The Quest for Optimal Sleep: Part 1 - Background

The Quest for Optimal Sleep: Part 1 - Background

For a long time, I've had a hard time maintaining a sleep schedule that is optimal (for now, defined as ~8 hours a night, and preferably being out of bed before 8:30 am).

There seem to be several major obstacles to a healthy sleep schedule for me:

  • Willpower:  Just about everyone I know has a hard time either making themselves go to bed, getting out of bed, or both.  Personally, I have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning when I first wake up, and then a hard time going to bed when I want to.
  • Social disruptions:  As much as I'd love a set bedtime and time to rise, sometimes, I have social obligations that make me need to either arise earlier, or make me want to stay up late with friends.  I'd strongly prefer to keep this as a part of my life.
  • Environmental disruptions: I'm not sure how big of an issue this is, thanks to a lack of current metrics. However, things like noise pollution from the neighborhood, noise from family members and pets, and light pollution may effect my sleeping in ways that are greater than I realize.

I'm beginning this post series as a way to track the different experiments I'm running on myself in an attempt to solve the sleeping problem for myself.

Desired outcome of this experiment set:

  • Get metrics on the quantity & quality of my sleep.
  • Move my sleep metrics closer to my optimum state (for now, aiming at 8 hours a night, although this may change given further research).  
  • Figure out an 80-20/Pareto approach for myself, that can hopefully benefit others.  

Things I've tried so far, to varying levels of effectiveness:

  • Sleep journaling (helped with metrics, helped some with willpower by motivating me to write better times)
  • Pavlok alarm bracelet (extremely effective at making sure I wake up, but didn't help me with the willpower to go to bed at my desired time).  After a while of using this, I would end up being awoken, doing jumping jacks as the bracelet requires, and then falling back in bed, exhausted.
  • Light clock - I'm not sure how effective this is.  For a while (maybe a week), it helped me wake up on time (I would wake up feeling refreshed).  I'm not sure why it stopped working well.  This may have been a placebo effect that worked really well for a while, and then ran out of steam.
  • Morning/nighttime routines.  When I have the discipline to do this, meditation and gratitude journaling does seem to help me go to bed in a more relaxed state.  

Things I want to try (or try again, with modifications):

  • Oura: this smart ring claims to track sleeping time, body temperature, sleep quality, and a host of other metrics.  This could help me measure the effectiveness of all other tactics.
  • Sleep Journaling: I don't know if sleep journaling when combined with an Oura would provide a motivation boost due to the action of writing something physically, or perhaps have another positive effect.
  • Morning/evening sunlight exposure: A great podcast episode of the Tim Ferriss show on sleep mentioned how this can help your circadian rhythms function.  
  • Morning/evening routines and rituals.  What are the optimal ones, if there are any, given both limited time, and limited willpower (especially in the evening)?
  • Exercise: does exercise have an effect on sleep?  If so, when should it be done?
  • White noise: is there a measurable improvement from using a white noise machine?  
  • Accountability partner(s): would social pressure (and interaction in the morning) provide the motivation boost I need to reliably hit my goals?  Would this backfire in the case that I miss a day?  
  • Evening light avoidance: I've made a nominal effort to avoid blue light in evenings for a while, but it hasn't been a very effective one.  
  • Supplements: Melatonin?  Chamomile extract?  I really don't have a clue on this front.  
  • Bed function exclusivity: I'm not religious about only using my bed for sleep.  Reading, texting, and browsing my phone in bed may be making it harder for me to turn off at the end of the day.  

If you have experiments that have helped you, or other thoughts on this, feel free to write to me. :)

Subscribe to

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.