During my five week vacation I made myself finally sit down and read a book that’s been recommended to me repeatedly: Why We Sleep by Matthew P. Walker.
I will start off by just pasting my Goodreads review:
As a chronically sleep deprived person, this book was terrifying. I learned too late not to read this before bed, since it would just keep me up at night thinking about how I really need to fall asleep, making it more difficult to fall asleep.
Walker presents many really interesting discoveries he and others have made about the nature of sleep (the coolest sounding to me is the sleep spindles, and how they help move memories from our short term memory buffer in the hippocampus to our long term memory stores in the cortex during sleep, freeing up the buffer to store more short term memories - our brains are so cool!!!) The book has inspired me to seriously commit to no fewer than seven hours of sleep per night, and give myself a sleep opportunity of at least eight hours per night.
One thing I did not like about this book is that at times it felt like Walker was talking to a child in the dumbed-down explanations of some of the studies and concepts presented. I am not a sleep expert, but I’m also not an idiot - I would have liked more straightforward information and fewer simplified comparisons to completely unrelated concepts. I know that this was an attempt to make things more digestible, but he really over-chewed and regurgitated this stuff sometimes
Anyway, the book terrified me. Here are the steps I’ve taken so far to improve my sleep and take it more seriously:
I set myself some rules:
- Screens off by 9pm ideally; phone screen off by 9:45pm at the latest. My Kindle Paperwhite is excluded from this completely, reading in bed helps me sleep.
- In bed and reading by 10pm.
- Actually turn everything off and go to sleep by 11pm.
- Get a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night with at least an eight hour sleep opportunity. Meaning I have to be lying in bed with the expectation of sleep for at least eight hours (which realistically means giving myself a buffer of more like 8.5 hours to account for unexpected bathroom trips or trouble falling asleep)
- Stop treating work as being more important than my health. My ratio of personal awake time vs work awake time is flexible, but my sleep time is not. I’ve done my share of overtime and don’t mind staying late to work on interesting problems or fix what needs to be fixed to meet shipping deadlines, but from now on if I stay back late at work I can’t sacrifice my sleep to do it. Eg, if I stay back late it might mean coming in late the next day to make sure I get at least an eight hour sleep opportunity. I know, this seems painfully obvious and is something I should’ve been doing all along. Not only is this a health thing, but also a productivity thing - according to Why We Sleep, studies have shown that our personal productivity starts to go down after 16 hours of wakefulness. And people who go to work on less than seven hours of sleep are shown to be less productive and exhibit worse social skills and problem solving abilities at work the next day. It only takes a single night of sleep for not just your wellbeing but your productivity to suffer! I am surprised more employers are not putting in more effort to improve their employees’ sleep quantity and quality, as this ends up costing companies a lot of money (Walker goes over some figures in the book)
I like gadgets…
My saviour in summer when I can stand to wear it. I don’t like the feel of it on my face but it does do the job when the sun sets and rises at some ungodly hour in the Swedish summer.
Philips Wake-Up Light
The purpose of a wakeup light is to gently wake you up with a sunrise simulation followed by a pleasant audio alert as opposed to going straight up to a jarring alarm sound. It’s meant to bring you out of sleep slowly over about half an hour. I got this in summer, which was not a smart time to get it. I have no blackout curtains and in Sweden during summer the sun rises well before my alarm/wakeup light would, so my “sunrise simulation” ends up starting well after sunlight is pooling into my room. Maybe a smarter investment would have been blackout curtains.
However, now that the sun is rising closer to 5am and my bedroom is still in relative darkness at my alarm time of 7am, I am starting to notice the benefits of the sunrise simulation. This morning I woke up five to ten minutes before soothing bird chirping sounds began playing through my room. I saw warm light pooling behind my eyelids and had no idea it was artificial until I opened my eyes and saw that it was actually quite gloomy outside! I am really looking forward to taking full advantage of this in the pitch black winter of Stockholm, when the sun will make its presence known for a couple of hours a day if that.
I’ve also been using the sunset simulation in the evenings. Usually I turn it on at about 9:30pm. The sun simulation goes up to a nicely muted brightness and over the course of an hour the hue changes to red and fades. At the same time a quiet rain sound plays which also fades with the sunset. I didn’t think I’d use this feature much, but now I’m so used to it being there in the evening that I immediately start to relax and settle down as soon as it comes on.
Wakeup with sun and cat. He jumps on the bed and starts cuddling as soon as the bird sounds come on. pic.twitter.com/raxSFmwJDb— Liza Shulyayeva (@Lazer) August 9, 2018
Sleep as Android
A phone app that tracks your sleep via either the accelerometer or sonar (I’m now trying out sonar). As with other sleep tracking apps it isn’t really clinically proven or guaranteed to be totally accurate, but I am hoping that it at least provides some interesting/useful relative data to compare my own sleep against. It’s definitely not been perfect, but at worst it keeps track of my sleep-wakeup times (ie when I actually press the buttons to start/stop tracking). At best it gives me an idea of my percentage of deep sleep and NREM/REM sleep phases at night.
I have only been serious about my sleep quality since about mid-July, but I am already feeling better. Before this vacation I was exhausted, and until I started getting >=8 hours of sleep I didn’t realize just how exhausted I was, and how being rested feels in comparison. Now I know what I’ve been missing! I’m more alert and energetic during the day, but also more relaxed at the same time. Having said that most of the time I have been on vacation, which no doubt played a part, and now I’ll have to put real effort into maintaining “good sleep hygiene” while shipping Battlefield. This will be an…interesting challenge.