I Tracked My Sleep With An App & The Results Were Fascinating

I've always felt like I'm fighting a losing battle with sleep. I seem to need more of it than my friends to stay sane. While many of them can do four and six hours nights, or even pull an all-nighter for finals with ease, I don't feel fully recharged unless I get ten hours of sleep, although I can function on six or seven if I need to.

Throughout my life, I've tried many methods to sleep better. In high school, my sleep quality was at its all-time low because I woke up at 4:30 every day to take the bus to school, whereas in college, my sleep quality steadily increased by the year as I was allowed to choose later classes and have a more flexible schedule. 

So when I came across this app called Sleep Cycle, I was intrigued. The idea of an app that would monitor my sleep and wake me up when I was already most awake sounded appealing. I'd already done a lot of research throughout high school and college about which sleep cycles were best to wake during, and I'd experimented with purposefully trying to wake up during specific cycles.

According to their website, Sleep Cycles works by either using the microphone or the accelerometer (the same technology that knows when you're turning your iPhone so the screen can flip) to track your sleep and lightly wakes you when you're already the most awake. You can set a specified range of time during which you'd like to be woken, and it will choose the time that you seem most awake to set off a light alarm. 

Before using this app, I already had some sleep tricks in place that may affect the results. First of all, I make a habit of not trying to sleep until I'm actually tired, and not forcing myself to try to sleep if I can't. I also have an app that makes the light of my iPhone and my laptop more conducive to sleep, so that if I use either before bed it won't affect my ability to fall asleep after. Third, if I'm having particular trouble falling asleep, I'll try sitting up and reading for a while before even attempting to go back to bed.


This was my first night testing the sleep app, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I didn't have anywhere to be early the next day, so I thought it was an ideal time to find out what happened. I did absolutely no experimenting: nothing to try to influence my sleep or be sleepier before bed. Instead, I just went to bed when I was actually tired, and turned the app on right before bed. 

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I had a pretty good sleep that night. I wasn't sure what to expect, so I continued using the app to find out what might influence my sleep. 


I had a very hard time falling asleep that night, but also had somewhere I needed to be early the next morning. As a result, my app categorized this as a "short night or nap," which gave me a good laugh.

I was groggy all day, so I tried to take a nap a few times mid-afternoon, but I wasn't able to. I've never been good at going back to sleep once I've woken up, which is one of the reasons I wanted to try a sleep app in the first place. As a result, I was tired all day, but then hit a boost of energy sometime around four or five in the afternoon. 


On Thursday night, I knew I had somewhere to be the next morning, and I didn't want a repeat of Wednesday's horrible sleep. So I experimented by taking some sleep aids: the generic version of ZzzQuil.

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As a result, I fell asleep shortly after going to bed, and it looks like I stayed in a deep rest for a while after. I was really awake in the morning, however, when my cat crawled on the bed and tried to disturb me to be fed. In short, I learned that disturbances early in the morning are hard to recover from, because I never completely fell back asleep after she originally woke me.


Finally, the weekend! I was tired from a few days of wacky sleeping schedules, so I used this night to get a nice, healthy night's rest. I did nothing unusual before bed, except stay up until I was totally tired, and then sleep in as long as my body wanted. The result was a fairly high-quality sleep that left me well rested and ready for my busy Saturday.


On Saturday, I had a chance to find out how alcohol affects my sleeping, along with sleeping in an unfamiliar place. I was scheduled to sleep over someone's house for a jewelry party, and I drank several glasses of wine before getting some shut-eye.

It looks like, despite drinking and being in an unusual place, I got a fantastic night's sleep. In the morning, I felt really well-rested, which is rare for me after drinking. Usually, I feel like drinking more than one or two drinks makes me restless, and I wake up several times during the night. What did I learn from this? Different types of alcohol may affect my sleep differently. Normally, I drink mixed cocktails and not wine, so it's possible that wine is better on my sleep than other, harder liquors.



On Sunday, I experimented with going to bed and starting the app before I was actually tired. I let the app track the time that I spent in bed reading and surfing the Internet, just to see how much time that took me. I wanted to know how much of my time in bed was spent actually sleeping and how much was spent getting ready to sleep. 

Although I spent some time awake beforehand, I dropped into deep sleep pretty quickly. And my alarm woke me a few minutes before 7:30, when I was already awake, so I felt more recharged than I normally do waking up in the morning.


On Monday, my alarm woke me significantly earlier than 7:30, and I was surprised that this didn't bother me. Usually, I hate being disturbed before my alarm (basically, before I absolutely have to be up to be on time for the day), but I woke feeling sick, so my mind was more on my body than anything else. 

Unfortunately, it looked like a stomach virus was going to take over my day. I woke up early and had a hard time going back to bed.

Right before waking up, I'd also had a nightmare, which might explain why I went from deep sleep to awake so quickly. I woke up feeling anxious as well as sick, and I'm surprised my overall sleep quality was this good. The app definitely isn't able to take into account what dreams we have!


On Tuesday, I drank more water than usual, including right before going to bed. I hadn't been feeling well all day, so it was harder to go to bed at night, but I was also far more hydrated than I usually am. 

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When I woke up in the morning, I felt a lot more refreshed, and even though my sleep quality was lower than the night before. 


When I woke up, I didn't feel completely ready to start my day, and it took me more time to get ready in the morning. It seemed like this could be because my sleep was short, since my longer nights of sleep, on average, seemed to have higher quality. 

I also had more excitement in my night before going to bed, because I'd interviewed someone over the phone for a magazine, and I'd stayed up late watching one of my favorite shows. 


I tried going to bed early on purpose to see how this would affect my sleep, and this seemed like the perfect night: I wasn't feeling well, I was already tired, and I didn't have anything I needed to do. Sleeping for a longer period of time increased the overall quality of my sleep, but it looks like I didn't fall into deep sleep right away, whereas for the other nights I basically always dipped into deep sleep immediately. 

What I Learned

It's definitely healthy for me not to try to fall asleep until I'm absolutely ready, because it results in reaching a deeper sleep more quickly, and being less likely to wake back up. Overall, a longer night's sleep is better for me, but waking up at the right time in my sleep cycle can make even a shorter night seem more refreshing than it normally would. It's best for me to get between eight and ten hours of sleep, but if that's not possible, seven is better than six. It seems like even an extra half hour or hour of sleep can really increase the quality of my sleep.

Going to bed earlier, even when I was already tired, didn't seem to result in falling deep asleep faster, but it did increase my overall quality. Being disturbed during my sleep, especially in the morning, can make it harder for me to fall back asleep and probably takes away from the quality of my sleep. 

I'm planning to continue using this app, because even on a daily basis, when I don't try anything to affect the quality of my sleep, just being woken up at "the right time" has been beneficial, and leaves me feeling more refreshed than my normal iPhone alarm. The added insights have been bonus material, because they let me know how long I should sleep, and what time I might want to go to bed, in order to have the best night's rest possible.