Improving sleep patterns

I’ve noticed recently that my sleep pattern has drifted away from what I’d like, with me falling asleep at 5am and waking up after 10:30 some mornings over the last week. I can attribute some of this to being ill over the weekend, which kept me awake late into the night, but it doesn’t excuse all of my late nights. I can’t blame the infamously late Spanish lifestyle as not even the Spanish are up until 5am during the week. No, this is my fault and I want to fix it. Fortunately, this site is partly about self improvement, so here is what I plan to do about it:

No laptop in the bedroom

To make matters worse is that I have been failing to get out of bed until several hours after waking. It’s been far too easy to wake up, open the laptop, fire up reddit and then never move from my bed until gone midday. Even when I do start working from my bed, it’s never the best work environment.

It’s a double edged sword; having the laptop in bed makes it too easy to be distracted by the internet before I go to sleep. I’ll just read this page I say to myself or I’ll look at Imgur quickly and then 2 hours later I’m still awake.

The other problem with this is that the light from the laptop screen provides an unnatural light source that confuses our brains.

Rule 1: No laptop in the bedroom. No Exceptions.

Alarm to wake up

"Sleeping Sheep" challenge
“Sleeping Sheep” challenge

I haven’t been using an alarm while I’ve been in Madrid and this is clearly the simplest and most obvious trick to waking up at a reasonable time. As I’m travelling light I don’t have the space to carry a dedicated alarm clock, so I’m using my mobile phone to wake me up. The application I’m using is called Sleep As Android, which I’ll discuss properly further down, but one of the features it has beyond basic alarms is the ability to have a challenge for you before it turns off the alarm. You have a choice of solving a maths question, either as a multiple choice or a written answer, a rather adorable “hit the awake sheep” puzzle or scanning a QR or NFC tag or by shaking the phone.  Of the choices, the QR or NFC tag option would probably do the best to make sure you’re awake if you place the code to scan far enough away from your bed. I fear the maths and sheep would be too easy to go back to sleep after.

An alarm to go to sleep

One of the biggest problems is staying awake long after I should have gone to sleep. I’ve configured Sleep As Android to give an alarm when I should be going to bed. The time is based on the time you want to wake up and how much sleep you want, plus a little time to get ready for bed. I’ve set the alarm to go off between 8:00 and 8:30 with seven hours of sleep (I generally require less sleep than the average) so I should get alerted to go to sleep around 12:45. In previous experiments with the software, it’s been fairly easy to just ignore it, so this part will require some dedication to be useful.

Sleep tracking software

I’m a geek, and love to measure things. As I’ve mentioned, I’m using the Sleep As Android app, but there’s also SleepBot for Android and SleepCycle for iOS which do similar things. Basically, they track the vibrations that your movement makes while you sleep. The theory is that your body goes through several sleep cycles throughout the night from light sleeping to deep sleep (and from there into REM sleep, where you do most of your dreaming). Using the vibrations, through your mattress, the app can detect whether you are asleep and which stage of the sleep cycle you are in. The app website has a very through page on the topic if you’d like to read more.  One downside to this method is that if can be heavily confused if you share a bed. If this affects you, and you can afford it, the excellent FitBit One has a wristband you can use while you are asleep, which should reduce the effect of more than one person in the bed.

Armed with the the knowledge of where you are in your sleep cycle, the app can wake you at the best time so that you aren’t overly tired when you wake up. The observant amongst you might have noticed earlier that I said I’d set my alarm for between 8:00 and 8:30 and this is why. Sleep As Android will set off the alarm at some point during that half hour period where I’m not in a deep sleep, allowing me to wake up feeling more refreshed.

device-2012-08-14-154314

One more feature that could come in handy is the ability to record noises during the night, so I should be able to discover how much I snore and if I talk in my sleep.

Other options

I’m making sure that my room is a suitably cool temperature, with no external light if possible (thanks to the amazing external blinds most modern Spanish houses appear to have), have drunk plenty of fluids during the day and emptying my bladder before I go to sleep.  This was one of the useful side effects of my drive to make cleaning my teeth twice a day a habit a few years ago.

People often discuss sun lamps when talking about improving your sleep. Unfortunately, these are usually very bulky, like the Philips HF3485 Wake-Up Light. There are more compact options available, which I might investigate. In the mean time, Sleep As Android appears to have the ability to use the flashlight on the phone to increase the light, but I fear it will not be completely suitable as the light, while very bright, doesn’t increase ambient light as much as dedicated lights.

In Tim Ferriss’s book, The Four Hour Body, he discusses several options, including using supplements to increase the amount of deep sleep you get, so this might be something to investigate in the future, depending on availability outside the US.

Further reading

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