Kicking Akrasia: Now or Never

by [anonymous]2 min read1st Jan 201156 comments

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Personal Blog

Ok, let's face facts.  The Internet has fried my brain.  I'm a terrible hedonist and procrastinator.  I have a very important test in May -- I am not exaggerating when I say that the outcome of the test matters to the future direction of my life.  There are situations where failure is just a temporary setback, and there are situations where failure would be a real problem, and this is the latter.  No fooling.

My Problems

1. I don't work enough.  My primary distraction is the Internet, though occasionally novels happen too, and I'm capable of just staring into space and daydreaming.  

2. I fall asleep during the day. I've tried getting more hours of sleep at night and it doesn't solve the problem.  When I'm bored or confused, my body says "Naptime!"  It can be quite embarrassing.

3. I often feel too tired/demotivated/bummed to do errands.  A lot of stuff, some more important and some less important, slips through my fingers.  The most important, to my quality of life, are buying necessities and cleaning my room -- I tend to put these off much too long for my own good.

4. I don't have enough measures of how well I'm doing as a student.  I get confused by some abstract concepts, and sometimes I don't even notice that I'm confused.

5.  I like being happy and entertained better than being stressed and bored and confused.  This makes me want to work less.  Not proud of this character trait but not sure how I can rewire my preferences.

Planned Solutions So Far

1.  Work in a cubicle, with no computer, with a kitchen timer to keep me mindful of how many hours I spend working.

2.  Plan out the material I have to learn and the time I have to learn it, and make a kibotzer.com account to see if I'm on track for my goal.

3.  Track various measures of productivity (hours worked, concepts learned, problems solved, percent correct) with a Joe's Goals account.  Have thresholds that I don't want to drop below.

4.  Use Self Control to block all my entertainment internet sites during "working hours" (I'll leave early mornings and/or late nights free.)

5.  Accumulate diverse library books relevant to coursework, and various sources of practice problems, and more notebooks and paper than I need; don't let lack of physical resources limit my progress.

6. Set aside a regular occasion for clean-up and errands.

Any other advice?  

In particular, I don't know what to do about my sleepiness problem.  I'm not a very regular caffeine drinker; I've started to drink Lipton tea, but I don't think I've reached the quantity sufficient to keep me awake yet, at 2-3 cups a day. 

Any advice on the psychological front would also be helpful.  How to stay motivated.  I know what my motivation is (the consequences of failure in my situation are not pleasant) but how to keep focused on the importance of my goal, without spending all my time being miserable and frightened because I'm visualizing the worst-case scenario.  I know I can fuel myself on guilt for a short time, but I don't like it much and I don't think it's practical long-term.

Yes, of course I'm aware that adults know how to work to achieve what they want.  Somehow I've reached adulthood without really developing all the personal capacities that I should have.  It's lousy of me, but this is where I am, and I'm ready to change and willing to take advice.

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The sleep thing strongly suggests a physiological basis. How much sunshine do you get when you first wake up? You might also want to investigate the use of "morning faces" (i.e., watching yourself in a mirror or watching talkshows or other videos with lifesize talking heads for 30 minutes in the morning, every morning).

Adequate amounts of water, omega 3 supplements, L-Tyrosine... any/all of the above may help.

I like being happy and entertained better than being stressed and bored and confused. This makes me want to work less. Not proud of this character trait but not sure how I can rewire my preferences.

That's normal. It'd be a very strange person who preferred being stressed and bored and confused. The thing that makes it stressful is the assumption that you shouldn't be bored or confused, or conversely, that you "shouldn't have to" do things that are boring and confusing.

The trick to changing this isn't to rewire the basic preference, it's to see through the "shoulds" where your brain is arguing that reality shouldn't be the way it is. I find that it helps to identify the should, and then change it to, "I like/don't like", e.g. replacing, "I shouldn't have to do this" with "I don't like it that I have to do this". The former is a way of avoiding the truth; the latter a way of accepting it.

YMMV, of course, since it's not always easy to spot what your "should" is in a given situation, and changing the phrasing doesn't always result in a change of attitude. (You have to really be sincere, for one thing.)

Any other advice?

Identify the cost and/or pain of your proposed solutions, and vividly imagine what it will be like to actually do them. How do you feel? If they make you feel stressed, doing them will likely be a waste of time. However, if you feel that you are willing to experience the drawbacks in order to achieve your goal, then great.

I know I can fuel myself on guilt for a short time, but I don't like it much and I don't think it's practical long-term.

It isn't. Brains tend to interpret chronic stress or conflict as a trigger for unsupervised learning -- and they will evolve clever ways to route around you.

I know what my motivation is (the consequences of failure in my situation are not pleasant) but how to keep focused on the importance of my goal, without spending all my time being miserable and frightened because I'm visualizing the worst-case scenario.

The #1 thing you can do to improve your motivation would be to totally accept the worst-case scenario, as if it has already happened. What is the consequence of failure? Imagine it happening as vividly as you can... NOT as a "what could happen", but as though it has already happened, and there is nothing you can do to "prevent" it. Then, notice what happens next. Where do you go from there? What do you do?

Simply answering these questions off the top of your head will not help -- you must make this as real an experience as possible. If you do, you will find that:

  1. Life goes on, and you with it...

  2. Now that you're not petrified thinking about it, you actually have some positive motivation for the actual goal.

We have a threat-based motivation system that's distinct from our values-based motivation, and it's on a computational fast path. On that fast path, you get emotional responses to cached thoughts of possible bad outcomes, that exert strong local influence on behavior, and cut off thoughts in the region of the aversion -- the "ugh field" as some here call it.

However, if you actually think through (in a vivid, experiential way) what the REAL outcome of your imagined disaster is, such that your threat system sees, "oh, I see, I'm really not going to die or become a social outcast in that situation", and switches off the alarms.

This is a separate motivation system from values-based motivation: the part of your goal you actually want or desire. It won't be affected by turning off the (redundant, cached) threat alarm, except that you'll actually be able to notice it once you're not being distracted by the continual warning bells.

The #1 thing you can do to improve your motivation would be to totally accept the worst-case scenario, as if it has already happened.

Endorse this x1000. It worked for me a couple of weeks back when I was extremely stressed about my applications for grad school - I went from unable to sleep because of dread to realising that not getting accepted wouldn't be the end of my world.

Yep. This is a classic technique that originates from Stoicism, a remarkably useful and forward-thinking philosophy.

This is a classic technique that originates from Stoicism

I can't overemphasize enough, however, the requirement to think experientially when performing it. Mere abstraction or just "knowing" the technique won't suffice to actually change your emotional experience.

The #1 thing you can do to improve your motivation would be to totally accept the worst-case scenario, as if it has already happened. What is the consequence of failure? Imagine it happening as vividly as you can... NOT as a "what could happen", but as though it has already happened, and there is nothing you can do to "prevent" it. Then, notice what happens next. Where do you go from there? What do you do?

When I try this, it often backfires - I decide that the "worst case" isn't so bad, and then decide not to try to avoid it. For example, suppose I'm taking a college course and really don't want to do the homework. If I don't ever do the homework, I won't pass the course, so I'll have to drop it. If I drop it, I'll then feel a great relief at not having to do the work for that course any more, and spend more time playing video games and surfing the Internet. This seems like an acceptable outcome, so I decide to abandon the goal of passing the course.

When I'm having trouble with something, the first question I always have to ask myself is: "Is succeeding actually worth the effort?" And, a lot of the time, the answer turns out to be "No, I don't think it is; I'll go do something else instead." Pretty much the only reason I got through college was because my parents were bound and determined to see me graduate...

When I try this, it often backfires - I decide that the "worst case" isn't so bad, and then decide not to try to avoid it. For example, suppose I'm taking a college course and really don't want to do the homework. If I don't ever do the homework, I won't pass the course, so I'll have to drop it. If I drop it, I'll then feel a great relief at not having to do the work for that course any more, and spend more time playing video games and surfing the Internet. This seems like an acceptable outcome, so I decide to abandon the goal of passing the course.

Short answer: So what?

Expanded answer: the fact that you think it's bad that this was the resolution, indicates that you have some additional criteria in play, that you haven't surfaced or brought into active consideration in your decisionmaking.

IOW, if it's not an "acceptable outcome" to you now, but it "seems like an acceptable outcome" when you make the decision, then obviously there is some additional criterion for what's "acceptable" that is not being included in the criteria you're considering at the time. Make sense?

I'm going to pretend I didn't write the other response I wrote, because I thought up a much better one some time after writing it. That other response was a cached thought that's probably just something I picked up from my parents. Repeating it now would just be a form of bullshit.

The actual problem is that, when I start giving up on goals, no matter how stupid, I soon find myself running down a psychological slippery slope. I start thinking that everything I do is pointless, and end up lying in bed, miserable, and thinking about what it would be like not to exist.

I can make a good case that much of what I do is indeed pointless. Why should I try to get 100% completion in a certain video game? Because I want to have done it. Why do I want to have done it? No reason in particular. It will make absolutely no difference, except in my own mind, whether or not I get 100% completion. I only seem to want it because I have decided to want it. And if I that's the case, then I should be able to decide not to want it. And maybe I'm getting a little bit bored or frustrated with the game, so maybe I'd be better off not wanting it, so I can go do something else. Maybe there's a better game to play, or something. Okay, I don't care about this particular goal any more. What should I do now?

...

::stares at shelves of unfinished and unplayed video games::

...

You know, I don't think I care about these other games any more than I care about the one I just decided not to care about...

...

Actually, it doesn't seem like there's anything I want to do at all. Why is it that even a bad game can hold my attention when I have some real work to avoid, but the moment I have nothing else to do, they lose a lot of their appeal?

...

The only things I can get myself to do without turning into a horrible wreck are pointless ones, like playing video games.

...

I only do pointless things; therefore my existence is pointless. And it's worse than that, because other people expend resources on maintaining my existence, because I can't seem to do it myself. I don't value my life, but because I exist, other people do. So the world would have been a better place if I had not existed, but killing myself would be even worse than continuing to live a worthless life. On the other hand, maybe killing myself is actually the right thing to do?

...

Wow, it sure sucks to be thinking like this. I should stop thinking about myself. Maybe if I played a video game, I could take my mind off all the reasons I have to be miserable? That's worked before. Let's see, I was trying to get 100% completion in that one game...


So, yeah. If I let myself start questioning the value of what I'm doing and give up, I sometimes end up in a horrible pit of despair. (The last time this happened to me was... last night, as a matter of fact.)

(nods) I'm familiar with this state of mind. I spent rather a lot of time in it while recovering from my stroke.

It's pretty awful. I'm sorry you're experiencing it.

I doubt that killing yourself would improve matters by any metric worth discussing.

My own experience was that the fastest way out of it was to do something for someone else. What the thing was didn't matter too much, as long as it represented a significant effort for me (some days, that included simply getting out of bed and checking the mail) and interacted in some way with someone other than me (e.g., my partner).

Are you receiving any professional assistance with any of this?

Are you receiving any professional assistance with any of this?

Every therapist I've gone to has done little more than waste my time. (They've been helpful for my mom, but not so much for me; the only thing any mental health professional has done that has helped me directly has been to prescribe medication.)

(nods) You might find it worthwhile to try and state somewhat precisely what it is about those experiences that made them worthless. Insofar as it is actions or inactions on their part, it may help you look for useful assistance in a more targeted way. Insofar as it is actions or inactions on your part, it may help you identify habits that aren't getting you what you want. (Or, if you prefer: strategies that earn you suboptimal scores in this fully immersive multiplayer game we're all playing.)

My own experience was that the fastest way out of it was to do something for someone else.

Eep. I have trouble with this. I don't like it when other people rely on me to do things for them, because I frequently end up failing to do them (because I oversleep, or can't pry myself away from the computer, or whatever). I can barely do things for myself, at times. And "doing things for someone else" also brings up memories of being yelled at by my parents to go do something not very pleasant while I'm in the middle of doing something on the computer...

Well, perhaps you'll find a road out that works better for you. I certainly don't claim to have any general solution to the problem of depression, merely techniques that worked for me when I needed them.

That said, there is a broad gap between doing something for someone and having them rely on you to do it. Doing someone a favor is not the same thing as becoming their employee, for example.

And there is a similarly broad gap between choosing to do something and being forced to do it. If your experiences with performing services for people are primarily the latter, you might be surprised by how different the former feels.

Obvious question: if the only reason you care about computer games is because you've chosen to care about it, why not choose to care about something else instead?

That could work. Any suggestions on what to pick?


I don't know if "chosen" is quite the right word... "stumbled into caring about", or "conditioned into caring about" might be more accurate. There wasn't a specific moment when I consciously decided to care about completing video games, it just sort of happened on its own, as a result of some ongoing process or other...


For various reasons, video games are a rather convenient, if useless, thing to care about... If you play them, I'm sure you know what I mean. I'd rather not care about something I fail at a lot...

That could work. Any suggestions on what to pick?

http://dirtsimple.org/2006/08/how-to-decide-what-you-want.html

2006 seems like a long time ago in Ebyworld, I don't know if that still matches his current thoughts well.

I know exactly what you mean about computer games, I used to get addicted to them fairly easily and be able to play for 12-14 hours at a time. I've also been down that particular hole of "everything I do is pointless, I'm pointless, I'm trapped into remaining alive by the people around me".

As to what to choose to care about, I haven't got anything to suggest that I know will work. My instinct is to suggest that you start caring about societally-approved things like exercise or taking care of your mother because you're more likely to get external positive feedback that'll help get you through the uncomfortable parts and give you a sense of accomplishment. Or if you have a camera, start a 365 project. If you don't, start some other kind of creative project like writing or programming or whatever it is that you think you might find interesting. But.. I don't know if any of those suggestions are likely to help. You've been at this computer game thing for long enough that almost any other activity is going to look understimulating and difficult/uncomfortable in comparison. In my own situation I was helped along partly by a belief that I deserve to suffer, which meant that feeling uncomfortable often wasn't a sufficient reason not to do something. I assume you don't have that belief, which means you'll need to find some other reason to keep going rather than thinking "oh well, failed again, time to distract myself with some more games".

In theory, it's bad because there supposed to be long-term consequences to things like not graduating from college, not having a job, etc. My parents have told me they won't be able to support me forever, but I think I'll deal with that when it actually starts to impact me...

In theory, it's bad because there supposed to be long-term consequences

You're not exactly using your rationalist skills here. What do you mean by, "in theory"? Does that mean you think those consequences are imaginary? What are the actual consequences? What do you actually value?

Either there will be consequences or not. Either you care about them, or you don't. You cannot seriously claim to be a rationalist and still adhere to the proposition that your behavior is consistent with your values, AND that this is a bad thing! That is exactly like saying, "What I'm about to say is true: what I just said is false." Or more colloquially, "Life's a bitch and then you die." Or, "The food is terrible here, but you can eat all you want!"

The truth you aren't facing or admitting to here -- and not just in this thread, but in ALL your whining on LW -- is that either the things you're complaining about really are acceptable/valuable to you, or they are not. Your failure to decide which thing you value more, does not grant you any special status as a victim.

Instead, it marks you as someone who's not only trying to have their cake and eat it too, but who also goes onto online forums to (ostensibly) whine about the incompatibility of having and eating, while really just looking for attention and sympathy to prop up an otherwise-empty existence.

You are not a victim. You're just whining about your own failure to decide what's more important to you... and this whining behavior has been richly rewarded with attention and sympathy. So it appears from your behavior that what you actually value most, is to both fuck around and get sympathy for the fact.

Based on that, I predict that your next response will be to justify how your behavior is outside of your control, and that you deserve sympathy. This may take the form of claiming that I'm unfairly attacking you, or saying that I'm right, but you really don't have control over your hypocrisy, etc.

But your real alternatives are as follows:

  1. Continue on your present tack, making it clear to all of LW that attention and sympathy are higher values for you than discovering the truth (in which case, I intend to silently downvote any future whining of yours I encounter, on the grounds of your lack of logical rigor),

  2. Decide that you don't really care about the "theoretical" future consequences of your action, and stop fucking whining about how bad it is that you don't care,

  3. Decide that you do care about those "theoretical" consequences, that your current behavior is therefore not consistent with your values, and seek to self-modify accordingly (rather than simply talking about how helpless you are, whenever a self-modification discussion arises on LW), or

  4. Admit that your actions are inconsistent, and seek actual assistance with the process of arriving at a consistent understanding of your values in this area. (Note: this option should not be confused with, "admit your actions are inconsistent, and whine about how pitiable and sympathy-worthy this makes you"!)

Anyway, I'm not going to ask you which of these options you're choosing, because your subsequent actions will make it abundantly clear to everyone here which choice you've made.

I feel as though I should respond to this, but I have nothing productive to say.

[-][anonymous]11y 0

I don't know what I care about.

[-][anonymous]11y 0

Instead, it marks you as someone who's not only trying to have their cake and eat it too, but who also goes onto online forums to (ostensibly) whine about the incompatibility of having and eating, while really just looking for attention and sympathy to prop up an otherwise-empty existence.

Guilty as charged. :(

Voted up grandparent because I would prefer that this reply not be hidden.

[-][anonymous]11y 0

Agree 100%.

[-][anonymous]11y 0

Thanks so much for the detailed reply.

I drink very little (water) if left to my own devices; some days I don't drink anything. That might have some health effects. What's the rationale behind "morning faces"?

What's the rationale behind "morning faces"?

That our circadian rhythms have a social synchronization mechanism as well as a solar one -- i.e., we want to sync our sleep/wake cycles to those of our peers to ensure we don't miss out on foraging, get left behind, etc.

Some people seem to be more prone to needing these resyncs -- there is some research in treating bipolar disorders using something called interpersonal social rhythm therapy, or something like that. It basically is done by putting people on a regular social schedule so that they're meeting people at the same times each day. Morning faces was an independently-discovered simpler version of the same idea: psychologist Seth Roberts noticed that his mood was better on days when he watched talk shows in the mornings, and worse when he saw them in the evenings. Many self-experimenters have successfully used the method to treat depression and other mood/motivation disorders, and I have found it to be helpful on occasion myself.

Note, btw, that it usually takes about 1-2 days after starting morning faces for the effect to be noticeable -- I believe Seth Roberts says that there's usually at least a 16-17 hour delay before the effect kicks in. I have experienced the effect that quickly, but not the first time I tried it.

I drink very little (water) if left to my own devices

Me either - I don't like the taste of water. (I do drink lots of milk and some juice). However, I will drink water if it's right there, and wind up consuming huge amounts of it at restaurants where I get water no matter what. You could try keeping water (iced if you prefer) at arm's length as a matter of course and see if more of it makes its way into you.

http://escholarship.org/uc/item/2xc2h866%22

(I do this a bit, but not enough or regularly enough to notice a difference if there is one.)

Above all, don’t feel bad about your current skill set and situation. Most adults have what executive function skills they have through accidents of neurology and development, not through any unusually effortful process of skill acquisition. Others of us need to learn these skills by conscious strategizing and muscle-building. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, especially since shame can make skill growth harder. (Shame makes skill growth harder in two ways: first, it’s an inhibitory emotion and so makes all action harder; second, it makes it harder to take a good look at your present skills and functioning methods, since shame makes it painful to look at them, and you need the information you can get by looking at them.) The important thing is to take a good look at your present state, accept it without judgment, and begin building the skills you want.

Another thing that helps me in stressful situations is to use cheap hacks to make the situation less stressful. As you note, sleep (or having one’s mind partially turn off) can be an avoidance response; the more painful or ugh-fielded a subject is, the easier it is to accidentally shrink away from it. When this is part of the problem, it helps to use whatever hacks you can to make the situation less stressful.

Along these lines, you might try:

  1. Social support or companionship, if possible, to reduce your fear. (If you have a dog, study with your dog under the table, and rub his ears every few minutes. If you have a supportive friend or significant other, see if they’re willing to offer you moral support by checking in every 20 minutes to see how you’re doing, rubbing your shoulders, etc. You may be able to offer the friend moral support on their own ugh-fielded project at the same time, by working in the same room they’re working in and taking joint breaks).

  2. A pleasant work context in other respects (e.g., a fuzzy or comforting blanket, if it’s cold where you are; something nice to sip, if you like hot beverages; a nice view out the window; a specific pleasant activity to look forward to after you finish your study session).

  3. Listing the causes of your discomfort, in writing. For me, this hack is the miracle, although I’m not sure if I can describe it well enough to work well for others. The idea is to list out the causes of my uncomfortable feelings, in as concrete and detailed a manner as possible, but without judgment. (Just describe it like you’d describe the causes of someone else’s uncomfortable feelings.) Then, I take a good look at the consequences I’m afraid of, the traits I’m ashamed of, etc., but still from the outside, without judging myself or adding to the negative emotions. And then... the ugh field goes away; it’s as though the uncomfortable feelings got integrated out into the rest of my brain, so that, since the feelings are already propagated, looking at the task no longer induces uncomfortable updates.

Some cheap hacks that help me stay awake and focused:

  1. Talking aloud to myself. (Examples: reading the textbook aloud; speaking aloud to myself as I try to make sense of a difficult bit of text; talking aloud to myself about what I’m trying to accomplish and what the next step in my studying should be; talking aloud to myself about how to set up a given math problem, how it is that I seem to be proving something impossible, etc.). Some people literally explain their math solutions to a teddy bear because they find this practice helps them find errors.

  2. Standing up from my work and doing jumping-jacks or the like. Sometimes I set a timer that beeps every 20 minutes and tells me to move about physically for a minute or three.

  3. Working with other people. (Whether they know more than I do, comparable to the amount I know, or significantly less; discussing the material with other people helps me learn it, and makes the material more real).

Hacks 1 and 2 may seem silly, but they aren’t; we humans are physical systems, and it can be much easier to engage the whole mind if one also engages the voice, the systems that allow for speaking, the systems that are activated when one hears someone speak, and/or the systems involved in social interaction.

Standing up from my work and doing jumping-jacks or the like. Sometimes I set a timer that beeps every 20 minutes and tells me to move about physically for a minute or three.

Seconded. I do jumping jacks and/or pushups, and it definitely helps. Sometimes if I don't feel like getting up I'll simply slap myself in the face as hard as I can. It hurts, but I'm usually quite alert after that. (May seem a little odd if there are people around, however...)

Provigil/Nuvigil (aka modafinil). It keeps you awake and is generally regarded as safer than Adderall.

If you do not deem it optimal to "kick akrasia" now, and the factors you deem relevant to this decision do not change, you will also not deem it optimal to kick akrasia for the rest of the future.

I don't know if that inference helps, but similar reasoning has helped me prioritize my paperclip-making better.

My therapist implied at one point that sleeping is a relatively common method of avoiding anxiety, so I guess my suggestion would be to force yourself to stay awake even when your body is trying to convince you that the correct response is to sleep, and see if it goes away after some amount of time, like half an hour.

EDIT: after reading PJEby's comment below and thinking about what's worked for me in the past (as opposed to what feels like it should work), this isn't very good advice on its own. Better would be combining being awake with accepting the worst-case scenario or writing in a non-judgemental way about why you're not getting work done

Other than that, the main technique that worked for me the last time I had a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to do it was to make a strict timetable of work (chapters, concepts, whatever) with specific deadlines and send that list of deadlines to someone whose opinion you hold in high esteem, with the agreement that you'll show them your work as you complete it and they'll nudge you if you go too far past a deadline. I didn't end up keeping to my deadlines perfectly but I did stay on task much better than during the previous six months.

Oh and even if you work from home and can hypothetically work up to 12-15 hours a day, be aware that most people can only manage a peak productivity of around 4-6 hours per day, so don't beat yourself up too much for the other 6 hours of eating/napping/running errands that you could hypothetically spend working instead.

sleeping is a relatively common method of avoiding anxiety, so I guess my suggestion would be to force yourself to stay awake

So as to increase the anxiety? That doesn't sound helpful, vs. identifying the nature of the anxiety and alleviating it.

Identfiying and alleviating the anxiety can be ridiculously hard if you don't have experience with mind-hacking. Learning to put up with a certain amount of anxiety until it subsides naturally is a workable short-term solution if you have a lot of work to do and have trouble convincing yourself that it's worth taking the time to stop working and do mind-hacking for mid- to long-term benefit.

Oh and even if you work from home and can hypothetically work up to 12-15 hours a day, be aware that most people can only manage a peak productivity of around 4-6 hours per day

I've mentioned this before, but I'm a fan of the G. H. Hardy threshold as well. The only time I've ever managed to exceed that was in the last days before my own Exam of Doom.

Ditto, there were a few days in the week before my thesis was due when I was achieving around eight hours of solid productive work, but the difference certainly wasn't due to lack of trying in the previous weeks!

It is winter time in the Northern Hemisphere. A lot of people get more sleepy in the winter, even if it is not to the extent that it becomes a diagnosable problem. Does the sleep issue seem like a new thing? If you've only been luminous about sleep issues recently or are farther North for winter than you have been in the past you may just be noticing a regular pattern that occurs to you during winter. In that case you may want to look into various changes to lighting. The light therapy used for seasonal affective disorder seems to work for this even when one is not depressed but just sleepy.

  1. I fall asleep during the day. I've tried getting more hours of sleep at night and it doesn't solve the problem. When I'm bored or confused, my body says "Naptime!" It can be quite embarrassing.

There are two primary things that determine your alertness (or drowsiness) during day-time: sleep debt and circadian phase. The more sleep debt you have, the more tired you feel during the day. If you have significant amounts of sleep debt it might take weeks to decrease the sleep debt to normal levels.

Then you have circadian alerting, which makes everyone with normal sleep schedule more tired in the afternoon. The desire for afternoon naps is based on our biology. That said, the (afternoon) drowsiness is much exaggerated by the amount of sleep debt you have. With unusually large sleep debt, you might find it almost impossible to stay awake at some point in the afternoon.

Circadian alerting starts to kick in again in the evening. In fact, most people are at their peak alertness only couple of hours before their bedtime.

See this graph for explanation of circadian phases: http://www.ride4ever.org/images/normalsleep.gif (the full article: http://www.ride4ever.org/news/fatigue.php).

Sleep debt seems to be strictly cumulative (ie. all the sleep debt you accumulate have to be paid back), but it takes considerable amount of time to pay it back, because you can't pay the debt back in one go. Something like 9-10 hours a night seems like the most efficient amount. Depending on the accumulated amount of debt, the daily sleep need should start to stabilize after some days or weeks. Eventually you should sleep exactly the amount of sleep debt that you acquire during in between waking and sleeping.

Unfortunately, decreasing the sleep debt to exactly zero is not optimal for anyone who has to adjust to other people's schedules. This is because our circadian cycle isn't exactly 24 hours. Most often it's something like 24,5 to 25 hours. This means that if you were to maintain zero sleep debt (other than the debt you accumulate during the next day before you sleep again), your sleep time will start to shift 0,5 to 1 hour per day. If this sort of shift doesn't cause practical problems, I'd suggest to try it out. You go to sleep whenever you feel tired, and wake when you don't feel tired anymore. (See this article for more information: http://www.supermemo.com/articles/sleep.htm)

Summa summarum: if you feel genuinely tired during the day, it means you have too much sleep debt and the only way to increase alertness is to sleep more. (Unless you have a specific sleep disorder, which needs to be fixed first.)

One thing I always forget to mention: when you start sleeping more, you will probably notice that you feel drowsier during daytime for a while. If you consistently sleep more, the drowsiness will wear off. But this is why many people complain about "sleeping too much" or not becoming alert after sleeping exceptionally long. It's your brain's way of saying you should sleep more.

I haven't seen any good explanations for this effect, but I think it's simply to get yourself more "hungry" of sleep when you do have time for it.

and I'm capable of just staring into space and daydreaming

This could also be excessive daytime sleepiness.

I fall asleep during the day. I've tried getting more hours of sleep at night and it doesn't solve the problem.

Is your sleep cycle consistent? Do you feel more alert later in the day/night? If so, you may have delayed sleep phase syndrome.

I don't have enough measures of how well I'm doing as a student. I get confused by some abstract concepts, and sometimes I don't even notice that I'm confused.

This could also be a sleep issue. What's your short-term memory like? Mine gets shot when I'm excessively sleepy, and my brain can't do a lot of things.

As for psychological strategies, sometimes I can motivate myself by thinking about how good I'll feel when a task is done.

Adderall

For many people it improves concentration and alertness, makes your work more interesting makes it easier to "get started" and reduces your need for sleep. A huge number of college students take it, legally or otherwise. For some it has a slightly negative effect but for others it does enormous good. I have been researching Adderall for a book I'm writing on Intelligence Enhancements and I have written a few paragraphs on how Adderall can fight against Akrasis. Full Disclosure: I'm a social scientist with no medical training.

Yeah. My view is that the rational amount of adderall for most people to take is nonzero.

Pseudoephedrine does well too. Note that this is a "burn now for payment later" option, but you could sustain taking regular quantities of the stuff until May just fine. May or may not work as speed-lite depending on personal physiology.

Are you overweight, and do you snore? If both are true along with daytime sleepiness, you may want to investigate sleep apnea. I'm much much less sleepy since I got on CPAP. As a bonus, a sleep study will also catch restless legs and other causes of non-restful sleep.

[-][anonymous]11y 0

Not overweight, don't snore.

Neither am and nor do I yet my CPAP device has given me energy that I had no idea I was missing. A sleep study is worth the investment!

Mind you I am nowhere near as good at holding my breath as I once was. Practicing not breathing for two minutes at a time while sleeping was handy. One breath per 16 steps felt like a natural running flow. One per 30 for a challenge.

I second wedrifid. I am not overweight and I don't snore, but after a few years of persistent daytime fatigue, I got a sleep study, and it turned out I do have sleep apnea. May be worth doing a sleep study; if you do have it, then you get a CPAP and possibly a Provigil prescription, which can help a lot, and if it's not apnea, the sleep study could provide you with other useful information about how you're sleeping, and why you're falling asleep during the day.

Use Self Control to block all my entertainment internet sites during "working hours" (I'll leave early mornings and/or late nights free.)

I find that the best indication of being productive is that I don't need any external blocking mechanisms.

On the other hand, when I'm in slumber, no amount of self-restriction makes any difference. It only makes my overall feeling worse.

spend a few minutes everyday thinking positively about the effects of doing well on the test.

[-][anonymous]11y 0

Update, about two weeks in:

  1. The combination of cubicle, no computer, timer, and internet blocker works well so far to keep me off the web. I worked up to 8 hours of concentrated work a day. (I started at 2!)

  2. Once the system falls apart, it all falls apart -- today was a snow day, blizzard, roads closed, so I decided to work from home, and today has been pretty much a failure. I'm observing that I really don't like the way this feels. I'll have to take a hit on my productivity scores and that makes me NOT want to repeat the experience.

  3. Kibotzer is too crowded for everyone who wants to create an account, so that didn't happen.

  4. "Extracurricular" goals -- diet, exercise, and neatness/errands -- have been great, and this improves my quality of life enormously.

  5. Tracking goals is quite motivating and gives me a little "buzz" when I do well.

  6. Optimism is through the roof, at least for now. Today marks one week without serious despair.

Related to "tracking goals", I found that tracking my time helped both target better uses/efficiency as well as keeping me on task. I, too, can relate with the "buzz" of doing what I was supposed to be doing. The tracking effort provided some "self-policing" which assisted in that!

There looks like there is lots of good detailed advise already. One piece of advise that I do not see(could not cmd-f) was to do see a doctor. Check your:

  • Thyroid levels
  • Iron
  • b12

As the doctor what other conditions could produce your symptoms. Your list of 5 problems easily match low thyroid symptoms.

Bottom line there may be medical reasons for why you feel the way you do, especially if you already given it a serious effort and failed. The tests are easy, they are quick, and they could save you months and or years of painful looking for a non-existence lifestyle fix.

[-][anonymous]11y 0

In particular, I don't know what to do about my sleepiness problem. I'm not a very regular caffeine drinker; I've started to drink Lipton tea, but I don't think I've reached the quantity sufficient to keep me awake yet, at 2-3 cups a day.

Your description matches my own set of problems. I've always had trouble sleeping and sticking to sleeping at night, however it wasn't until my early twenties that this became a horrible problem for me,

In case it helps: Remember that you are not the only one with these problems. (Most of them describe me.)