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The Deep Sleep Experiment – Week 1 | The Lab


Welcome to the first experiment in the You, Me & Anxiety lab!

In this month's entry we'll be swapping lab coats and safety glasses for dressing gowns and eye masks. We're on a non-stop train to Sleepville, all aboard, *SNORE, SNORE*... I'm sorry, that was vomit inducing.

But on a serious note, sleep and deep sleep are both vital for our overall wellbeing.

Good levels of deep sleep prevent the onset of the sleep drive that builds throughout the day, the wonderful human growth hormone is released to repair cells and some evidence suggests that deep sleep may be vital in helping clear the brain for new learning the following day. [1]

Sooooo, it's a pretty big, f**king deal guys.

MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH SLEEP


I've always been a little bit obsessed with sleep, I stress out if I know I'm not going to get a good night's kip and I turn into a agitated gremlin when I'm sleep deprived. Combine this with a lack of food and I am not a great guy to be around.

Because of this I'm always trying to find ways to sleep better. Yet, this year I've been struggling to sleep well. I'm usually in bed for 7-9 hours which should technically be plenty, yet I'm regularly wake up feeling sluggish and exhausted. Back in June I purchased a Fitbit Charge 2* to track my sleep – via my heartrate and movement at night.

Since making this purchase, two things have come to light:

  • My time in bed does not involve 7-9 of sleep, averagely I'm awake for 1 hour each night. So what seems like 7 hours of sleep is actually 6. Seems pretty bloody obvious now but escaped my awareness previously!

  • My deep sleep levels suck.

*It's important to say that I'm aware Fitbits aren't anywhere near 100% accurate in recording our sleep and how you feel is a superior measure. However I feel like more of scientists when I have stats, so just let me have this.

Below is what an average night's sleep looks like for me. The bracketed section is what someone my age should be aiming for:

So I'm doing pretty well in all categories apart from deep sleep. In an ideal world, I would reduce my time awake but my focus is on the ever elusive deep sleep!

HOW THE EXPERIMENT WILL WORK


So, over the next four weeks I'm going to be trying different techniques that supposedly aid deep sleep. These are:

Week 1 – Stop all screen time 90 minutes before bed.

Week 2 – Complete all my exercise before 6pm.

Week 3 – Spend at least 20 minutes outside every morning.

Week 4 – Listen to a selected hypnosis recording in bed.

I will measure how well each technique works through my Fitbit as well as my general fatigue levels in the day.

So without further ado, let's get sleeeeeeepy.

Week 1 – No Screens 90 Minutes before Bed

Monday:

At 9pm I somehow harnessed the power to stop watching the US Office and switched off my phone (yes, like I actually turned it off).

Feeling a little lost on what I was going to do for the next hour and a half, I settled on channelling my inner Bob Ross and got down to some painting (by numbers – don't judge). I put on a political podcast, like the true nerd I am and got painting.

Of course, in order to listen to a podcast I did have to look at an iPad screen for about 30 seconds, don't hate.

It was honestly quite relieving to know that my attention couldn't be pulled away by my phone, I could put my focus entirely into creating an artistic masterpiece without any buzzes or pings stealing my attention.

I went to bed at 10:20pm and read for around half an hour.

Tuesday:

I woke up with my usual grace and clambered out of bed like a newborn giraffe to get my alarm (I place it on the otherside of my room). I did sneak back into bed but didn't sleep thanks to my cat meowing and pawing my face.

My Fitbit recorded my deep sleep as 14%, so not exactly a earth-shattering improvement but 1% up from my average!

That evening I went to a friends but left at 9:30pm in order to keep to my 90 minute no screen goal (#committed). Followed my usual bed time routine of stretch, shower and read.

Deep Sleep Level: 14%

Wednesday:

I had a hard time falling asleep last night which is thankfully a rarity for me. I'm fairly used to listening to an audiobook to help me drift off. Without having that distraction, it seems I have more time to notice any worries racing through my mind.

I was lucky enough to have a host of stress dreams, including trying to resuscitate some bloke and then prevent my car from being stolen so I didn't exactly wake up feeling refreshed and pumped for the day.

Having said that I recorded 14.6% deep sleep, 0.6% increase from yesterday.

Wednesday evening I delved back into creating my artistic masterpiece and didn't even paint outside the lines, so ya know, call me Picasso.

Deep Sleep Level: 14.6%

Thursday:

Again I was besieged with stress dreams which in all honesty resulted in me not sleeping that well. The Fitbit mirrored that and I hit a measly 12% deep sleep.

Now, I'm going to be honest with you guys. I didn't hit my 90 minute no screen time on Thursday evening. I had a big interview lined up for Friday morning and just needed some extra Office/New Girl to soothe my whirring my mind.

I got about 40 minutes without any screens and listened to a 'Sleep Story' whilst drifting off.

Deep Sleep Level: 12%

Friday:

I was up at the ungodly hour of 6:30am so naturally I wasn't going to be feeling all that wonderful. HOWEVER, big news! My deep sleep came in at a whopping 15%!

I'm not sure what that says about screen time when that's the highest number I've had all week and I only took about 40 minutes away from screens the previous night...

Yet, it's important to note I was feeling pretty strung out about the impending interview and I think my brain desperately needed some rest. I also had an appointment with my therapist Thursday evening so I was feeling a lot lighter after talking through any anxieties!

(On a side note, I can't begin to explain how beneficial it is to have someone in your life, ideally professional, whom you can take off your metaphorical 'mask' with and just be yourself).

Friday evening I poured myself a manly bubble bath and read, without any screen distractions.

Deep Sleep Level: 15%

Saturday:

Bloody smashed it again last night and got my second consecutive night of 15% deep sleep. Not only that but I was only awake for 54 minutes, the lowest of the whole week.

Having got the interview over and done with in the morning, I have an inkling my mind was willing to let go a little more during the night.

Saturday evening I went out with some friends before coming home and easily hitting my 90 minute no screen time due to my cat settling on my lap and my phone being on the otherside of the room (can't disturb the cat, them the rules).

Deep Sleep Level: 15%

Sunday:

The final day of no screen time 90 mins before bed is upon us.

Woke up fairly well this morning despite only recording 11% deep sleep, such is life.

Deep Sleep Level: 11%

So, my average deep sleep this week clocked in at 13.6%, a 0.6% increase from my previous average.

I'm fairly confident a large proponent of my deep sleep levels hung in the balance of my stress levels, I recorded my highest percentages after seeing a therapist and the night after my interview.

Also, to see a huge improvement in only a week of any new habit is a little foolish. So, 0.6% increase ain't all that bad!

Next week I'll be tackling my habit of late night working out!

Average Weekly Deep Sleep Level: 13.6%

References:

[1] - https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/sleepless-in-america/201010/the-mysterious-benefits-deep-sleep

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