I’m at work before most people are awake. That’s what happens when you do morning radio. I have to get up super early. In fact, that’s the thing that interests people most about what I do…what time I wake up.
Over the years, I’ve had different wake-up times ranging between 2:30am to 4:30am. Currently, my alarm is set at 3:54am, but I’m usually awake at least ten minutes before it goes off.
I’m a morning person so getting up this early isn’t a problem. The challenge has always been on the other side…going to bed early. I either miss evening activities or I pay for it with sleep deprivation.
Like most people, I’ve always had an intellectual understanding that sleep is important. It becomes real when I don’t get enough and I feel tired in a way that coffee can’t fix. My wife, Ava, handles being tired much better than me. When I’m tired, I’m not happy and I’m not pleasant.
There’s actually way more value to sleep than just the elimination of feeling tired. Research now tells us that insufficient sleep raises the risk for some pretty significant health problems:
- Heart Disease
- High Blood Pressure
These are some of the very things that regular exercise lowers the risk for. In other words, I’m working AGAINST my fitness journey if I’m NOT getting enough sleep. But, how much sleep do I really need?
Experts recommend between 7 – 9 hours per night. Research shows that less than seven is insufficient, and more than nine also has a negative impact. Getting too much sleep has never been a concern for me, but for years I’ve been sleeping less than six hours a night. A nap might add another 30-60 minutes to my daily total, but it still doesn’t reach the seven hour minimum.
But, maybe I’m one of the outliers? You know, one of those people who don’t need as much sleep. I’ve always looked at them as rock stars. How much more are they able to get done because they don’t waste time sleeping?
There are two problems with that thinking:
- We actually don’t know that these people DON’T NEED sleep. Maybe they’ve just adjusted to a life of sleep deprivation.
- I’m NOT one of them.
Experts say with sleep deprivation you often don’t even realize how tired you really are. Not only are you at greater risk for future health problems, but there’s also the impact on your brain. Yeah…your brain needs sleep to function the way it’s supposed to.
Research shows sleep affects our ability to learn new stuff and remember what happen during the day. Sleep also impacts our ability to solve problems, pay attention, and be creative. But, if I’m sleep deprived would I even know what’s normal anymore?
Ava has long told me I don’t get enough sleep. She wasn’t nagging, just an occasional observation. I would disagree because I didn’t feel tired all the time. Plus, I took a nap every day.
And, then I got a cold.
It was my third one of the year. I typically get one or two a year. I always assumed that’s the standard. My colds tend to last for a couple weeks, with the first few days the worst. I exercise, so that’s got to have a benefit on my immune system and I’ve been eating better.
I’ve been washing my hands more frequently and I have been working hard to not touch my face without thinking about it. These are all things that should keep me from getting colds.
And, yet…here’s another one. What’s up with that?
I was frustrated and did some research. I wanted to know what I was missing that made me vulnerable to these stupid colds. And, there it was…in the list…with my name on it!
NOT ENOUGH SLEEP!
In that moment I also realized that my wife hasn’t had a cold in years. In that same moment, I also realized she gets at least seven hours of sleep every night…even on what she would call a “bad night”. On good nights, she’s closer to the nine hours.
I made some changes and my Fitbit was a HUGE HELP. It became my Sleep Wingman.
FITBIT SLEEP TRACKER
Most Fitbit devices also track your sleep. If your Fitbit measures your heart rate it’ll also measure your sleep. Here’s how the Fitbit Sleep Tracker works. It combines your movement (or lack of) with your measured heart rate to gauge how long you’re asleep and even the stages of sleep.
The Fitbit can measure four parts of your sleep.
- Awake – During the night, most of us wake up a lot. Sometimes we’re aware of when we’re awake, but a lot of these wakeful periods are very short and we don’t even know they’re happening. But, your Fitbit does and it gives you a cumulative amount of time you were awake.
- Light Sleep – Experts say we spend half the night in light sleep. It’s not as valuable as the next two sleep stages.
- REM Sleep – REM stands for Rapid Eye Movements. This is when we dream. We spend about 20% of our sleep in this stage. Interestingly, babies spend half their time in REM.
- Deep Sleep – This is where most of the magic happens. The greatest health benefits of sleep are found here. Ideally, you want about 25% of your sleep in this stage, but most of us often get less than that.
I started paying attention to the sleep information from my Fitbit more than a year ago. Last fall Fitbit added a new feature to their sleep tracker. They call it The Fitbit Sleep Score.
It was a game changer for me.
The Fitbit Sleep Score combines quantity and quality of your sleep and gives you a score each night. The score ranges between 0-100 and feels very much like the score we used to get on tests in school.
Excellent – 90 to 100
Good – 80 to 89
Fair – 60 to 79
Poor – 0 to 59
If you are looking for a Fitbit that also tracks your sleep I recommend the Fitbit Inspire HR. This is the Fitbit I use and LOVE IT!
(By the way…if you use this link to make a purchase this blog will receive a small commission. It won’t add anything to what you pay, but letting you know is the right thing to do)
Fitbit analyzed over 6-billion nights of sleep to create The Sleep Score. They factor in three things:
- How much time you are awake and asleep. This accounts for 50% of your score.
- How much time you spend in REM and Deep Sleep. Since this is where we get the biggest health benefits, this is 25% of your Sleep Score.
- The final 25% is your sleeping heart rate and how relaxed while you sleep. If you’re heart rate is high and you’re restless that will drop your score.
I’m very competitive. The person I love competing with the most is me. I don’t care (too much) if you beat me, but I hate losing to myself. The Fitbit Sleep Score made sleep a competition for me. Now I have a target on the wall to beat each night.
And, this isn’t a trivial competition either. Winning at sleep means winning at life.
My early Sleep Scores were typically between 75 and 80. I had a few that went higher than 80, but not many. Fitbit says most people get between 72 and 83. I was in the zone, but again the competition wasn’t with others, it was with myself. I wanted to do better. My health needs me to do better.
That third cold of the year motivated me to improve my sleep even more. Getting less than six hours a night just wasn’t cutting it. I needed at least seven hour of sleep each night.
My Fitbit indicated that most nights I was awake for about an hour. Simple math indicated I needed to be IN BED for eight hours to get seven hours of sleep. At the time, I was waking up at 3am. That meant I needed to get in bed at 7pm each night.
That was not an easy decision because it required even more sacrifices in the evening. But, I felt my health was important so I did it. My Fitbit Sleep Score immediately went, but there’s still room for improvement.
Sleep experts recommend doing these things if you want to sleep better.
- Create a good sleep environment. Your bed and pillow should be comfortable. The room should also be dark and quiet. Ava and I now have a white noise machine that really helps.
- Watch what and when you eat and drink. The experts suggest eating no later than 2 to 3 hours before going to bed. I’m working on that. Also, coffee is not helpful after 12p. Got that one covered since my last cup is usually at 9a.
- Avoid screens when going to bed. They say the blue light that comes from screens actually messes with our natural sleep rhythms. It’s also pretty easy to fall into a screen surfing rabbit hole while you’re lying in bed and chew up time you could be sleeping. I’m working on this one. I spend about five minutes looking at my phone after I get in bed.
- Avoid exercise before bedtime. Exercise helps us sleep, but not if you’re doing it within three hours of bedtime.
I continue to make lifestyle adjustments to improve my sleep. With the Fitbit Sleep Score I can pretty quickly see the impact. Of course, not every night is great. While I’m averaging in the mid 80’s now, I’ll still have nights where my Sleep Score is in the 70’s.
And, the Fitbit is not perfect. There are occasional “glitches” that drop my score. In fact, just the other night my Fitbit seemed to think I went to bed 90 minutes later than I really did. I’m not sure why that happens, but thankfully it’s a rare glitch.
I’m learning the benefits of good sleep aren’t based JUST on how I feel in the morning, but have a far wider health impact. That impact, whether for good or bad, has a long term cumulative effect. I wonder how it will eventually feel to leave years of sleep deprivation in the rear view mirror.
My personal Fitbit Sleep Score record is 92 and every night I hope to beat that. Using my Fitbit to compete with myself is having a positive impact on my health.
And…I haven’t had any colds yet this year.
IMPROVE YOUR SLEEP TODAY
Exercise is one of the things experts recommend if you want to sleep better. Walking is great exercise and if you’re looking for ways to boost your step total and sleep better tonight, here’s a free guide to 37 Ways to Add 1,000 Steps.
Lastly, this blog is designed to help you embrace walking as a fitness activity. Walking is sustainable, flexible, effective, and fun. Every week I post new articles with stories and helpful suggestions to Win at Fitness.
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