Image by Pinterest; Edit by me.
I used to have a regular sleeping pattern before starting university. I slept only during the night and did not need any naps throughout the day to keep me going – actually, I wasn’t even able to fall asleep during the day before. It was not dark enough for my body to relax and get into the mood of sleeping and all efforts were pointless at that time.
Fast forward to 6 years later, I now find it increasingly harder and harder to get into a regular sleeping pattern. It takes me about half an hour (up to an hour) to fall asleep at night even though I have moments when I am about to snooze at my desk in the office. Some evenings I feel that I can go to bed at 9 pm sharp and fall asleep immediately. Then, there are others when I turn around in bed for hours before finally snoozing off just to wake up an hour later and start again. In the majority of nights my sleep cycles are irregular and not good enough for me to have a proper rest and this affects my mood and productivity throughout the day.
I reached a point when my sleeping pattern was in tatters and decided that I need to get serious and do something to improve it. I started researching the topic and was surprised to find out that we don’t really talk about sleep – I mean, we’re spending practically a quarter of our lives doing it, so why not make it as good as it can be?!
The first thing that I learned is that our sleep is actually divided into four sleep cycles – 3 non-rapid eye movement cycles (non-REM) and 1 rapid eye movement cycle (REM). Each night we start from stage 1 of a non-REM cycle with the lighter form of sleep up and gradually we reach stage 3 of non-REM cycle when we experience our deepest and most restorative sleep during the night. The REM sleep, on the other hand, is characterized by rapid movement of the eyes and is commonly known as the dreaming stage. Typically, a person would begin a sleep cycle every 90-120 minutes resulting in four to five cycles per sleep time, or hours spent asleep. You can read more about the different stages here.
I was fascinated by how our body functions when we are sleeping and wanted to find out more about my own sleeping pattern. So, I downloaded the Sleep Cycle App – it is available both for Android and iOS.
Sleep Cycle works by using the accelerometer inside your phone (the part that knows when you turn it sideways) to detect your movements as you sleep. It’ll then use this data to wake you at the optimal time in your ‘wake up phase’ which you can set to be between 10 and 90 minutes long.
For example, if your opt for a 20 minute wake up phase and set your alarm for 8:00am, if Sleep Cycle feels strong movement as you turn at 7:52am (indicating you’re experiencing light sleep), it’ll wake you then, resulting in you feeling significantly better than if you’d been woken at 8:00am in the middle of a deep sleep. In a nutshell, the app knows when it is the best time for you to wake up without feeling stressed.
The best part is that you get a free diagram each morning that shows you your sleep cycles and rates your overall quality of sleep. So for example, on the screenshot on the left I got only 40% as a score – I did not have regular sleep cycles that night starting from relatively deep sleep at the beginning of the night and ending with relatively light sleep at the end with no fluctuation in between. On the screenshot on the right, however, I got 83% and the diagram shows much more regular and definitive sleep cycles throughout the night. I can check my sleep cycles each morning and see what makes me sleep better.
This app is my starting point of analyzing my sleep and taking more action to improve it. What helps you sleep better? Let me know in the comments below.