more watchful and alert around this period. This about a couple of hours around 6-8 PM . I’ve personally found this period to be the most productive (via RescueTime stats). This is also the time we fritter away either drinking in pubs or stuck in traffic instead of hacking productively at work.

Figuring out your chronotype is extremely important and plan your day around it, instead of around set schedules of  work at 9AM and home at 6PM. This is because your body clock controls when you are alert/hungry/sleepy rather than the time of the day. But it is really hard to manage different social times with internal time, this is where entrainment comes into play. Light is a really powerful zeitgeber for entrainment. For later chronotypes like me (most programmers?) it is useful to get enough sunlight in the day, so that it’s easier to sleep early. A quick heuristic: 2 hrs of sunlight in the day pulls back your normal sleep time by about 1 hr. Couple hours of cycling to work seems to do the business for me.

Temperature of the body plays a important role in sleep and we sleep faster (or better?). Body temperature drops as we sleep and a drop in temperature induces sleep. So it is harder to sleep after a vigorous run or walk, or a hot shower, because both increase your body temperature. I’ve personally found cold water shower to induce sleep. Also during the REM stage of sleep your body loses its ability to regulate body temperature (along with most muscles) and will follow the ambient temperature and hence it is important to sleep in a place which is not too cold or warm.


Internal Time : An excellent book on Chronotypes by a sleep researcher.

Dreamland:  On sleep/dreams etc. good fast read.

Flux Sleep research Page

Entrainment of human clock

Sleep wake rythms and cognition

Wake Maintenance

A course on sleep


On Reading Fast

I have been reading books ever since I was a kid. Unlike now, I wasn’t very picky about books, so anything that came my way was slurped up. As a kid I do remember my short term memory was horrible, but my long term memory was brilliant, I can still remember the characters and themes from Somerset Maugham’s Razor’s Edge from 20 years ago. This book had a big influence on me at that time.

Anyways, where I was heading was, even when i was finishing up a book a day I realized I was a slow reader compared to my brother and other people at school.

And over the next decades unconsciously or consciously I tried to read books faster. It was also influenced by the (may I say, American) Accelerated Learning schemes that tell you that your success in life depends on how fast you read. Instead of reading words read sentences, and instead of reading sentences read paragraphs, blah blah blah.

Unfortunately, most of us do not have photographic memory, and unless you are reading Hardy Boys, there are nuances in the words, metaphors in the story and characterizations that you will likely miss. Over time I realized that reading fast was the  reason, I had no memory of what I was reading, or understanding, I just read a novel for the sake of story, missing the bigger points and metaphors.

Now a days I find myself taking weeks to finish a book, that I would probably finish in a day. I also tend to read books for a couple of hours before moving on, instead of trying to finish it in one or two sittings. This gives me more time to mull about the content, and sometimes do some research on the sidelines as well. I am no longer unhappy with my reading pace, and find myself enjoying the process of reading a lot more.