I’m not a sleep expert. Which really makes no sense since I do it every day…sometimes twice a day. After all, there are really smart people who say it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. You’d think I’d have it down by now.
But, I don’t.
Malcom Gladwell is one of those smart people. He wrote about the 10,000 hour principle in his book “Outliers”. He uses the Beatles as an example. Before they became overnight sensations in the early 60’s, they had spent almost three years playing several shows every single night in Hamburg, Germany. And, that was three years after they formed. In other words, the Beatles had already put in 10,000 hours when “Love Me Do” was released as their first single and made them an “overnight” sensation.
But, I’ve easily slept more than 10,000 hours in my life. Why are there still nights when I feel sleep is a skill I’m lacking?
At the same time Malcom Gladwell’s book was released there was another book that examined the idea of how people develop skill. The title, “Talent is Overrated” is intriguing. The author, Geoff Colvin, comes at skill from a little different angle. He argues that skills aren’t the result of “natural talent,” but what he calls Deliberate Practice.
Deliberate Practice is not mindless repetition, but focused practice with a purpose…usually with consistent feedback so you can make adjustments.
Using Mr. Colvin’s theory, the Beatles didn’t become THE Beatles simply because John, Paul, George, and Ringo were more talented than everyone else. They got so good because all those shows in Hamburg, Germany were a form of Deliberate Practice. The group got immediate feedback every night for thousands of hours. They were able to adjust and refine what they did until they became the BEST band in the world.
A few months ago I got the new Fitbit Inspire HR. I’ve now owned four different Fitbit models since getting my first one in 2013. The Inspire HR is easily the best I’ve ever used. It looks great, counts my steps, monitors my heart rate, and tracks my sleep. (You can check out my review HERE)
The Fitbit Inspire HR not only tracks my sleep, it tells me how long I spend in each sleep cycle every night. Now…to be clear…the gold standard for tracking sleep is in a lab using an electroencephalogram. Yeah…I don’t either.
The Fitbit Inspire HR estimates sleep stages using a combination of movement and heart rate. Since each sleep cycle has a specific pattern of both, Fitbit is able to give me a pretty good idea of what’s happening while I’m sleeping.
Studies have been done looking at just how accurate Fitbit is at tracking sleep. The answer is…pretty accurate!
That means I now have access to regular feedback about my sleep. And, that is allowing me to make adjustments and then monitor the impact. In other words…I’m able to employ the principle of Deliberate Practice. And, the result is…
My sleep skill is improving!
Here’s what I’m doing. I started by getting familiar with the information Fitbit provides. You can access this on the app or website that syncs your data.
You’ll see this graph at the top of the screen.
With this information just underneath
I can swipe the button right from the date to 30 Day Avg to see how my sleep compares to my 30 Day Average.
And one more swipe to the right compares my night of sleep to the average for other men my age.
But, I quickly realized I don’t really understand what each sleep stage represents. Thankfully, Fitbit provides that information when you tap on the top part of the screen with that first graph. Fitbit breaks down your sleep for the specific night you’ve chosen. Here’s what it told me about each of the stages.
With each swipe to the left Fitbit shows how much time you spent in each stage with an explanation at the bottom of the screen.
Now that I’m familiar with the information my Fitbit Inspire HR can provide me every night, I have started making adjustments to see if I can improve my sleep. And, to be clear…what I really want to improve is how much time I spend in Deep Sleep.
Experts say we should spend at least 20% of our sleep time in this stage. In fact, they say that you can’t spend too much time in Deep Sleep. You can see I was far from that on the night in this example…only 10%. But, that’s a “bad night” for me.
For the first 30 days after I got the Fitbit Inspire HR, my average in the Deep Sleep stage was 13%. My goal is to eventually get that to 20%.
Rest is a crucial part of fitness. I’m focused on two ways to make that a part of my daily life. The first is creating and maintaining Margin in my calendar. I wrote about that last week. If you missed the article you can check it out HERE.
The other is sleep. It has always felt “less than” for me. Part of that is my early morning radio schedule. But, most of it is because I’ve never been as intentional as I can be to make it better. I’m pretty disciplined about getting to bed at the same time every night, but there’s more I can be doing. And, now I am.
Here’s what I’ve done so far, and what I plan to do. I’m trying each of these one at a time so I can monitor the impact:
Eating and Drinking
Experts say we should have at least two hours between eating and sleeping. Up until recently my gap was maybe 20 minutes. This is a BIG downside of my early bedtime. I need to be done eating at 6p…with 5p more preferable.
I’ve been making adjustments and on most nights my last bite is before 6p. There are still a couple nights where I’m closer to an hour before bedtime. That will need to be adjusted. I’ve also started limiting my beverages to just water at night with a final glass just before bed.
My body is starting to adjust to these changes, and lately, on the nights were I’m able to put a gap of at least two hours between eating and sleeping I’m getting between 17-25% Deep Sleep each night. That’s a HUGE improvement.
That’s also great motivation to work harder at making it a seven night a week practice.
Experts say that time in front of screens before we fall asleep has a negative impact on the quality of our sleep. I don’t climb into bed and scroll endlessly, but I do spend 5-10 minutes with my phone before it off.
Most nights, I’ll watch a little Netflix (right now it’s West Wing) before heading off to bed. So, in that hour before bedtime, I’m spending most of it looking at screens. But, for a few weeks, I plan on making that hour before bed screen-free. I’ll be able to check every morning the impact with my Fitbit Inspire HR and determine if I need to keep doing it.
Mattress and Pillow
What we sleep on has a huge impact on the quality of our sleep. It’s also the hardest and most expensive to change. Thankfully, Ava and I upgraded our mattress just two years ago and the result was pretty incredible. I can’t use my Fitbit to quantify just HOW incredible because I don’t have any BEFORE stats. Just know we both love our new mattress!
We also both got really nice pillows. That took a little getting used to for me, but totally on board now.
A couple weeks ago, the last thing I did before going to bed was cut the grass. I finished, showered quickly, then climbed into bed. And, then couldn’t fall asleep. Hmmm…there must be something to this.
It’s also not uncommon to take an evening walk with Ava in the summer. Typically, we’re not finishing RIGHT BEFORE I go to bed, but maybe within the hour. So…what impact does my activity level have on the quality of my sleep? I’ll be checking this out as well.
I’m excited about diving into the info my Fitbit Inspire HR is giving me every day to make my sleep better. There are already some improvements and I expect more in the next few months.
It also feels very much like the beginning of a new aspect to my fitness journey. These changes still feel awkward, require more energy and intention, and they aren’t part of my habits and lifestyle yet. I still want to eat cheese right before I go to sleep. I miss that! I’m gonna hate that screen free hour before bed (at least for awhile) but I know I need to try it.
If you struggle with motivation to stick with fitness this blog will help. Don’t be intimated by the title. That’s my goal…not yours. But, my bigger goal is to help you start a fitness journey that has doesn’t stop and builds momentum. If you click FOLLOW (below on your phone and to the right and above on your computer) you’ll get an email with a link to each motivating article the moment it’s published.