Wednesday, June 21, 2017

To Snooze or Not to Snooze

Rise and shine… or else? Stay in bed or get up and out? Decisions, decisions. What should you do?

Most of us do not have the luxury of staying in bed all day. So the neuroscientists framed the issue differently: when your peaceful and reparative slumber is disrupted by your alarm should you hit the snooze button and drift off for another ten minutes of repose? Or, should you hop to it, get out of bed, make your bed—as Adm. McRaven recommends—and go face your day?

Today’s research study asks a slightly different question: how do you make the decision? To snooze or not to snooze… that is the question.

How do you decide whether to get up or to go back to sleep? The point becomes salient when you are pondering an extra ten minutes of sleep, not when you are thinking of chucking it all and staying in bed.

If we assume, for the sake of argument, that the best course is to get up sooner rather than later, how do you decide and what makes you act accordingly. Is it all about willpower… and your ability to use it to override your impulse to get more sleep? Or can you use another, more devious and circuitous mental mechanism, to convince yourself that the extra few minutes of slumber is not such a good idea. No matter how good it feels.

What makes you decide to be more active? What mental process allows you to overcome your tendency to be slothful?

We all value self-control. And we all believe that we should not indulge our tendencies to sin. Allow me to introduce another example, from the world of your unruly appetite: should you or should you not eat that extra éclair? How do you decide when an uneaten éclair is staring you in the face, tempting you toward perdition? Is willpower enough, should you say to yourself: I shalt not eat the éclair? Or, I can’t eat the extra éclair… I’ve already had four. Or is something else going on?

Traditional therapy will tell you that if you cannot control your appetite or get out of bed in a timely manner, you are suffering from a recurrence of an unprocessed and undigested past trauma. Your parents forced you to get up for school every morning and you have been marinating in resentment ever since. When you hit the snooze alarm you are rebelling against patriarchal oppression. Right on!

Therapy will recommend that you delve into your sordid past, the better to uncover the reason why you are doing what you are doing. If the blinding insight is of little or no use when it comes to refraining from one more éclair or getting out of bed, you will, thanks to Freud himself, be engaged in a battle between your impulse and your willpower. You will be left with a struggle between your id and your ego… in which struggle, the Viennese neurologist happily declared, you will inevitably lose.

Now, Berkeley neuroscientist Adrianna Jenkins has another idea. She presumably rejects the value of reconstructing your past and she has little faith in your willpower. If you want to make a better decision, she recommends that you use your imagination to project the future that will occur if you stay in bed and compare it to the future that will occur if you get up.

We should not think retrospectively, should not bury ourselves in the past and should not try to guide ourselves by exercising our willpower. We should think prospectively and do what would be called, in another context, policy analysis.

Consider what might or might not happen if you follow this or that course of action. Jenkins even suggests, cogently, I might add, that if you project yourself into the future, envision yourself engaging in future activities, you will override the impulses that seem to be controlling your present. This means that ignoring the future in favor of the past will leave you prey to impulses that you will have no constructive way to control.

Cari Romm offers a sufficiently anodyne example, regarding the snooze alarm:

Hitting snooze just one more time means ten more minutes of sleep means not having enough time for breakfast before running out the door means spending the morning cranky and hungry.

The study offers therapists an effective way to help their patients. It tells them to get over their taste for archeological digs through the buried past and to stop trying to empower the will, even the will to power. They should teach their patients to project alternative, but realistic, futures, through the use of imagination.


Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: Now, Berkeley neuroscientist Adrianna Jenkins has another idea. She presumably rejects the value of reconstructing your past and she has little faith in your willpower. If you want to make a better decision, she recommends that you use your imagination to project the future that will occur if you stay in bed and compare it to the future that will occur if you get up.

I wonder why it takes neuroscientist to offer such a hypothesis? Certainly it is a rational idea, so we can ask why doesn't it always work? Why don't we always do what's best for us in the long run? And intelligence is certainly part of it. Some people are better able to imagine the future than others.

In economics, this question between current pleasure and long term cost (like the Ant and Grasshopper fable) is called a "temporal discounting":
Or like this paper Does temporal discounting explain unhealthy behavior? A systematic review and reinforcement learning perspective

One answer I recall requires evaluating probabilities. So future costs and benefits are uncertain, while the present costs and benefits are very certain.

And probably costs vs benefits both have to be evaluated separately, and one may motivate more than others. Being late to work after being scolded last week gives a high cost to an extra snooze, while if you have a flex job then the costs become needing to stay later.

It makes sense to me that trauma can explain some "destructive" behavior, choices that give predictable future costs, but you do them anyway. So if "rational thinking" about the future fails, then psychologists might suggest looking inward, not simply at "the past", but the past in terms of "habitual behavior" and the past in terms of "avoiding certain feelings" that arise and stimulate the unwanted short-term behavior. Will-power can override destructive impulses, but not all the time, so it may be a person can develop better "self awareness" of feelings that precede action, and try better ways to cope.

This topic also related one last week asking of psychopaths don't lack empathy, but simply lack the ability to predict the consequences of behavior, which basically suggest we first need to evaluate someone's intelligence before we try to judge their motives.

Ares Olympus said...

Here's a recent article that talks about working with temporal discounting to change decisions.
An Approach to Delaying Gratification: Time Barriers: A behavioral psychologist’s trick for making healthier food decisions

And I saw this recent article as well, so our availability of cheap high taste, high calorie food is a global problem, and will power can help for moderation, but future costs to our health are mostly too abstract to motivate small decisions that provide temporary comfort. As well it says the obvious - exercise isn't enough to offset eating too much. Obesity now kills more people worldwide than car crashes, terror attacks, and Alzheimer's combined

Sam L. said...

I don't use an alarm clock, though my wife does. It goes off; I get up. I can't do another 10 minutes.

James said...

What a fascinating post, I especially..liked........the............snore.

ga6 said...

Got to pay the bills,,get up....