Get better sleep – Anecdata and sleep tech

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Get better sleep – Anecdata and sleep tech

I recently got 8.5 hours of the best sleep of my adult life–a culmination of a
month of being mindful of my sleep habits. We spend anywhere between a
quarter to half of our lives asleep. Yet, it doesn’t seem many people are
intentional about this aspect of their lives.

I have been interested in sleep tracking since I was in high school, but have
not actively tried to improve my perceived quality. Over the past year I tried
to change that and have felt a noticeable improvement. I posted a story on
Instagram to my extended friends circle, which received more feedback than I
expected. A lot of people were interested in what I was doing to optimize my
sleep, so I thought I’d share.

Sleep Cycle Instagram Story

Software

The cornerstone of getting better sleep is tracking it. As the adage goes, you
can’t manage what you can’t measure
. I’ve been using
Sleep Cycle,
which is
one
of
many
apps that claim to track your sleep. I bought the Sleep Cycle app waaay back
in 2014. Anecdotally, I’ve found their cycle tracking to be somewhat
accurate and their ability to wake me in “non-deep” sleep pretty spot on. The
concept of
sleep cycles is borne out in the
science literature (i.e. the difference between
REM sleep
and non-REM sleep). And it seems that at least one
sleep researcher
found that the app did correlate to real sleep cycles. Most of all, I like the
sleep score, regularity, and other statistics that the app lays out bare for you
to draw your own conclusions. I also happen to be an early adopter, so I’ve been
grandfathered into the subscription features.

White Noise

Sleep Quality vs Weather

The second thing I noticed was that the Sleep Cycle app consistently reported
higher sleep scores on rainy nights. The white noise that a fan makes has always
helped me fall asleep–since I was a kid. So, I started using the app’s
built-in “Rain on Car Roof” sleep aid on top of the fan I have running in
my room. I have since been falling asleep much faster.

Weighted Blanket

The third piece of sleep “technology”–likely the secret sauce–has been a
weighted blanket.
The
science
seems to suggest that weighted blankets can help with sleep disorders. I do not
think I have any major issues with sleep, but I’ve found that a weighted blanket
improves my sleep score. I’ve only had mine for ~1 month, but
the initial data shows an upward trending sleep score.

Qualitative Observations

On the even more anecdotal side, I’ve found that a couple of other key factors
help the cause:

  • Being tired before bed (especially from working out that day)
  • Not having eaten food 1.5 hours before bed
  • Waking up at a consistent time
  • Refraining from phone screen-time in bed

I’ve found that bedtime matters less for me personally. Looking into it, it
seems some doctors
have echoed similar ideas.

The hardest habit that I have broken this year was scrolling on social media
before bed. I would say this is the second most important aspect to better
sleep. I’ve found that killing a habit without replacing it / concessions
doesn’t work. Here were mine: I allow myself to instead listen to podcasts at
night, which seems to have filled that gap. I try to pick ones that are on the
shorter side, like 20ish minutes, which also seems to give me a chance to wind
down. Second, I deleted all social media apps on my phone but give myself
unlimited time to browse on a desktop computer. Desktop sites don’t seem to have
as optimized algorithms for endless scrolling. 1 I’ve found that there are
more natural stopping points when you are on a desktop computer.

Waking up

The part of sleep that people sometimes forget to talk about is waking up.
I’ve already talked about using an app to try to wake up in a lighter phase of
sleep. In addition, I’ve found that a waking up routine really helps.

I make sure to have a full water bottle at night–a swig of water in the morning
wakes me right up. I also run through a couple of cards on
Anki
and run through an exercise on
Duolingo. 2 3
Though not critical, I’ve found that doing these mental exercises wakes my mind
up and stops me from drifting back to sleep. It also acts as a two-for-one since
I make sure to keep the habit in both apps going since I do it first thing in
the morning.

The Results

Sleep Cycle Trend Line

This is a snapshot of sleep cycle over the last couple of months. I had taken a
break from tracking my sleep at the start of the pandemic, but got back into it
when I was at Carnegie Mellon in person for grad school. I put into practice
some waking up habits in mid-November, but I really kicked up the focus in late
December with the weighted blankets, social media restrictions, and white noise.
I plan to continue to track the results of these changes this year.

Summary

The long-short of it all, in rough relative order of importance:

  • Track your sleep with a sleep tracking app
  • Get a weighted blanket
  • Refrain from phone use in bed
  • Use a sleep aid (specifically rain sounds)
  • Exercise on days you want to get good sleep (being tired)
  • Implement instant wake up habits (e.g. drinking water)
  • Have a regular wake-up time
  • Eat food 1.5 hours before bed

Thanks to Matt Figdore, Simon Berens, Daniel Alfonsetti, Svapnil Ankolkar, and
Aishwarya Balaji for providing feedback on earlier versions of this post.

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Vanic
WRITTEN BY

Vanic

β€œSimplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.”
― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching