Posts

A Mental Health Podcast Directory 2021-11-22T20:59:48.917Z
Sleep: effective ways to improve it 2021-11-15T14:42:30.967Z
ben3536's Shortform 2021-11-01T23:43:03.698Z

Comments

Comment by Ben Williamson (ben3536) on Is it no longer hard to get a direct work job? · 2021-11-26T10:28:17.615Z · EA · GW

I can only speak for my experience of applying for and being offered funding for independent research by the EA Infrastructure Fund.
I intend to write a full post about this in the near future but my impression is that this is an option more recent graduates (and other people early in their careers) should consider.

I think EA Funds are more open to applications for small grants to people without a large base of experience than I expected before applying. I don't think my application was particularly exceptional on any level and so I think it's reasonable that many other people could find this a viable avenue for building skills and testing out potentially high-impact ideas.

Comment by Ben Williamson (ben3536) on Sleep: effective ways to improve it · 2021-11-18T12:16:45.137Z · EA · GW

Thank you for the feedback!

There's a few points you make that I feel are important to clarify but I want to first acknowledge that the format and presentation of the research is a work in progress and could definitely be improved. In particular, I can agree that the "5.95/10" numbers aren't particularly useful given the lack of any context/ scale.

To respond quickly to a few specific points:
1) This research was overwhelmingly based on the existing literature. I chose not to include a reference list or in-text citations to maximise the readability of the text but perhaps this was an error.
2) The interventions' strength of effect, which accounts for about 40% of the score, is an average of improvements in sleep efficiency and total sleep time found in the literature I reviewed. In hindsight, I think it could have been better to highlight these findings on their own in the text and may add them in.
3) The focus of this research was to explore interventions that the reader is less likely to have heard of previously. I assumed that ideas like avoiding alcohol and late naps are things that nearly all readers would already know. On that basis, I felt that highlighting them in an article like this is unlikely to produce any change in behaviour, though I can see now the potential usefulness of presenting the size of effect. 
4) I think an article like this recommending low-cost, personal interventions can reasonably have a different approach and level of rigour to one recommending charitable interventions and/or shifting large sums of money. A weighted factor model may not be the best way to frame this research but I think additional considerations like the potential risks and additional benefits of a recommendation are important and necessary to highlight. 

These points make me realise that a more explicit description of the methods used and the literature reviewed would be valuable for future posts, rather than linking to them in out-of-text docs or leaving them out for a marginal improvement to the conciseness of the text.

This is the first post intended in a series and I expect to revise and improve the methods involved with each post and certainly the feedback I get on posts helps to direct that process. As a first attempt, some of the process was not as rigorous as it could or perhaps should be. In part, this is a relatively time-limited project for now (~3 months) so I am sacrificing some potential added depth in each post for the ability to cover more topics.

On a final note, I have immense respect and appreciation for the work of HLI and so really appreciate the feedback from someone who does wellbeing research at a much higher level!

Comment by Ben Williamson (ben3536) on Sleep: effective ways to improve it · 2021-11-17T20:34:28.215Z · EA · GW

Cheers! It's great to know that this work has been useful, or at least interesting, for people.

Comment by Ben Williamson (ben3536) on Sleep: effective ways to improve it · 2021-11-17T20:32:47.026Z · EA · GW

Thank you! I'm definitely interested in potential additional benefits from being outside. I have a rough intention to do a more in-depth analysis of bright light exposure and its full range of wellbeing benefits at some point. I think this, alongside vitamin D, approximates a good amount of the benefit of being outdoors.

Comment by Ben Williamson (ben3536) on Sleep: effective ways to improve it · 2021-11-17T20:31:02.168Z · EA · GW

Both the Slate Star Codex and Gwern articles are great and helped inform the article! (I think both are linked at points in the text)

And yes, 2 hours is the timing used in the Zhdanova study. I couldn't find a clear consensus on any particular timing so I have chosen this without doing significant further research. I completely agree with you that experimenting with the timing of it seems ideal.

Comment by Ben Williamson (ben3536) on Sleep: effective ways to improve it · 2021-11-17T16:23:19.633Z · EA · GW

I think that's a fair point about the title and have changed it in light of that. I'm curious as to what you'd expect the other 50% of effect to come from? (no snarkiness intended)

Comment by Ben Williamson (ben3536) on Sleep: effective ways to improve it · 2021-11-17T10:52:30.729Z · EA · GW

+1 for the Waking Up recommendation. Definitely the best meditation app I've used, with a lot of interesting content around what it means to live well more generally, plus the series with Will MacAskill on EA. I'm planning to do a proper write-up of meditation and mindfulness benefits and options in the near future.

Comment by Ben Williamson (ben3536) on Sleep: effective ways to improve it · 2021-11-16T10:32:58.310Z · EA · GW

Thanks for the suggestions! I think I may come back to this and expand the number of interventions I've reviewed and these are valuable suggestions that could well be worth promoting.

Temperature and daytime sunlight are both somewhat mentioned in the article already but may be worthy of their own specific sections. I'd expect the benefits of daytime sunlight to roughly equal light exposure + Vitamin D. Given that, I think light therapy probably covers the majority of the positive effect but this likely warrants more specific research.

With the larger project I'm working on in mind, there's a balance to be struck between research depth on a certain topic and breadth in the number of topics that I cover over the next few months, so there's definitely more depth that could be added to an article like this to improve it.

Comment by Ben Williamson (ben3536) on Sleep: effective ways to improve it · 2021-11-16T10:23:55.015Z · EA · GW

Thanks for highlighting this! The image really makes apparent the issue in a much more obvious way. It's a shame there aren't SAD lamps designed to offset this, at least from what I've seen (e.g. by producing more than 10k lux to begin with). This issue definitely makes the construction of a whole-room lighting setup a more valuable solution.

Comment by Ben Williamson (ben3536) on Sleep: effective ways to improve it · 2021-11-16T10:20:02.500Z · EA · GW

Thanks for flagging this! I'm going to edit it and clarify as 'shortly' is not a very specific recommendation. I've seen recommendations ranging from 30 minutes to 3 hours, with 1-2 hours being most common, so it's not exactly clear when is most effective. Earlier doses seem to cause some people to wake abnormally early.

I'll change this to 2 hours as that's what was used in the literature cited.

Comment by Ben Williamson (ben3536) on Sleep: effective ways to improve it · 2021-11-15T17:09:59.591Z · EA · GW

Thank you! I think those are some quite reasonable suggestions/ questions.

Short response:

  • I think differences in effectiveness based on current sleep quality are likely outweighed by differences in individual behaviours (e.g. how much caffeine/ magnesium you already consume).

Long response:

  • I'm reasonably confident that the relative value of each of these interventions is likely to be similar for people regardless of their current quality of sleep, just with reduced effect for those currently with better quality sleep.

I expect that differences in value on that basis (poor quality vs average quality) are likely outweighed by differences in value based on personal circumstances as the individual effectiveness of several of these interventions depends based on people's current behaviours. (e.g. current bright light exposure/ night-time window policy/ previous exposure to mindfulness/ quality of mattress).

The only exception to this is likely CBT-I given it's specifically geared to insomnia, though I'd expect improved sleep hygiene and sleep restriction to still offer significant benefits to someone with more average sleep quality.

From the studies that I've looked at, I'd say that the evidence tends to be strongest for the effect of these interventions on insomnia. In general, I found research to be relatively thin for many of these topics which led me to largely combine findings for people with average sleep quality and those suffering with insomnia/ other sleep issues.

There's definitely a risk of that skewing the results, which perhaps I should've discussed in the text, but it felt like a trade-off between that and either splitting the recommendations, perhaps making the article more taxing to read, or giving recommendations based on very little evidence (by discounting some of the studies used for being the wrong group).

Given all that, I'd likely stick with the same recommendations regardless of someone's current sleep quality. I'd encourage anyone to choose what resonates based on their current behaviours and perhaps experiment with multiple interventions.

Comment by Ben Williamson (ben3536) on ben3536's Shortform · 2021-11-02T19:03:17.660Z · EA · GW

Thanks to you both for the pointers!

Comment by Ben Williamson (ben3536) on ben3536's Shortform · 2021-11-02T11:12:32.140Z · EA · GW

Thanks for reaching out! Better looks a very interesting project with a lot of scope for impact. I'll message you to discuss experiences/ collaboration possibilities more.

I'm currently building a long list of interventions and wellbeing areas that seem particularly promising so what exactly I'll evaluate is still somewhat up in the air. The same goes for an evaluation method - I expect I'll use some adaptation of an expected value calculation, possibly combined with a weighted factor model - but I need to do more work on this before settling on a method.

As for the estimates, I agree that hopefully they are pretty conservative and that's definitely intentional. Quality evidence on many of these things can be hard to come by so I think it's best to shoot low. Also worth noting that I don't think wellbeing improvements = productivity improvements so while I've estimated a 2% productivity increase, I'd expect the wellbeing increase to be higher (maybe closer to 5% - and 5% is a lot once you start spreading the information!).

Lighting adjustments are definitely on the long list of promising areas and is a recommendation I have high hopes for.
 

Comment by Ben Williamson (ben3536) on ben3536's Shortform · 2021-11-01T23:43:03.846Z · EA · GW

Effective Self Help - Rough Concept

 

A rough explanation of the pilot project I am leading thanks to funding from the EA Infrastructure Fund.

 

Aim

To find the most effective ways in which people can improve their wellbeing, and to then share this information as simply and practically as possible. 

 

How will this be done?

  1. We will study and compile initial evidence for a wide range of: (1) potentially promising self-help interventions and (2) particularly valuable areas of wellbeing to focus on.
  2. From this long list, we will select the most promising interventions/ areas of wellbeing and undertake extended research into their effectiveness, based on an adapted framework of expected value and cost-effectiveness.
  3. A series of articles will then be published on the EA Forum to share the findings and recommend specific practices/ interventions.
  4. These articles can then be posted elsewhere and form the basis of a website that would in time provide a trusted, comprehensive, and effective guide to improving one’s wellbeing - for both community members and the wider public.

 

How is this valuable?

  1. Effective self-help advice has the potential to be highly cost-effective given the large audience published guidance could reach and the lack of costs involved in the project outside of researcher salary.
  2. Assuming that most people in the EA community are doing highly-impactful work (or will likely do so in future), a small increase in the wellbeing of EA community members should produce a tangible and valuable increase in the quality of highly important work.

 

As a (very rough and likely flawed) back of the envelope calculation of the project’s value:

  • A (mean) average post on the EA Forum receives 250 views (https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/ogkS8MyqtYzx6Zxev/the-ten-most-viewed-posts-of-2020 [in comments])
  • During the pilot of this project, we expect to produce 6-10 articles. Taking the middle there, we can say the pilot project’s total views will be 2000 (8 x 250).
  • If 5% of those viewers make a sustained change based on the article, we have 100 community members who have concretely benefitted.
  • Let’s then say the wellbeing gains from changes made based on the articles produce a knock-on 2% productivity increase.
  • Applied to a year in which two-thirds of the 100 community members worked full-time (which I believe is in line with the last EA Survey’s figures), this produces (67 x 200 = 13,400; 13,400 x 0.02 = 268 hours of added work [6.7 FT week’s of work]).

 

  • These figures don’t account for a range of additional benefits that seem plausible results of improving wellbeing in the community:
    • (e.g.) Reduced sick days; reduced community dropout from poor mental health; higher-quality research and improved networking/ collaboration from happier workplace dynamics.
    • I also expect the total audience to end up significantly larger than just people who read the Forum. I intend to post this information on other sites (e.g. LessWrong), as well as build a dedicated site for it, and then there's also the likelihood of people spreading the ideas through word-of-mouth/ their own blogs, social media, etc.

 

Why self-help?

  1. Other promising interventions already exist or are in development for improving access to and the quality of external mental health support (loosely classified as anything that requires a professional to administer it [e.g. therapy]).
  2. This project is based on the premise that current self-help literature is often anecdotal, lacking in thoroughness when assessing existing literature/ evidence, and narrative-driven rather than aimed at best providing practical guidance.
  3. Self-help advice within the EA community tends to avoid these pitfalls but is often only a partial exploration of a topic (which is entirely reasonable given most articles on the Forum are written for free).

 

Summary

On this basis, a funded research project following EA/ rational norms of collecting and presenting evidence could produce self-help guidance that is significantly more useful than is what is currently available. 

By providing the EA community with better advice, this project aims to produce a meaningful increase in community wellbeing.

Comment by Ben Williamson (ben3536) on Is there anyone working full-time on helping EAs address mental health problems? · 2021-11-01T15:03:46.748Z · EA · GW

I've recently received a grant from EA Funds for a pilot project on exactly this! 

I'll be publishing a series of articles on the Forum over the next several weeks looking at the most effective ways people can improve their wellbeing. 

I'm currently in the weeds of researching a whole range of potential interventions/ suggestions but excited to move forward soon with publishing some initial findings. 

Definitely keen to discuss the project with anyone interested/ with ideas they think could be useful/ possibly wanting to contribute. 

[edit: I've now written up a rough explanation of the project's aims and concept here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1OFXR8Ltuo73lqt6_kjoPBJogkuQ8B-RHzE12GRPfpCU/edit?usp=sharing]

Comment by Ben Williamson (ben3536) on Is there anyone working full-time on helping EAs address mental health problems? · 2021-11-01T14:57:39.476Z · EA · GW

I'm guessing you've probably seen this already if you're interested in burnout for EAs but this is a good article on the topic published a few years ago on the Forum (though I'm sure a new article could add additional value!)