Sleep Experiments

Sleep Experiment Baseline (Let Me Know Which Experiment You Want to See)

Takeaway: small experiments are a great way to learn more about your own sleep. I’m measuring my sleep with a sleep tracker to learn what works and what doesn’t. I have several sleep experiments planned. Check the list of experiments, and let me know which one you would be most interested in reading.

Time to read: 8 minutes, 10 seconds.

To measure is to know.

That’s why I’m going to do interesting experiments tracking my sleep. 

You can follow my N=1 experiments. If you like a specific outcome, why not try it for yourself?

Quick links

My sleeping baseline
List of experiments I want to try
I need your help

Introducing sleep experiments

I’ve always been doing experiments. Many of them relate to:

  • following a specific diet
  • changing my workout routine
  • small social things
  • more meta stuff like affirmations and meditation

Most of them I did on an ad hoc basis.

I read that [person who achieved something supercool] does [habit X] on a daily basis.

So I’d be trying that as well.

It was a process of throwing things at the wall, and seeing what sticks.

Here are a couple of the bigger things that stuck around:

  • Intermittent fasting
  • Short daily meditation
  • Journalling before bed
  • Taking walks
  • Listening to Russian language courses while traveling/commuting

There are many more things. Most of them are so ingrained by now, that it’s tough to recollect them.

Anyways, a major change came when I read the short free ebook “16 things you should do every day”.

He makes a case for tracking your habits in Excel.

I read it 5 years ago and started tracking almost everything. From calories to daily behaviours. At the time I was in university and drinking a lot. So it was difficult to open my laptop at the end of every day and update everything.

But now I know how tracking works.

Want to lose weight? Count calories.

Get your spending under control? Track every penny you spend.

Anyways. Back to topic.

I did an experiment a while ago taking ashwagandha every night before bed.

That got a lot of cool reactions on Reddit.

So I want to do more of those.

Before that, let’s take a look at my baseline of the last 3 weeks of sleep.

Here’s my baseline the last 3 weeks

After starting a sleep program from HackYourGut, I got a Fitbit Charge 3 as Dave’s recommendation.

If you’re serious about improving your health and sleep, getting a tracker is a must.

I understand the worries about EMF, but here are things I do to minimize EMF exposure.

Average sleep duration

In the 22 days I wore my Fitbit in October, I got a total of 171 hours of sleep. That means that on average I got 7 hours and 46 minutes of sleep. Surprises me actually while doing this calculation.

While going further through my Fitbit data I discovered one hidden graph that already does this calculation. There’s a screenshot below.

I’m Dutch. My Fitbit is in Dutch. Luckily for you, Dutch is super close to English.

REM = REM. Licht = light sleep. Diep = deep sleep. Uur = hour. Week = week. Maand = month.

Average REM 

On average I’m getting 1 hour and 46 minutes of REM sleep. Which is about 22%. Fitbit indicates that for guys my age, getting from 15% to 25% is normal. So I’m at the high end.

Still, I’d love for this to be higher, as REM sleep is great for creative insights. Also, my dreams tend to be fun and I get a few nightmares.

Average deep sleep

Average deep sleep last month was 1 hour and 14 minutes. Which is 15.8%. Fitbit says that the average for guys my age is between 12% to 23%. Here it’s the low end. I would love for this to be higher, though it can also be that the reference group sleeps less.

Your body prioritizes deep sleep. So people who sleep less TOTAL hours, will have a higher percentage.

While they may be getting the same amount – or less – deep sleep.

I want this to be higher. At least 1 hour and 30 minutes would be good. I do wake up quite energetic, but more deep sleep would be very welcome.

Time awake

Fitbit doesn’t give the time awake averages. But on the daily stats I notice that I’m awake for around an hour every night. These are several smaller time periods. Still, it would be nice to sleep more. It’s about average for guys my age though, who are awake for 5% to 20% of their nights.

My girlfriend sleeps less than me, but she’s also awake less at night. While I spend more than an hour in small awakenings, she only has 30 minutes average. And much of that is when she’s just gotten into bed. And before she’s waking up.

Some other things I learned about my sleep patterns

Another great thing the Fitbit does is it tracks your resting heart rate. This is a great indicator of how well rested/recovered you are. So it’s an indirect indicator of sleep quality.

Some other things I noticed in the last 3 weeks:

  • On days where I have a lot of physical activity/walking, my deep sleep is better and I wake up less.
  • Alcohol without physical activity, makes my sleep unrestful. It decreases my REM sleep. It also seems to increase my resting heart rate the next day(s). See the screenshot below for a night after a couple of glasses of red wine.
  • Screens at night (even with blocking red light) can make it more difficult to fall asleep
  • Taking theanine in the morning makes my day more chill, and improves sleep quality.
  • The simple fact of tracking my sleep, makes me more likely to pay attention to the little things that make it better.

I want to verify all these findings by doing more intentional experiments.

List of fun things I want to try

Here’s a list of other experiments I want to try. Since I’m already doing many things to optimize my sleep, I cannot do some experiments adding those in.

For example, I’m already sleeping in a pitch black room. So I can’t check how my sleep improves by getting rid of all light sources.

I can do a small experiment by removing my black out curtains though. It might not be the healthiest thing to do, but it will give a good insight of how the negative effect of light on your sleep quality.

Optimize my sleep

Here’s a list of things I’m not currently doing, and would love to see what the effects are on the quality of my sleep:

  • Meditate before bed
  • Wake up and go to bed at the same time
  • Walk 10.000+ steps per day to see the effect on deep sleep
  • Take magnesium before sleeping
  • Take zinc before sleeping
  • Sleeping without an alarm clock
  • Stop all screens 2 hours before bed (no Flux either)
  • Stop eating 4 hours before bed
  • Take theanine at night
  • Effect of taking vitamin D
  • Effect of fish oil
  • Using a winterlamp in the morning to wake up
  • Sleep with relaxing music
  • Taking a 30 minute walk after dinner

Find out how harmful something is

The following experiments are removing something good I’m already doing. Or by adding in something that might be harmful and I’m not doing.

  • Drinking half a liter of beer at dinner
  • Stop using blue light blockers on my screens
  • Playing video games at night
  • Smoke weed before sleep
  • Taking diphenhydramine for sleep
  • Having notifications turned on at night
  • Drinking a coffee at dinner
  • What happens if I go for a week partying till 4AM? (like in college)
  • Sugary snack before bed

Other interesting stuff

And here are some other things that might be interesting. They can have both effects, I suppose. So who knows what the outcome will be?

  • Waking up at 5 AM
  • Sleeping for 6 hours and a 1.5 hour nap in the afternoon
  • Sleeping without a pillow
  • Sleeping on the floor
  • Following a ketogenic diet
  • Following a plant based diet
  • Following a carnivore diet
  • Cold shower before bed
  • Hot shower before bed
  • Allowing my cat to enter the bedroom at night

Let me know in the comments which one you would like to see most! So I can make a planning of the most interesting ones.

How am I going to measure experiments

These will be N=1 experiments.

Science won’t validate them.

On the other hand, I’ve always loved reading experiment write ups of other people online. And if I physically and mentally feel better doing something – or not doing something – then I’ve made my life a little better.

Same way, if I inspire you to try some of these experiments, and it works, your life gets better too.

Use sleep data from my Fitbit

I’ve done the research and at the moment Fitbit seems to be giving the best sleep data from all trackers. Maybe the Oura ring gets close too. But I don’t like to wear a ring.

I’m wearing my Fitbit every night, so the data gets collected on autopilot.

The data that will be the most useful here will be:

  • Total sleep duration
  • Amount of REM sleep
  • Amount of deep sleep
  • Time awake at night
  • Resting heart rate

2 week experiments

Most of the experiments I want to do for 2 weeks. As that’s a solid timeframe to notice benefits.

It will depend on the type of the experiment though. Some that are harmful, or slightly dangerous, I want to do for a week or less.

This will also give me 2 weeks to get back to normal rhythm every month. So the results won’t mix.

Not completely control my entire life

I’ll do my best to keep a good schedule during every experiment. And not schedule travel through time zones while doing one. So the outcome will be as clean as possible.

I want to keep a log, like with the ashwagandha experiment. So if a party or late night social event messes with my sleep, you’ll read about it.

I need your help

I’ve got a ton of experiments that I’d love to try. It’s difficult to pick where to start. So I need your help…

Go through the list of experiments, and tell me which one you want me to try. Or, if you have ideas of yourself, let me know in the comments.