Sleep can be a frustrating thing to figure out. I’ve been trying to figure it out for over two years now, and I’m a little further ahead, but not much.
With any luck, the new tools I’m using will unscramble this enigma wrapped in a riddle.
But we’ll start here with a simple premise: You spend upwards of a third of your life in bed asleep – or trying to be asleep. Don’t you think you might want to know a little bit more about it than you do?
I Didn’t Know I Wanted To Sleep Better At Night
For the last 49 years, I assumed that I slept alright, and that there was no room for improvement. I’ve always been a light sleeper, and any noise or movement would wake me up, but I would always fall back asleep in minutes. I could sleep until noon if I really wanted to, and go to bed at any time – from 10pm to 3am. It never seemed to matter.
Then I had a stroke – and I was otherwise a very healthy guy. I exercised, was a vegetarian, not overweight, non-smoker, light drinker, not much stress … the doctors never did find out what brought it on. Anyways, after that event the sleep changed drastically. For a few months at the beginning, the only way I could get sleep was to take a drug (Lorazepam).
Fast forward two years, and I’ve tapered off the Lorazepam, and only take one every 10 nights or so if I really feel I have to. I also found that an off-the-shelf pill helps as well, except the hangover effect the next day makes me wonder whether it’s worth it in the long run.
But I want to sleep like I used to. I really crave that rest that I still don’t get. So this post is really about some things I’ve done, and that you could do too, to start learning more about your sleep.
Start a Sleep Log
The first step I took, mostly because of an engineering background and my firm belief that this was just a puzzle that needed solving, was a sleep log. I used an online spreadsheet (Google Docs) and put down all of the variables I could think of and tracked them every night.
I admit that my first attempt at this followed all the wrong things – it was mostly:
- How I felt in the morning.
- How I think I slept last night.
- What isochronic tones did I listen to.
- What drugs did I take.
- When did I go to bed.
- When did I fall asleep.
- When did I first wake up.
- When did I finally wake up.
Actually, if you want to look – the actual log is here. It turns out that after measuring this stuff for 134 nights, I could make no conclusion about the data. So I stopped collecting it.
Monitor Your Sleep With Your iPhone
A few months ago, I discovered an iPhone ap that could monitor your sleep – so maybe it would provide some insight that I couldn’t get – like actual sleep/wake cycles versus what I thought I had slept like the previous night.
Turns out, there are several of these available for smartphones, and they’re all sold as “smart alarm clocks”. They use the smartphone’s sensitive internal accelerometer to measure your movement during sleep (they are placed on your mattress at night to measure motion).
They use an algorithm to translate the movement it detects into the phases of sleep that you go through – it’s widely known that during certain phases of sleep you exhibit more motion than others. And the ap running on the smartphone can make those decisions once the mattress has been “calibrated” for your sleep, and it measures movement of the mattress.
They sell this kind of ap primarily as a smart alarm because, once the ap knows what stage of sleep you’re in, it knows during what stages it’s acceptable to wake you up. Being woken during deep sleep is very uncomfortable – we have all been awakened out of a “deep sleep” and felt lousy for hours afterwards. These aps avoid that.
So the smartphone ap gave me some insight into the sleep I was having, but it was pretty fundamental. I used these aps for a couple of weeks, and although the graphs were interesting, they didn’t really add much to the whole equation. That comes next.
Monitor Your Sleep With A Zeo
There are now a few devices coming to the market that do a much more accurate job of measuring the actual phase of sleep that you’re in. They don’t rely on body movement during the night, but rather on the actual electric impulses that your brain emits during sleep.
The device that I use now is a Zeo Sleep Monitor. It consists of two parts – a headband with some sensors that you wear to bed at night, and a Smartphone ap that acts as the actual data logger for information gathered by the headband. The two communicate wirelessly via Bluetooth, and the Smartphone automatically uploads your sleep data to a user website that Zeo has (free) for further analysis.
There’s some incredible power in the user website. It gives you the ability to take any one of a number of personal variables (caffeine, alcohol, exercise, TV light before bed, basically anything – fixed questions and user defined ones as well), and plot them against several sleep measurements – light sleep, deep sleep, REM, total sleep, number of awakenings, time awake, etc.
In addition to this, they provide a number of blogs – user, support, reference – that you can access for even more insight. A coaching program can be part of this as well. Not a bad deal for the $100 it costs (smartphone ap is a free download, so the headband and recharger caost $100 – they have a more expensive deskside system too).
The only thing I wish it had was the ability to track more than one variable against the sleep measurements. But they do offer a way to download all your sleep data to your computer – so I guess if I wasn’t so lazy I could accomplish this with my own spreadsheet.
Know your sleep – know yourself?
So I’m back to keeping a sleep log, although that seems kind of redundant with the Zeo system tracking most everything as well. I have included (in both the log and the Zeo website) more variables than last time. I’m now including:
- Earplug use.
- Light-box use.
- The actual amount of exercise per day.
- Whether I had a bath that night.
- Whether the TV was off for 45 minutes or more than an hour.
- Whether I did any meditation today. If yes, how much.
- The Zeo score for the night (called ZQ) versus my opinion (out of 10) on how well I slept.
- A revised ZQ based on 7 hours of sleep a night (Zeo assumes your target is 8.5 hours).
- Plus Zeo asks a bunch more questions.
All of this additional data should result in better insight into the sleep-stealers and the sleep-enhancers in my life. I just want to get back to the way it was….