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How Digitally Tracking My Sleep for Four Weeks Helped Me Doze Off for Longer

31/05/2016 13:17 | Updated 31 May 2016

tech-for-good

For as long as I can remember, I've had trouble falling asleep.

As a kid (much to the annoyance of my mum and dad) I would constantly get out of bed just to tell them I couldn't sleep about three times every night.

Unlike my sister or boyfriend who can fall asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillow, it takes me a good half an hour to relax in bed let alone finally drift off.

It also has to be dark, warm and deadly silent.

But sleep is pretty important and recently, after reading a tonne of articles confirming this, I've tried to focus on getting more sleep per night.

So I decided to do something about it, through the wonders of technology.

I used the S+ by Resmed for four continuous weeks and, as it says on the box, it really did "fix my sleep".

resmed

So what is it?

The S+ is called a "non-contact sleep system" that allows you to analyse (and hopefully improve) how much time you spend in the land of nod each night.

It comes in two parts: a white pod which captures your sleep through sensor technology and an app, paired up to the pod, that analyses the data and gives you your "score" each night out of 100.

The pod is the genius part of the puzzle here. It has to be positioned correctly by your bed so it's facing your chest with no obstacles in front. The pod can pick up everything including movement, breathing and the environment of your bedroom.

When connecting the app to the pod and registering, I had to answer a lot of questions about my sleep patterns, what I mainly struggle with (actually falling asleep), the hours I usually get each night (around six) and stress and fitness levels.

So after a 28-day trial, here are a few lessons I learned.

Consciously tracking my sleep was initially stressful, but rewarding.

The first night of sleep tracking was weird and sort of felt like I had some scary sleep giant watching over me telling me to put my phone down right away and close my eyes.

It was also a tad uncomfortable because knowing I was going to be faced with a score in the morning, I felt like I had to immediately go to sleep right away. And obviously that did not make me feel sleepy at all.

This definitely got easier over time and by the end of the four weeks, it became a habit to get into bed, turn the tracker on (through the app) and turn over to fall asleep without even thinking about it.

The positive of having a sleep giant watching over me is that I did go to bed earlier. I stopped procrastinating by tidying and playing on Twitter and Instagram and Pinterest because I wanted a good score in the morning. Which leads me perfectly on to...

I became slightly obsessed with getting a good score.

Every morning when you "finish" that night's tracking, you're given a detailed graph about your sleep and a score, measured against the elements of your sleep, your age and gender. The first night, my score was 57/100. However, seeing as you should be getting 80-100, I definitely could've done with improving it.

The next night, I wanted to get above 60. I went to bed a bit earlier before bed and read half an hour to make myself sleepy. By no means did I fall asleep straight away, but by simply being conscious of getting a better sleep, I did. Night 2: 61.

In fact, over the first couple of weeks my score was gradually improving before it averaged out around 76-78 on a weekday and 80 on a weekend. This was also due to, after being prompted by the app, to drink less caffeine, exercising after work and addressing anxieties that stopped me sleeping (below).

sleep

I tackled the issue of my overthinking brain.

The S+ has a pretty nifty feature called 'Mind Clear', where it allows you to record a voice clip or type a quick text reminder to clear your thoughts to stop your brain whizzing.

Although it seems so simple, actually taking the time to think about what could potentially be on my mind and distract me from relaxing into a deep sleep, really helped. Before I started the tracking each night (and sometimes just before I dozed off and remembered something), I typed in all the things I had to remember the next day. Once it was written, it seemed to clear from my mind.

The next morning it became a habit to check what I had written down to remember for the next day.

I became quite attached to the sound of a shoreline.

While growing up I seemed adamant I wouldn't be able to fall asleep unless it was deadly silent. The S+ proved otherwise.

The app has a "relax to sleep" function where there's a range of soothing sounds chosen to sync up to your own breathing. I chose to have "shore" sounds come on every night once the sleep tracking had started and it's exactly as you imagine: the sound of water coming up to the shore and then fading away.

The sound option also proved to me how clever the tracker was - the sounds automatically turn off every night when you had fallen asleep. I never woke up when the sounds turned off, but the sounds were off every morning when I woke up proving that the tracker really does know when you're asleep.

Having a sleep mentor gave me insight into my sleep patterns.

Before you go to bed each night, you fill in a short survey (literally about five questions) about what you'd done that day - if you'd been stressed, active, how much caffeine you'd had, etc. The "sleep mentor" uses this information when it sends you notifications each day, reflecting on your sleep.

When my score was low, it was usually due to stress and a lack of exercise the day before, as the mentor would point out. I began to see a low score seemed to coincide with not giving myself enough time to relax before bed and drinking too much caffeine in the day.

The notifications weren't annoying, but offered facts about sleep I didn't know (more sleep can reduce hunger hormones!), and also congratulated you when you had a good sleep. Sounds lame, but it genuinely made me feel good.

By the end of the four weeks my sleep score had reached a higher, steady number. For me it became pretty clear that being conscious about the amount I was sleeping really hit home and forced me to do something about it.

It's safe to say the tracker (and those dreamy shore sounds) are here to stay.

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