Quantified Sleep - Lucid Smart Pill

How I Quantified Myself to a Restful Sleep

This is about my experience using a quantified self app to enact real change in my life, for just $1.99.

Like many, I consider myself a ‘night owl’, thriving from that extra buzz in my work and social life after the sun goes down. Unfortunately this negatively affects my productivity during the early hours of the day, especially if I’m operating on the standard 9-5 routine like many of us in the modern world do.

As the internet and emails stretched our work hours well outside our circadian rhythms in the late 20th century, researchers started to look at the impact this had on our health, establishing the concept of ‘social jetlag’ and explaining how it works and why it’s becoming a big problem:

Looking closer at the science around it, some believe that there are actually Type A and Type B sleepers. Type B sleepers are those whose natural body clock or ‘master circadian rhythm’ is configured to stay up later and sleep in well past the traditional alarm-clock start of 6am.

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But is this a case of pseudoscience or is there something more to it?

Earlier this year I decided to undertake a little experiment of my own in the name of chronobiology (the science of biological rhythms), it was also my first long term use of quantified self technology. If you’re wondering what on earth ‘quantified self’ is, look no further than Gary Wolf’s famous TED Talks presentation from 2010:

To figure out how I would improve my sleep, I first had to find a tool to measure it. An iPhone app called Sleep Cycle offered an effective way to measure it, and for $1.99 it was cheaper than a sleep doctor and a great first tool for anything looking to use a quantified self technology other than a basic running app.

Sleep Cycle works by placing the phone face down under your bed sheet, using the built-in accelerometer it tracks your ‘sleep cycles’ by tracking movements and reflex activity. The app creators provided the simple explanation found below:

While you sleep, you go through cycles of sleep states. The first state in a sleep cycle is light sleep, followed by deep sleep and a dream state referred to as REM-sleep. A full sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes and is normally repeated several times each night.

My goals for the six month project would be:

  • Determine my ideal bed time
  • Determine my average time in bed
  • Determine my sleep quality
  • Discover what positively affected my sleep
  • Discover what negatively affected my sleep

Between March and September I recorded my sleep quality each night before a work day, which would be Sunday through to Thursday night. The results of the experiment are found below:

My Bed Time

Preaching to the concept of a Type A and Type B sleeper, my bed time results appear to sway towards my self-diagnosis of Type B. Over the six months my average bed time was approximately 11:30pm.

Went to Bed - Quantified Sleep

My Average Time in Bed

Not to be confused with ‘sleep duration’, this chart shows how long I was spending horizontal each night. The total time is measured from placing my phone on my bed in the evening, through to rising from my sleep in the morning.

Time in Bed - Quantified Sleep

The Result: Sleep Quality

The the bellwether of the experiment. Throughout the six months I learned what impacted my sleep quality both positively and negatively, in the end I optimised my routine resulting in a ~10% improvement from March to September.

Sleep Quality - Quantified Sleep

So in summary; my first long-term experiment with quantified-self technology was a success, thanks to a number of changes in diet, activity and routine – but what were they?

Quantified Self Change #1: Phones Away

My first change was to reduce ‘phone time’ in the 30 minutes before I fell asleep, thus reducing the amount of blue light which my eyes were exposed to. Blue light is used widely in pretty much all LED devices, including phones, tablets, laptops, and TVs. Since it is classified as a ‘hot’ light on the spectrum, it appears to be wreaking all sorts of havoc on our eyes, on melatonin, and consequently, on our sleep quality.

Quantified Self Change #2: Protein Powders

As a self-diagnosed Type B sleeper, I also hit the gym after work instead of in the morning. This reflects my heightened energetic state in the evening and allows me to expend more effort, generating better results. However, along with my training I would also drink a protein shake post-workout, usually around 7pm. What I discovered was that consuming high levels of protein late in the day kept me up later, and reduced my quality of sleep. The result? No more protein shakes after 4pm.

Quantified Self Change #3: Magnesium Tablets

This change had a more subtle but long lasting impact on my sleep quality. After reading about the healing qualities of magnesium for muscles, along with evidence suggesting it reduces stress and anxiety, I decided to take a magnesium tablet each night before bed. Over the six months I found my muscle recovery improved after heavy weights training, and various mild forms of anxiety subsided, lifting my mood overall.

Next Steps: Quantify Yourself

I’m a firm believer in the ‘aggregation of marginal gains’; the belief that small, incremental gains each day can have a dramatic compound effect on your life. A 10% increase in sleep quality, along with the new learnings about phone use, protein consumption and magnesium intake, had a profound impact on my daily activities and energy.

Quantifying yourself to find an answer to your problems can be fun and experimental, and with the technology available through smartwatches and phones, it’s simple too.

In case you couldn’t tell, we at Lucid are passionate about body betterment, neuro-enhancement, productivity & focus. To be kept up to date on any other blogs or infographics, add yourself to our community mailing list.
Hendrik Kruizinga

Hendrik is the Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer at Lucid. He avidly pursues great design, experiential products and the a daily dose of betterment.