A Quick Guide to Tracking and Optimizing Sleep

Let's hack some sleep

Sleep is weird. We never experience it first hand, spend 1/3 of our lives doing it, and feel the effects of it every single day.

I’m not a sleep doctor/expert, so I spoke with Ruthie Nachmany before writing this post to get some actual expert advice that I could include. In a nutshell:

We’re still at the beginning stages of understanding why we sleep, hence the excitement about books like ‘Why We Sleep’. But every week, new research comes out demonstrating the connection between sufficient sleep and areas as diverse as digestive health, skin health, mental health, testosterone levels, Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc, along with what we know about how sleep helps our bodies rebuild, recover, repair, and helps our brains strengthen connections, form memories, problem solve etc.

But, there’s a problem. We all know that sleep is important, but we’re operating in the dark, without a good framework of where to start or how to start. And again, it’s weird, because we’re not awake during sleep it’s impossible to track without assistance.

I recently started to track my own sleep, and what started out of curiosity to see how much sleep I was getting on average has turned into a nightly task of trying to optimize my schedule to get 7.5 hours of sleep each night.

When I first started tracking my sleep, there were two big things that surprised me:

  1. I am not great at sleeping. I toss and turn a lot (I blame my dogs for this)

  2. I don’t sleep as much as I thought I did

Not ideal, but at least I had somewhere to start. I’m still working on getting into a routine where I get a consistent 7.5 hours (so far, I’ve felt best after this amount of sleep.) So, here’s a quick guide.

Getting Started

A couple of requirements for getting started:

Have an Apple Watch

If you have an Apple Watch, awesome. If you don’t have one, the rest of this guide is mostly useless. I have only tried Autosleep, per multiple recommendations, and as far as I know, the app only works with an Apple Watch.

Something that accidentally helped me greatly was losing my Apple Watch charger, buying a 2-in-1 lightning charger and watch charger, and then finding the one that I thought I had lost. I now keep one charger in my backpack, one plugged into my work computer, and my wife’s charger plugged into an outlet in the kitchen. It seems excessive, but I’ve gotten into a routine of charging my watch whenever I don’t need to use it (it’s even charging as I write this!) No more dead watch issues when I’m sleeping, on the go, or at the gym.

Purchase the Autosleep App

This was the app that was recommended by friends and is a seriously fantastic app (if you know me, I don’t say things like this often). Link here. It works like this:

  • Wear your watch to bed

  • Put your phone on a flat surface with no movement (basically, don’t sleep with your phone in bed)

  • Wake up and use your phone

  • Track your sleep automatically, using the watch to measure quality sleep, deep sleep, movement, heart rate, and time asleep

Determine Your Optimal Sleep Schedule

My recommendation is to go about your normal sleep schedule for the first few days, logging some sleep numbers and getting a baseline of where how you’re sleeping. Autosleep has a built-in ‘notes’ feature, where I take notes on how I feel each morning and then throughout the day. That’s how I was able to determine that 7.5 hours was optimal. At 6 hours, I could barely get up. And at 8.5-9 hours, I was groggy from too much sleep.

I got into the habit of logging how I felt each morning after waking up. My notes are short and look like this:

Sleep Hacks to Try

If you ask anyone what their sleep routine is, you’ll get an overwhelming amount of different responses - dim lights past a certain time, no screen time an hour before bed, reading, listening to music, melatonin before going to sleep, etc, etc, etc. All this shit is great, but figure out what works with you. If you treat your sleep routing like an elaborate A/B test, you’ll eventually figure out what works best for you. I fall asleep fine after using my computer up until 10 minutes before going to bed ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Once you start tracking your sleep, you can try a bunch of different hacks to see what impacts your sleep the most, both positively and negatively. Here’s a big list with lots of variables you can experiment with to see how they impact your sleep:

  • Blackout curtains

  • Humidifier

  • Meditation

  • Cooling pillow

  • New mattress

  • Various sheets with different materials

  • Melatonin

  • Zzzquil

  • Caffeine consumption during the day (not just coffee - medicine, soda, pre-workout, etc)

  • Screen time (mobile, computer, TV) n hours before bed

  • Water consumption

  • Vitamins to help with bladder control during the night (if you wake up due to having to pee)

  • Earplugs

  • Bedtime/wake up time consistency

  • Sleep masks

  • Room temperature

  • Exercise routines

  • Dynamically adjusting wake up time depending on when you go to bed

  • Setting your sleep time based on when you need to wake up

  • Last meal times

  • Wearing socks to bed (or any clothes at all!)

  • Having sex before bed

  • Concentrate on a specific thing when you’re going to sleep to help you fall asleep quicker

  • White noise

  • Others? Shoot me a message and I’ll keep expanding on this list!

Other Resources

  • Sleepyti.me to determine the optimal time to go to sleep and wake up

  • Why We Sleep - it’s on my reading list, but will allegedly scare you into caring about sleep

  • Sleep supplements - I take melatonin an hour or so before bed, but there are lots of things to track. And if you do try something new, make sure to log it!

  • Sleep experts - Ruthie is working on something interesting here, but seek out someone who is an expert to work with you on getting better sleep

  • F.lux - change the colors of your computer to be less intense before bed

  • Other sleep trackers/apps: Whoop, Fitbit, Oura Ring, Jawbone

PS: Isn’t it strange that the word ‘bed’ spelled out looks like a bed? 🤔

Have a productivity or life hack topic you think I should write about? Email me at alex.jacob.cohen+productivity@gmail.com