Things are improving

For the second time in 8 days (and only the second time ever), I’ve hit a 100 body battery.

And at the same time, I’m losing weight.

Things are definitely trending in the right direction.

Achieving a body battery of 100 twice means I am learning how to build my energy. And losing weight will eventually mean even more energy through needing less calories to move (less weight to carry around), improved sleep (excess weight often causes sleep apnea), improved breathing (stomach fat can constrict the diaphragm), and improved hormone balance (in men, excess fat can convert testosterone into estrogen).

I am excited about this trend! I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Why eat dinner early?

For the first time, my energy levels have been amazing six out of seven days this week! My Garmin watch Body Battery has been at 90 or above. And I hit 100 for the first time.

This is great news and a huge achievement for me. But what happened on that seventh day, you ask?

I ate dinner late. Dun dun duuuuuuuun.

Here is a graph of my energy levels in the last seven days, illustrating what happened:

But Chris, is eating dinner late really that big of a mistake?

I’m glad you asked. Honestly, I didn’t think so until really rather recently.

A strange pattern had begun to emerge in my sleep data. Some nights I could sleep for a long time but still wake up tired with a low body battery. And some nights I could have short, interrupted sleep and wake up feeling refreshed and with a high body battery. What was going on?

The largest, strongest correlation seem to be with my heart rate variability. I had to do some investigation, but it turned out that I have an unusually low HRV. So then I researched how to improve my HRV. Most people recommend high intensity exercise which I will go into more in another post. But I found one article that talked about how eating dinner earlier helped improve HRV scores at night. That article referenced a book, The Longevity Paradox by Dr. Steven Gundry, where this former heart surgeon discusses the role of the glymphatic system in our sleep and energy.

The glymphatic system is so interesting, I think it deserves a post of its own. For now, let me just say that eating dinner five hours before I go to sleep has made a big enough difference in my energy that I can’t go back. I’ve tried. Twice. Since I started eating dinner early two months ago, I’ve taken off two separate weeks to eat dinner with my family late and all my stats dropped – HRV, sleep score, body battery. I can also tell the difference in my brain fog, creativity, and mood. It’s weird.

Now, I will say, this hasn’t been easy. My family does not enjoy eating dinner without me. At first, I just sat with them a talked while they ate. But it made my family uncomfortable enough that my wife suggested I place my lunchbox in front of me and load it while they ate dinner. My interaction with the food and having something on the table in front of me made them comfortable enough to overlook the awkwardness of the situation.

However, that still leaves me with my discomfort. It isn’t easy to overcome 48 years of dinner habits. My bedtime is 9 PM which means I have to pack lunch and dinner to take to work, and eat dinner at my desk between 3PM and 4PM. My family eats around 7 PM, so I’m usually not hungry by then. But I’m also dieting, so sometimes I’m starving. Sitting at the dinner table, watching them eat a fresh, hot, homecooked meal can make me cranky. I’ve snapped at least once in the past couple months and my wife had to call me out on it. This isn’t easy, but it’s getting easier (for all of us).

On a side note, we realized that my wife (who has amazing energy) has always done this. She is a night owl (I’m an early bird). So eating dinner for her at 7 PM is five hours before her bedtime. It isn’t for me or the kids. However, we are just experimenting with my energy for now. Once I am certain about what works for me, we will try it with my son (and maybe my daughter, but her energy seems better than his).

Our understanding of the glymphatic system is still really new. It wasn’t even discovered until 2013. So I expect science will continue to refine our ideas about this subject. I look forward to learning more about it, but for now, I can state from personal experience that it has made a major difference in my energy levels. At this point, I would wager this has been one of my top five levers for improving my energy.


My first time seeing a 100 body battery

I did it!

I finally got my energy up to a full 100 according to the Body Battery on my Garmin watch. (If you don’t have a Garmin, this is simply one way of measuring energy. Here is my article on it.)

I honestly was beginning to despair that I would ever reach it. This gives me more hope. I am super excited about reaching this level of energy. There are three things that this represents for me:

  1. I was able to find a solution to my low energy. That took a lot of research and delving into the systems of energy within our bodies.
  2. I was able to achieve that solution. There were a number of times when I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to achieve it. I thought that perhaps I had the wrong solution or I was going about things the wrong way. But I was able to achieve that solution eventually.
  3. This means that I am not genetically, medically, or physically hobbled in my energy. I am able to return to or exceed what normal people feel in their energy levels. This is very exciting.

On the same day I achieved a 100 Body Battery, I achieved two other milestones.

  1. I had an all-time high heart rate variability (HRV) average of 41. I used to be in the 20s and I have just recently made it into the low 30s, but this is an all-time high for me. 41 is probably pretty normal for most people my age, so it’s nothing to write home about, but it is amazing for me. I hope to eventually get my weekly average up into the 40s, but for now I am really happy with this milestone.
  2. I reached the lowest stress level at night that I’ve ever had. For some reason, my Garmin watch records my average stress at night as rather poor. But last night I had an excellent stress score. I won’t go into the details because it wouldn’t matter to most people (unless you have a Garmin). Just know that I was able to lower my stress somehow. More research is needed.

Now, how did I achieve these things?

The foundational thing I changed was quitting alcohol. I have been alcohol free for 107 days. I think it takes a few months for a lot of the negative effects of alcohol to wear off. My sleep certainly hasn’t been great since I quit drinking. Not that it was good before I quit drinking, it wasn’t. but my Restless Leg Syndrome has only recently started getting better at night and so my sleep has been improving. I also think the anxiety I used to feel from alcohol has continued to diminish, I am able to exercise more often, and all the other benefits that quitting drinking brings like hydration, improved mood, etc.

Second, I increased intensity in exercise. My doctor recommended that I try to get my heart rate up as high as possible during exercise in order to improve my heart rate variability. I used to exercise rather frequently but it was just a mild jog and walk. Now I mix in sprints, rowing, and weightlifting. However, I was beginning to burn myself out and my heart rate variability wasn’t improving.

Third, I began to mix in more rest days. That was the most startling jump in my heart rate variability. I had been exercising for two weeks straight without a rest day and then I rested for two days directly prior to this jump in heart rate variability and 100 Body Battery.

Fourth, I have been eating dinner five hours before I go to bed, reducing my sugar, and dieting. I saw a nice increase in my heart rate variability when I began to eat dinner five hours before bedtime. There is lots of research about how this improves the glymphatic system. I won’t go into that here though.

Sixth, I have been trying to lower my caffeine and ensure that I drink it earlier in the day. I haven’t been able to quit caffeine altogether (which I’d like to do) but keeping it to a reasonable amount and early in the day seems to help improve my sleep and minimize my anxiety levels.

Seventh, I have meditated every day for 45 days straight for 15 minutes a day and tried to slow my breathing as often as I can remember during the day. This seems to help me relax. The lower my stress is, the higher my energy is. So stress seems to play a big role in my Body Battery score.

Eighth, I’ve been working on my mood. Mood has a huge correlation with my energy. I haven’t been pushing myself in the morning to write. I’ve been working on my relationship with my wife. I’ve let go of some spiritual stress. And I have been trying to take more time enjoying the present. I journal daily and try to write down what I’m grateful for. And I currently love my job, which is such an unusual thing.

All these factors have worked together to increase my energy levels. I am so thankful for this.

Energy is life.

Next steps: try to operationalize this and achieve an average HRV in the 40’s.

Body Battery

What is this Body Battery I keep talking about?

Well, it’s Garmin’s way of tracking our energy levels.

Here is how Garmin puts it on their website:

Garmin’s Body Battery™ measures (0-100) the amount of energy reserves you have throughout the day.

  • A higher number means you’re charged up for activity; a lower number means your battery is drained and you might need a break.
  • Rest and good sleep charge your Body Battery. Strenuous activity, high stress and poor sleep can cause it to drain.
  • Food intake, as well as stimulants like caffeine, do not directly impact the measurement.
  • Wearing your device continuously day and night will lead to a more accurate Body Battery reading.

How does it work?

This image does a nice job of explaining how the Body Battery tracks our energy throughout the day:


Yeah, but is it accurate?

In my experience, yes.

I’ve had a Garmin for almost 10 years now, but when the Body Battery metric first came out, I was skeptical.

I did a lot of research on their algorithm and watched as it changed. Sleep quality used to be their top factor in their algorithm, but once they started tracking heart rate variability (HRV), they quickly realized it was a better predictor of energy and I agree.

Regardless of the research, I also tested it out on my own. I was originally tracking my energy with subjective measurements taking morning, noon, and night on a scale of 1-5. I continued to do this for months after the Body Battery metric came out, but I kept an eye on this new measurement. After seeing it correlate strongly with my own subjective feelings, I finally began to trust it.

Is it perfect?

No. But what is?

It doesn’t know what you’ve eaten. It can’t track your caloric intake. You could be starving and the only way Garmin would know is by your stress levels and HRV.

But it’s pretty darn close. And it’s a lot easier for me to track than taking a subjective measurement of an unseen, internal feeling three times a day.

So that’s why I use Garmin’s Body Battery measurement so frequently in this blog. I apologize for the concession if you don’t have a Garmin. Please just translate it mentally to a generic measurement of energy on a scale of 0 – 100.

A Week in the 90’s

I have had almost an entire week with my body battery in the 90s and I need to figure out what I’m doing right.

Overall it feels like the best thing I’ve done is quit alcohol. But that has also had its complications, such as Restless Leg Syndrome. But this week my RLS has settled down and I’m sleeping pretty well now.

The second thing that I think I’ve been doing right is eating dinner early. As long as I have dinner at least five hours before I go to sleep, I seem to sleep better and my glymphatic system is able to raise my heart rate variability. This seems to result in higher recovery rates for me. My body battery seems to charge faster and I have less sleep at night.

The third thing that seems to be going well is reducing my caffeine intake. Caffeine appeared to be giving me anxiety during the day even though it was so low I could barely feel it. But my heart rate variability scores were lower and my breathing rate was higher. So that appeared to be a very slow, subtle drain on my energy. But every little bit adds up.

Fourth, I have been exercising every day. Sometimes it isn’t for long and often I don’t really push myself, but I am trying to create a healthy habit. When I do push myself, especially doing sprints when I run, it seems to result in lower stress for the day, higher HRV at night, and a better body battery score in the morning. I’m still not entirely clear on how exercise improves my energy, but it must have something to do with stress relief, heart resilience, and the happy chemicals it releases. I don’t particularly enjoy exercising every day, especially when it is so cold out, but I do enjoy the benefits.

So that’s it for me right now. I am thrilled to be posting such high energy scores this week. It feels like I am coming over the top of a mountain and looking down into a valley of joy. I think habits are like that. They kind of remind me of a snowball that you’re pushing up a mountain. You have to overcome all the bad habits you have on one side of the mountain as you’re building up your snowball. It gets really tough near the top especially when it’s so cold and lonely. But once you get over the top, all the good habits you have started to accumulate can build up also, and the going gets easier. Once you build up your momentum and you have accumulated good habits and you’ve gotten rid of all the bad habits, things really start going fast into that valley of joy.

So here is to entering that valley of joy.

My first good morning

Today was my first good morning in 2023. I want to share what the good days feel like because they give me something to shoot for when I’m feeling down. When I’m exhausted, it’s hard to remember what energized feels like. It’s also hard to remember what all the benefits are. So here is my happy moment for the year (so far).

I woke up, wide awake, at 4:59 AM. I checked my body battery for the day and it was at 91. Good enough for me! I had slept nearly 8 hours with only one restless leg syndrome episode and a couple trips to the bathroom, but overall pretty good. Garmin gave it a sleep score of 85.

The first thing I did was turn on my Headspace app and meditate for 15 minutes. Then I popped out of bed, grabbed my journal, and went upstairs to my office. Since I have been off of caffeine in the morning, I brewed a cup of decaf coffee, but honestly didn’t really need it. I also didn’t feel the need to turn on Civilization on my computer. Computer games are an escape for me, and I didn’t have anything I needed to escape. Normally it’s a way for me to wake up with coffee, but I felt good enough to tackle the things that really help.

So I started into my Miracle Morning routine. If you haven’t read Hal Elrod‘s book, I recommend it. He has an acronym, SAVERS, that stands for the six things he does every morning to make sure his day goes well. I will paraphrase them here in my own words:

  1. Meditate (silence)
  2. Affirmations
  3. Visualize goals for the day
  4. Exercise
  5. Learn something new (reading)
  6. Journal (scribe)

And for me there is a seventh piece to my miracle morning that ensures my day goes well – I have to be creative and work on a project that gives me hope for the future (like this blog post).

So that’s what I did today. I went through each of the steps and it really was a miraculous morning. I had purchased a new rowing machine and I worked out on that while watching YouTube videos of The Rock doing his work out. I filled out my journal and read some of my journals from last year to help remind me of the lessons I have learned. I made a protein smoothie after my workout and stretched. And I even had a couple of shower notes to show that my mind is already active and working on problems for the day.

This is what a good morning looks like for me. This is why I work so hard to protect my energy. This is why I give up so many things I’ve been addicted to and work to add in new healthy habits. This is what true joy and happiness looks like to me.

Drug Free

This year, in 2023, when I finally manage to give up caffeine, it will be the first time in my adult life that I have been completely drug free. I didn’t know this. I just realized it.

At one point or another in my adult life, I have either been drinking alcohol, using caffeine to pick myself up in the mornings and in the afternoons, eating sugar when I felt down or wanted to celebrate, or been on Lexapro for anxiety. I have used all of these drugs to manage my mood and energy for 30 years.

I realize that the word “drug” is a loaded term for some. Some might not want to consider sugar a drug. And that’s fine. I’m not trying to preach to anyone here. I am only trying to share what affects my energy. When I read that studies have shown that sugar is more addictive than cocaine in rats, I had to consider its affect upon me. I don’t know about you, but I have certainly treated sugar like a drug, using it to eat my feelings and avoid/emphasize certain moods. I’m trying to find new, healthier coping mechanisms now.

I don’t know what this new era is going to feel like. In the past, when I have approached this level of health, it has felt like being on a snowy peak, exposed and chilled. When I have given up these safety nets in the past, I’ve felt scared and alone. There is comfort at the bottom. There is a comfort in giving up. But that comfort is a lie. It masks so many more problems than it even pretends to solve.

So I have to brave the cold until I can grow acclimated to it. But this time it doesn’t feel so bad. I don’t know what’s different. Maybe it’s because I took it one step at a time. I gave up each drug on its own, as soon as I could. Perhaps the order I quit in helped too – first alcohol, then Lexapro, then sugar, and last caffeine. I’m not sure the order matters though. I’m also not sure I needed to come off of Lexapro. I’m just tired of being on drugs.

And my work does not stop here. As soon as I have removed all the drugs, I will have to replace them with healthy habits. I have been exercising every day for a couple weeks now, but I will have to increase the dose of exercise, especially high impact. I will also need to increase the amount of meditation and breathing exercises I am doing. And I think I will need to spend more time in nature and going for walks.

The drugs I did were a form of self-medication. I believe they were needed. I believe they pointed out real issues I have, such as being able to deal with stress well. I am starting to suspect I am not as resilient as I thought I was. I must learn why and what I can do about it. This is exciting and scary at the same time. As Joseph Campbell wrote, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”

I feels as though I am on the verge of being able to enter that cave. It hid upon the top of that snowy peak.

Shady loan sharks of energy

I have always been a big fan of caffeine. It felt like free energy. I didn’t have to consume calories. I didn’t have to waste time sleeping. I didn’t have to drink water or exercise. All I had to do was drink a delicious cup of coffee or have a caffeinated beverage with lunch and off I went, skipping merrily with energy.
But nothing is free, is it? Energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It Hass to come from somewhere. So where is the energy that comes with caffeine originating? What shady loan shark am I borrowing from internally?
Well, I have recently discovered the dark side of caffeine. I think it goes without saying that caffeine can disturb your sleep, especially if you consume it after 4 PM. But I have also learned, through my recent investigations into heart rate variability, The caffeine has a more insidious drain on my energy than even disturbing sleep.
This all began for me when I started trying to figure out why I have an abnormally low heart rate variability. My HRV hovers in the high 20s to low 30s on average, wear a normal person for my age and fitness should be in the high 40s to low 50s. That’s right – my HRV is half a normal persons.
As I have mentioned another post, HRV is an important factor in our daily energy. It measures how quickly our hearts can respond to stress and then relax. If our hearts cannot relax after stress, then our autonomic nervous system remains in high alert, draining our energy in multiple systems such as blood pumping to our muscles, draining our brain, and increasing our breathing and heart rates.
What affects our HRV? All the usual suspects. Exercise, stress, and other factors. But I love my job and there aren’t many stressors in my life currently. So I had to dig deeper into what could be causing me anxiety.
Thankfully, my Garmin watch tracks my stress levels throughout the day and I noticed a strong correlation between my stress and when I drink caffeine. Although my mind does not experience caffeine as stress, my body apparently does. I have always thought of the energy that caffeine brings as upbeat and fun, but now that I look back upon it, I can see that there was a frenetic edge to that energy. As I have mentioned before, energy comes in all different flavors and not all of them are delicious.
So I have begun to cut back on my caffeine intake, swapping out my half caffeinated coffee in the morning for tea, cutting out my morning tea at work, and holding myself to one Diet Coke after lunch. I will continue to reduce this until I am down to zero. But I have cut out caffeine before and I know that if I do it too quickly I will have horrible headaches and I want to avoid that as well.
I look forward to reporting back on my progress and if a lack of caffeine helps my energy in the long run. I suspect it will and I am hopeful about the results.

99 Body Battery

For the first time, I achieved a score of 99 out of 100 on my Garmin “Body Battery” metric (for more information on that metric, click here). I reaaaaallly wanted a 100, but after 30 minutes of meditation and breathing exercises when I woke up, my body battery score actually began to drop, so I had to stop. But that just gives me a new goal to aim for next.

So, how did I achieve this new level of energy?

I believe there were six main factors:

  1. No dinner – I’m strangely convinced that this is the key to my recovery. I shouldn’t say “no” dinner – just nothing for 5 hours before bed time. I learned this from Brian Johnson who quoted Dr. Steven Gundry’s The Longevity Paradox. Dr. Gundry wrote about the glymphatic system which cleans the brain at night, and has a hard time doing so while digesting food. Brian and I have both noticed how much our HRV scores improve without dinner, and therefore our sleep scores improve (mine was an 86 last night – the best in a month).
  2. Less caffeine – I’m slowly weaning myself off of coffee (with tea). I think this lowers my anxiety, improves my HRV, and helps my sleep.
  3. More sleep – If Restless Leg Syndrome keeps me up at night (which it did last night), I force myself to stay in bed until I’m too awake to recharge anymore. This probably should have been a self-evident step, but I’m such a creature of habit that I would get up at 5AM regardless of my sleep quality.
  4. Less sugar – I’m still uncertain what the exact impact of sugar is upon my energy, but I’m sure it was having an impact beyond the normal blood sugar crashes.
  5. No alcohol – Most fundamentally, I have had to remove my #1 kryptonite from my life. The list of ways alcohol impacts my energy, sleep, mood, and HRV are too numerous to list here, but I can’t leave it off the list.
  6. More exercise – It seems that my body requires a daily mix of cardio and weights to maintain a healthy HRV score. It must decrease my stress, make me more resilient, and increase energy production somehow. Needs more research (as does sugar). [I remember hearing that exercise releases a flood of 400 growth hormones and chemicals into the bloodstream, bathing our bodies in regenerative goodness. Need to find that reference.]

So that’s a quick look at what I think is going right lately. I hope to post more soon. I just wanted to give you an update on how things are going. Happy New Year!

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.

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!