Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The (Circadian) Rhythm's Gonna Get You

This is the home stretch of paper writing for all grad students: write 3 or more papers, each 25-30 pages, in three weeks. It is not impossible, but it is painful, even if you did a lot of the lit review and research throughout the semester. And I'm a quick writer when I finally get to writing. But it will be a lot of focused time in front of the computer, and my normally speedy typing reflexes and mental reflexes slow down the more tired and demoralized I get. So a 24 hour day really isn't enough.

I was contemplating going on a 27 hour Circadian clock to get more done in a day (work for a period of hours, sleep for a short period, work for a period, sleep for a period...), which I have done to get through short term deadlines: grading midterms, writing proposals, etc., but then The Dude told me something my non-scientific mind forgot: light cues matter. Crap. I work from home mostly, but sunlight has a tricky way of filtering in the blinds even though I live on the bottom floor of a shade-sheltered house. Also, while I can go for hours without leaving the house, I do occasionally open the door. So either I really hunker down and turn this house into a bunker, or I abandon the Circadian plan.

I just might anyway, because it's a stupid idea. Look what happened to Scott Moss when he tried to create a 30 hour day in law school:

  • If I happened to be up at hour 23 or 24, I was near collapse -- literally. One day, I was studying at a coffee shop (caffeine!) 5 minutes from home and lost track of time; it turns out I was approaching hour 24. I almost couldn't finish the 5-minute walk home.
  • My social life got complicated because every day my bedtime moved 6 hours later. I took to putting a graph paper chart on my door for my roommates showing when I'd be sleeping each day (I'm not kidding). I'd just started dating someone new, and it wasn't wonderful to have to respond to a dinner suggestion with, "unm, tomorrow I'm scheduled to be asleep 2 pm to 10 pm; can we make it an early lunch, which will be my dinner?"
  • Some days I was nocturnal (e.g., sleeping 8 am to 4 pm), which was creepy and depressing.
  • As I entered weeks 2 and 3, I still was getting a lot done, but I was getting dumber. My ability to focus remained, but I was getting... slow.... It was like I was living Flowers for Algernon. This is confirmed by the fact that my grades on my four finals were in the exact order I took them; the last of the four finals was the easiest but was my worst grade.

Ultimately, I concluded, the 30-hour day would be great for a few days but was close to a disaster, on both a personal and an academic level, when extended into weeks. The human body often can survive pushing its limits for a short time, but not for that long.

So, maybe I'll try to stick to being normal and sleeping 7-8 hours, and working 12-14 hours with meal, exercise, and dare I say it, even a weekend break.

Too bad, it'd be fun and interesting to be a human guinea pig and try to see how I survive on the 27 hour clock. I don't think I'd fare as well as Scott did though.