Getting Better Sleep Part 2 – The Review

Disclaimer:  This is really a nerd post, in which we go over the data collected to see if we have had any improvement.
The short version for cool people is to report that over the month, the number of screentime minutes has been reduced to zero, and that weekly restfulness scores are up, by quite a lot.  Over the month I have managed to eliminate screentime, and my sleep has benefited as a result of it.  I figured out that my discipline is lax over the weekends, and that I’m more tired on a Wednesday despite no screentime due to getting back late.
The Good News
The good news is that weekly total minutes started off at a whopping 80, and are now at a very satisfactory zero.  So far so successful.
The even better news is that the average weekly restfulness score is up to over 7.5.  This appears to be having an effect.
The Not-So-Good News
If you look at a plot of average minutes of screen time by day vs average restfulness score, you will see that the days where the minutes dip are followed by days where the restfulness score spikes.
Also my discipline is a lot more lax at the weekends.  The average number of minutes on Friday, Saturday and Sunday are much more than during the week.  I suffer for it as the weekend restfulness scores are much lower than during the week, and so is Monday’s.
Tuesday night is Taiji class, and I get back late, so even though I don’t look at a screen and go straight to bed, I don’t get as much sleep and I am not so well rested the next day.  This is  something I’m going to make a note of and come back to sometime in the future.
Adjusting the Plan
In this iteration of “Act”, I have decided to be stricter with myself at the weekends.  Willpower is a finite resource, so what I’m going to do is just switch my phone off when the bedtime timer goes off.  That way, I’ll probably not switch it back on again during the next hour as it’ll be such a hassle.

Getting Better Sleep Part 1 – The Plan

Having written about life as practise,  I thought I would show you how it works in practise, give you a worked example as it were.
I once used this idea when I wanted to improve the quality of my sleep.  The mornings would see me waking up, but not feeling well rested.  Sometimes I’d wake up in the middle of the night and lie awake for what seemed like ages. In the morning, I’d be slow to get going, and I didn’t like feeling grumpy all the time.
So, what do you have to do to turn “Improve sleep quality” into something you can practise?
Plan – Get a list of one or two easy things you can do
Action one was that to start googling, and read some books, filtering out the repeats and discounting sources that weren’t quite good enough.  There’s a fair amount of hearsay in suggestions people make, so I decided to stick to science.  There’s been a lot of research made into sleep and how to make it better, so that’d be a great place to start.
What I’d do is make notes as I went, building up a body of knowledge on the subject.  What did I find?  Let’s start with the benefits.
The Benefits of Better Sleep
The benefits of better sleep can be summarised by the following question:
If I were to offer you a performance-enhancing drug with no side effectd that was scientifically proven to boost your learning, cognition, physical performance, emotional balance and mood, what would you do?
The (My) answer is undoubtedly yes.  Well that drug is more and better sleep.
So, the good news is that I will get a lot of other goodies in addition to feeling better rested and being less grumpy.  This is starting to look like a very good deal.
What the Research Said Would Improve My Sleep
The main points I found were:
1) No screen time before bed.  The blue light from screens acts as a signal to the brain that you need to wake up.  It’s the mechanism our body uses to get going in the mornings, so if we get exposure just before we go to bed, our body will be trying to wake us up just as we’re trying to go to sleep.
2) Temperature – the room should be between 18 and 24 degrees.  This is something that we have little control over right now, as we don’t have air conditioning, so I’m going to put this on a to-do list and work on it later.
3) Dark – This follows on from the no screen time thing.  Good news is that we already have blackout blinds installed as my wife is quite light sensitive.
4) Stilling the mind – I have something that covers this in place already.  I stretch before bedtime, to keep my back in good shape, and do a bit of meditation at just before I head up to bed.  This is already somewhat covered.
5) The bed should be comfortable – No issues here, we have a good mattress and decent pillows.  I don’t think we have an issue here.
Formulating the Plan and Metrics
The two options open were controlling the temperature, and no screen time before bedtime.  Both of these are quite actionable, and the quick win is no screen time.  I don’t have to spend any money, and it’s a very small thing that I can start doing immediately.
So, for the next week or so, I would try to not glance at my smartphone or tablet within 1 hour of bedtime.
As a rough measure of how well I was doing, I would log approximately how many minutes I’d spend looking at a screen of any description within one hour of  bedtime.  The goal was to get this number of minutes down to zero.
A second measure would be to log a restfulness score out of 10 the next morning.
The next step would be to do the plan, and see how this little action affects my life
Well, in practise it wasn’t as simple as I had thought.  The call of social media seemed to be too much for little old me to resist.  The first few days saw me peeking at my phone for up to twenty minutes at a time.  This wasn’t good, because I hadn’t realised that I’d been looking at my phone for that long just before bedtime.  No wonder I wasn’t sleeping well.
After a week I took a look at the results.
Here, we have the plot.  It’s only a week’s worth of data, and I won’t make a firm conclusion, but there is a tendency to have better scores on restfulness after an evening of no minutes on the screen.
On day 3 I had no minutes and the following day I had a restfulness score spike.
On day 6 I had 20 minutes on screen and the following day I had a restfulness score plummet.
The conclusion after a week – I’m rubbish at limiting screen time, there is some evidence that I will get better sleep if I am successful.
Time to press on a figure out what I’m going to do to improve
What I wanted to find were small things that I could do that would help me limit my screen time.
One easy thing to do was to put a screensaver ony phone saying “No screen time after 9pm”.
I’d also put an alarm that went off at 9pm, and this would serve as a signal to me to stop doing whatever I was doing and start winding down to bedtime, pack my bags for the next day and also start the stretch routine.
Now that a suitable action plan was in place I’d monitor this and review after a month to see how things were going.

Life As Practise

When I was seven, I asked my mother, “How can I get better at life?”
It seemed like a sensible question at the time because, as it felt like everything I did was wrong.  Mum laughed.
“Life is something that happens to you,” she said.
 She was right of course, as mums often are, there are events in life that you have absolutely no control over.  However,  there are little things in our every day that we could probably do something to make our lives easier.
We spend our lives doing broadly similar things, our jobs don’t tend to vary considerably from day to day, and we often only try to improve on the big things in our life, our skills, our job or our relationships.
What if we looked at our life as a practise?
What if you made a commitment to keep improving small aspects of your life, day after day?  You’d make small changes every day.  Over time, enough small changes will add up and deliver something of tangible value.  In fact, the Japanese already have a term for it.  They call it Kaizen, and they’ve been using it in industry for ages.  It’s a concept that allows you to make your life something that you can practise and get better at.
So how can we Kaizen our life?
Find Something You Want To Improve
Take a couple of minutes to make a list of things that you could do better.  This can be anything, big or small,  from losing some weight, getting more exercise, getting better sleep or even brushing your teeth more thoroughly.
What’s important is that you have to believe that it’ll add value to your life.
We are going to make a commitment to make it a little bit better every day.
Now, we can apply the Plan, Do, Check, Act cycle to help us implement the change and more importantly, practise it.
Plan – Pick one simple thing to do
Pick one thing on your list and find a small action you can work on to effect that change.  If you’re not sure what to do, go do some research and you’ll probably find loads of things that you can do.
The most important thing here is that the action is small, simple and doable.  You must feel, psychologically that you can do that action.  For instance, “Set foot to the gym” is a lot easier to do than “Lose 20 pounds”.  Set your expectations low, and look for the smallest action you can take that will take you in the right direction.
For example, just setting foot in the gym, without any expectation to work out seems like a really small and silly thing to do.  Small and silly has power though.  Once you get to the gym, you might find yourself thinking that you might as well work out.  You’re there already right?  Before you know it, it’ll have cascaded into a regular workout habit, so don’t underestimate the power of small things.
Once you have your little action, if you can, see if you can find a metric for it, e.g. number of times you set foot in a gym, or number of times you glance at your smartphone before bedtime.
Remember, you want to make this as easy as possible to do.
Do what you’ve planned
Over the next few days, consciously try to do that action whenever possible.   Try to get into the habit of it.  You’ll need to repeat it a certain number of times before it sticks.  Whilst the number of reps is different for each person, it’s the consistency that will eventually make the new habit stick.
Don’t be afraid to fail at this point. Sometimes habits are harder to change than you might think.  What matters is that you keep trying, and not down, without judging anything that gets in your way, or conspires against you.
Check it
After a convenient period of time (a week is good), review the feedback you have for yourself.  What makes you do the action?  What makes you not do the action?  Is there any pattern to it?
Come to a new awareness of your habits and of how you both help and hinder yourself.
You can do this with intuition and gut feel if you like, but I find that hard data usually works better.  You can’t argue with properly constructed metrics.
The important thing at this point is not to judge yourself.  Your habits are what they are, and by giving yourself the awareness of what they are, you empower yourself to change them.
Act on it
You’d made the plan, you’ve done the little action, you’ve checked it and now you need to figure out what you can do to help yourself do that action whenever you need to.  For instance, if you’re always late to the gym, put in an alarm on your phone to remind you to go.  You should be able to come up with a few small, and achievable things that you can do to help you progress just a little bit every day.
Once you’ve done this, keep going, just keep at it until you feel that you’ve turned this little action into habit, and no longer need to monitor yourself.  You can then move onto something else and do this all over again.  Keep it up for long enough and you’ll eventually find that these little bits all add up, and you’ll have achieved something of real value.