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Some material from my Quantified Self presentation on sleep self-experimentation is on Wired's blog today.


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Some Q&A:

> Why are you doing these sleep experiments?

I'm hoping to improve my amount of wakeful, pleasurable, and productive time during the day by improving my sleep. I've been specifically trying to shorten sleep latency and decrease awakenings during the night.

> You've done some experiments with drugs. What works best? What sucks?

I tested sleeping pills for two things -- effectiveness at getting me to fall and stay asleep, and the amount of "hangover" I experienced during the next day. I found two types of sleeping pills that worked best for me. Melatonin was best for typical situations, as it was moderately effective and had almost no hangover effect. Ambien was best for extreme situations (eg a noisy bus) as it was highly effective and had only moderate hangover effect. Ambien also had the nice side effect of resetting my circadian rhythms, so it's great for adjusting to new time zones when traveling internationally. Diphenhydramine HCl (the active ingredient in most over-the-counter sleeping pills) was the worst as it was moderately effective but produced a very strong hangover effect. I noticed that it also tends to lower my sleep quality by dramatically increasing the amount of snoring and number of apnea events.

Of course, effectiveness and side effects vary from person to person. I am not a doctor. Consult your doctor before [disclaimer] etc.

> What advice do you offer to friends who want to improve their sleep?

Different people have very different sleep issues. Some people have difficulty going to sleep. Others have difficulty staying asleep. Still others have a lot of awakenings during the night.

As a result, I'd recommend tracking the aspects of sleep you have trouble with and experimenting with various factors to see how they affect your sleep quality.

Some factors I'd recommend experimenting with include:
- If you share a bed, try a queen (or better yet, a king) bed and get one quilt per person so that your partner's sleep movements are less likely to disturb you.
- Get some aerobic exercise every day.
- Don't do stressful things (work, arguments etc) late at night.
- Lower the lights during the last couple of hours that you're awake.
- Play with your diet. Don't eat large amounts of protein (or large amounts of food in general) late at night.
- Try a range of sleeping pills to find one that works well for you on nights where you can't fall asleep naturally.
- Use curtains and timed lights to control the morning onset of light in the bedroom.
- Sleep with earplugs.
- Change sleep posture (side vs back vs face down)

It is of course worth talking to sleep specialists as well. The Stanford Sleep Clinic is one of the best in the country.

> After your experiments, what were you surprised about?

The biggest thing that surprised me was seeing how much I moved around while sleeping. It was fascinating to glimpse the workings of this hidden unconscious world that occupies close to a third of our lives.


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February 2011

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