Problems during the "brain dead" mode/phase

Dear MPU-Community,

I need your help. I have a huge problem witht the “brain dead” mode in the evening. In the following I will explain my siutatuon and would like to hear your suggestions how I coudl use my “brain dead-coma” for something meaningful.

Typical day of me regarding productivity:
05.00 - 12.00 am (wake up & work, productive) (intermittent fasting, just 1 coffee and water) (I do it because its healthy for me and helps me stay concentrated, lose fat and stay in shape:
12.00 - 13.00/14.00 pm (20 to 60 minutes power nap depending on how tired I am and break; NO LUNCH, just fruits and vegetables until dinner)
13.00/14.00 pm - 17.30/20.30 (depending on my power/pace/woprk that day either finishing work at 17.30pm or working until 20.30pm)

After work: Excercise (1h)
After excrsize: lunch (30 - 60 minutes)
Sleep around: 23.00 pm
(Arnold Schwwarzenegger also is in favour of 6 hours sleep: Also I am sleeping longer because I am doing a power nap during the day as stated above.

And the real Problem starts here: After working 12h, excersizing 1h and having dinner after intermittent fasting and no real lunch I feel SO TIRED AND BRAIN DEAD. I want to do more but my braind and body says no. So i end up scrolling dumbly my phpone and social media waste 1-2 hours and afterwards sleep. (Derek Sivers also works 12h a day:

The next day starts, I am fresh I can do the some program as described above very producvitly until dinner and than I am brain dead again. How could I motivate myself to use the brain dead time better or even avoid this situation. I feel like I waste 1-2 hours in the evening. Im also in the conflict of “doing fun tasks like porducing musik etc.” or “doing more work for my business” when it comes to the time after dinner.

I would like to hear from your experiences, especially from those who are following the 5am schedule. When do you have dinner/excersize and what do you do in the evening. Also how do you create the transition/cut between work time and chill time. What do you do in order to chill? Somehow I cannot really chill, I always want to do “sth productive” or sth which brings me further in life. Thank you!

you could try to rest and do something utterly unproductive that makes you happy… :wink:

  1. Why are you starving yourself most of the day? Your brain isn’t going to function better as a result. Thus the “brain dead” feeling.
  2. Why does every waking moment need to be productive – especially the time at the end of the day.

You diagnosed your own causes. Ease up!

I usually rise at 3:30 AM after 5 hours sleep – lifelong habit. But I never work in more than 90 minute chunks, eat three nutritious meals. Take 4 exercise / walking breaks. Do personal study and reading before and after work, and pace myself. I get more “done” this way, and don’t feel stressed. It’s important to listen to one’s body (and age, for that matter) and pace oneself accordingly.


This doesn’t seem to be a healthy schedule. At least not to me.

Most people would be “brain dead” and tired after doing this for more than a few days. You’re heading for disaster.

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In addition to what others have mentioned, you’re also only getting around 6 hours sleep, which is kind of on the short side.

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Based on my personal life experience, I don’t see any inherent problem with the intermittent fasting as long as you’re getting the caloric / nutritional needs taken care of in your single meal.

Believe it or not though, rather than eating one meal per day, you may do better not eating for one day, then eating “normally” for the next day, etc. I’m obviously not a doctor, and you shouldn’t get your health advice from randos on an Internet forum - but Google “autophagy” for info on the sort of thing I’m talking about.

As for the rest of the schedule, if you legitimately get 12 hours of useful productivity in each day, I think that’s more than most people can possibly hope for.

Regarding the “brain dead” time, if you’re a fan of the GTD methodology David Allen would tell you to make a list of the things you can do when you’re “brain dead”, and do those in the evening when you’re wiped out. The canonical examples are “fill stapler”, “water plants”, etc., but if you’re an IT pro you might “do shredding”, “scan incoming mail”, “rotate backup hard drives”, “skim through spam folder”, etc.

You might also consider listening to an audiobook for enjoyment, or even listening to an audiobook that may teach you something about your job. Sometimes I get to the point where my eyes need a break, so I do that. You can keep a notepad to jot down any ideas that pop up while you listen, but your brain processes audio with much, much less effort than it processes written text.

Basically, long story short, you’re probably not going to eliminate “brain dead” time. Your main strategy is likely going to revolve around listing and noting things you can do during that time that you were planning to do anyway. :slight_smile:


Same here, with the difference being that I normally am up at 4:30 or 5. Can’t sleep for longer than 6 hours, usually average 5-5.5 on average. I’ll grab a nap on the weekends, but usually those are 20 minute “cat naps”.

Seriously jealous of people that can put in 8 hours on average.

The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.

  • Bertrand Russell

Firstly, 12 hours of work is a lot if it is intensive. I’d question the need to make the rest of your time “productive”; downtime is an important part of productivity, anyway.

So, I’m choosing to focus on the quality of your downtime. Mindlessly scrolling through InstaTwitter can be a bit demoralising in my experience.

However, doing an enjoyable personal project (my current favourites are Lesson Videos, which is work really, and doing drawings for our new house) are rewarding but tiring. They are not downtime.
I personally have limited myself to no Twitter or Facebook, only MPU forum and limited news. I then spend my remaining downtime playing games or watching TV with my wife.
When she’s not around, I tend to start programming.

My conclusion from trying many things is that a restricted-time diet (eat normally, but within 10 hours of the day only) is enjoyable and healthy, and that trying to do too many “productive” things leads to burn out, which ends in a cycle of tiredness and non-productive social media addiction.


as @anon41602260 said, working 12h is a tad too much.

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Since you asked, here’s what I think you should do.
#1: go to sleep earlier. You’re currently getting 6 hours of sleep, you’ll do better with 8.
#2: have a wind-down time in the evening with no screens for at least an hour before your desired sleep time. I have taken to reading actual physical books in the evening. Wild, I know. I spend about an hour reading and then find that it’s easy to fall asleep.

I’m also an intermittent faster and am so happy about the weight that I have lost easily this year. The fasting has also changed my relationship with food in a really good way.

YMMV and these suggestions have really worked for me.

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Dear Community, thank you very much for your answers so far. I updated my original post with some links on why I do intermittent fasting, only sleep around 6 hours per night and try to work 12 hours per day. (see the links in the original post for further info)

I will take the idea of making a clear cut with “work” and try to do projects or tasks, which are fun for me like producing music & cutting videos or just read a book which I am interested in on my iPad. Listening to audiobooks seems also like a good idea. I never tried audio books, as I always want to highlight sentences etc. in a book, but I may give it a try and try to write ideas down just like you mentioned @webwalrus. Or generally I will do creative things or things which are easy to “consume” while I am still tired. I definetly like the quote regarding “wasted time” @GraemeS, and kind of agree with it up to apoint. Also I agree that downtime is very importang for productivity and choosin the quaity of the downtime seems such a good idea!

Also I will probably listen more to my body, but I still want to challange my body and my brain as I think a bit more is always possible.

Thank you for your suggestions for far, they brought me further in thinking about my problem.

I see the references you added to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Derek Sivers, regarding sleep and working 12 hours per day. I think that “X does this so I should too” may be leading you down the wrong path. We’re all different, and what works for one person may not work for another.

Take sleep for example. The usual recommendation is to get 7-9 hours per night, but the amount of sleep needed can vary quite a bit from person to person. 7-9 hours is recommended because that’s the fat part of the distribution:


Some people can function with less than that. However, if you look at the chart, less than 5% are at 6 hours of sleep or less. Maybe you’re one of the people in that relatively small group. But the fact that you’ve said that you’re “SO TIRED AND BRAIN DEAD” in the evenings and that you’re describing your decision on how long to nap in the middle of the day as “depending on how tired I am” kind of implies that you need more sleep than you’re getting.

Rather than “X does this so I should too”, maybe try to reconceptualize advice from folks like Schwarzenegger and Sivers as “X does this, maybe I should see if it works for me”. Along those lines, why not spend a couple of weeks aiming for 8 hours of sleep per night and see if you feel better?

There’s a great episode of the Focused podcast where @MacSparky and @mikeschmitz talk about this. I’d recommend giving it a listen.

While I’ve focused on sleep here, I’d put working 12 hours a day in the same category. Some people out there can do 12 hours of really focused, high-quality knowledge work in a day, but they’re definitely the exception rather than the rule. I think a lot of people who are working 12 hours a day could do better work, and maybe even get just as much done, working fewer hours.

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On the topic of sleep, my observation has been that most people do not know how to tell how much sleep they need. Most people need more sleep than they get. I can tell you what has worked for me and others, but your mileage may vary.

When I get six hours of sleep, external forces wake me up in the morning. I can function and feel “fine”. When I get about 8 hours of sleep, I wake up by myself and feel “very happy” pretty much all day long. I can also get 3 times more work done when I am fully rested.

Do not focus the number of hours of sleep I get. Focus on the feelings I am describing. The difference between “fine” and “very happy” is enormous. Sleep as long as you need to feel very happy all day long.

For many people, the best way to get more sleep is to go to bed earlier because the body gets used to getting up at a certain time. Even if you are not actually sleeping, just laying down will help you rest.


Resting an hour or two in the evening of is perfectly reasonable, but doing things that make you feel bad is not rest. Is there something you could do that would be pleasant and within your abilities at that time?

I generally watch an hour of tv before bed. We’re currently watching the Inspector Morse series and the second season of Umbrella Academy.

Only your brain is not ‘dead’, during rest and even sleep it is still busy and often at its most productive and creative. The ‘every minute must be productive’ in some unspecified ‘busy work’ sense is a myth and needs to be put away.

I will try to make music 1-2 hours before bed time.