For years, I was frustrated by the quality of my sleep. One day, I would wake up refreshed after just 6 hours of sleep, but another I spent fatigued, even after getting the “recommended” 8 hours of shuteye. Given how important proper sleep is to brainpower, health and overall well-being, I wanted to optimize how I slept through the nights.
As many struggle to get a good night’s sleep, I decided to lay down how I measured, understood and optimized mine. Here’s my guide to sleeping better with technology.
Getting started with improving sleep quality: Step 1, Finding the problem
A mistake people often make when they want to use technology to live better is rushing to buy a wearable device. Devising a way to optimize your life is up to you. A wearable can help you, for sure, but only with the data. It is only you who can change your own lifestyle. I wrote about my system here.
As each health tracker has different features, you must find the one that can solve YOUR problem. So the first step is understanding the problem itself.
I knew my sleep quality was not satisfactory, but to understand more, I started scoring my sleep every day. To learn exactly what I measured, check my free, step by step guide to hacking sleep.
Step 2: Measuring sleep quality
Making a simple graph in an Excel spreadsheet made it clear that I regularly make mistakes before going to bed, as my subjective sleep quality often plummeted. But the change in quality did not depend very much on the actual sleep time or other often cited factors in sleep quality. So the scores helped me realize there are many things to improve, but without precise data about my sleep quality, the best I could hope for was a “trial and error” approach. To dig deeper into what made certain nights refreshing and others frustrating, I needed more data. It was time to look for a wearable device.
I purchased a small device, Withings Pulse. I chose it because it offers detailed sleep data such as how much time it takes to fall asleep; how long light and deep sleep periods are; and that is what I needed. It was also affordable with a cost of about 90 EUR.
One thing I often hear people worry about is wearing a tracker for the rest of their lives, but don’t worry! I only wore the device daily for about a month when I optimized my sleep. Nowadays I just put it on every other month or so – when I feel something’s amiss with my sleep quality.
In a week, I learnt more about my sleep than in decades before. It confirmed it doesn’t matter at all whether I sleep for 7 or 9 hours, as long as I have at least one long deep sleep period. Crucial information that flies in the face of common sense.
After a few months, I realized I could get even more details data so I started testing other devices: Viatom Checkme and O2, Fitbit Surge and Pebble Time. What I learnt is that if the tracker is good (but not perfect), measuring sleep quality still works when the application I use on the smartphone is great.
Sleep as Android is the best app (I’m sorry, iPhone users)! It works with many types of sensors; and is the perfect app to provide detailed measurements as well as wake you up at the best time. Because of this, I sleep with a sensor connected to the app every night, but in return:
- I know my sleep quality,
- I only sleep as much as I actually need,
- and I wake up at the best time every morning!
Step 3: Improving sleep quality based on data
Now that I had found out how high quality sleep looks like for me, it was time to find out how to get more of it. The devices could not help me do this, so it was time for some experimentation.
I started compiling a list of things I should and should not do before going to bed. I tried each and measured its impact. If something like intensive exercise or eating a certain type of food increased my time spent in REM sleep, I noted it down, then tried another. In another week, I learnt I should not exercise after 8 pm or check my phone before falling asleep. These things, among others, definitely ruin my sleep quality.
After some time, I realized the tricks of how I can get a good night sleep. Today, with a simple and affordable device, my sleep quality is not random, but consistently great.
It definitely took me some effort, but far less than not being able to fall asleep or spending a day groggy without energy. So if you have sleep problems, I strongly advise you to try my method!