If I've learned anything from my sleep study so far, it's that tech is mostly just advisory. That might sound obvious, but I think it's very easy to slip on a tracker and assume you're on your way to being a more efficient sleeper. If you want to make meaningful changes, you have to be more proactive.
Trying to stitch together all of the data I've captured so far has done exactly what I predicted: very little. Not only does information tend to vary a bit between devices, it rarely means much without wider context, but I've distilled a few actionable points: Go to bed earlier; don't stay in bed too long on weekends; try to track my sleep as passively as possible; pay attention to any surrounding stimuli that might affect my patterns. This week I've added a couple of more things to the list, and made some changes to the first point.
After a lot of disruptions last week owing to travel, this week has been relatively calmer save for a couple of nights, and has allowed me to use the Beddit 3 consistently (alongside some other wrist devices). I've also started looking at ways tech can help ease me in and out of sleep - but I'll come back to that in a moment.
So, how am I doing? Not too shabby overall, with some positive results coming from earlier bed times, less nitpicking over numbers - and less caffeine. But here's another thing I've learned: despite all best intentions, life sometimes just gets in the way of a good night's sleep. I knew that two late nights out with friends this week would mean some poor sleep. It was interesting to see the Beddit pick up my elevated heart rate, caused by alcohol, on those two nights, as well as an increase in snoring (also an effect of alcohol in the system). It's a good example of seeing how other factors are disrupting my sleep. It's not just alcohol either, as other stimulants can too cause a spike.
Left/Middle: Late night after drinking alcohol. Right: A better night
Something else I like about the Beddit, as you can see above, is that it provides tips for getting better sleep. As I've mentioned, you can sit and fret over numbers, but more important is understanding the reasons for poor efficiency, as Stanford's Professor Jamie M. Zeitzer pointed out in our first discussion. The Beddit does this to some extent, detecting room humidity, snoring, and heart rate, but a lot of the points you get back are, again, more about what you did than what you should do: "Resting heart rate lower than usual", "Significant variation in sleep duration". The tips it offers each day, however, are much more useful. It may have been coincidence, but one day when I was particularly frustrated with some problems it gave me a tip on dealing with stress. On another it suggested ways to tackle snoring. As I mentioned last week, this is definitely something I do a lot, and Beddit has quickly noticed and offered advice.
The biggest thing it and other trackers have raised is that it often takes me a while to fall asleep. Sometimes I noticed this and sometimes less so; retrograde amnesia, which wipes away some short-term memory as we fall asleep, makes it difficult to know for sure. However from looking at the data across device I can see it takes me longer than is ideal.
The sound of sleep
I've been thinking a lot about how I can fall asleep faster and this week I've experimented with soothing sounds from the Withings app, featuring such classics as 'Campfire' and 'Rain'. I also tried using Napflix, an aggregator of mind-calming videos, but it turned out The History of Tupperware was more tantalizing than I predicted, and I had to switch to something more numbing.
Living in a city with lots of varying noises outside, I found using consistent background sounds helped on a couple of nights, but more important to falling asleep quickly will be about listening to my body and creating a positive association with bed and sleep. "The brain can definitely create associations between the bed and non-sleeping behaviors," Zeitzer told me during a chat this week. "If you have a problem with sleep, this is almost always one of the first things that behavioral sleep medicine would try to change."
"The idea is that in people who have a difficult time initiating sleep, there should be a positive association between getting into bed and going to sleep."
More sleep-boosting tech
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- This smart crib will your your baby to sleepIf that doesn't work, Snoo will try white noise
- 5 sleep trackers battle it outWe get some shut eye with a bunch of sleep monitors to see which is the best
- FitSleep reviewFitSleep needs some work before it can really help you catch those Z's
It doesn't necessarily mean everyone will have this problem - but it can become one. Another thing I plan to put into better practice is to go to bed when my body feels ready, not when I think it's the best time for the optimal amount of sleep. As I said, one of my goals has been to go to bed earlier, but doing this when I don't feel tired can cause the opposite effect. On the other hand, trying to fight sleep can also be detrimental. Sunday night was a great example of where I felt very tired at around 10pm, but holding out another hour meant I wasn't sleepy when I got into bed - and spent at least an hour and a half tossing and turning.
"There are definitely (especially if you are sleep deprived) compensatory changes that occur in the brain in response to motivated wakefulness in the face of tiredness," said Zeitzer when I asked him about this. "Basically, when your brain gets tired but you 'fight' the tiredness (i.e., try to stay awake), it compensates, we think, by overdriving wake-promoting systems. As the effect of overdriving these wake-promoting systems wane, the tiredness comes back and you either go to sleep or get another jolt of wakefulness. This is most obviously seen in younger children, though it still happens in adults, it's just less obvious."
I mentioned before that I wanted to see if waking up during lighter sleep periods would do me any good. It's something we've seen on more and more devices, but in my initial chat with Zeitzer he was skeptical in their overall impact on sleep efficiency. I've only just started using these, and so far my results are mixed. Using both the Beddit's and Misfit's smart alarms, which try to wake you in your lighter phases, I've found I'm often already waking naturally when they go off anyway. But so far they've been good at hitting the point I'm in a lighter sleep phase of the cycle, and I do tend to feel less groggy in those few minutes of waking up, so I think there's some benefit here, even if it makes little difference to how I feel for the rest of the day.
So, lots of things to consider, and some changes to be made. This week I will be using the Withings Aura connected alarm clock, which uses light and sound to gently wake you from sleep. It also tracks your sleep without putting anything on your wrist or under the sheets, and I'm interested to see if it can tell me anything that the Beddit 3 can't. I'm also going to be trying the ResMed S+, which similarly tracks your sleep from a bedside table.
Sleep is exhausting work.