Desperately Seeking Sleep: Insomnia Edition

Improving my sleep with technology

Megan Charles
Jul 4, 2020 · 11 min read
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Loryn Brantz Instagram
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Photo by Inge Wallumrød from Pexels
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Images from Fitbit Community, user Dominique

My Results — After 2 Weeks

On the nights I adhered to the following habits, I had the most satisfying sleep. After implementing a few simple changes to my everyday habits, my overall sleep score increased from a (fair) 77 to an (excellent) 92. Even though I am still a sensitive sleeper, I’ve managed to sleep through the night. Also, I was able to get fewer hours of sleep, but the restorative quality was much higher. A higher restorative score translated to better overall sleep quality. Thus, I felt more rested, ready to start the day, without feeling foggy or groggy. Those extra 2–3 hours I’m not using trying to eke out extra rest are now productively applied to my workday and free time.

What Did I Change?

I learned consistency is crucial. Sure. We all know this. But I had to build-in and maintain all of the right habits, not just when they were convenient. Be patient and give it a few days. Don’t get upset if it doesn’t work the first night or two. Also, you don’t need a Fitbit, another wearable device, or a pricy app to do any of these.

  • Avoid caffeine after 3 pm. This is assuming you have a regular 9–5 schedule and are going to bed around 11. Regardless, stop using caffeine (at least) 5 hours before you intend to go to bed. You can try to tell me like a teenager mainlining Monster’s, “caffeine doesn’t affect me,” and I’m still going to tell you to stop. Prior to this hack, I had already dialed back my caffeine and had transitioned to decaff by the afternoon.
  • Cut naps after 5 pm. Personally, I wasn’t napping at all in hopes of getting a full night’s sleep. Still, it is suggested as naps can interfere with falling asleep later.
  • Finish meals before 9:30 pm and stop imbibing alcohol after 8:30 pm. These did not apply to me. I intermittently fast. Thus, I’m done with my feasting phase before 8 pm. For those who are curious, eating late can aggravate heartburn, cause acid reflux, while drinking alcohol can suppress REM sleep.
  • Start turning down an hour before bed. We’re aiming to slow the heart rate here. For me, it’s listening to an audiobook while knitting for 30 minutes. Or doing a prolonged, relaxed version of my nighttime routine; longer shower, multi-step skincare. I’m speaking as an adult who does not have small kids. They are in college now. If they were, this would be my hour after putting them to bed. I understand it might be hard to manage but I highly suggest you find a way to get in this hour as often as possible. Do something relaxing. This is not the time to start pondering your neverending to-do list or having an intense discussion with your significant other or kids. Do not frantically run around the house scrambling to do last minute things before leaping into bed, and expect to go right out. If you need to do laundry or pack lunches, for example, do it earlier or outsource these tasks. If there is a discussion to be had, do it in the a.m. not p.m. I could get into a whole other discussion about invisible household labor and how it falls on overwhelmed women, but for the purposes of this article, just take it as “prioritize the hour before bed as your time” and do something you find relaxing.
  • Cut down on bright lights. This will coincide with limiting screen use. Start toning down the brightness of the lights throughout the house and on your devices, the closer to bed you get. It has a lot to do with how the body misinterprets fake-electric light vs. daylight and the negative effects of blue light.
  • No Screens After 11 pm. This includes televisions, tablets, computers, and phones. I had been lessening my use of screens before bedtime. When I do use them, to turn on something to fall asleep to, I do so with the blue screen settings and brightness set as low as possible. This leads me to…
  • Turn on DO NOT DISTURB and stop playing with your phone. Set DND for 30 minutes before your turn-down time and for 30 minutes after you wake up. Nothing will piss you off and keep you awake more than some telemarketer calling or texting or some random late-night call that isn’t an emergency.
  • Adjust temps to your liking. Pretty self-explanatory. I’ve heard sleep science suggests keeping your bedroom cool. I’ve found warm works best for us. Not sweating, not freezing. Find what works for you.
  • Meditate/Listen to music without lyrics. I used to listen to podcasts/audiobooks when I went to bed. The problem is, sometimes I’d get so interested, I’d inadvertently will myself to stay awake a little longer. Same with television. Now, I listen to these on a timer during the earlier part of my hour before bed and then I shift to a meditation exercise. You can find all sorts of paid and free meditations. Mine happens to be part of my Fitbit service. Finally, I shift to nature sounds/bells and chimes/or soothing music without lyrics. I set a shut-off timer for 15–20 minutes. I drop out within 10 minutes instead of laying there humming along with vocals or intrigued by a mystery.
  • If you wake up during the night, do not look at the clock or pick up your phone. You’ll only trigger your mental countdown, “Oh, I still have 2 more hours to go before the alarm goes off.” If possible, do your best to remain in bed and practice mindful deep breathing to slow your heart rate.
  • Stop using snooze. This is by far one of the most important. Disable it. Those extra 9 minutes x 5 snooze resets are not doing us any favors. Using the snooze button leads to grogginess. Instead, I adhere to my waketime and use the Fitbit’s built-in alarm. The device itself buzzes against my wrist, so I don’t disturb my partner in case he wants to sleep in. It gets easier over time to get up with the first and only alarm.
  • Get a little daylight. Think of yourself as a plant or someone who needs to synthesize a little vitamin D and go outside and get a few minutes of sunshine every day. More and more, people spend their days cooped up indoors. Step outside for some fresh air and daylight for at least 15 minutes. It is great for the mood and helps set circadian rhythms. While you do, you can…
  • Take more walks. Activity, even something as simple as a brisk walk a few times a week can improve your cardiovascular health and mood. While I was already somewhat active, I started taking more walks. Walking limbers you up and clears your head, physically works through the stress present in the body, and puts you into a fat-burning or cardio zone, depending on your intensity. So you burn some calories and improve the flow of oxygen throughout the body.

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Megan Charles

Written by

Technophobe Who Codes | UX Generalist | Freelance Writer | Egalitarian-Feminist | True-Crime/Forensics Enthusiast

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +771K people. Follow to join our community.

Megan Charles

Written by

Technophobe Who Codes | UX Generalist | Freelance Writer | Egalitarian-Feminist | True-Crime/Forensics Enthusiast

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +771K people. Follow to join our community.

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