Rita Lopes

sweet dreams are made of this

A little under a year and a half ago I bought and started using an app most of you have probably heard of: Sleep Cycle. The idea behind is simple: it’s a smart alarm clock that’s supposed to wake you up at a moment in which you’re a light sleep phase, making it easier (and less annoying) to wake up.

This app accomplishes this by monitoring your sleep via movement (registered by the phone’s accelerometer), and it spends the first 10 days building itself up to your nights (the way you move, the placement of the phone on the bed, etc). Of course, the more you use it, the more like you are to get good information out of it and/or to appreciate the results.

does it make any difference?

You may already know that I’m of an “extreme late chronotype“, an owl or a late riser, if you prefer. There is no way that I wake up by myself every morning without the help of an alarm clock, so these generally hideous, annoying, gadgets have become must haves. When it comes to Sleep Cycle, for me the biggest asset has been the further realisation of what negatively impacts my sleep, and what doesn’t make that much difference. To be honest, I still struggle to wake up with that energised feeling some people talk about (unless I wake up at 1pm), but that’s biology for you.

sleep notes and impact on quality of sleep

I find it really interesting (and useful) to know that my worst nights of sleep happen when I’m feeling physically off. That this happens while you’re ill isn’t surprising, but it turns out my app says the quality of my sleep decreases on days when I exercise—although it increases when I am more active (general movement during the day) and when I’ve had tiring days.

These discoveries seem somewhat counterintuitive at times, so it always gives me food for thought, and I wonder whether there are any more Sleep Notes that I should consider. I have added these pretty much since the start, because they seemed relevant, but I’ve tried not to change them often so there’s some consistency. This means, I may be well due an update to them to reflect other things… Currently, I’m using the following notes:

  • Headache
  • I feel sick
  • Ate late
  • Back pain
  • Tiring day (physically)
  • Stressful day
  • Worked out

I have removed some of the defaults due to not being applicable to me (like drinking coffee, for example), and I might add new ones as I’m going through. For example, when I added the “I ate late” thing I was thinking about the feeling you get when you go to bed feeling stuffed from dinner. But that really isn’t the same thing, so maybe I should, instead, have a Sleep Note called “I ate in the last hour”. I am planning to do these adjustments in the next few days, but for now I can honestly say this is a good app. It doesn’t do “all the things”, nor does it claim to, but it’s a good alarm clock.

best information about my sleep so far

Up until now, I’d say I’ve discovered two snippets of information that are really useful. Firstly, every morning around 8am I undergo a light sleep phase, even if I don’t generally wake up. This coincides with when a certain someone wakes up. Having my alarm clock set to go off at some point around that time generally means I hear it almost immediately (and can then proceed to snooze it until I can’t anymore! Ha!).

Secondly, I’d venture saying that the most useful piece of information I’ve extracted wasn’t as much about whether to do a certain thing or not to do another (frankly, other than “feeling sick” which negatively impacts the quality of sleep in over 5%, none of the others’ impacts are significantly high nor low), but about how the duration of my nights dramatically changes the quality of the sleep had. This varies from person to person, of course, so it’s not always easy to to say wether you’ll need 6, 7, 8 or 9 hours of sleep to feel good when you wake up. For me, sleeping under 8hours decreases the quality of sleep in more than 10%, while sleeping more than 8h does little difference (other than making me feel good about it!).

This is to say that, for me, sleeping 5h, 6h, or 7h45m is relatively similar in terms of quality of sleep (generally around 70%), but if I can do it, the difference between sleeping 7h or 8h is a great one (8h translates into sleep which the quality is over 85%). This way, I don’t always set my alarm for the exact same time. I do try to have a steady sleeping routine, but if at all impossible, then I can adjust to make sure I get those precious 8 hours, especially when that means a mere 20 minutes difference that won’t impact anything else in my daily life.

bottom line

There are advantages to having a routine, like helping your body and brain guarantee they’re top of their game, but the use of an alarm clock that allows you to be woken up at any point during a specific width window of time doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. In fact, the difference of a few minutes from one day to another shouldn’t cause disruption to your circadian rhythms, but rather prevent that you’re mercilessly yanked off the deepest part of your sleep.

Not only it’s harder to wake someone up while in that phase of sleep, it makes us feel unrested when we finally realise that what we vaguely hear somewhere far is, in reality, our inconsiderate alarm clock of doom. If you’re one of those people who really struggle to wake up to an alarm and end up having to set several of them each morning, this may be one of the reasons why it happens. Fortunately, there are things we can do about it, like trying a “smart alarm clocks”. So, what do you do to help you get up in the morning?

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