Using Sleep & Mood to Gauge Sleep Requirements & Energy Cycles

Sounds a little redundant, but has been an enormously useful mental heuristic for me. Being able to adjust my mental estimate of how much sleep I currently need based on that just the previous night’s sleep and the current morning’s awakening lets me know how to plan the next night or two of sleep. It’s an important tool in my efforts to remain on-track to goals and staying on top of things.

If it feels right…

It’s rather basic. First, I’ll lay out what I’ve observed in myself; maybe reading this will help you realize you’re generally like me, and therefore can use the model I’ve come up with for yourself.

But be careful of confirmation bias! If it seems like the model fits you, ask yourself, “What evidence would not support the conclusion that the model fits me?” Then try to come up with times that don’t support it. If you don’t come up with too many, the model will probably fit.

If you do come up with a lot of contrary evidence, read the rest of the post. I’ll detail how I came to realize this, and and how you might be able to do it for yourself.

Energy Cycles

I’ve noticed mine come in four distinct phases, that all feel slightly different and separate to me: up, swinging down, down, and swinging up. That cycle repeats fairly constantly, with the only difference being how long each phase lasts.

I tell what phase I’m in by my general base desires and physical actions:

  • Up-cycle: At night, I want to stay up and do things, write more, read more, get work done. I’ll usually want to put off bed, feeling energized and motivated. During the day I’m confident, social, and crank out work, whether that’s writing or homework, etc. When I do sleep, I almost literally bounce out of bed in the morning.
  • Swing-down: I begin to sleep less. At night, my mind begins whirling, worrying and anxious over any and all things I can worry myself to sleep with. At all times, I slip into a negative mindset more easily.
  • Down-cycle: I sleep too much, or have too many, too strong desires to sleep. Sleeping in for hours, napping for 2+ hours during the day. At night, I avoid sleep by staying up, usually emotionally eating dopamine-spiking food (chips, sugary things) or compulsively reading too much fanfiction. Generally these are my “avoidant activities,” things I do to “avoid” facing reality, what I do when procrastinating.
  • Swing-up: On the brighter side, when I swing up, I start sleeping well again (not too long but long enough), exercise more, feel happier, and begin feeling more energetic. Most things stop feeling like a drag, and I’m able to be active for the entire day and tumble into bed at the end, tired and happier.

If you feel like this applies to you, what I can tell you is:

Good life habits like sleeping well, healthy diet, exercise, socializing, being organized, sunlight, and producing things (like writing) tend to help me stay up, swing up faster, and shorten the down cycles.

The converse also applies: if I start eating shit, reading fanfiction all the time, not getting work done, being antisocial, staying up late, letting dishes and papers pile up, then I swing down harder, stay down longer, and it takes a longer time to swing up.

Basically, fundamentals. Eat well, sleep well, socialize, be minimum productive. Avoid stupidity, don’t reach for brilliance, just buckle down on the basics and be unshakeable in them.

My Bed, Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

Second here: sleep. Every morning I mentally check with myself and see how much sleep, qualitatively, I’ve gotten.

This is accomplished by choosing one of four categories in a pattern I’ve seen myself in:

  • Way too little sleep: Last night feels like I blinked. I woke up feeling refreshed and energetic. It feels like the new day is more an extension of yesterday. I’m energetic until the evening, when I crash hard.
  • Too little sleep: Last night feels like I blinked and woke up, or like a nap. I did not dream, and woke up groggy, but that feeling goes away until the afternoon/evening, when it comes back a hundred times stronger. I tend to feel sleepy at work and in class.
  • Too much sleep: I had extremely vivid dreams, and a sense of grogginess that continues to persist throughout the day. I feel lazy and unmotivated.
  • Sweet spot: Vivid dreams that I can recall on waking, that I’ll usually remember for the next hour or so. I’m only groggy for a short time.

Combined, the energy and the sleep gauging help me to realize when things are sliding off the rails, and what I might do about them. Usually the solution(s) involve better sleep and diet, practicing gratefulness (to forcibly turn my thoughts from being bitter and self-pitying to productive and happy), minimizing making commitments for the next day or two, etc.

So there’s that. The remaining question is, how did I come to develop these models?

Emerging Patterns

The nifty little habit of carrying around a notebook and pen. I tend to take a couple minutes every day (usually) to write down whatever comes to mind. This usually involved reflection on my energy and sleep levels and wants.

After a while, the patterns emerged, and time has strengthened how much probability I put into them.

That would be my recommendation for developing models like these for your own use: start writing down (don’t just think it) your sleep/energy levels, and how much of both you currently feel like you’re wanting. Do it for a few weeks consistently, and you’ll start seeing qualitative patterns emerge.

If you really want to get into it, I’d assign numbers to it. Maybe note things like: hours of sleep; an educated guess at your willpower/energy for that day, based on how hard or easy it was to be productive, and slap on it a number from 1-10; also note a number for mood, 1-10. At the end, plot the numbers on a graph, time on the horizontal axis, and all three numbers on the vertical axis.

Common sense and science says that as hours of sleep rise, so should energy and mood (to a certain point). (A tool I used in the past to help track sleep was Sleep As Android, for Android users).

Wrapping Up

This is only anecdotal experience, but I hope that in writing it up, somebody might be inspired to do the same for themselves; it’s improved my life quite a lot.

As always,

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