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Weekly Blog #74 - A new year... breath and sleep

Updated: Jan 17, 2022

I feel like I've just written a blog about New Year and quarantine... but it's been 365 days already. There might be some truth to what people say about getting older: your perception of time shortens. I've recently read that this is related to the amount of new experiences you make. The more new experiences, the shorter time goes by. So here's to a year full of new and interesting experiences!


My wife and I arrived back to Shanghai last Friday (31st Dec) and will spend the next 2 weeks in hotel quarantine. It's our second New Years Eve separated from each other in quarantine - but it's also going to be our last stint since we are not planning to leave Shanghai before our final departure this summer.

I am going to use my time here to read and listen to two books. And I want to write about my first impressions so far since these books cover two topics that are essential to all our lives: breathing and sleeping.


The first book I want to introduce you to is called "Why We Sleep - Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams" and it's written by Matthew Walker, MD. Walker is a professor at UC Berkley and director of UC Berkeley's Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab. In his book, he is explaining how we can harness the transformative power of sleep. It's well written, reasonably easy to follow and based on recent scientific and empirical findings.

According to Walker, sleep is one of the most important but least understood aspects of our life, wellness, and longevity. Until very recently, science had no answer to the question of why we sleep, or what good it served, or why we suffer such devastating health consequences when we don't sleep. Compared to the other basic drives in life - eating, drinking, and reproducing - the purpose of sleep remained elusive. Walker answers important questions about sleep: How do caffeine and alcohol affect sleep? What really happens during REM sleep? Why do our sleep patterns change across a lifetime? How do common sleep aids affect us, and can they do long-term damage?

It's fascinating and scary at the same time to realize how little my factual knowledge about sleep really was and how much of an idiot I was claiming that "I don't need much sleep to function well". As a victim of confirmation and hindsight bias, there are of course things that we thought we knew all along. What makes the book all the more valuable is the scientific backing and the density of new insights supporting or debunking "old wisdom".

After the first couple hours of reading I am sure that sleep is something I will focus on more in 2022 since the book already significantly changed my mind on the subject - and I'm sure it will change yours, too.


The second book is called "Breath - The New Science of a Lost Art" by James Nestor. According to the author, there is nothing more essential to our health and well-being than breathing: Take air in, let it out, repeat 25,000 times a day. Yet, as a species, humans have lost the ability to breathe correctly, and not without significant negative consequences.

Nestor is not a scientist, he's a journalist. Therefore, the book lacks some of the punch that Matthew Walker's science-packed title "Why We Sleep" delivers. However, it is a little bit easier to read and digest since it's written in story-format. Nestor is describing how he failed to breath properly and suffer severe health consequences from it. He describes his own journey discovering the secrets of breathing, from ancient Daoist philosophy to secret Soviet facilities, New Jersey choir schools, and the smoggy streets of São Paulo.

Nestor tracks down men and women exploring the hidden science behind ancient breathing practices like Pranayama, Sudarshan Kriya, and Tummo and teams up with pulmonary tinkerers to scientifically test long-held beliefs about how we breathe. Drawing on thousands of years of medical texts and recent cutting-edge studies in pulmonology, psychology, biochemistry, and human physiology, the book turns the conventional wisdom of what we thought we knew about our most basic biological function on its head.

After listening to the audio-book for a few hours, I can understand why this is the #1 bestseller in the category "swimming" on Amazon, a New York Times Best Seller, and a Washington Post notable non-fiction book of 2020. It's not just Nestor's personal story that makes the book interesting, it's also the breathing exercises described in the epilogue of the book which I found helpful to improve unobstructed nose breathing, find into meditation easier than ever and even improve my running performance. There's much more to discover and it's surely worth giving it a try.


The third thing I'm looking forward to trying out in 2022 is intermittent fasting. That doesn't need much of an explanation I suppose. Many of us have heard of SCD (slow-card diet) and Keto as well. After reading "Tools of Titans" by Tim Ferris, I was intrigued by both diets but found many of the approaches described by Ferris' interview partners too complicated.

The two things, however, that seemed easy enough to try, was MCT-Oil and intermittent fasting. I've tried it for a couple of days in Finland and it worked quite well. I felt "lighter" and with a few cups of coffee with MCT-Oil in the morning, I wasn't really hungry until late in the morning. So, here I am again, 16 hours into fasting (+"bulletproof coffee") writing this blog and I'm feeling pretty good.

I have chosen to start by not eating anything after 6pm and fast until 10am (8/16). In a more advanced stage I will try to stop eating at 4pm and start again at noon (4/20). The eating phase will include 3 meals at the start and 2 meals at an advanced stage. No snacking, no refined sugar, a minimum amount of carbohydrates, instead more fatty foods (fish, MCT- and olive-oil, lots of vegetables, nuts, etc.), electrolytes and natural supplementation to prevent any nutritional deficiencies. As stated above, it won't be a perfect ketogenic diet, but there's a strong resemblance to what most would consider Keto.

To be clear, all of the above stated has caught my interest due to the fact that these things have been supported by science and empirical studies. I am not claiming, however, that I have read "all there is" and I am aware of potential downsides. Surely, it's not necessary to say that diets like Keto won't work the same for everybody. But as I've stated at the very beginning: it's all about new experiences - and as long as they provide health benefits or make me feel better about myself, I'm all for it.

Have a wonderful 2022 - full of new and exciting experiences! Stay safe and stay healthy!

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