I was almost entirely unproductive for the first two weeks of Ramadan due to having to fast from 4 AM to 7:30 PM, which, for the non-Muslims reading this, means no food, no water, no caffeine and no supplements between these hours, which where I live means 15.5 hours of fasting.
As a contractor, if I can’t work, I cannot make money, so I urgently needed a way to get my productivity back. Regardless of how much caffeine I had after breaking my fast in the evenings, I felt unmotivated and unable to focus on my programming work.
After much experimentation, I discovered the solution. This solution enabled me to be extremely productive for the last two weeks of Ramadan, making up for all of the lost hours of work in the first two weeks.
Below is the solution I discovered, generalized to a non-Ramadan context so that anyone can use it. This is not a great long-term solution, but if you are desperate to feel productive, it is worth a try until you find something better.
1. Fasting for 5-8 hours after wake up
Do not eat or drink anything, especially no caffeine and no other supplements. This pleasure deprivation causes changes in the brain that make it possible to cause it extreme stimulation afterwards. Water might be OK, though in my case I didn’t have any water, feel free to experiment and comment below.
I rearranged my sleep schedule so that I started waking up somewhere between 12:30 PM and 2:30 PM, going to bed after 4 AM. If you are not doing an Islamic fast, rearranging the sleep schedule is not necessary.
I cannot say exactly how many hours are needed, but starting with a 5 hour fast would be a good idea.
The fast is really uncomfortable, naturally. You are depriving your brain of what it desires, making it feel bad so it can feel good later on.
2. Having a very small carb-heavy meal upon breaking the fast, another small meal 4 hours later
Upon breaking the fast, I would have half a slice of bread (45 calories) with jam and butter, and a cup of strong black tea with honey in it. The whole meal was probably about 200 calories.
Due to my pre-diabetes, I had to have 1000 mg of berberine, 300 mg banaba extract and 600 mg olive leaf extract. I also discovered 230 mg ALA made me far more energetic and prevented my usual post-meal dry eye.
About 4 hours after my first meal, I would have another similar meal, that would help me continue working for 2-3 more hours.
After that you can have your final meal of the day, which if too large would affect your sleep quality and your ability to be productive the next day. These days I’m trying a 600-calorie diet to cure my pre-diabetes, my goal is to love every last pound of unneeded fat that I have (perhaps 7 more pounds to go), so my last meal of the day, having it an hour or so before bed, was quite small, and carb-free.
3. Zinc and copper
I had 12.5 mg of elemental zinc from sulfate and 2.5 mg copper from copper glycinate. Both of these trace elements encourage neuronal excitation, making you feel more motivated. Too much causes excitotoxicity, therefore I do not recommend ever going above the above doses.
Zinc improves energy production and does something to the brain that makes it more receptive to dopamine, or at least it feels like that.
4. 120 mg L-Dopa with green tea
L-Dopa a supplement that increases dopamine in the brain. This is a dangerous supplement to use in the long-term, because it desensitizes your dopamine receptors by overfeeding them with dopamine. The green tea is needed to prevent L-Dopa’s negative side effects. I took half a teaspoon of matcha for this. This might be broscience, but there are a lot of people saying the green tea or green tea extract is necessary.
It is possible that the L-Dopa is not necessary. I took it because I thought it wouldn’t hurt to try it for two weeks until Ramadan ended. Now that Ramadan is over I have stopped taking L-Dopa and I seem to be going through withdrawal, confounded with also stopping tianeptine.
5. My usual stack from before Ramadan
I continued to take smaller doses of my supplements from before Ramadan. That meant 300 mg piracetam, 2 Perika, 1 carotenall on some evenings (not sure if I need this supplement), 25 mg tianeptine sulfate, 2 nettle root extract.
I have stopped taking tianeptine because I ran out of it, and I have felt very down for the past two days because of this, and perhaps also because of stopping L-Dopa. Tianeptine is a real thing and many people have reported it. I still love tianeptine and will probably order some more to use it occasionally. It is really good at making me productive after a night of bad sleep.
6. Protecting the liver
Earlier in the year I had some liver damage from high doses of vitamin A and from spirulina. I have continued to have very mild liver tenderness and sometimes pain after taking supplements. Tianeptine, piracetam and nettle root extract seem to be the biggest culprits.
For the above reasons, I started taking NAC regularly, and more recently stated milk thistle. These days I always take 1000 mg NAC and 1200 mg milk thistle every time I take supplements, and this has made liver pain a rare occurrence.
I would have many cups of coffee from breaking the fast until 4 hours later when I had my second meal. Normally I would stop taking caffeine 8 hours before bed, but on this program 4 hours before bed seemed to be good enough, perhaps due to the fact that I was taking tianeptine, which makes up for the effects of sub-par sleep.
Exercising during the fast seemed to lead to better results afterwards. But I stopped exercising a few days into the program because it wasn’t strictly necessary, and because my low-calorie diet was making me feel really de-energized during the fasting hours.
The goal of this program, as the article title says, is to deprive the brain of stimulation for a number of hours, then to give it a shock of dopamine-increasing substances, including a carb-containing meal with a sweetened drink. The contrast in dopamine between the fasted state and the fed state is sufficient to cause your (well, at least my) motivation skyrocket. In fact a few times I felt too stimulated, unable to focus on a single task because I kept wanting to write down an idea or a few paragraphs for one of the books I’m working on. Olive leaf extract seemed to help with focus.
Another thing that seemed to help with focus was working with all of the lights off (while wearing blue-light filtering glasses to protect the eyes). Working in the dark is an old focus trick I discovered years ago, but doesn’t always work, perhaps dopamine has to be high to begin with.
L-Dopa is used to treat Parkinson’s disease and has serious long-term side-effects. For this reason you must never rely on it. Too much of it causes dangerous recklessness and impulsiveness. If you feel a “buzz” from it, you’ve probably had too much.
Tianeptine has amazing effects, but the fact that it gives me liver pain, and the fact that it causes withdrawal, makes me hesitant about using it in the long-term.
Now that Ramadan is over, I’m working on developing a new program where I can do without most of the supplements I take. I’ve discovered that 2-minute bouts of intense weightlifting (deadlifting a 160 pound weight) bring back my motivation and ability to focus, work and write when nothing else can. What I plan to do is start doing these 2-minute bouts throughout the day and see what happens.