N=1—The Well-Tested Self-Experiment

notebooksAfter last week’s post, you already know a little bit about self tracking. Now you’re ready to take it to the next level—to add a bit more discipline and set up some structured experiments to see how changes in lifestyle can lead to changes in your body.

For this example, we’re going to try something pretty elemental: we’re going to try to increase our day-to-day energy.

The basics

In testing jargon, our experiment will depend on two things: the variable, which is the thing you’re interested in changing; and the treatment (also known as the habit), which is the thing you do to try to create that change.

Among users of the WellnessFX smartphone app who are looking for increased energy (that’s the variable), some of the most popular new healthy habits are staying hydrated, taking supplements, and going to sleep before 11 PM. (Some brave souls even opt for a daily cold shower—though you might want to start out with something a little less hardcore.)

Once you’ve chosen which treatment/habit you want to test, it’s time to get started

Collecting the data

Not surprisingly, there are lots of tracking apps out there that allow you to input your data over time. If that sounds like overkill, just grab a pen and mini notebook and keep it next to your bed or desk—wherever you’re most likely to record the results.

First you need to establish a baseline. For two weeks, without using any treatments, record your energy level twice a day, in the morning and at night, along a five-step spectrum: Horrible, Bad, OK, Good, or Excellent.

Now that you’ve got your baseline, collect another two weeks’ worth of energy levels, this time performing your new habit as consistently as you can. If you’re adding a supplement, try to take your dose at the same time every day. For a new exercise regimen, make sure to capture the duration of your workout. If you miss a day and you discover it later when recording a subsequent day’s energy level, try to remember why. Did it slip your mind? Or were you just feeling too frustrated to log? Thinking back on your state of mind can help you round out your data set.

Processing the data

If you make Horrible = 1, and Excellent = 5 on a 5-point scale, it’s easy to plot (date on the x-axis and energy on the y-axis), giving you a clear picture of your daily and nightly energy cycle.


Make sure to note which days you performed your new habit and which days you missed. Compare this second two weeks against baseline. This is called A-B testing, and it can give you some pretty decent insight into cause and effect. Is there noticeable overall improvement? Any patterns you recognize?

But many experienced self-trackers take this a step further by stopping the treatment and repeating another two weeks back at baseline, just to see what happens as the effects of the treatment/habit taper off.  After what was ultimately six weeks of tracking, you’ll have a complete snapshot of yourself before, during, and after treatment.

The next level

If you’re still experiencing low energy and want to take a closer look at potential biological causes, examine any recent blood test results. Check your thyroid values, looking closely at T4 and TSH. Anemia is also a common cause of fatigue, which would show up in red blood cell count and ferritin. There are hormonal markers to check as well, like DHEA, testosterone, and IGF-1.

If you find anything out of the ordinary, speak to a healthcare professional and be sure to report the findings from your well-tested theories. The quality of your self-testing is what can make the difference between being thought of as helpful or as a hypochondriac, and can help you get to the root cause of your energy issues much more quickly.

The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.