What I Learned Tracking My Sleep For a Week
Maybe we’re grumpy depressed because we're exhausted.
Tracking and monitoring our bodies through apps and gadgets is obviously just another way to incentivize the acceptance of surveillance society; to make the strange new powers that come with our techno-future feel voluntary, normalized, desired. There’s nothing “good” about the Quantified Self Movement, but mostly it’s just so silly. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let me tell you about my first and latest quantified-self app obsession: Sleep Cycle.
Sleep is like really important, or so I hear. It’s the miracle cure for everything – a long life, good skin, your mood, health ... There are basically no reasons why we shouldn’t be sleeping all the time. Most people say they don’t get enough sleep, but most people also have no clue how much sleep they get on average.
Shortly after getting my first smartphone, an iPhone 4S in 2011, I downloaded Sleep Cycle – an app that uses the phone’s accelerometer to track your sleep pattern over time. It also works as a smart alarm – you set the time you want to be up by; the app then tracks when you’re coming out of deep sleep and goes off as close as possible to the time you want to be up by but when you’re not in deep sleep, making you feel like you’re already awake when the alarm goes off, even though you would keep sleeping without it.
I used Sleep Cycle for a few months and it worked fine, but I stopped using it when I started sharing my bed every night. It seemed useless as the statistics would be completely off.
My sleep schedule was a complete mess all winter – I went to bed really late, I never managed to get up in time, I felt horrible for losing my mornings, and worked late and went out drinking almost every day. After seeing this chart of the daily routines of famous people, I decided to download Sleep Cycle again.
I noticed that the app had improved quite a bit. You can now use it to track your own sleep even if you’re sharing the bed with someone else. They have added several features like checking your heart rate (using the camera, pretty weird huh?), and allowing you to track your sleep quality against other factors like whether you drank coffee, worked out, had a stressful day, or ate late. It also syncs with the Health App.
I’m not sure I’m going to keep using it – I don't really like sleeping with my phone in bed – but just using it for a week was really informative.
One thing I learned is that I have a totally unrealistic understanding of my own sleep needs. My main coping mechanism in life is work – both work that actually has to get done and “busy work”, that is, work you’re just doing to feel busy and productive (cleaning your room when you have a deadline, writing lists when you're feeling anxious, doing laundry when you're mad at your partner, reading all of the internet when you're plagued with imposter syndrome). Not inconsequentially, my sense of self-worth is coupled with how early I manage to wake up. I feel worthless and depressed if I set my alarm at 7:00 am but don’t get up until 10:00 am. And no matter how tired I am, I’m annoyingly chirpy if I start my day at 6:45 am.
All winter started my days between nine and ten, which means I’ve been pissy and agitated for months. Not good. Well, here’s where Sleep Cycle comes in.
The two charts above give an overview of the number of hours I slept each night and what time I went to bed. Comparing the two tells me I’m sleeping till nine every day because on average I go to bed at 2:30 am! Going to bed at 1:00 am is “early”, and not infrequently I go to bed between three and four am. Sure, sometimes I sleep till noon, but I still never get more than six or seven hours of sleep. It should be obvious but having the stats for it is actually useful.
Let’s compare my sleep quality between two days. Here are the graphs for my worst and my best nights so far:
Look at that big green smile on my worst night! I managed to get up at 6:30 am after just over four hours of sleep, and sleep quality of a mere forty-seven percent. Instead of being proud of my lack of sleep, looking at the graph helps me realize that I only got up early because I slept poorly. On my best night, I got tons of “deep sleep” and slept more than seven hours, but felt pretty meh waking up because I got up at 10:00 am.
Sleep Cycle’s “sleep quality” number seems a bit woo-woo – it’s calculated based on the number of hours you sleep and how much you move while sleeping. The amount of movement is calibrated based on your first night and improves over time. Take it with a grain of salt, I guess, and see if it’s useful for you. Besides giving you a daily sleep quality estimate, you can also compare sleep quality over time, and average sleep quality per day of the week. Saturday mornings are when I tend to sleep in, so it’s not surprising that my sleep quality is the highest on Fridays.
The app costs 99 cents so even if it’s bunk it’s not very expensive to try.