After a disappointing week, I feel like I'm back on track. This week has brought much better results on my journey to be a pro sleeper, and some interesting new findings.
To start with I had a consultation with Dr. Jordan C. Stern of New York's BlueSleep clinic using the data I'd captured with the Beddit over the last couple of weeks. I wanted to dig a bit deeper into the numbers and get a better idea of what it all meant.
I already knew the first thing he was going to call me out on, and I was right: my routine. As I'd mentioned last week, readjusting my body so I sleep earlier has been one of the biggest challenges. It might sound easy, but it's incredibly frustrating when you're lying awake because you can't sleep, knowing that your trackers are counting every minute of it.
"The time in which you go to sleep is not necessarily the issue," said Dr Stern. "Your brain has a circadian rhythm that's stimulated by light and melatonin. But every single cell in the body has a twenty four hour rhythm as well, so one of the most important things to have is a routine."
The report showed my routine has been erratic over the past few weeks, but I'm gradually getting it more consistent - I'll come back to that a bit later. The better news is that my cycles themselves are good, and I seem to be getting the relatively right amount of REM sleep.
"It's especially important to get REM sleep, there's more and more research in that," said Dr Stern. "If you're suppressed of your REM sleep you're not going to create antibodies as fast as someone who's getting REM sleep."
I'd had a concern with snoring, but Dr Stern reassured me I needn't worry. After analyzing my breathing events he said my snoring average of 32 minutes wasn't something to worry about. "I was impressed by the fact you get restful sleep, as that's important," he said. "If I saw a lot of restlessness and a lot of snoring, I'd be highly suspicious you had some sleep apnea". I mentioned last week I was using an air purifier to help with my allergies, and it's definitely working, although I'm still snoring a fair bit regardless. Still, it doesn't seem to be something I need to be immediately worried about.
Dr Stern also assured me that my resting heart rate of 50bpm is good. One thing he mentioned I should do less of is snoozing. Most trackers I've used so far tally any snooze sleep towards your final total, therefore rewarding you for it, but "that's one of the worst things to do," said Stern because of how it screws with your cycles.
Which brought me to another thing I wanted to know about: napping. "Napping is great if you can do it. The ideal nap is maybe between 15 and 30 minutes."
It's important to keep napping to no longer than that to avoid going into REM sleep, he said, and it's also important I don't nap too late in the day. "If you nap say four or five hours before bed time you're suppressing your natural progression towards sleep. He quoted a Harvard study that showed people who napped had less cardiovascular disease, less blood pressure, less strokes, less heart attacks. I'm not a big napper, but I was interested to know how good/bad it can be.
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So overall, it was a helpful conversation that gave me a little more insight into my data. I've also been using some new sleep tech this week: the Withings Aura. I wanted to see if it could actually help me fall asleep and wake up more easily in the morning - not just track how much sleep I'm getting.
When it's time for bed the Aura will emit a red light and play music from either Spotify or a radio station, gradually fading out both. When it's time to wake, it emits a blue light (the colours affect melatonin production differently) and fades in either music or a pre-set alarm sound to gradually wake you from your slumber.
Looking at my tracking data I can see it's having a good effect, with it taking me a bit less time to fall asleep. I guess I'm one of those people who finds it easier to sleep with background noise, but I do find the gently progressive wake-up alarm to be a nice way of easing me back to reality too. The sleep tracker itself is a bit hit and miss, with some days accurately detailing my sleep and wake-up times, and on others getting it wrong. I like that it also tracks the luminosity, noise and temperature each night. As Dr Zeitzer told me, paying attention to how external factors affect sleep is important, and I can see the brightness of my room in the morning - yes, even with the curtains drawn - could be a problem for my rhythms.
So overall an interesting week - I just need to be sure I'm putting all these learnings into action. The more I've delved into sleep tracking the more skeptical I've become of lightweight trackers, but I thought Dr Stern made a good point when he pointed out that they're at least raising the importance of sleep. I think there's a lot of truth there: even basic sleep trackers can be helpful at getting people to understand how important good sleep is, but you need to be prepared to delve deeper and ask what the data really means.