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How Do You Sleep at Night?

full moon

I’ve remarked before how strange it is that one of the conditions of being human is that we have to collapse into unconsciousness for a long stretch of each day.

This condition non-negotiable. If we try to ignore this basic requirement, we quickly become dull and irritable, and eventually start hallucinating and going mad. Even though we can’t opt-out of the need to sleep, we often shrink it, delay it, shave it down at either end, or complicate it with drugs and artificial light.

Everyone has their own private relationship with sleep. For some people, slipping into unconsciousness is the easiest and most gratifying part of everyday life. For others it’s a confoundingly difficult thing to do—stress keeps you awake too long, and staying awake too long makes you stressed. Some people go to sleep easily but wake up at 3:40am, alert as a hawk, and know that’s all the sleep they’re getting that day. Others espresso their way through the workweek on four or five hours a night, and sleep till 1pm on the weekends.

Our relationship with sleep is central to our lives, yet for many of us it’s a neglected or strained one. Unlike many other kinds of relationships, we can never walk away from it. Our only option is to improve it.

I just read Patricia Marx’s article “In Search of Forty Winks” in which she and several sleep-dysfunctional colleagues auditioned over a dozen increasingly ridiculous commercial sleep aids. They tried a FitBit-like device that’s supposed to mildly electro-shock you into a relaxed state; a set of earplugs meant to mask your partner’s snoring with a waterfall sound; an “ostrich pillow”—a stuffed, balloon-shaped garment which fits over your head like a swollen medieval cowl (with mouth holes of course); and a battery-powered face-vibrator that reduces the appearance of your dark circles when all of these sleep aids inevitably fail. 

8295135689_3c6dfd472b_mNone of these inventions seemed to solve anyone’s sleep problems, but they did a good job of illustrating the desperate measures people will take in order to get a better sleep.

After reading about the experiences of others, I feel like my own relationship to sleep must not be that bad. I have never resorted to anything like an ostrich pillow. Recently I’ve been getting about 6-7 hours a night, which I think is a little less than optimal for me. Fortunately, I don’t usually have trouble falling asleep, and when I do, I can usually trace it to a foolish caffeine-related decision I made that day.

But my sleep quality does vary. Some weeks I have mostly fitful sleeps, waking up frequently, often in the middle of aggressive or stressful dreams, but I can always go back to sleep in a few seconds. Other times my sleep is deep and easy. I do always wake up several times though, and I am having trouble determining how normal that is. I almost never sleep for seven hours straight. (Does anyone? I really have no idea.)

It is remarkably difficult to find any reliable information on what an optimal sleep situation is like. But I know what I’d like my sleeps to be like: deeper, more restful, with fewer interruptions. I want to feel like I was gone for a while. I sometimes have those kinds of sleeps, I believe they are better for me, and I want to see what conditions allow for them.

So I’m going to do a fairly extensive sleep experiment. I know I need a bit more sleep than I’ve been getting, and I’ll aim for seven to seven and a half hours a night, tracking the actual amount every day. But what I’m really interested in are how other factors affect sleep, namely caffeine, darkness, sound, abstinence from electronic screens, and meditating before bed.

The terms

For five weeks, I’ll be tracking my sleep every day. I’ll record when I go to sleep, when I get up, approximately how many times I wake up during the night, and the general quality of the sleep (using a rating from 0 to 5). I’ll also record caffeine and alcohol intake, and any other complicating factors, such as unusual amounts of stress, or loud neighbors. I’ll be aiming for the better side of 7 hours a night.

I’ve got an app I can use to record all of this data. It also tracks how much you move during sleep, which is a useful-enough way of determining how sleep app screenrestless the sleep was, as well as the number and length of your deep-sleep cycles. You can also rate the quality of your sleep subjectively. It can even track instances of snoring and auto-record any talking in your sleep. There’s going to be quite a bit of data.

Later I can enter this data in a spreadsheet and see if there are any obvious relationships. Maybe when I cut caffeine off at 2pm, I sleep longer and wake up less often. Maybe when I go to bed earlier, my sleep is more restful, even if it’s the same duration. I don’t know anything yet but I’m looking forward to finding some patterns. This isn’t going to be super-scientific, but it will be the most analytical of my experiments so far.

Throughout the five weeks, I’ll be adjusting different sleep-relevant variables in my routine.

Here’s the schedule, roughly:

Week 1: (Feb 29 to March 6)

  • A few control days, where I only track everything and don’t change anything.
  • A few days where I make my bedroom as dark as possible.

Week 2:

  • A few days with earplugs
  • A few days with earplugs and maximum darkness

Week 3:

  • A few days with a short meditation session right before bed
  • A few days with no electronic screens at least an hour before sleep

Week 4:

  • A few days with no caffeine after 2pm
  • A few days with no caffeine at all

Week 5:

  • A few days with a longer overall sleeping time (8 hours instead of 7)
  • A few days with some yet-to-be-determined difference

I’ll be reporting in diary form on the experiment log page here, and posting actual data periodically. At the end,I’ll report on what I’ve found with a lot of colorful charts and graphs, and maybe some genuine insight.

As always, if you want to do something similar alongside my experiment, I’d love to hear what you’re discovering. The app I’m using is called Sleep as Android but there are quite a few others out there. Sleep is such a private thing, and we rarely talk about it in detail with others, so I think we could learn a lot from each other.

Have a good sleep.


Moon photo by Joe del tufo. Ostrich pillow photo by Kevin Hale. Screenshot from Sleep as Android.

Ruben February 28, 2016 at 10:56 pm

Have you seen the articles on segmented sleep?



David Cain February 29, 2016 at 8:43 am

I’ve read a bit about it, and…. it just doesn’t appeal to me. I like to be done my sleeping obligations in one go.

Jim February 29, 2016 at 12:18 pm

For those who aren’t familiar with the concept of segmented sleep–some historical research show that before the existence of electric lights, folks used to go to bed earlier, wake up for an hour or two around midnight, ad then go back to sleep for a “second sleep.” I don’t think it’s something to strive for. Instead, its main benefit is that people who wake up for an hour or two in the middle of the night can realize that they may not have a “sleep disorder,” but may just be following a traditional sleep pattern. This may reduce some stress involved with night time waking.
TL;DR waking for an hour at night may not be so bad and may just be how some people are wired.

Julia March 1, 2016 at 10:58 am

I’ve been trying segmented sleep for a couple months, and it’s been really helpful – and not just with sleeping.

I go to bed earlier than I used to, then after about 4 hours I wake up (which I always used to do anyway) and do 1-2 hours reading, then turn off the light and sleep again until morning.

My quality of sleep is better AND I’m catching up on my reading. Win-win.

Daegan February 28, 2016 at 11:44 pm

I’m very interested to see how this experiment goes. Are these variables all additive each week?

I’m most interested to see if/what habits are going to stick in the long run and what is going to be ineffective. One challenge that I have run into in sleep tracking is the act of recording my sleep keeps me actively thinking about it and hurts my ability to fall asleep on time.

Good luck.

David Cain February 29, 2016 at 8:49 am

No, they won’t be cumulative. I want to try and isolate the variables so I can get a better idea of their effects.

I have done some informal sleep tracking for a few days now and luckily it doesn’t seem to hurt my ability to get to sleep.

LennStar February 29, 2016 at 1:56 am

“I do always wake up several times though, and I am having trouble determining how normal that is.”
Actually all people wake up several times a night, but in most cases we cannot remember it.
The same applies to dreams: We all dram, but some people (like me) can (nearly) never remember them.

David Cain February 29, 2016 at 8:50 am

Ok, that’s good I guess. Remembering my dreams seems to depend a lot on when I wake up. How vivid they are changes a lot too.

Jamie February 29, 2016 at 2:20 am

David, unless it’s too late to modify the experiment, you might want to consider adding temperature as one of your variables. Apparently studies have shown people sleep better in cool (but not cold) environments. A brief Google search tells me that around 18.3C (65F) is optimal for good sleep.

PS Love the site, long-time listener, first-time caller, etc :)

David Cain February 29, 2016 at 8:53 am

Temperature is definitely something that affects my sleep but unfortunately I don’t have much control over it. My unit does not have its own thermostat — the heating is controlled by sensors outside the building, which is a terrible system that doesn’t work. Basically, in the winter it’s usually too warm so I open the window a crack. I know I sleep better when it’s cooler, and I generally sleep better in winter than summer, because I can get the room temperature cool enough.

Mark Tong February 29, 2016 at 3:15 am

Hi David – I’ll be very interested to see how it goes – I’ve struggled with getting a good night’s sleep for years and never found a complete solution yet. The easy things I’ve found that help include:
Cut out light
no screens an hour before
no caffeine

David Cain February 29, 2016 at 8:54 am

I will be tracking all of these things — I forgot to mention I’ll be recording which days I go to the gym too.

DiscoveredJoys February 29, 2016 at 3:19 am

Ruben has already mentioned segmented sleep. I do find that if I have difficulty going to sleep (not a common event, thankfully) it’s best if I go downstairs and read for a while until I feel sleepy again.

Similarly people of Shakespear’s time used to sleep propped up in bed (which is why their beds are so short, but with big headboards) believing that if they slept lying flat they would die. I find that if I am suffering from a cold or indigestion then sleeping in a recliner is easier…

The more things change the more they stay the same.

David Cain February 29, 2016 at 8:56 am

Glad I live now and not then… I go nuts in a bed that’s too short. I get a claustrophobic reaction. If it were up to me mattresses would all be eight or nine feet long

Zoe February 29, 2016 at 3:30 am

Hi David,
Good luck with the experiment, I’m interested to see how it goes.
I think what position you sleep in can also affect the quality of sleep. If I sleep on my back, particularly at the beginning, I tend to hallucinate that something is falling on me or crushing me (possibly because I can’t breathe as well in that position?) and either sit up screaming (or sometimes laughing, apparently) or actually jump out of bed to get away. Yeah, my husband isn’t so impressed… I also talk to him in my sleep and at the time, whatever I’m saying makes perfect sense, but as I start to wake up, I realize it doesn’t.
Thanks for the article!

David Cain February 29, 2016 at 8:59 am

Sleep position is really interesting. I sleep in a position that’s supposed to be horrible for you: flat on my stomach, head turned sideways, arms crossed under my pillow. But I have never had back or neck problems. I can sometimes sleep on my side in a semi-fetal position. If I sleep on my back I start snoring and wake myself up.

There is also a feature in this app that auto-records snoring and sleep-talking, which I might try a few times.

Cynthia February 29, 2016 at 4:01 am

Hi David,
Great idea. Yes as always, I’m amazed at how little regard we Americans have for experts and think we can hack everything ourselves, while usually we just spend a lot of effort reinventing the wheel…
As a life long sleep problem person, with health care coverage!, I went to a sleep doctor specialist–there is a TON of research and knowledge in the medical field on this! (disclaimer- I live in France and have good free health care for this).

We did the sleep test overnight in the hospital to truly and quickly find out what the problem was: very little REM sleep and lots of micro-awakenings.
So now Im getting the treatment needed and it has totally changed my life: I no longer dread sleep, it’s restorative.

Takeaway points that may help your experiment from the specialist:
-amount of sleep needed varies with each individual, it’s a constant from birth and does not change over your life. (for me sadly a whopping 10 hours needed!).
-a 20 minute walk at 4 pm precisely helps sleep quality
-no screens or highly active/emotional stuff an hour minimum before bed: do something totally boring, read a dictionary for example if you need to!
-if you wake up at night, or cant get back to sleep, worrying about sleeping is the worst thing. If you cant fall back asleep after 15 minutes, get up and again do the boring/ slow thing (I found the Zen book beginner’s mind by suzuki perfect for this-totally shut down analytical mind).
-and my grandma’s remedy which always helps: warm milk with cloves and honey
-Ayurveda also has important 5000 year old practices for sleep that are useful.
There you go, hope it helps!

David Cain February 29, 2016 at 9:07 am

This is really helpful, thank you Cynthia. One thing I forgot to mention is the role of exercise. It seems to affect almost everyone’s sleep positively, even just a walk.

As for the amount, I’m pretty sure 7.5 hours is about optimal for me. When I sleep too long I feel more tired.

Chris February 29, 2016 at 5:30 am

Pre-baby? AWESOME!
Post-baby? Not as awesome.

I’m normally asleep between 10PM and 5AM, heading to bed at 9PM. No cable, no phone in bed, and only my Kindle Paperwhite which is the single best reading device you can find. The light is so much softer than a phone, and I don’t need a light on in the room with it!

David Cain February 29, 2016 at 9:09 am

Heh… I hear newborn babies are not the best sleep aids.

I am really interested in the role of bright screens. I often end up reading something on my phone before bed, and it’s silly, because part of the reason I read a screen instead of a paper book is because the screen keeps me awake enough to read it! Probably not a great habit.

Steve February 29, 2016 at 6:46 am


Great experiment for us in the audience. I’m anxious to see the results because your normal routines/sleep patterns seem similar to mine.

I’m going to make a prediction:

The two variables that give you the best sleeps are (1) No caffeine during the day and (2) the quality of the room – dark and quiet as possible.

Good Luck,


David Cain February 29, 2016 at 9:12 am

I think you are probably right Steve. My previous apartment was in a VERY quiet area, and I slept really well there. Right now I’m in the city and there’s always some kind of noise.

Carla February 29, 2016 at 7:26 am

I usually sleep quite well with a few “off” nights and occasional “waking episodes”, and I feel my sleep is very good. I find I sleep a little better if I have my next morning ready. Getting my clothing out for the next day, the coffee ready to turn on, things generally picked up and the chaos under control gives me a sense of peacefulness as I go to bed knowing that my next day is going to start well. There is satisfaction and a sense of closure in finishing one day and checking the calendar and getting ready for the next.

David Cain February 29, 2016 at 9:15 am

Ah, that’s something to try. I can see how feeling prepared for the next day would help a person relax. I guess much of our sleep has to do with what we’re thinking when we go to bed, and there are lots of ways to affect that.

Sandy Parsons February 29, 2016 at 7:43 am

I’ve been doing this experiment for about two years now with a Withings tracker. When I had a significant amount of data I tried to search the internet to interpret what all those spikes meant (basically the variations and frequency between deep and light sleep). I was also surprised that there are so few guidelines for how to achieve optimal sleep. But I do think the practice has given me a sort of biofeedback benefit. I have less sleepy days and I don’t dread the task of trying to fall asleep anymore, something that at one time seemed to me like the golden key to happiness that everyone else had but me.

Good luck with your experiment, I’m interested to compare someone else’s results. Maybe if this one goes well, you’ll try a lucid dreaming one?

David Cain February 29, 2016 at 9:17 am

I also found it difficult to find solid recommendations on optimal sleep. I’m starting to think it’s the same problem as we have with diet — there’s no consensus on the best diet, and it’s increasingly apparent that this is because what’s optimal is different for everybody.

Angie unduplicated March 2, 2016 at 12:14 pm

Try a calcium-based snack an hour before bedtime. The old farmers’ standby was buttermilk but yogurt or skim milk work equally well.

A fan usually cools my bedtime air sufficiently; some swear by placing dampened cheesecloth over the grille.

The 4PM walk sounds like a great idea.

Alison February 29, 2016 at 7:54 am

This post is timely for me, as for the first time last night, I used an iOS app called ‘Dream Talk’ to record any noise I made during my sleep. So far, it only recorded me moving around, and issuing a few deep breaths/sighs. After seeing an article about a man who narrates his dreams while sleeping, I was curious if I talk in my sleep.

When I moved from an acreage to the city, I had to use earplugs (33 decibels) and an eye mask in order to get the same quality of sleep I was getting in the quiet, dark country. One curiosity with ear plugs though, is that I’d often find one or both removed by morning. They hadn’t fallen out. I could tell that I’d removed them, as they’d often be inside my fist, or interestingly, neatly placed, standing up side by side on my nightstand, although I’d have no recollection of doing so.

I no longer use ear plugs every night. Instead, I use a white noise generator. I prefer it to ear plugs because I feel like ear plugs cut me off from my environment. When they’re in, I can only hear myself breathing, and not any potentially important noises from my surroundings. I continue to use an eye mask because even with a black out curtain, when the sun rises, it gets light in my room. So if I’m sleeping in, or its summer, when sunrise can start around 5 am and set around 10 pm, my eye mask is on. The best one I’ve found is the 40 Blinks mask by Bucky. It is molded to make cups over your eyes, and fit better around your nose for better light blockage.

The last sleep aid I use is a wake-up light. It slowly increases in brightness 30 minutes before I need to wake up. In the dark of winter, it makes waking up a lot easier for me, and I feel like my body likes it too as it’s a more natural way to wake up.

Good luck with your experiment. I look forward to reading your results.

David Cain February 29, 2016 at 9:20 am

I have had the same experience with earplugs. I always take them out. But I find they do help me get to sleep rather quickly, even though it makes your breathing seem incredibly loud.

I’ve seen those wake-up lights and would love to try one. I don’t think I’ll be able to arrange it for this experiment though, but someday.

Dawid Wiacek February 29, 2016 at 8:02 am

Good luck! I am looking forward to reading about your progress and insights. I sleep through the night without waking–about 360 nights a year. I am blessed to have uninterrupted, restful sleep. I attribute it to minimal/no caffeine and the fact that my mind is naturally hyperactive during the day, so sleep is like a deep and full respite: I close my eyes, and the next thing I know, it’s morning! It’s as if the night had been fast-forwarded, and I feel well-rested.

David Cain February 29, 2016 at 9:24 am

I really suspect caffeine is responsible for most of my “bad” sleeps. It was a long time ago, but I remember my sleep being really good during my no-caffeine experiment.

I love those “fast-forward” sleeps! I have them once in a while.

Angie unduplicated March 2, 2016 at 12:28 pm

Another thing which has worked for me is Starbucks decaf mixed at varying proportions with full-caf. My base mix is currently 2/3 decaf; I can add more caffeinated if I need it. Caribou decaf is another brand which lacks the asphalt stench of traditional decaf.

jean-marc March 28, 2016 at 11:47 am

Same with me. I try to only use coffee as a treat, and drink white tea. I do sleep as lot better with no caffeen at all in my body. Sometime the answer is in front of us but we don’t want to see it, tho i really like
coffee. :)

Lorrie B February 29, 2016 at 8:22 am

Darkness is the variable I’m interested in; “experts” say you should sleep in absolute darkness, but curtains and blinds have always felt claustrophobic to me. I enjoy falling asleep looking at the stars and waking before dawn. Like Alison, I have to have a fan or white noise machine going, as I wake at the slightest noise and even my own breathing.

BTW, it used to take me at least an hour to calm my mind after hitting the pillow, and now I seem to fall asleep within five minutes. Nothing has changed but my age. I know you can’t factor age into your equation, but our sleep habits do change with age, as well.

Have fun with the experiment and keep us posted!

David Cain February 29, 2016 at 9:26 am

The stars would be great, but I live in the city so all I will see outside my window are artificial lights.

The fan/white noise is another factor I should test. I have noticed that a fan really helps, but I only use them in the summer when I actually want a breeze blowing on me. But I could always point it away from me and just take advantage of the noise.

Alison February 29, 2016 at 11:17 am

If it’s practical, you could use a sound app like http://www.noisli.com

If you scroll to the bottom, they have “Fan” and white, pink and brown noise. Brown is my fave!

Chris February 29, 2016 at 8:33 am

Oh, I have an idea for you. Have you tried floating alarms before? Ones that wake you up based on your sleep rhythm? It looks at your movement and all that and determines whether you’re in REM sleep or not. It gives you something like a 20 minute window. It’s supposed to help with grogginess. Might be a night idea to test out.

David Cain February 29, 2016 at 9:27 am

Not yet, but there is one in the sleep app I’m using, and I will try it out.

Carsten Otto February 29, 2016 at 8:57 am

That will be interesting! As another idea, besides the powernaps I already suggested earlier: try eating less/more (in the evening) to see if that makes a difference. At least I’d love to see that :)

David Cain February 29, 2016 at 9:30 am

So many variables!

I keep my evening eating pretty consistent. I avoid a totally ravenous stomach but also avoid eating too much. If I have time I will do some tests there too.

Dan February 29, 2016 at 8:58 am

I’ll be curious to see if you experience the “observer effect,” something I think makes things worse for insomniacs. Will simply thinking about your sleep alter your sleep?

David Cain February 29, 2016 at 9:34 am

Luckily I’m not really having trouble falling asleep. I’ve done some tracking already and it doesn’t seem to affect my ability to fall asleep.

John February 29, 2016 at 9:08 am

You mentioned alcohol consumption. Alcohol has a huge effect on sleep quality. I suggest adding a week of no alcohol to your protocol.
Good luck!

David Cain February 29, 2016 at 9:33 am

Most weeks already have no alcohol, so I’ll just track the nights when I do have some.

Anna February 29, 2016 at 9:26 am

Ooh how exciting!
For a year now I’ve been going to bed at 9:30, sleeping like a log all night, then jumping out of bed between 4:00 and 6 am( usually spot on 5 am. ) I have no alarm clock but I find I can decide myself what time I want to wake up just by looking at my clock just before going to sleep counting the hours to the time I want to wake up then imagining that time written on my clock.
It’s amazing how accurate my body clock is. Good luck xx

David Cain February 29, 2016 at 9:35 am

Ideally, I will reach an alarm-clock-less state, where I wake up at the right time and am not tempted to go back to sleep. That might make a good separate experiment, to try to wean myself of using an alarm clock altogether.

Glenda Lassen February 29, 2016 at 3:19 pm

Wonderful, I can wake at a certain hour by softly banging my head on the pillow for the number of the hour I want to wake. Crazy? It works for me. :)

Klarita February 29, 2016 at 1:00 pm

Looking forward to finding out the results of your experiment.

As for myself, I generally sleep very well, although lately there has been some interference from the cat (4 am breakfast call). There are several definite criteria, the primary being a cool room. I sleep with the window open winter (a crack) and summer (a lot) and my preferred temperature is around 16 degrees C. Quiet is important, it doesn’t have to be dead silent but I can stand snoring and anything life a fan, A/C or white noise drives me crazy. Light is not an issue, although I prefer some natural light coming in. I prefer a very firm mattress and firm pillow (I actually take a pillow when I travel – anywhere. I’ve had it attached to my pack for 820 km when cycling the Camino de Santiago).
But there is one thing that I have not seen mentioned anywhere in the comments. It applies to couples rather than sleeping alone and is surely a European thing – separate blankets. In most of Central Europe (Germany, Austria, Czech Rep.) couples share a bed but very often the mattresses are separate (albeit within one frame) and above all, each person has their own cover. Dimensions of beds and covers vary from country to country, but for me, this is crucial. I HATE sharing a blanket with somebody. I like to cocoon myself and it drives me nuts to pull it back and forth all night with my boyfriend. Have you considered that? Will you be sleeping alone during this experiment?

Good luck!

Klarita February 29, 2016 at 1:03 pm

* CAN’T stand snoring….

David Cain February 29, 2016 at 3:31 pm

Temperature is a big one for me. I sleep much better when it’s cool. So I always have the window open a crack, even when it’s extremely cold out.

Sleep with a partner varies a lot for me. It really depends on the person I think. Separate blankets is a good idea. For the duration of the experiment I expect to be on my own.

Jeri Feaster February 29, 2016 at 1:01 pm

David, I’ve been working to cut back on drinking red wine at night, and one preliminary finding I have noticed is that when I have 2-3 glasses I usually pop out of bed much quicker and easier the next morning. When I abstain, I am groggy in the morning. Curious, huh? My working theory is that it might have something to do with alcohol being stored as sugar in the liver, which is then readily available to help wake me up in the morning. There is a phenom called Dawn syndrome where sugar is released about 30 min before waking to help wake us up. Other than the wine, I eat a very low carb diet. I need to look into this more, but the effect was opposite from what I expected. Good luck with your experiment.

David Cain February 29, 2016 at 3:33 pm

It’s the opposite of what I’d expect too. If I have any significant amount of alcohol I don’t sleep as well. I wake up and can’t go back to sleep.

Glenda Lassen February 29, 2016 at 3:16 pm

I’m looking forward to the results of this. I have never had a problem with sleep, except if there is distracting noise, i.e. noises that I don’t know the source of or noises I am nosey about (talking) or snoring (ugh). I actually love sleeping because my dreams are always exciting, colourful and full of happenings. Haha I do have a problem with going to bed early though, I need to have a wind down period, generally when the house has gone quiet. Have fun! PS caffeine has never affected me, and if I am wakeful I tend to tell myself a story or think of creating specific artworks or other relaxing scenarios.

David Cain February 29, 2016 at 3:34 pm

A wind-down period is something I haven’t really made time for. It sounds like a great idea. Recently I’ve had a little too much screen time too late in the day. A bit of stretching and a book would probably be much better.

Campbell February 29, 2016 at 4:08 pm

I’m interested if you’ve come across a sleep meaurement aid/app that you can use when you sleep with someone else. I’ve used a couple of Android apps and when I matched the movement with sound recorded, it was mostly when my wife was moving/getting up.

Ben February 29, 2016 at 6:10 pm

I’m looking forward to the results!

Talking tends to keep me awake and wake me up. I recently moved bedrooms from in the middle of the house to the front, and my sleep was poorer due to greater noise and light.

I recently read somewhere that it can take two weeks to adjust to a new sleeping pattern. I wasn’t 100% confident of the reliability of the source, but I thought I’d mention it in case it affected your experiment. :)

Patricia February 29, 2016 at 6:13 pm

Hi David, I’m very interested your experiment, as I’ve had sleep issues for a long time. Currently need 10mg of melatonin, 200 mg of magnesium to help me fall asleep. However, one thing I’ve always noticed is that I’m more likely to have wakeful nights around the time of the full moon. You may want to add the moon’s phases to your data.

Andrea February 29, 2016 at 6:53 pm

Hi David, may I suggest adding Dr. Weil’s 4-7-8 breathing technique to your tool-kit of ways to fall back asleep? I’m finding that it takes no more than 4 rounds to fall back asleep, which is an amazing feat for someone who has been waking up every day at 3 a.m. for years, thanks to mentalpause. :-)
Sweet dreamzzzzzzzzzzz!

chacha1 February 29, 2016 at 7:40 pm

Overnight sleep is prioritized chez moi because I cannot nap, have tried many times and it always just makes matters worse. Once I get to sleep I generally stay asleep, but there are definitely times when getting to sleep is difficult.

We live in an apartment, which backs onto an alley with garage access to the building next door, in a huge noisy city. We put up two layers of drapes which help block the light from next door, and fortunately our city has a noise ordinance that most people observe. But still, in order to get enough sleep (for me that’s 7 to 7.5 hours), I:
don’t have any electronics in the bedroom except my Kindle
try to turn off the TV at least 1 hour before I want to sleep
try to get into bed at least a half hour before I want to sleep
drink lots of water daily
do yoga daily, and if I’m stiff toward bedtime I use the foam roller
don’t have caffeine after 1 p.m.

I have periodic insomnia from monkey brain, stress, or perimenopausal hormonal nonsense. If I am aware in advance of being monkeyed or stressed, or if the neighbors are noisy, I just take an OTC sleep aid and call it a day. If I realize that I have been lying awake for a long time, I’ll get up and stretch, which always makes one of my cats join me on the floor, and the purring also helps.

I sleep best in a very dark, cool room, and preferably alone. Which is sad because I am married and I like going to bed with my spouse! But we actually both sleep better separately. I am much more likely to wake up feeling like I slept through the night when I sleep alone. The blankets support me on this, I’ll wake up with the bed looking like I haven’t moved.

I hardly ever remember my dreams, unless I do a semi-wake-up before I need to get up, and then go back to sleep – I’ll remember what I dreamed in the interval. It is hardly ever interesting. :-)

Someone noted above that wrapping up the day and planning ahead for the next one can help her sleep. As a planaholic, I do this too, but not right before bed: I do my to-do list at the office before coming home, and tidy up the apartment after dinner.

A.J. February 29, 2016 at 9:02 pm

Good luck with your experiment.

I think your results will be more meaningful if you maintain roughly the same amount of exercise every day. The more physically active I am, the better I sleep.

Ville Sorsa March 1, 2016 at 7:08 am

Hello David!

I’ve been reading your blog a lot, and I’ve got tons of good ideas from you.

I’ve just recently realized myself how important it is to sleep enough. There’s one article about sleeping, which I highly recommend for you and everyone who wishes to sleep better:

Check it out. The article is a long one, but it gives an answer to pretty much any question you have about physiology of sleep and how to optimize one’s sleep.

Ryan March 1, 2016 at 10:31 am

What about tracking how your diet impacts sleep? I notice that when I eat particularly unhealthy foods, I get terrible sleep. When I’m eating healthy, I sleep great.

stainless Oven March 1, 2016 at 4:55 pm

Spot on with this write-up, I really believe this
web site needs a great deal more attention. I’ll probably be returning to read through more, thanks for the

Miles March 2, 2016 at 9:39 am

Hi Dave,

first of all, I find your writing style excellent (as it steers away from the ‘cliché’ style of writing of pretty much all similar websites), and have been inspired a lot by your articles to make changes that actually stuck (I’m now OCD about my dishes for the sake of future me, and keep looking for ‘stuff’ to remove of my apartment).

Regarding that experiment, from my experience I can tell that the biggest (positive) influences have been :
-no screens for a couple hours before bed (circadian rythm, blue light, etc – look it up ; and if you HAVE to be on the computer then look up and install f.lux).
-no coffee in the afternoon
-limit/dim articial lights in the apartment in the evening – if candles can do, use them (at least as a complement)
-read a book in bed to fall asleep
-tidy apartment/next morning prepared as mentionned in an above comment
-shower on the cooler side
-sleep earlier : before midnight vs around 1am makes a big difference
-phone on airplane mode as early as possible : not so much about radio waves than a way to finally put it down and have it leave the mind
-estimate wake up time up based on 90mn sleep cycle – if you sleep around midnight, 7h30 is a good bet
-definitely avoid multiple snooze button use, that’s the worst you can do (and it’s been the most challenging to avoid for me) as it messes up your brains chemistry by repetively dumping dopamine/serotonin several times in a row as you wake up and fall back asleep… and leaves you a scatter-brained zombie by the time you eventually get out of bed.

Good luck with the experiment !

For future ones, I’ve been dabbling with training my ‘resting squat’ position and it’s been eye-opening on many levels – consider it :)


David Cain March 2, 2016 at 12:19 pm

Thanks Miles. So many things to try here. Do you know anything about why cool showers helps? I’ve heard that, I just don’t know anything about it.

Also, snoozing is something worth taking a look at. I limit myself to a single snooze, but I wonder if there’s a good argument for doing away with snoozes altogether. I am so accustomed to the single 15-minute snooze that my body automatically swipe-unlocks my phone and taps “snooze” without any thinking or decision-making on my part. I know there are alarms that force you to solve a math puzzle or scan a QR code (which you would have printed and taped on the wall across the room beforehand) so that you must get through that sleep-zombie phase and actually get up.

Miles March 11, 2016 at 8:13 am

Honestly, no idea why showering with somewhat cooler water than i’d like to helps, it’s a totally empirical observation. Maybe hot showers ‘excite’ in that they get the blood running due to vasodilatation, while cooler shower relax via the opposite effect ? Not really sure.

One snooze has been alright for me as well. What has helped to avoid more than one has been turning on the nightstand light upon waking up, also moving and actually saying some words I find gets one out of the ‘sleep zone’.

Rhonda March 2, 2016 at 9:51 am

If you’re looking for some great information on sleep. Check out the Rewild Yourself podcast by Daniel Vitalis. He has a few on the topic of sleep but this one is great. http://www.danielvitalis.com/rewild-yourself-podcast/sleep-is-a-nutrient-arthur-haines-75

David Cain March 2, 2016 at 12:15 pm

Great, just downloaded this to my phone. I’ll give it a listen next time I go for a walk.

Laurie Py March 3, 2016 at 8:03 am

Good stuff! What I have learned is that sleeping has a lot to do with what you eat and how you exercise. Found this out when I did The Whole 30 challenge a couple of years ago. I cut out a lot of things but I know that alcohol, sugar and gluten made the difference. When I stick to this, my sleep is more restful! And when I exercise regularly in the morning, sleep is even better! Good luck with your study!

Nitya March 3, 2016 at 1:35 pm

Hi David. I’ve been using this method for a few years now, after having an ongoing battle with insomnia. My problem was in having difficulty ‘dropping off’. Nowadays I go to bed as soon as I feel sleepy, be that 8pm or 11pm. Sounds absurdly simple and going to bed at eight seems ridiculous, right? I’ve found that ‘catching the sleep wave’ and going with it, means that I drop off with half an hour. If I force myself to stay awake and ignore the signals, it may take a whole cycle before I’m in that pre-sleep state again.

The downside to this method is that I can wake incredibly early on occasion. Not to worry, if I’m rearing to go at 4.30am or even 4am, I just get up and start my day. As I result of this sleep regime, I keep some unusual hours, but I always get enough and I feel like a ‘sleep success story’ and not a ‘sleep failure’. What can I say? Works for me! No drugs; not complicated self talk; just keeping with my natural rhythms.

Camelsp1der March 4, 2016 at 9:45 am


First things first, I have only just discovered your blog in the past few hours and have already devoured a great deal of your content – I look forward to consuming the rest.

Regarding sleep, some pointers:

1. “Sleep Hygiene” is critical – this means minimising all clutter, light, noise and other unhelpful ingredients in your bedroom (in which regard see 6. below also). You should also pay heed to the temperature (as others have commented) and the air quality in your bedroom – good ventilation is vital. You are probably – like most people – pretty particular about the place where you sit down to write, or eat, or relax, so why compromise on the place where you sleep?

2. Sleep is not just an item on the To Do list: like good writing, or good cooking, it requires some pre-prep, and some time to get oneself in the right frame of mind. May I suggest that as an additional test variable, you introduce a ‘spin-down’ period of 15 or 20 minutes prior to getting into bed? Do nothing in this short interval.

3. Following on from 2. – you probably wouldn’t sit at your desk if you didn’t need to work, or choose to loiter in your kitchen (or toilet) if you were not there for a specific reason. So you should also stay out of your bedroom until it is bed time. This helps to reinforce a mental association between the place and the activity.

4. Following on from 3. – do not go to bed until you are tired. I firmly believe that we carry an unhelpful and deeply buried artefact from our childhood of being resentful about being made to go to bed. We associate ‘bed time’ with being made to do something we don’t want to do. So don’t go to bed until you are sleepy. Telling yourself “Big day tomorrow – I really need to get to bed NOW” is not going to induce sleepiness – quite the opposite.

5. Notwithstanding 4. – do try to establish a routine and begin the spin-down and pre-bedtime ritual at the same time each evening. Adults are just as vulnerable as children to the adverse effects on sleep of a disrupted or non-existent routine.

6. Electronic devices, including TVs, emit light in the blue wavelength of the spectrum, which has been proven to disrupt the body’s creation of the ‘sleep hormone’ melatonin. Your bedroom should be free of all such devices. Most people will find this the hardest thing of all to do initially, but it is crucial.

7. Try not to over-focus on sleep. Don’t obsess about sleep or your perceived lack of it (or its quality). Sub-consciously (I would suggest) this creates in us the belief that sleep is an ‘issue’, which can only aggravate the matter. Try to remind yourself that, in truth, most self-declared insomniacs get significantly more sleep than they realise – this has been proven scientifically.

Paul Meyer March 11, 2016 at 12:33 am

Check out this site: http://www.naturschlaf.com/index.html
I’ve read the original book by Stöckmann which is a bit longer, but you’ll get all the relevant information at that site. It wasn’t very easy for me to adapt to that cycle, but everytime I could maintain it for a while, I felt phantastic.

Barny March 11, 2016 at 5:14 pm

Hi Camelsp1der

I have always suspected what you are saying in your 4th point. I often feel quite resistant to going to bed, it’s like having a mini rebellion against no-one. Consequently I often stay up until 3 or 4 am and have to do a bedtime reset every so often when sleeping all morning makes me feel guilty.

Hi David,

Regarding the cool showers that were mentioned, I understand that lowering your body temperature is thought to initiate sleep. I have encountered two theories:

Elevating your temperature with a hot shower/bath and then letting it fall back to it’s original temperature so the body perceives the cooling and reacts by inducing sleep
Your current body temperature is naturally lowered prior to sleep and a cool shower can mimic this so acting as a snoozing trigger.

Incidentally I’ve been experimenting by subjecting myself to blasts of cold water with every (morning) shower since December in an effort to build some resilience. As you can imagine, it’s horrible at first but it’s also very invigorating and once you learn not to resist with your mind and quieten the awful expectation you stop noticing the cold. An unexpected and helpful side effect is that I don’t mind walking in the rain now, whereas previously I would stay indoors if possible when it rained. Might be something for you to test if you haven’t already.

For me, I love sleeping in a cold room. By choice I have no heating in my house the temperature in my bedroom must be very low in mid-winter. Whilst getting up each morning is a bit startling, going to sleep wrapped around my hot water bottle and breathing cold air is lovely.

Also I have very thin white curtains that let in a lot of light and I find myself more alert waking up to daylight.

I find that when I go back to intense exercise after an extended absence, I sleep less than usual without ill effect, maybe a reduction of 2 or 3 hours a night for a good 3 or 4 days. Normally I am happiest on 9 hours a night, survive on 8 and become incompetent on 7 hours or less.

My final sleep thought, I once did a rather lovely experiment where I ate a different cheese before bedtime for a week or two to see if my dreams were impacted. Initially I had success with some Danish Blue but I was unable to replicate the results despite an excessive number of attempts. Sadly cheese didn’t make me dream (NRT patches are amazing for this though).

Best of luck with your experiment, this could have far reaching implications for you and your readers. I am monitoring my sleep with an app but will not consider variables for the time being, just look for patterns. I’m logging my daily activity and food / drink intake plus exercise also, so should be able to use that data too.

Take care and sleep well,

Mira March 25, 2016 at 4:53 pm

Before having a child, sleep was a non-issue for me (apart from the time I scarfed a giant bar of dark chocolate before bed, not knowing it contains caffeine…).

Now, as I am disturbed multiple times a night, I am very strict about sleep hygiene in order to keep myself relaxed and maximise sleep – no computer/smartphone before bed, red or pink lights to read by, a hot drink and deep breathing before bed, white noise playing all night (this used to be for my son’s benefit but now it’s more for mine).

It’s funny how something I used to take for granted has become so complex and anxiety-inducing.

หมูปิ้งขายส่ง April 4, 2016 at 7:33 pm

Your style is very unique compared to other folks I’ve read stuff from.
Many thanks for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I’ll just book mark this site.

Ethan Maurice April 27, 2016 at 3:12 pm

Sleep is quite a funny thing. My whole life I’ve pretty much been able to sleep like a rock. I’d lie down, fall asleep within a couple minutes, tops, and wake up in the morning. It’s awesome. However, the past couple months I’ve felt stressed and a bit restless while sleeping. This switch coincided with moving to Playa del Carmen, MX from the states, I have a hunch it could even be that the light outside my bedroom window might just be keeping it a bit too light in my room. However, I’ve undertaken a few entrepreneurial ventures at this same time and I think I might be carrying a bit of extra stress as I strive for their success. I’m trying to learn to decompress a bit before bed. I think a really valuable skill would be to be able to just turn that ambition on and off, like with the flick of a switch, so I’m trying to work on that.

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