Sleep deprivation & poor brain function

Just curious if anyone else has sleep problems or other issues that particularly interfere with learning; and if so, what are your ways of coping with or minimizing these issues? Or if you like, on the positive side, of really helping your brain out w/ healthy habits?

Some background on me: I am an older adult (59) who spent his career as a writer/editor, no problem with verbal stuff. Always have enjoyed reading about physics, once thought even about minoring in it back in college days; but various things interfered, including poor math skills. Lately I've embarked on self study of high school math, so as to be able to self study the equivalent of high school physics; I hope also to do some independent lab work, especially in the area of electromagnetism as I have a decent quality home electronics workshop.

BUT . . . a big PIA is my problems with sleep, or rather lack of sleep. I have severe sleep deprivation issues due to chronic pain, a few other health issues (e.g. RLS), & most recently an acquired circadian rhythm disorder known as Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder. I'm working with a cognitive behavioral psychologist on slowly getting my sleep cycle more towards normal (remark from last appointment: "Your sleep logs show improvement, but you are still on European time"). However it's a long slog; and in the meantime I have many days where I get up, have my ration of coffee, get out the math books, & press the "Think" key on my brain keyboard . . . and get the equivalent of a blue screen.

Today seems to be another of those non-responder days. I had been hoping to get back to working on a problem in Gelfand's Algebra that some people have given me tips on over on the homework forum, but it seems I will need to wait a few days until my brain can be uploaded to the network again. I can type strings of seemingly sensible words as easily as I pee, given my long history of writing/editing; so posting like this is easy. But my math skills are underdeveloped and need a really fresh, eager brain for me to make any headway.
I deal with RLS by regularly eating good protein. Lo - fat. It works for me. I'm inclined to be a vegetarian but for some reason if I go very long without meat I get RLS, badly. I always cut the fat off or eat relatively fat free meat like roo.

If I get too fat I can't sleep well.

When it's time to sleep I lie down. When it's time to be awake I try to be that.

iow In trying to have a good sleep pattern I have to practice that pattern.

Re Pain and other stuff that keep me awake I really find awareness meditation (Vipassana a la Goenka) the best. Even if I don't actually sleep I rest my body and mind. It really helps.
As a very sleep deprived grad student and then grad student+new daddy I have had to deal with functioning on various levels of restedness. I also have ADD, reactive hypoglycemia (which can cause me to crash for long periods of time) and I was/am older than average for a graduate student. (finishing master's at 40).

Looks like you are working on the actual sleep issues as well as "sleep hygiene" type stuff already. For me it was always about a strict bed time and bed time ritual - in bed by 9:00 with a book. These days I don't have the luxury really.

So that I am always making forward progress, I tried to match my level of activity to whatever my brain can do at the moment. If I've had a really bad night, I won't be doing any good by working on hardcore proofs and heavy thinking. I might be able to go through a book and take some notes, not expecting too much understanding at that moment. Maybe I can practice writing and recalling important definitions. Maybe I can find a problem that is interesting or compelling enough that it doesn't matter how much I've slept. I was always up for some combinatorics even when I was supposed to be doing topology!

If I'm absolutely knackered I don't even pretend I can do anything difficult. So, I like to read books about math history or light pop-math science type stuff.

But ah, those precious hours when sleep is achieved and wakedness follows. Then I would take advantage and go full on working problems, going through proofs, etc.
I even made a list at one point.. On a scale of 1 to 10 of "how well rested" I was or "how well my brain worked" I listed what activities I could do at that level.

-Dave K
Re Pain and other stuff that keep me awake I really find awareness meditation (Vipassana a la Goenka) the best. Even if I don't actually sleep I rest my body and mind. It really helps.
I'd be interested in hearing how exactly you apply this. I've done breath meditation on & off for many years (more off than on, but still); and I know the brief "body scan" as taught by Jon Kabat Zinn & sometimes use it for pain during the day, when I'm able to.

I've never done the Goenka style of Vipassana, though. I've read about it in two books -, Marshall Glickman, and, by Tim Parks. They both describe it as wonderfully helpful, and Parks learned it specifically to help with pain; but they also make it sound like something you have to learn through intensive courses. At this point, along with my sleep disorders I have chronic pain issues (neuropathy plus sciatica) that make it very difficult for me to sit or stand for long periods; so an intensive & perhaps physically difficult course of several weeks duration is not something I could necessarily do without making my various problems worse, I don't think. But I would still be interested in hearing more of your experience w/ it.
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I even made a list at one point.. On a scale of 1 to 10 of "how well rested" I was or "how well my brain worked" I listed what activities I could do at that level.
I'm actually thinking of making a list very much like this, so I can tailor my activities to what I'm capable of at that moment.
I used to think that being tired didn't affect me much at all (maybe when I was younger it didn't.) In college I'd stay out playing poker until 5am, then head to math at 8. I noticed one day at work how bad it can really get though: I was tired at work, working on some graphics stuff. I found myself unable to do the trig, and spent hours trying to do it (simple stuff, like two translations, a scalar, and a rotation.) I woke up the next morning and solved everything in two minutes. When I get that bad, the only thing I can do is sleep.


I'm afraid that this is getting into the area of giving advice that could affect your health, you should continue to seek professional medical advice. Hope you start feeling better.

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