What is this HRV thing?

A few months ago, my watch started tracking a new metric for me – HRV, or Heart Rate Variability.

At first, I didn’t pay it much mind. As you know, I’m mainly interested in my Body Battery metric, my sleep metrics, steps, and sometimes stress. These seem to have the biggest impact or correlations with my energy levels.

But then, one day, I woke up tired even though I’d had a good night’s sleep. I checked my Body Battery and it concurred – it had recorded a good night’s sleep, but a markedly reduced Body Battery. What was the deal?

Scanning through my Garmin Connect app, I noticed that my HRV metric had dropped rather dramatically during the night. It didn’t really register on my stress metric, but something with my heart rate was going on. What was that all about?

So I decided to do some more investigation. The last time I had checked, the Body Battery had mainly depended upon sleep quality, stress levels, and activity levels from the day before. Here is a screenshot of their old definition:

But when I checked again, they had updated their algorithm. Here is Garmin’s new definition for how they calculate the Body Battery:

Body Battery is a feature that uses a combination of heart rate variability, stress, and activity to estimate a user’s energy reserves throughout the day. It records and displays a number from 1-100 that represents the individual’s energy level.

https://support.garmin.com

Whoa! They don’t even mention sleep quality anymore. HRV has taken the front seat and I don’t know what it is or how to improve it. And considering how it skyrocketed to the front of the line and seems to be everywhere I turn nowadays, I have to ask myself one question:

Is HRV the new gold standard for energy metrics?

Is this why I seem to have less energy than other people even though I am getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising? Is it genetic or something I can control? Is this my secret path to more energy? OK, I have a lot more than one question, but it is fascinating to see the science developing right before my eyes. Let’s start with the basics.

What is HRV?

Harvard’s health blog defines HRV as, “a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat”.

Our heart rate is the number of times our hearts beat per minute. Our heart rate variability measures the change in speed of our heart beats – how quickly our hearts can speed up during stress and how quickly they can relax.

We can think of this as a measurement of how flexible our hearts are. Can they respond to stressors quickly? And can they just as quickly relax? If we get stuck in a constantly stressed state, our hearts will burn out. And if we can’t get excited when we need to, that isn’t good either. HRV is a measurement of our adaptability, essentially.

A high HRV score has been linked with greater cardiovascular fitness and resilience to stress. But when “the system is in more of a fight-or-flight mode,” as Harvard puts it, “the variation between subsequent heartbeats tends to be lower.”

What is a normal HRV score?

This is a much more contentious subject. My current average HRV score is a 31. According to this article published in Global Heart, the average HRV for a healthy male my age is 43 (+/-15). So I’m on the lower end of the spectrum there. However, this website published their users’ HRV scores and their average for my age was 56:

Does that mean I’m too stressed? Not fit enough? Drinking too much caffeine? Over-training? Not relaxing enough? So many questions!

Then, I also heard from Brian Johnson during one of his +1’s that his HRV was 79! He was born the same year I was, but my HRV is less than half of his? Well, to be honest, I feel less than half as energetic as he looks, so maybe that makes sense.

But what did Brian credit his high numbers with? He said his #1 way to help his HRV is by eating around 5 hours before bed. Also:

  • staying hydrated
  • zero tech inputs
  • evening walk, meditation, and no screens
  • Sleep tape and other things to encourage deep sleep
  • exercise (but not too much)

Brian basically does everything right, which I’m slowly trying to set up healthy habits for too, but I’m going to start my experiment with his #1: eating 5 hours before bed. This won’t make my wife happy, but she will hopefully understand.

I will try to update you here when this experiment is done!

New Tracker

Ok, now that I’m back in the saddle again, it’s time to start tracking my main energy metrics.

But, to be honest, I’m not fully in the mood. I need to start small and work my way back up. Baby steps.

So here is how I’ve scaled back my tracker. I’m just tracking the core factors that seem to impact my sleep:

The sleep score, body battery score, and HRV (heart rate variability) are provided by my Garmin watch. I have found them to be pretty accurate. The sleep score combines my duration of sleep, my restlessness/awake time, light sleep, REM sleep, respiration, and stress. It’s far better than my old methodology of just tracking duration, deep sleep, and light sleep.

The body battery score deserves its own post. Note to self to write this.

The HRV also deserves its own post, but I need to do more research to understand it. I have a sneaking suspicion it will become more and more important to my quest to understand my energy.

For now, it’s good to be back and tracking.

I’m back

Hello, all three of my readers. I’m back and I apologize for my absence.

As you probably know, my father died on May 7, 2022. I dropped everything, including this project, on that day. As you can see in my blog, my last post was on that morning. Here was what I wrote in my journal on that day:

5AM: Morning spent playing Civ, writing in my blog, posting on the forum at QuantifiedSelf.com, and running to Mimi’s.

8AM: Grandpa isn’t doing well. Mimi said on our walk this morning that she is calling a nurse to come look at him. She might need to put him in a nursing home. 🙁

11AM: My father died today. Mimi called me while I was driving Lily to Tupelo’s to say she can’t find a pulse. I slammed on the brakes and looked back at Lily. She gasped and looked back over her shoulder out the window. I turned the car around and drove as fast as I could to Mimi’s. I called Carly and she called 911. Lily began to cry. “Grandpa won’t see me turn 10. He won’t see me graduate from high school.” I tried to comfort her but somehow her tears made me feel better.

That was it. I didn’t write again in my journal until June when I began to write notes down for the eulogy. Even that took me a while, despite having written the original eulogy for my father’s funeral service on June 13th (his birthday also). I just couldn’t face it any earlier. It took me months to work up the nerve and energy to face this project and another goodbye to my father, despite how much they both mean to me.

My father in his last days

My father and his condition were huge reasons I was doing this project. There was a part of me that still believed I could save him. If he had just had the energy to get up and move around, the weight would have begun to drop off. If the weight came off, he would have more energy and freedom to exercise and get stronger. With strength and freedom would come joy and love for life. With those would come longer life.

But I was too late. Would he have listened to me anyway? Probably not, but I still felt deflated without him.

I began drinking again after three months dry. I gained 20 pounds. I stopped running for the most part. Stopped eating well. All my good habits came crumbling down.

It took seven months of self-destructive behavior and mourning to even begin to feel normal again. I didn’t have another 5 Star Day of energy until November 11th. Two days later, I was able to post his eulogy and begin to work on this post.

I’m going to have to figure out a way to explain the connection between mood and energy. It’s not like sleep where you can see a direct correlation the next day. But if you look at my data, mood is the highest correlation with energy. I hesitate to say it is more important than sleep. If you only sleep three hours one night, you will be a total zombie the next day. But if you are getting at least 6-7 hours of sleep a night, mood will be a stronger predictor of energy than sleep. It’s crazy.

This summer has been a testament to that. I lost it all, due to grief, stress, and anxiety. I realize now, if you only have two foundational things to work on protecting for your energy, focus on sleep and mood.

So how did I restore my mood enough to return to this project? Part of it was just taking the time to heal. But the conscious part was trying to (slowly, haltingly, fearfully) rebuild hope.

Hope is a big part of our mood. When we don’t believe the future can be better than the past, we turn to fear, anxiety, and despair. The world grows small and dark. We clutch at our belongings, cease to share, and cut ourselves off from others. This can become a vicious cycle.

But we can rebuild our hope. At first, I thought, What’s the point? I missed my chance to help my father. He would never read my work, see me get published, or recover. But then I thought, There is still a chance for my son. And perhaps there’s still a chance for me.

The fear in me had suspected I was genetically doomed to follow in my father’s footsteps. Whether it was a predisposition towards Alcohol Use Disorder, obesity, trailing effects of Agent Orange, or some other hereditary trait, I might need to face the possibility I wasn’t getting better (or at least there might be a very low ceiling to my potential improvement, making the ROI on this venture questionable at best).

But my son – my son’s future is worth fighting for. There is hope for him. Whether it is early education about the dangers of alcohol, a better father figure who models sobriety and exercise, or simply a basic understanding of how energy works and where it comes from, I had a chance to change his life.

He can have the energy to pursue his dreams. He can have the energy to get in shape, work hard for his goals, avoid the pitfalls and energy traps I fell for, and live his life to the fullest.

I’m not the best at communicating in person. Words flow better through my fingers than my mouth. I need time to reflect and gather my thoughts. But if I can pass on one piece of advice that can change your life, it would be energy. Without it, we are nothing. With it, we can be anything. So learn to cultivate your energy like the precious commodity it is. Avoid the drugs, food, activities, and people that drain you. Gather close the people and things that energize you. Then focus that energy like a laser beam and carve out the life you want to have.

Eulogy

My father, Timothy H. Peary, graduating from the Citadel in 1965

My happiest memory with my father was when we went to see Red Dawn in the summer of 1984. I was 10 years old and all my friends were jealous because my father took me to see rated R movies like Rambo and Red Dawn way before the other kids. We always saw these at Mugs & Movies, just my dad and me. Then I would grill him about the military accuracy of the films and if he had ever done anything like Rambo did in Vietnam. He told me all sorts of interesting facts about how the Vietcong would set punji stick traps and how the bamboo grew so thick a tank couldn’t plow through it, how he woke up in the middle of the night during a mortar attack and had the stairs explode beneath him, throwing him down into the bomb shelter.

Anyway, my happiest moment was when we got home from watching Red Dawn, my father grabbed a drink and walked the perimeter of our property, discussing with me how we could defend ourselves against an invading force. He really lit up. He spent time with me, recommending options and listening to my ideas. He explained why we couldn’t just cover the driveway with dead tree branches. We really connected that day over a similar interest and I saw a passion in him that I rarely got to witness.

My second happiest moment was when he took me to the Army-Navy surplus store that used to be on North Monroe and bought me everything he thought a soldier should have – uniform, boots, helmet, rucksack, utility belt, trenching tool, canteen, the works. It wasn’t my birthday; it wasn’t any holiday. He just wanted to do this for me. He knew we enjoyed the same movies and my favorite toy at the time was GI Joe, so he just took some time with me one weekend and suited me up. Again, I was the coolest kid in my class. He took me out in the woods and showed me how to dig a foxhole, which took forever with a trenching tool and all the roots. He showed me how to shoot with a .22 rifle, how to adjust my sights, and mark a target. He even showed me land navigation with a map and compass and a red filter on my bent-necked flashlight so the enemy couldn’t see you at night. Years later when I was in AROTC at Tulane, I won the land navigation challenge during our FTX and I credit father with that victory.

My father teaching me how to ride

My father taught me a lot of things. He taught me how to sail, how to ride a horse, how to deal with a bully (a story for another time). But the greatest thing he taught me, the lesson I didn’t even realize I had learned – that I’m still not sure I’ve completely learned, but if I have, I am forever grateful, and that is – he taught my heart to seek the right thing. Like a compass seeking north, his heart was always searching for the next right thing to do. What is the honorable thing to do? How can I serve my community, my church, my country? What is the right thing to do here? Right for whom?

After an agonizing six years of trying to figure out who I was, moving to four different states, and attending half a dozen colleges, I ended up with a degree in English and Philosophy. I definitely got my love of reading from my mother, but I think I got my need to contemplate the essence of Life’s deepest issues from my father. And, I’m sorry, but this part of my story is not a happy one. Although I think my father was born with an orientation towards service and honor, I believe his character was forged in a darker fire.

My parents at my graduation from UNC – Chapel Hill

There was a sadness about my father. Did you feel it? Depending on how much time you spent with him or how much he let his guard slip, you might or might not have sensed it. He never intentionally let it show. In fact, in my whole life, I only saw him cry twice – once while reading me a story about a prisoner of war in Vietnam and once when a friend of mine asked me to lie for him in court.

The first was understandable. Although my father didn’t talk much about Vietnam, we all knew it had been tough on everyone who served there. But that was the first time I’d seen my father cry and it shocked me to my core. This bastion of strength and control was sobbing in front of me, unable to finish the story from Reader’s Digest. I can still picture him as if it were yesterday, bent over in his armchair by the fire, covering his eyes in one hand, trying not to let me see him cry. He only gave voice to his pain with two words – “the bastards”. [Apologies, Pastor Andy. Kids, don’t use that word.]

At the time, I thought he meant the Vietcong. They were the enemy, right?  Looking back, I’m not so sure. There was one other story he told me once that I think is at the heart of my father’s sadness. As I said, my father didn’t talk about Vietnam much, but there was one story he told me that stood out. When my father was in the Army, he was airborne infantry, assigned as the battalion’s military intelligence officer (S2), and promoted to Captain.

For those who aren’t veterans, as the battalion’s military intelligence officer, you report directly to the Colonel (or sometimes, General), you don’t lead any troops, and your entire job is to focus on the enemy. None of the other officers have this singular focus – they have to worry about feeding, sheltering, and training their troops. The S2 has access to a wide array of intelligence infrastructure and helps the Battalion leader plan their attacks.

My father (top) in a foxhole

So it must have been quite a coup for my father when he discovered intel that a North Vietnamese 5-star general was going to be visiting a certain village not far from where his battalion was stationed. I can imagine my father entering the command center, fired up, showing the Colonel on the map where the enemy would be, and telling him they had to authorize a platoon to go behind enemy lines and capture him. What a wealth of information that General could be! What a loss to the enemy. It could turn the tide of the war, at least in their part of the jungle.

I don’t know how hard it was to convince the Colonel, but my father got his authorization. A platoon with helicopters was assigned to him. He planned out the mission: how they would fly behind enemy lines, avoid being spotted, approach the village low to mask the sound of the helicopter blades, where to land, which building the general would be in, where his guards would be stationed, how they would take them out, how much time they had to capture the general before reinforcements would arrive, and how they would get back to base.

His mission plan was approved and the battalion carried out his orders. It was a bold move. No one had ever captured a 5-star general before. But my father was bold, wasn’t he? When he committed to something, there was no second guessing, no backing down. Right or wrong, Tim Peary was going forward.

My father as a young lieutenant.

I can imagine him on that day, pacing the command center. He wouldn’t be allowed to go of course. If things went wrong, they couldn’t risk his capture. That would be as good as giving the enemy all their plans. So, he had to wait – listening to the reports as they came in, answering any questions the Colonel had, and praying God gave them victory that day.

For my father was devoutly religious, as you know. His parents weren’t very religious, but my father chose the Episcopalian church rather early on [sorry again, Pastor Andy, but he eventually came around in the end, right?]. He said the formal, Episcopalian prayers gave his soul the structure it needed to express his feelings freely. A structure that set him free. That always stuck with me. Another thing you might not know about my father was that he devoutly required our family to spend almost an hour every night reading the lessons and saying the Lord’s prayer and a good chunk of the evening Compline from the Book of Common Prayer, like the Song of Simeon. My father would read the Old Testament, my mother would read the Psalms, and I would read the New Testament. Every night. I think this was part of my father’s heart compass. It was his evening realignment to what was right. But back to Vietnam.

I can imagine my father listening to shouted updates over the radio, perhaps even gunfire. I can imagine him biting his nails. I can imagine him demanding information from the radio operator.

Then, the report came back in – they had captured the General!  He must have been overjoyed. Validation – his plan had worked. All that effort and planning had finally paid off. What a difference this could make in the war. His Colonel probably slapped him on the back and invited him to dinner that night at the Officers’ Club.

My father in airborne training.

What did it feel like to see the helicopters land back at base and face the man you were responsible for capturing? A North Vietnamese 5-star General. First one ever. Had they just taken the head off the enemy forces? Would he be the one to interrogate him? Could they pull enough intel out of this man to dismantle their operations?

I don’t know but there must have been one heck of a celebration at the base that night. They probably bought him more rounds of drinks than he knew what to do with. Slaps on the back, questions about how he did it, talks of promotion. I hope he enjoyed it. It might have been the greatest night of his life.

And word travelled fast. The very next day, the Pentagon called. From Washington, D.C. all the way to the jungles of Vietnam. Captain Peary was summoned to the Command center. What in the world could the Pentagon want? Were they calling to congratulate him? Promote him? Question him? It must have been the second most nerve wracking moment of his life. I hope he wasn’t too hungover.

I’m guessing his battalion commander, the Colonel, delivered the news. The Pentagon was ordering them to release the General. From somewhere up above, a deal had been struck. They were to return the General to his village. No explanation. No details. Just do it.

This was the dark fire that consumed my father’s dreams. This was the sadness in his heart. My father had dedicated his life to serving his country and fighting for what was right. His greatest achievement, his greatest moment of service, had been ripped away from him without a whisper of why. I can’t imagine the pain, the sense of betrayal. He had been 100% loyal, had laid down his life, the lives of his brothers, and for what?

My father in his cavalry uniform

Worse, it shook the foundation of what he knew to be right about this world. He had built his life around the belief that he could serve no higher purpose than defending his country, of fighting the enemies of his people, of laying down his life for others. If they weren’t fighting for what was right, what was he doing?

I’m sure his brothers in arms tried to console him. They probably bought him even more drinks the second night. I know they offered him a promotion. The paperwork had already been submitted to raise him to Major, but my father’s heart was no longer in it. What was the point? How could he make plans to risk his brothers’ lives when any hill they captured might be given right back?

So my father turned down the promotion, finished his tour, resigned his commission, and was honorably discharged. What was he fighting for now? What cause was as honorable as serving his country?

My parents getting married.

I don’t think he ever found out. He and my mother moved here, he found a way of combining his love for riding horses with meeting new people and exploring the beautiful countryside by selling real estate, but he was always looking for a cause to fight for, something honorable, that next right thing.

One last story. The second time I saw my father cry was when a friend of mine in college asked me to lie for him in court. Being young and dumb, I was kind of on the fence about it. My friend could serve some jail time for a mistake that seemed mostly harmless to me and I was considering supporting him. But I knew enough to ask my father. My father always knew what was right. Even if I didn’t agree with him or if he wasn’t the most tactful person about how he expressed himself, his heart was always aimed in the right direction.

I don’t remember how the conversation went exactly, but I must have argued with him. I had always been able to out-talk my father – I could outsmart him but I couldn’t out-wise him. Wherever we verbally ended the argument, I remember I was standing in the hall at the front door, door open as though I was about to leave, when my father began to cry. Again, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Seeing this man of strength and certainty cry. And again, he only gave voice to his pain with two words – “Please don’t.” It stopped me in my tracks.

I didn’t know what to do. There was something deeper here than I understood. But it shook me to my core. I think I just stammered, “OK”. We stood there frozen – door open. I wanted to comfort him but it wasn’t the time for a hug. He didn’t need a hug – he was trying to protect me. I just waited until he could express what he was trying to tell me.

He finally said, through his tears, “Please don’t perjure your soul.” And then he hugged me.

There it was. There was the truth. The compass. Even when you can’t rely on men or your leaders or even your country, you have to hold true to what is right by your soul. If you perjure your soul, you are truly lost. You won’t even be able to rely on yourself.

And so, Father, as you know, you won your final battle. I didn’t perjure myself. my friend went to jail for six months. But we are still friends, in a distant kind of way, and he cleaned himself up, which was another victory for you, Father.

But greatest of all, you taught my heart to seek the right thing.  You saved my soul that day.  You taught me every night during evening prayers.  You helped me seek it in college, studying philosophy.  What is the right thing to do?  For whom?  Why is it right?  You taught me to never give up.  I’m still seeking.  And you taught me “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.” (Psalm 146:3)

As a way of concluding, I would like to point out that we have printed on the back of your bulletins the only poem my father ever asked me to memorize. I think the poem encapsulates who my father was, his honor, his love for his country, his service, his love for horses, and a hint of the betrayal he felt.  And then I’d like to close with a prayer my father taught me to recite every night. 

The Charge of the Light Brigade

My father in parade in New Jersey


BY ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.

My father’s graduation from the Citadel

Flashed all their sabres bare,
Flashed as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wondered.
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right through the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the sabre stroke
Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell.
They that had fought so well
Came through the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

And now for the prayer, the Song of Simeon.  I always thought it was odd that my father asked us to recite this slightly sad prayer every night.  It felt like we were preparing ourselves every night for the possibility of death.  But perhaps that was right.  Perhaps my father was always ready to go.  And so, now, I think he was ready and is now at peace. 

This is my way of saying goodbye.

Lord, you now have set your servant free,
to go in peace as you have promised
for these eyes of mine have seen the savior
whom you have prepared for all the world to see
A light to enlighten the nations
and the glory of your people, Israel.
Glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.
Amen.

My father and I

I love you, Father.

Quantified Self

I have joined a new community of biohackers at QuantifiedSelf.com. I found this website through the notes in Tim Ferris’s The 4-Hour Body (which I plan on using in my diet and movement research) and then from Kevin Kelly’s website, KK.org.

QuantifiedSelf.com recommends I post the project I’m working on to their forum. It was an instructive exercise. I will share it here, since it is a good summary of what I am doing.

Introduction

I am a 40-something male with unusual fatigue. I fell asleep during a Metallica concert in college. My 76-year old father sleeps 20 hours per day, and my 11-year old son is also exhibiting unusual fatigue. Doctors have been unable to help. Blood tests have revealed nothing unusual. I drank so much caffeine, I started having heart arrhythmias 40+ times per day.

Out of desperation, I’ve begun to track every conceivable factor in energy production and fatigue that I can find and experiment with them. I am new to QS and eagerly looking forward to learning from the community.

Questioning

Since energy and fatigue is such a huge subject, I’m taking a systems-based approach to the body. From my research, it seems like the body’s energy is derived and/or affected by eight main subsystems:

  1. Breath
  2. Sleep
  3. Hydration
  4. Diet
  5. Movement
  6. Mood
  7. Biochemicals
  8. Environment

Each subsystem seems to have stressors (like alcohol) and requirements (like sleep or food).

I’m approaching this project by reading the top books in each area, seeing which sources they reference and reading those, documenting stressors and requirements, trying to eliminate the stressors, trying to build up the requirements, and documenting the results.

Observing

I have been tracking over 30 different factors in the above 8 areas over the past 6 months.

  • energy (morning, noon, and night) on a scale of 1-5 (5 being the highest)
  • mood (morning, noon, and night) on a scale of 1-5 (5 being the highest)
  • sleep (total, deep, REM, and Garmin sleep score)
  • calories (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, total)
  • caffeine (morning, lunch) (after a couple months, I eliminated caffeine in the afternoon)
  • movement (steps, aerobic calories, minutes of anaerobic exercise)
  • water (Morning, noon, and night in ounces)
    …and more

For the full list, I’m keeping the data in a Google spreadsheet here:docs.google.com

Energy Tracker 2

May22 Awake (time),Deep sleep (mins),Total sleep (mins),Sleep Score,Weight,Cardio (cals),Breakfast (cals),Water (5-10AM),Caffeine (5-10AM),Energy level (5-10AM),Mood (5-10AM),Lunch (cals),Water (11-4PM),Caffeine (11-4PM),Nap (mins),Snack,Energy…

Consolidating

Since neither the doctors nor I know what is affecting my family’s energy, I am casting a wide net. Here are the experiments I am currently tracking:

Breathing Experiments

  1. Slow breaths
  2. Nasal breaths while taking the stairs
  3. Nasal breaths while running
  4. Sleep tape
  5. Breathe right strips
  6. Saline rinse for allergies

Sleep Experiments

  1. Sleep tape
  2. Breathe right strips
  3. Cooler bedroom temperatures
  4. Blackout curtains
  5. Air filter
  6. Humidifier with essential oils
  7. No caffeine 8 hours before bedtime
  8. No liquids after 5 PM
  9. No alcohol
  10. No screens 1 hour before bedtime
  11. Low blue light LED light bulbs
  12. Blue light blocking glasses

Hydration Experiments

  1. Humidifier
  2. Lower caffeine
  3. Sleep tape
  4. Smoothies
  5. More fruits and vegetables
  6. MCT oil
  7. Massage gun
  8. Stretching daily
  9. Drinking 32 oz of water with electrolytes before coffee

Reasoning

With my crude 1-5 scale, I have begun to refer to my perfect days – the days when I have a 5 energy morning, noon, and night, and I have a 5 mood morning, noon, and night – as my 5-star days.

When I started this experiment in December, I had no 5-star days. Last month, I had six. My efforts seem to be working, but I know I have a lot of room for improvement.
EnergyProgress

I am tracking this experiment on my blog at TheEnergyBook.com.

Next Steps and Questions for the QS Community

Next I will be reading the energy/fatigue research on:
4. Diet – paleo, intermittent fasting, calorie restriction, affect of carbs on energy/insulin
5. Movement – HIIT, cardio, anaerobic, moving every 15 minutes, why the body needs movement
6. Mood – mood has the highest correlation with my energy currently. FASCINATED by this.
7. Biochemicals – caffeine, hormones (testosterone, adrenaline), supplements (B, D, COQ10)
8. Environment – seasonal affective disorder, red light therapy, polar plunges

Questions:

  • Any recommended resources I should read on energy and fatigue?
  • Any recommendations on how I’m structuring this experiment? (I know I’m taking on a lot)
  • Any recommended machines for measuring energy? (I use a Garmin Fenix 6)
  • Thank you for reading through all this!

************

I’m thrilled to report, I received two responses within a couple hours with very good questions and suggestions. This is a thoughtful, intelligent community and I’m glad to have found it.

Since I don’t have permission to reprint their responses here, you can see them at this link: https://forum.quantifiedself.com/t/why-am-i-so-tired-all-the-time/10432

My favorite outcome from this exchange is how one of the responders challenged my methodology. He wondered if I was running too many interventions at once and how I would isolate which ones worked.

It caused me to ponder and respond with this:

You make a good point about how I’m testing a lot of interventions at once. This is my top concern about my current methodology, but I’m loathe to go slower. With the vast amount of ground I have to cover, I’m already expecting to spend two years on this. I hate to stretch things out further.

But you’re right. If I’m going to try and accurately distinguish what is working and what isn’t, I need to slow down and separate out the experiments a bit more. I was just talking to a neurologist friend who was reminding me of homeostasis and pharmacokinetics. I need to be more methodical about tracking these experiments separately.

So, three thoughts:

  1. I was batching the experiments to see what subsystem my issue resided in (breath, sleep, hydration, etc.). I took a shotgun approach and tested every tip and trick I could find in each subsystem. My thought was that if I saw improvement in my energy, I must have had a problem there. However, I’m realizing as we discuss this that I made several assumptions there – that I had only one issue, that many changes might make incremental improvements to my energy, that I had the time to make all these changes, that I could retroactively isolate the changes that worked and scale back to just those. Those might have been foolish assumptions.
  2. I also took a number of diagnostic tests that I had hoped would isolate as many issues as possible without have to try additional experiments (like an elimination diet). I took the Viome mitochondrial and gut health tests. I took the SelfDecode DNA test. And I just ordered the Everlywell food sensitivity test. I realize now this doesn’t replace the need for me to be more methodical, but it did reduce my approach style down from a ‘grenade’ to a ‘shotgun’.
  3. So, estimating that my first three subsystems of energy required about 30 experiments in six months and I have five subsystems to go, I can roughly estimate that I will have 50 more experiments. I was haphazard in my deployment of experiments before, but I could have spaced them out in those first six months and taken approximately a week to test each experiment. If I planned out my experiments and tested each one for a week before moving on to the next one, do you think that would be sufficient? Obviously there are degrees of rigor. I’m not trying to recreate a lab experiment and I have a lot to cover, but I do want to give myself a better chance of knowing whether or not an experiment is working. Do you have any recommendations for time spent on each one?

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This is just the kind of interaction I am hoping to gain from a community. Thank you to everyone at Quantified Self!

The Craving, Pt. 2

Ten days after the last craving ravaged my brain, another struck last night.

It began with a blow to my self-esteem. Someone else out there has been doing energy research longer than I have, possibly better than I have, and with more celebrity endorsements (I have zero, so that wasn’t difficult).

The more I scanned this site (https://theenergyblueprint.com/), the more depressed I became. “100% science-backed”? “Zero gimmicks or B.S.”? My research is science-based, and I certainly don’t want to use gimmicks or bs. Has someone beaten me to the punch?

My heart plummeted in my chest. The wind went out of my sails. The twin tigers, Fear and Doubt, began to circle my confidence as it crouched in a dark corner of my mind. Was this all for naught? Had I just made a fool of myself in front of my friends (again)? Was I stupidly reinventing the wheel?

The craving crept into my teeth. It always begins with the teeth, for some reason. They began to silently jangle deep in the roots, as though someone was juicing them with low voltage. zzzzzzzzzap Get a drink. zzzzzzzzzzzzzap You don’t need this crap. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzap Take the night off.

Suddenly, the last three months of sobriety felt like a mountaintop upon which I teetered precariously, exposed to a cold, harsh world of glaring sunlight and cutting winds. What the hell was I doing up here? I could fall! I would fall – it was just a matter of time. Maybe…maybe, I should fall…

Maybe I belonged down below. Maybe this rarified air of clean living wasn’t for me. Maybe a nice, warm, dark, cozy cave at the bottom of the mountain would be safer than this hard, cold, bright peak. Maybe I deserved to be at the bottom.

Who the heck was I fooling anyway? My father is an alcoholic. My mother is an alcoholic. All my grandparents were, as far as I knew. I’m trying to fight a genetic trait as powerful and certain as the law of gravity. Might as well enjoy it!

Before I knew it, I was planning when and where I would pick up a bottle of my favorite liquor after work. When did I go from craving to planning?! It was mental whiplash.

Then I remembered, I just beat this. Didn’t I write an entire blog post about it? Why aren’t I practicing what I preach?

So I went back and actually ready my own blog post. It felt weirdly meta, like a reverse ‘dear younger me’. But I was desperate.

Here is what I culled from it:

  1. Remember that you are physically and mentally capable of getting past this urge. You have done it before. This isn’t hopeless or a foregone conclusion. It’s a movie where you can still hold out hope for the hero.
  2. Remind yourself how long you have made it this far. Don’t break that streak. You don’t want to start over again. As arbitrary as it sounds, those numbers matter. You are building a better life, one day at a time.
  3. Just breathe. This fight is hard, and sometimes the only thing you have energy is for is to breathe. That’s good. It’s all you have to do. Just focus on your breath for as long as you can. It will soothe you.
  4. Remember that 90% of this fight is mental. It’s all in your head. So all you have to do is change your mind. And you can change your mind any time you want. You can do this. It isn’t impossible.
  5. Write down how you are feeling, what caused it, and why you want to drink. Would it solve anything? Play the tape forward. How would you feel tomorrow? Imagine yourself waking up in the morning, hungover, disappointed your streak is over, and without any solution to the problem that caused you to drink in the first place.
  6. Now go play a game. Read a book. Watch a TV show. Get your mind off of this. You haven’t made any plans to break your streak. Reward yourself with a bath and an audiobook or dessert and a movie. Just get out of your own head.
  7. Some time later, reflect on how you feel. How strange was that momentary craving? What worked for you in getting past it? Create your own playlist like this and write it down somewhere that will help you get past the next craving (because there will be one).

Good luck! I hope this helped.

Six month retrospective

Well, it’s been six months since I began this journey and I feel I ought to take a moment and reflect on my journey thus far.

In good, Kai Ryssdal fashion, let’s look at the numbers:

  • Website bought, installed, designed, and launched
  • 5,000+ data points collected in self-experiment
  • 56 blog posts and pages written
  • 5 energy-related books read, plus dozens of scholarly articles
  • 1 interview recorded (not published yet)
  • 1 video recorded (not published yet)
  • 1 animation drawn (not published yet)
  • Breath pillar done
  • Sleep and hydration pillars underway
  • Energy factory analogy drawn
  • Podcast equipment purchased

My energy has increased dramatically. It went from zero days of 5-star energy in December and January to six 5-star energy days last month:

I don’t know if my research will help my family or anyone else (or if I will even publish), but this project has at least made a quantifiable difference in my life.

For the book, I feel like I might be 25% of the way through my research. If I am going to publish by my 50th birthday in 19 months, I might need to pick up the pace a little bit though.

Fingers crossed that the next six months are as energized and productive as the last six!

How I got a good night’s sleep

I finally, finally, got a good night’s sleep last night. It wasn’t excellent or awesome or amazing, but it was good.

According to my new Garmin Fenix 6, I hadn’t been getting enough deep sleep. My old Garmin watch didn’t distinguish between REM sleep and deep sleep. It just tracked light sleep, deep sleep, and time awake. It also didn’t assign any type of quality score. If I slept seven hours, I counted it a good night of sleep.

The problem was, I had days when I slept seven hours but still felt fatigued. What gives with that?!

As I’m quickly learning on this quest, there are so many factors affecting our energy, I had no reason to suspect that it was the quality of my sleep. How would I judge that anyway? I was asleep!

Imagine my horror (and delight), when my new watch began to tell me how poor the quality of my sleep was. It was simultaneously enlightening and disappointing. But at least I had another piece to the puzzle.

I apparently wasn’t getting enough deep sleep.

Despite what my old watch had been telling me, deep sleep differs from REM sleep in a couple different ways. Deep sleep is when we repair our bodies, restore our energy, and store our memories. REM sleep is when we dream, consolidate important memories, and process our emotions. Both are important, but for different reasons.

With my old watch, I didn’t know which I was getting, and I didn’t know how much I was supposed to be getting. Now I know that I have some nights where I get zero deep sleep (as was the case two nights ago) but I usually get a fair amount of REM sleep. This might have been accounting for my poor memory all along. Deep sleep is responsible for allowing our memories to be set in stone. If I was not getting enough deep sleep, I would not be getting my memories stored properly. According to my DNA test, I should be inclined to have good memory and there were times in my life when I did have a good memory. But, over the last 10 years or so, it has been suffering.

Now that I have the tools and knowledge to differentiate between deep and REM sleep – and I am tracking the symptoms I have when I don’t get enough deep sleep – I can find out what is blocking my deep sleep.

Now, some of you may be wondering whether or not I can trust this Garmin watch to accurately distinguish between deep sleep and REM sleep or accurately predict how much time I spend in each.

That is a fair question and I had the same thought.

So, I found this study where they tested the Garmin technology against field-proven scientific equipment for sleep and checked the accuracy of Garmin. It essentially amounted to about a 70% accuracy for registering deep sleep. It is not perfect, but it is better than nothing. Even if it only points me in the direction of a possible answer, then it has served a useful purpose. And, as you might have read in an earlier article, my doctor has ordered an at-home sleep test for me since he suspects part of my fatigue might be due to poor sleep.

So, what did I do differently last night to earn a good night’s sleep score? Here is the list of everything I have been doing up until now, but which must not have made enough of a difference for my deep sleep:

  • Sleep tape
  • Breathe right strips
  • Cooler bedroom temperatures
  • Blackout curtains
  • Air filter
  • Humidifier with essential oils
  • Reducing overall caffeine intake
  • No caffeine 8 hours before bedtime
  • No liquids after 5 PM
  • No alcohol at all
  • No screens 1 hour before bedtime
  • Low blue light LED light bulbs in the bedroom
  • Blue light blocking glasses (if I do watch TV at night)
  • Same bedtime every night
  • Same wind-down routine (30 minutes of stories for my son)

These efforts have met with varying levels of success, but obviously my overall sleep score was still not good.

I began to grow a little bit frustrated. Yesterday, I finally decided to research ways to improve deep sleep (instead of just overall sleep). Many of the tips and tricks I found were the same as what I had already been doing, but one recurring piece of advice that I hadn’t seen stood out: limit calories and carbs at night, especially simple sugars.

I realized that I had been indulging my sweet tooth lately. The night I had zero minutes of deep sleep was a night when I had especially indulged. I vowed to limit my carbs and calories and to have no sweets last night.

It wasn’t easy. I’m reaching my self-discipline limits with all the things I’ve given up (alcohol, caffeine in the afternoon, extra calories, free time for this project). But I know that if I can get better deep sleep, I’ll have more energy to make these changes.

So I buckled down and only had one bowl of mac & cheese last night with sausages and no dessert. When my sweet tooth struck later in the night, I had a handful of grapes.

When I woke up this morning, I was loathe to check my score. I’ve read situations where people become so obsessed with their sleep score that they begin to sleep poorly due to anxiety over sleeping well. 😝 I don’t want to become that person, so I purposefully put it off. I ran through my regular morning routine: meditation with Headspace, 32 oz of water and then one cup of half-caff coffee while playing on the computer, stretch, run, and make hydrating smoothies for me and my boy.

It wasn’t until I was getting ready for work that I checked my score. 87! I realized then that, although I had felt good this morning, I did set a new sprinting record during my run and I had been dancing as I got ready for work. Dancing is always a sign. I am not a dancer. But when the energy is too strong for me to contain and it boils out into spontaneous dancing, I know I’m doing something right.

Unfortunately, one night does not make a pattern. But for now, that’ll do, Chris. That’ll do.

“Wait…is this a lot of work?”

“Are you trying to trick me into exercising and eating right? Because it won’t work! Others have tried and failed. You won’t get me on the straight and narrow!”

It struck me this morning that all of the things I’m trying to do to restore my energy could be viewed by some as a lot of work.

“Of course it’s a lot of work, you maroon! How is it possible that you didn’t know that from the beginning? Are you an idiot?”

Well, yes, I might be an idiot. I have been blithely attempting each little thing, adding more and more to my schedule, until I finally woke up today and realized that I have a lot on my plate.

However, I do plan on cutting out the things that don’t work overtime. And when you make one little change at a time, it doesn’t seem like too much work. As James Clear might say, small habits will add up to big change over time.

The other reason this doesn’t seem like a lot of work is because each change I make gives me more energy to do the next small change. It does take some discipline, but we must all choose either the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.

I would much rather have energy and good mood than be tired and have my cravings satisfied. I think this was a tougher concept for me when I was younger. I hadn’t experienced enough regret yet. The pain of regret never goes away. We re-experience it over and over and over again, and it is cumulative, adding up to a lifetime of cuts that shred our self-confidence. The pain of discipline is momentary and the pride lasts a lifetime, building up our self image stronger and stronger. I think the older we get, the more this rings true for us and the easier it becomes to do the right thing.

So, at my advanced age of 47, do I think this is a lot of work? Not really. Like climbing a mountain, there is some inertia we have to overcome in the beginning, but once we crest that apex, our momentum begins to build and each good habit snowballs into the next until our energy seems unstoppable.

So, here’s to the snowball effect.

Why am I so tired all the time?

The more research I do on fatigue, the more I realize how many causes there are. The possibilities seem nearly endless. So I decided to try and compile an exhaustive list.

Here is what I have found so far:

  1. Chronic fatigue syndrome
  2. Anemia
  3. Hyperthyroidism
  4. Hypothyroidism
  5. Diabetes
  6. Low testosterone
  7. Sleep apnea
  8. Lyme disease
  9. Fibromyalgia
  10. Insomnia
  11. Chronic infection or inflammation
  12. Chronic kidney disease
  13. Alcohol or drug use
  14. Acute liver failure
  15. Oxygen deprivation through nasal obstruction
  16. Oxygen deprivation due to shallow breathing
  17. Oxygen deprivation due to swollen adenoids and or tonsils
  18. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  19. Emphysema
  20. Jet lag disorder
  21. Poor mitochondrial health
  22. Poor gut biome
  23. Sleep deprivation due to caffeine
  24. Sleep deprivation due to late night screens
  25. Sleep deprivation due to poor sleep environment
  26. Oxygen deprivation due to allergies
  27. Poor digestion due to allergies
  28. Poor digestion due to lack of intestinal flora
  29. Calorie restriction
  30. Overeating
  31. Obesity
  32. Chronic fatigue due to carbohydrate sensitivity
  33. Inflammatory bowel disease
  34. Sleep deprivation due to caffeine sensitivity
  35. Chronic fatigue due to lack of exercise
  36. Excess physical activity
  37. Dehydration
  38. Chronic fatigue due to hormonal imbalance
  39. Depression
  40. Anxiety disorders
  41. Grief
  42. Cancer
  43. Concussion
  44. Multiple sclerosis
  45. Heart disease
  46. Vitamin D deficiency
  47. Iron deficiency
  48. Creatine deficiency
  49. Vitamin D deficiency
  50. Seasonal Affective Disorder
  51. Medications (e.g., antihistamines)
  52. COVID-19 (long COVID)

In the future, I will try to expand this list and link to relevant articles, both internally and externally.