Sunday, 15 March 2015

Do Sleep Techniques Really Work? National Sleep Awareness Week Experiment

Do sleep techniques really work? Find out the results of a week's experiment
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National Sleep Awareness Week was 2nd to 9th March - and the perfect time to find out for me personally whether sleep techniques really work. I was desperate to find a solution to my dreadful habit of going to bed far too late as well as trying to find a solution to the problems I've had getting to sleep on and off lately.

I never used to have too many problems falling asleep - usually I'm out like a light - but in the last few months I've developed tinnitus and it's kept me awake in bed from between half an hour to over two hours on occasion. I needed a solution fast, and as I haven't been good at going to bed at a reasonable time for several years now (since July 2011 actually, which was when I started my blog #youdothemath), drastic action was required.

By chance I was asked to take part in Hillarys Week of Sleep as part of National Sleep Awareness Week - as you can probably imagine the request couldn't have come at a better time for me. Hillarys is supporting the UNESCO International Year of Light and wanted bloggers to monitor their sleep for seven nights and then report back on what kept them awake and what helped them get to sleep.

Fitbit activity tracker
I was kindly gifted a Fitit Flex activity tracker - one of those bracelets that not only magically monitors your sleep but also tells you how many steps you've taken that day as well as a heap of other stuff. I'd been thinking about getting one of these for ages and although they're not cheap (upwards of £70) - what they can can do to help you with your sleep and fitness is nothing short of phenomenal. I'll do a separate post about everything it can do (and how it helped me with so much more than just sleep), but somehow it gives you a complete report each morning about the exact times you were awake, asleep and restless.

The Fitbit Flex is an incredible piece of equipment, so watch out for a post all about it (hopefully next month).

Sleep techniques and my expectations
Hillarys passed on details of a number of sleep techniques, and the ones I wanted to try - plus a few others I'd read about elsewhere on the internet - were:

  • To go to bed (at a reasonable time) and get up at the same time every day - I was aiming for 11pm to 7am for a full eight hours
  • To wear an eye mask (to block out light) or use heavier curtains or a blanket at the window
  • To exercise earlier (and more regularly)
  • To use a pillow speaker with soothing sounds of nature (to help with the tinnitus)
  • To turn off devices that emit blue light (phone, laptop, etc.) at least an hour before bed so that my melatonin (the sleep hormone) levels aren't suppressed
  • To use the Fitbit Flex to monitor my daily steps and sleep
  • To use the Fitbit Flex alarm - a vibration on my wrist - to wake me gently along with a radio alarm rather than the fog horn-style alarm I've always used

Before the start I knew my biggest challenge was getting to bed earlier. The second challenge was not allowing the tinnitus to keep me awake using the techniques I'd been given at the hospital (using the sounds of nature to concentrate on). The third challenge was waking up and getting up at the same time every day so that I'd become properly tired in the evening and find falling asleep easier.

So - this is how I did in my week of sleep...!

My week of sleep - Monday 2nd March
Lights out last night: 11:30pm

Sleep summary:
Unfortunately I forgot to set my Fitbit to sleep mode (despite my saying to myself all evening "don't forget to set the sleep mode before bed"), so I can't tell what my exact sleep patterns were. Not a great start! Decided to do an extra day's monitoring at the end of the week to make up for it.

I closed down my PC and turned off my phone an hour before bed and used a night time sounds app set for 30 minutes to distract me from the tinnitus. I did wake up a couple of times (not sure why) soon after going to sleep but drifted straight back off. I managed to get up at 7:00am before my main alarm went off (a small beeping alarm clock); having the radio come on 10 minutes before helped.

Tuesday 3rd March
Lights out last night: 11:30pm
Time to fall asleep: 16 mins
Time asleep: 7 hours 13 mins
Times awakened: 4

This is how it appears on the desktop Fitbit version:

Sleep monitoring

Sleep summary:
I remember waking up a few times, plus I was much more awake when the husband's alarm went off at 6:00am. Normally I'm dead to the world when it goes off, so maybe I'd had a more refreshing sleep than I'm used to.

Wednesday 4th March
Lights out last night: 11:05pm (Made a full eight hours in bed at last.)
Time to fall asleep: 10 mins
Time asleep: 7 hours 45 mins
Times awakened: 5

Sleep summary:
Last night I ate half a banana before bed as I read it increases melatonin levels. I thought I'd woken up a few times but my Fitbit sleep summary says it was only a couple of times, and very briefly. Fell asleep in 10 minutes which is great - I thought it took much longer.

Thursday 5th March
Lights out last night: 11:25pm
Time to fall asleep: 10 mins
Time asleep: 7 hours 22 mins
Times awakened: 5

Sleep summary:
I went for a run in the afternoon rather than the evening to try the exercising earlier thing. Though I did do an hour's full-on cardio session in the evening as well and killed it so my energy levels were way up there. I also tried wearing an eye mask, but it was far too tight so I think it lasted all of about 30 seconds. To be honest I had no trouble getting to sleep (probably because of all the exercise) but my sleep tracker shows I woke up several times - and was awake for several minutes at about 1:30am - but I don't remember.

Friday 6th March
Lights out last night: 11:40pm
Time to fall asleep: 18 mins
Time asleep: 7 hours
Times awakened: 4

Sleep summary:
Finally remembered to block out the light from the street lights with an extra blanket but it didn't make much difference to the amount of light in the room. We'd need some serious blackout blinds to completely get rid of all the light. What we didn't realise before by going to bed regularly at 12:30am or after was that the street lights are switched off after a certain time, so before the room was much darker. Going to bed earlier meant a much lighter room with the street lights on.

Took a little time to get to sleep because some neighbours decided to keep their car running outside our house and have a normal-volume conversation (we live in the town centre and our front door is right on the pavement). I did start to think I was going to have problems getting to sleep but must have nodded off eventually.

Saturday 7th March
Lights out last night: 11:46pm
Time to fall asleep: 8 mins
Time asleep: 7 hours 5 mins
Times awakened: 0

Sleep summary:
I remembered to block out the light with a different, thicker blanket last night. I finally made it... 100% sleep efficiency! And not because I'm so exhausted I'm like a zombie, but because maybe - just maybe - I've got this sleep thing sorted. The darker window did help somewhat. Weirdly I was very sleepy during the day today, not sure why. I also decided I wouldn't use the beeping alarm clock anymore as I'm properly awake by the time I need to get up.

Sunday 8th March
Lights out last night: 12:14am
Time to fall asleep: 9 mins
Time asleep: 7 hours 37 mins
Times awakened: 4

Sleep summary:
Had my first "lie-in" - till 8am! A treat as it was Sunday. I've noticed a pattern in my falling asleep time - it seems to be roughly 10 minutes unless something external's keeping me awake. Now that I'm doing pretty much all the techniques I'd set out to do I've noticed a big difference. The tinnitus is bothering me less because I'm concentrating on listening to the soothing nature sounds coming through my pillow speaker (which, by the way, I can't hear through my pillow so have it next to it instead). I don't feel like a zombie in the morning either and am getting more done early on.

Monday 9th March
Lights out last night: 11:18am
Time to fall asleep: 9 mins
Time asleep: 7 hours 38 mins
Times awakened: 1

Sleep summary:
I monitored this as an extra day because I forgot to set my Fitbit on day one. Everything was pretty much the same as last night - I can definitely feel a good routine coming on and my sleep efficiency (so the FitBit says) is always about 99%.

Summary
For someone who used to get on average between four and six (maximum) hours of sleep a night, this was a revelation. I'm the sort of person who's very competitive so the thought that "someone" was monitoring me made me get into bed earlier both out of embarrassment and out of a need to win... totally irrational as this was not a competition in any way shape or form but that was the effect the Fitbit had on me.

So I can't tell for sure what techniques worked for sure (half a banana to increase melatonin levels? who knows), but in terms of winding down, turning off white light emitting devices and making the room as dark as possible it all helped me get to sleep in record time compared to the hours lying there awake that had been happening more frequently in recent months.

I'll be continuing with the Fitbit long after sleep week, no question. I liked the vibration alarm on your wrist to wake me and I liked trying to reach 10,000 steps and it telling me with a little celebratory buzz when I'd done it. I also liked having the night time sounds I'd chosen as my soothing nature sounds to take away the deafening shrill of my tinnitus. I think the key to it all, more than anything, was going to bed and getting up at the same time every day - by 11pm my body was crying out "bed pleeeeeease" and I was so determined to do better than the night before that I forgot my previous desperation to "just do another 20 minutes work".

I'm really, really hoping this will kick my late-to-bed habits once and for all. Fingers crossed.

Do YOU have problems getting to sleep? Do you have restless nights, trouble staying asleep or trouble getting up in the morning (like I did)? Let me know what techniques you use for a good night's sleep, plus don't forget to look out for a part two of this post where I'll discuss the health benefits this has given me...!
Catherine x
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P.S. Like this post? You might also enjoy Health & Fitness | 10 Ways To Keep Fit in Your 40s (Or at Any Age)!

Linking up to: Let It ShineBrilliant Blog PostsFriday's Fab FavouritesSunday Funday, Fitness Tuesday

I have written this post in collaboration with Hillarys. All content is original, however, and opinions are my own and 100% honest.
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37 comments

  1. I have trouble stopping thinking when I'm trying to sleep, so I always just try to imagine myself in an empty room. Just to clear my head.
    Rubi | The Den | http://www.the-den.blogspot.com

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    1. Hmm the thinking thing is a problem for me too, Rubi... I have to keep going back and concentrating on the night sounds and trying to clear my head of thoughts. It's hard!!

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  2. I sleep reasonably well. But not long enough. I can do with 8 hours sleep a night. Which means I have to go to bed at 21.30... As I get up at 5.30
    Most nights I am in bed by 22.45. Too late.
    If I can kick that, things would be better.
    Greetje

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    1. That was kinda always my problem, Greetje... at least now I work from home I don't have to "get up and leave" so early. Getting up at anything before 6:30 is just not right, I think!!

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  3. Sleeping mostly important for good day, i imagine a blank page. I will try your suggestions.

    Koray | Markagez

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  4. Sorry to hear about your tinnitus, I have seen enough people who could get quite desperate from that! (my line of work is in occupational health) I used to sleep like a baby until I had a baby..that was over 8 years ago. I developed a complete obsession with sleep (deprivation) until quite recently. Now I sleep again like I used to and it is brilliant.( I had some therapeutic help there) It is amazing how well you look on 4-6 hours sleep,! How do you do that? If I get that small amount I look like a corpse. I too find it very hard to go to bed on time and there is the schoolrun in the morning which forces me to get up at 07:00 and on Saturdays there are early morning swimminglessons. I find I'm doing fine in the beginning of the week but I get sloppy by the end and then it is hell to get out of bed on Thursday morning. I have a brilliant alarm clock though ( I did have this horrible adrenaline boosting -alarm clock so I started the day feeling stressed and rushed). Do you know the Philips wake-up light? Soft light slowly wakes me, the light becomes stronger like the sun is actually shining in my bedroom and I hear seagulls (my favorite sound in the world) Waking up relaxed makes all the difference for my energy levels during the day and less stressed out about going to sleep (fretting over ''will I get enough etc'') Hope your new sleeping regime continues to work, nobody can do without sleep for very long after all! Irmin

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    1. I can't possibly imagine what it's like having a baby wake you up all through the night, Irmin... there is NO way my health could have coped with that. I'm so glad to hear you can sleep again now though (and thank you for saying I look good on so little sleep, thankfully I'm very healthy in all other areas so sleep was my only bad habit!! I might look 30 if I'd had enough sleep for all these years)!!

      And yes I have (and use) the wake-up light - we use it during the winter months. I can't bear the dark mornings in the winter and need daylight to help me get up. In fact as my OH gets up earlier than me I always ask him to open the curtains (in the warmer months) so that the daylight comes rushing in!

      Thanks for your great comment, I'm learning to cope with the tinnitus day by day :)

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  5. I've had tinnitus for about 15 years now, I also lost the hearing in that ear. At first it bothered me terribly and prevented me from sleeping but now I'm used to it. I find it seems worse when I'm tired so it can become a vicious circle. Exercising early in the day helps me to sleep - although sometimes I don't make it to bedtime and crash out on the sofa instead!

    Emma x

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    1. All of that sounds soooooo familiar, Emma - I just hope my actual hearing doesn't go! I try to avoid even just sitting on the sofa at all in the evenings for that reason, at least during the week. But I don't fall asleep on the sofa anywhere near as much as I used to which is good :)

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  6. UGH. I'm a terrible sleeper, and have been since I was a child. Everything wakes me up; the sound of traffic outside (especially the rubbish trucks which slowly whoooooosh down our road at the unhelpful hour of 5:00 a.m.), my husband's breathing, people talking in the street outside, etc. It makes me anxious just thinking about it. Oh, and I don't touch caffeine ever. Coffee stays active in me for a long time and I can never sleep if I've had any, no matter if it was that morning. I'm so envious of people who sleep well.

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    1. It's funny how some people are light sleepers, and others find that absolutely nothing wakes them once they're asleep. I'm definitely the latter!! It's the getting to sleep if there are unwelcome noises that I find a problem. Sorry to hear you have trouble sleeping, hun... I assume you've tried ear plugs and all sorts? I've always worried that I won't hear my alarm if I have them in!!

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  7. Catherine, this was a fascinating read and now I know I definitely need a Fitbit!! I have had trouble with sleep on and off for the past couple of years. And there is nothing worse than waking up feeling more tired than when you went to bed. I need to start implementing some of these strategies.

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    1. I think setting your mind to doing something about it helps a lot, Deborah - once you're in the right mindset it makes implementing things much easier. Let me know how you get on, I hope the tips help! C x

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  8. I have rheumatoid arthritis as the concurrent fatigue that comes with it means I never have trouble sleeping. I do have trouble waking up and staying up .... short of 9 hours sleep and I trigger joint involvement. Do too much and I pretty much fall asleep wherever I am (memorably at the Musée d'Orsay). So mostly I have to keep my sleep regular and heed my body... and remember that if it is a flare up, sleeping 48 hours will make me feel like death and to go move instead. Slow and steady ... and bed time doesn't matter as much as getting enough rest.

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    1. Gosh that's a lot to have to cope with, Anne - I'm sorry to hear of your arthritis! My mum has it pretty bad as well and she has to make sure she keeps moving, despite it being painful. Getting good and regular sleep is so important for *everybody* but even more so for those with health problems.

      I like your thoughts on making sure you're getting enough rest. I think that's something many of us need more of! Thanks for your comment, I hope you stay well :)

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  9. I am going to try a sleep mask. My husband's light always bothers me, and the sleep mask seems to be a simple solution.

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    1. Just make sure yours isn't too tight, sweetie - trying it on for size wasn't something that even occurred to me so I took mine off really quickly!! Mind you, too loose and it won't stay in place. But I think I should try again, I hope you find one that works for you too!

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  10. I've had really annoying sleeping problems these past couple of years and, until now, what has worked the most for me is reading Guy Meadows book... I can't wait to read the second part of this post about the health benefits!
    ♥♥♥
    Jeanne
    http://fashionmusingsdiary.com

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    1. Oooh I must look that one up, Jeanne, I don't know that one! Glad to hear it's working for you :)

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  11. Catherine, What a great post. I usually have no problem falling asleep, but staying asleep is tough. I wake up a lot! You have inspired me to buy a Fitbit. I drink cherry juice (pure) before going to bed as it boosts melatonin. It seems to work for me.

    Cherie
    http://www.stylenudge.com

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    1. Thank you so much, Cherie! And the cherry juice boosting melatonin is not one I've heard of, so thanks for the tip! x

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  12. I definitely sleep with an eye mask every night which greatly helps with sleep and I do have an UPS band, similar to a Fitbit. A regular routine is definitely very important for good sleep and no devices in the bedroom. For anybody with serious sleep problems I would highly recommend http://thesleepschool.org. There is a book + a downloadable version with some excellent advice. Good post on a very important subject. I don't think our 24/7 digital life is very conducive to a good nights sleep.

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    1. I couldn't agree more with your last sentence, Josephine!! Devices are definitely evil when it comes to trying to get a good night's sleep, and they're such a recent thing that who knows how else they could be effecting us. Thank you for the tips and links, I'll take a look! x

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  13. So two things the sleep quality you get before midnight is much better than after so for a good sleep you need to be in bed before 9.30pm. Remember our ancestors went to bed when it was dark because they didn't have a reliable source of light - our bodies haven't changed that much. Also if you are in your 40's then your hormone profile is changing and this will affect the quality of your sleep - older people sleep less and this is in part the reason why. Women are particularly affected by this and a disrupted sleep pattern is often a sign of the onset of peri-menopause. Sorry having been there just saying.

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    1. Oh gosh if I went to bed at 9:30pm I could probably kiss goodbye to earning money, exercise, showering, washing my hair, doing the laundry, blogging... the list goes on! I would basically live in a filthy house (it's not exactly tidy as it is) and not be able to do pretty much anything, and I very rarely watch TV!

      I'm all for looking after my health and fitness through diet and exercise, and sleep was the only thing I was very bad at. After that I guess I guess there's not much else I can do as nature will take its course and age will catch up with me eventually, but I won't worry about what I can't do anything about, Carol! I'm happy with my 11-7 and my sleep patterns :))

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  14. I'm so lucky that I rarely have problems falling - or staying - asleep at night, dearest Catherine (my biggest challenge is my snoring husband!!) But I DO have a hard time making it to bed early enough to get my full eight hours; there always seems to be "just one more thing" to do...and before I know it, it's midnight!! But I've been thinking about getting myself a Fitbit for the gentle alarm and the step-counting feature...looking forward to the second part of this post to see what else it can do!! :)

    www.StyleIsMyPudding.blogspot.com

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    1. You sound exactly the same as me, Monika! It's only recently since the tinnitus started that I've had the odd problem getting to sleep. So look out for the post about the Fitbit next month. I think I'll do a week's experiment like I did for this one, but this time recording and using *all* the features of the Fitbit...!

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  15. That's so interesting, I didn't know about the blue light thing. I'm always checking my iPhone before I go to sleep. I don't have much trouble nodding off mind with a 10 month old waking a few times a night still! #AllAboutYou

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    1. Yes the blue light thing has been in the news a fair bit lately... though if you have a baby I'm not surprised you want to sleep straight away!! I try not to - like now, I'm quickly replying on my comments and I'm getting into bed in about 20 mins. Very naughty!!

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  16. An interesting post. I've had trouble sleeping at times because my mind has been churning round and round on unhappy or stressful thoughts. Sometimes I just can't do anything about it and the only way through is to take a sleeping pill. Still, I am trying to stay out of the trap of spending all night on social media (irony! here I am typing this) as I find it really had to a) stop checking things just one more time and b) to sleep when I finally do make it to bed.

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    1. It sounds like the blue light thing is definitely causing you problems, Eleanor... not only will the light stop you feeling like sleeping, but your brain will be kept so active with reading social media - it's lethal! Try all these tips one by one and see what makes a difference. I know that going to bed and getting up at exactly the same time every night is really important - it trains your brain into expecting sleep at that time of night.

      And something I was told at my tinnitus management appointment at the hospital: once you're in bed, have a (and I know it sounds cheesy, but it works) "happy place" that you can think of - something simple and soothing, like standing on top of a hill, or paddling in a warm sea. Every time your mind wanders elsewhere, go back to thinking about being in your happy place. You may end up doing it dozens of times, but again it's about training.

      And finally - if you're thinking about stuff and worrying about it, write a list before bed! Write down the stuff that's worrying you and what you have to do the next day (no more than about 3-4 things, though). There's something about writing stuff down that takes the stress away a little.

      Hope these things help... let me know how you get on!

      C x

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  17. Such an interesting experiment to do - I find that I have absolutely zero discipline when it comes to going to bed early (she says, typing at 2am!), and switching off devices. Must. Do. Better. What I do do however is a few yoga postures that help to wind you down in preparation for bed (wrote a blog post on that one). Oh, and I can't go to sleep without drinking a mug of hot water every single night. Once I'm out, i'm out. Thanks so much for linking this up to #AllAboutYou x

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    1. Thanks Zaz - I was almost as bad as you with the working late thing before the experiment... there's nearly always *one* more thing that I can do before bed (or ten)...!!!! Aside from the tinnitus I always found staying asleep wasn't a problem, it was the going to sleep while I could hear it that was. But yes - get yourself out of the habit of keeping the devices on till late! C x

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  18. Love reading about your experiment. Funnily enough I have just been asked to review Fitbug, and love using it, and also was one of the first bloggers to review the first Fitbits years back. These gadgets are fabulous to help people to keep on healthy track and to get you into great routines. Thanks for joining #FitnessTuesday and will be looking out for your next post @Fitness4Mamas

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    1. Thank you so much, Mirka! It surprised me just how much it affected my habits...!

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