Kindle Voyage

I've been a happy user of my Kindle Paperwhite for a long while now, and have yet to feel the need to upgrade (or switch products) until now. The new Kindle Voyage looks beautiful. The 300 ppi screen alone is enough to get me excited. Plus, it auto-adjusts brightness, has page-turn "buttons" again, and is even thinner and of higher physical quality than the previous models.

I can't afford one yet, and they're only up for preorder now, but I'm looking forward to the day it arrives in the mail.

Maximal Butt-Load

I had the honor of being a featured guest on episode 11 of The Brooks Review Podcast. Since my latest obsessive interest is all things health-and-fitness-related, that was the topic we spent the most time on.

This week my guest is Conor McClure and together we tackle the nerd relationship with health and fitness. We look at standing to work, walking, step counting, and other ‘fitness’ trackers.

If you've kept up with this blog for any amount of time, you may have gleaned some of my thoughts on these subjects already, but, as is the usual case, it's typically easier to communicate them in speech rather than writing. I'm happy Ben gave me the chance to talk with him about living a healthier lifestyle, nerd-style.

Go check it out.

Basic n=1 experiment: magnesium citrate's effect on sleep quality

I'm a huge fan of n=1 experiments; I always like to say, "You are your life's greatest experiment." We shouldn't rely exclusively on peer-reviewed studies to solve our problems. There's great value in experimenting on ourselves in an informed way.

There is a massive wealth of information out there that says the same thing: magnesium helps you sleep. Why? I'm not entirely sure, and I don't think the research community is either. It's vital for GABA receptors (a neurotransmitter that "shuts off" our minds) and is used in 300+ enzymatic processes. Anecdotal evidence almost unanimously proclaims that it helps us relax.

So, yesterday I received a shipment of Now Foods Magnesium Citrate 200mg tablets and was eager to try it.

A few notes:

  • Citrate seems to be the best-absorbed form of magnesium. Magnesium oxide, the cheapest and most popular form, just doesn't cut it. Check your labels.
  • I like the Now Foods brand because I trust their quality and most of their products "containg no sugar, salt, starch, yeast, wheat, gluten, corn, soy, milk, egg or preservatives."
  • I started with 400mg, a good baseline. Too much will send you running to the bathroom, which won't help you sleep.

The results:

Without magnesium supplementation

Without magnesium supplementation

With 400 mg magnesium citrate supplementation ~30 minutes before bed

With 400 mg magnesium citrate supplementation ~30 minutes before bed

A few obvious caveats first: yes, clearly no conclusions can be drawn from two days of data. But the differences are fascinating, and can be correlated with both objective data (via the Sleep Cycle sleep analysis app) and subjective data (I feel great today.) Some notes:

The Sleep Quality metric, as defined by the Sleep Cycle app, is pretty vague and ought to be taken with a grain of salt, but a solid 24% jump is not to be ignored. Both nights were slept in the same room, the same temperature, and the amount of darkness; variables that I failed to control include step count and the time I went to sleep (strangely though, I slept better with fewer steps, and after staying up later). Note the time in bed as well: both nights were slept without an alarm clock, as I'm a believer in waking up when one feels ready to. According to the Sleep Depth chart at the top of the app, the supplemented sleep was much deeper.

My initial conclusion is to continue with magnesium citrate supplementation on a nightly basis, as there seems to be zero downside. (It's important to note that most Americans are deficient in magnesium anyway, so supplementation wouldn't hurt even if sleep quality was unaffected.)

The purpose of this article was also to briefly highlight the importance of n=1 experimentation. This is a great use of the Quantified Self approach: track a metric, toss in a variable, and see the change. Remember, tracking data without any informed approach or end goal is close to useless. Experiment, try things, measure what happens. Some life-changing habits can be formed with this approach.

Visualizing the slow-death that is sitting

The Well blog at The New York Times summarizes a few new sitting-is-death-related studies in an article published today.

One from the British Journal of Sports Medicine concludes that one of the mechanisms of death that sitting uses is the shortening of our cells' telomeres. It's nice to imagine this like a rope, the rope being your DNA: when you sit, someone is taking a knife and slowly whittling away the end of the rope. When you sit less, the rope actually grows. This correlation was directly between sitting and telomere length; exercise amount had no effect.

For most things physiological, I like to imagine them operating in tiny micro-cycles. Many times, this is an easy visualization: every step you take is one micro-cycle of loading in your feet and ankles, and we try to accumulate as many as possible. We can easily view sitting and standing this same way: every second spent sitting is one knife-swipe at your DNA, and every second spent standing sews an extra strand onto that same metaphorical rope. The goal is to make standing a net positive.