Primal Experiment: Intentional Power Outage

A few months back, I linked to an article about a guy who experienced an unexpected benefit after Hurricane Irene knocked out his power for several days: he started sleeping much, much better. Instead of staying up late on the computer or with the TV blaring and going to bed at the usual 11:30 or midnight, he found himself yawning around 9 PM and getting to bed at 10. It was the best sleep of his life, and even better – the effects persisted even after the power returned. He had effectively entrained his circadian rhythm to the natural cycle of light and dark. This is basic stuff to you guys, but bear with me.

Just last week, a reader named Melissa emailed me with a similar story. She lost power for three and a half days after a Connecticut snowstorm took out power all across the state. Instead of panicking, she rolled with it. Instead of freaking out over the fact that there were sub-freezing temperatures, no heat, and no water (it froze), she made a fun snowball fight out of a snowstorm. She took it as an opportunity to get “unexpectedly extra-Primal.” I like it. I remember those New England winters, and I can’t imagine a better way to deal with them than to accept the challenge and make the best of it.

That gave me an idea – why wait for the grid to fail to have all that fun? Why not willingly experience all that good stuff without the threat of cannibal hordes and Xbox-live starved teens beating down your door?

So, now, here’s what I want you to do. I want you to spend a weekend – two full nights, minimum – living under a self-imposed intentional power outage. Even if you live in a sunny climate and even if you’ve got a generator hooked up for worst-case scenarios, I want you to completely disconnect from electricity. We’re going to find out what it really feels like to turn off and drop out.

That means:

  • No computers, smartphones, or Internet.
  • No e-book readers.
  • No TV or radio.
  • No lightbulbs or flashlights.
  • Thus, you should be:
  • Stocking up on candles.
  • Splitting wood for the fireplace (if you have one and it’s cold enough to warrant it).
  • Grabbing some good books (no Nooks or Kindles, though).
  • Bringing out the board games.

To give you an idea of what to expect, check out exactly how Melissa got more Primal (in her own words) going without power:

  1. No hot water, so I was a little more “natural” smelling than usual!
  2. I mostly lived off of the rest of my salad greens, tuna with olive oil and dried tomatoes. Also a filling little mixture of coconut milk and whey powder. A bit of beef jerky and almonds, too.
  3. With very limited artificial light, my sleep rhythms seem more natural. Sleep around 8:30 or 9 pm (instead of my usual midnight), wake up when it starts to get light.
  4. A mile+ each way trek through the snow to get to a Target I heard was open so I could stock up on tuna and the like. Haul it all home in a bag over my shoulder.
  5. During the day, when it was nice and sunny, spent more time outdoors to take advantage.
  6. Nice leisure time spent with the cat, knitting and reading (what else but The Primal Blueprint!).

All that in a little over three days.

To those I would add a few other things it’ll allow (force) you to do:

Unwind, Completely and Utterly

It’s one thing to tell yourself, “Don’t check your email after 7 PM” and have your laptop staring at you all night, power light winking seductively. You can still hop on and log in. There’s nothing stopping you but your own will. It’s another thing to be physically unable to check your email. When the power is out, you can’t use electricity. You physically cannot access email (until the battery dies, at least), and this makes a huge difference. I’ve promised myself that I wouldn’t go online after dark only to “just sneak one last peek” before bed. Sometimes it’s good to remove temptation entirely so that you have no choice but to unwind. Removing electricity will remove temptation.

Spend Quality Time with Loved Ones

I mean really spend quality time with loved ones. Not sitting on the couch watching TV with the gang. Not Skype-ing each other from separate rooms in the same house. I’m talking look each other in the eye and exchanging words, telling jokes, playing board or card games, telling stories, laughing about old times, as well as engaging in more intimate pastimes characterized by unintelligible vocalizations. Face time, not FaceTime.

Disconnect from Electronic Media

We’ve gone over this one before, but now the rubber hits the road. This one’s for the political junkies who need their fix every hour on the hour, the Primal blogosphere addicts fastidiously checking every blog for new comments, the gamers, the chronic email/Twitter/Facebook checkers. Basically, it’s for everyone. And it will hurt, at first. You might get itchy, cranky, irritable. You’ll probably flip open your powerless laptop and check your dead phone a few times before you realize that THE POWER IS OUT AND YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT SOMEONE ON THE INTERNET IS SAYING ABOUT SOMETHING. That’s okay, though. Take several slow, deep breaths and settle in for the long (2-day) haul. It’s going to be okay. The benefits are many, of course, with the main objective being the lack of blue light messing with your circadian rhythm, but what about the simple fact that you will be forced to be in the moment without the crutch of electronic media? It’s hard, and a lack of electronic stimulation initially manifests as boredom and restlessness, but that will pass. Trust me.

Disconnect from All Media After Dark

Unless you go overboard with the candles, you’ll be hard-pressed to stay up late reading. Candlelight is still dim and still promotes sleep (by allowing melatonin secretion), and I dare you to read longer than an hour by candlelight. You might be able to; I can’t. I get too sleepy too fast. This is a good thing, I think. At the very least, it’s worth trying out for a couple days, if only to explore the inner workings of your own mind left to its own devices. We don’t get that very often, do we? A total lack of external stimulation is hard to come by these days. Whenever I go camping, I always bring a book with visions of hunkering down in the tent after dark, except it never happens. The book stays unopened, and I lie there amidst the awesome stillness of it all with my own thoughts. I bet you’ll have the same experience. Just don’t freak out, because the mind can be a pretty interesting, unnerving place!

Get Outside and Play

You know what I did when I was a kid and there was nothing good on TV and computers filled up entire rooms? I went outside and played. Without electricity to fall back on for entertainment, I bet you’ll get the hankering to go outside and scrounge up some of your own. There’s a ton of fun stuff outside (not to mention sacred stuff, too), much of which I’ve talked about before, but it takes effort. And when you can access millions of songs, movies, TV shows, books, and blogs with the touch of a few keys, effort-based entertainment starts looking like, well, too much effort. No more. Without electricity, all you’ve got is the entire world around you. A world you can taste, smell, grab, and climb. So get out there and do it! I mean, what else is there?

This is your chance to finally try out all the “other stuff” we write about around here. The blue light avoidance, the sleep cycle entrainment, the divestment from the tyranny of the LED, the socializing, the quietude, the time alone with one’s thoughts, the forest bathing – this is the time to actually do this stuff, rather than read about it and think to yourself, “Oh, that sounds interesting.” Now you actually have to do it.

A few tips:

  • Don’t actually turn off power to your entire house. You might need it in an emergency, and I don’t think letting your refrigerated and frozen food spoil in the name of purity is worth it. Just turn off the laptop, the phone, the lights, and disconnect all elective electronics.
  • Make sure your schedule is clear. Finish all your work and let people know that you’re going to be out of commission (and that they’re free to come visit in person!).
  • Go longer if you can. Two days should be the minimum, but go for three or even four if you can manage it.

I love electricity and modern technology, and I appreciate all the luxuries it allows. But it’s also something I take for granted. It’s something I’ve come to expect as a given, an essential aspect of life that I give little thought to, like the presence of oxygen and the influence of gravity on everyday life. I think that’s probably true for most of us reading this post. This experiment, I think, will make that clearer than ever.

Once you’ve successfully completed your intentional power outage weekend, report back with your findings. Did you enjoy it? Was it more restful? Stressful? Was it unbearable? If so, why? Was it a nice surprise? How so? What did you learn? Did you sleep better? Is this something you’ll try to work into your daily life from now on, or was it a nice vacation but not anything you’d care to repeat? Give it an honest shot and let us know how it went!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!