About two and a half years ago, I walked out into the courtyard of an apartment I was living in and got into our hot-tub.
I turned on the jets, laid back, and let myself float a little.
As I stared up into the sky, I felt my back muscles loosen and a flood of excruciating painfill my body.
Weren’t expecting that, were you?
Neither was I.
This was the pinnacle of a problem that had been getting worse for some time.
Almost every morning, the first thing I would notice upon waking was my stiff and sore upper back.
It was becoming the defining feature of my pre-noon life.
I went to my doctor, who told me that it was probably due to working at a computer (and stress).
He wanted me to go to a physical therapist (who he said was going to have me do certain exercises and stretches).
Looking for a second opinion, I contacted a health guru friend of mine. He thought it might be related to digestion and the foods I was eating (through the endotoxin pathway).
I was a bit skeptical, but I followed his low-effort suggestions. Nothing.
I also reached out to a friend who was a personal trainer (and worked a lot with physical therapists). I did some stretches and played around with a foam roller, but didn’t really get better.
Strangely enough, it was an orthodontist that solved my problem.
You see, I was grinding my teeth a bit at night. My dentist said that my bite was a bit off, and might benefit from (*shudder* “Not again!”) braces.
So I made an appointment to see a highly recommended orthodontist.
When the day came, she sidled up to me, took out a tongue depressor, and looked into my mouth. She asked me if I had any jaw pain or other bodily sensations. I told her about my upper back and all the muscle soreness.
“Hmmmm, I think that you have sleep apnea.”
A few weeks later, I found myself covered in electrodes and wires at the Stanford Sleep Center. They were going to have me stay there overnight so that they could see whether I was, indeed, unable to breathe well during my sleep.
“What does this have to do with behavioral science?”
You see, I’ve come to believe that many of our problems are caused by poor sleep.
When I get a bad night’s sleep, I’m a zombie. I can’t focus. I get irritated fairly easily. My organization goes to #$@!.
Exercise? Don’t make me laugh. Not gonna happen.
That side project I’ve been wanting to do? Dream on.
Bad sleep = a slow-moving brain & body = work & personal life disaster.
So much of our behavior is determined by our energy level, and our energy level is, in large part, a function of how well we can rest and recover at night.
When we’re tired, we’re more likely to take the path of least resistance.
I don’t know if this has ever been studied, but I bet that people who are tired go with the default option much more than those who are well rested.
It takes energy to decide, after all.
This means that one of the best ways to protect yourself from all of the people out there that want to tweak your behavior for their own purposes is to get some good shut-eye.
Before you zone out and christen me a boring Dr. Oz, let me provide you with a happy ending:
These days, my upper back pain is gone and I feel 10x more energetic than I used to. It’s post-apnea Jason that’s writing this newsletter, after all. Fixin’ them Zzzs does a body good.
The downside? I do have a wear a freaky mask at night that shoots air up my nose at a moderately disconcerting velocity. (But the upside is that I kind of look like Bane the badass from The Dark Knight Rises).
If you have trouble sleeping, and feel a bit too groggy in the mornings, I highly suggest that you see a sleep doctor. It might just change your life—and solve a bunch of your habit problems, too.
Biology = Behavior.