I finally, finally, got a good night’s sleep last night. It wasn’t excellent or awesome or amazing, but it was good.
According to my new Garmin Fenix 6, I hadn’t been getting enough deep sleep. My old Garmin watch didn’t distinguish between REM sleep and deep sleep. It just tracked light sleep, deep sleep, and time awake. It also didn’t assign any type of quality score. If I slept seven hours, I counted it a good night of sleep.
The problem was, I had days when I slept seven hours but still felt fatigued. What gives with that?!
As I’m quickly learning on this quest, there are so many factors affecting our energy, I had no reason to suspect that it was the quality of my sleep. How would I judge that anyway? I was asleep!
Imagine my horror (and delight), when my new watch began to tell me how poor the quality of my sleep was. It was simultaneously enlightening and disappointing. But at least I had another piece to the puzzle.
I apparently wasn’t getting enough deep sleep.
Despite what my old watch had been telling me, deep sleep differs from REM sleep in a couple different ways. Deep sleep is when we repair our bodies, restore our energy, and store our memories. REM sleep is when we dream, consolidate important memories, and process our emotions. Both are important, but for different reasons.
With my old watch, I didn’t know which I was getting, and I didn’t know how much I was supposed to be getting. Now I know that I have some nights where I get zero deep sleep (as was the case two nights ago) but I usually get a fair amount of REM sleep. This might have been accounting for my poor memory all along. Deep sleep is responsible for allowing our memories to be set in stone. If I was not getting enough deep sleep, I would not be getting my memories stored properly. According to my DNA test, I should be inclined to have good memory and there were times in my life when I did have a good memory. But, over the last 10 years or so, it has been suffering.
Now that I have the tools and knowledge to differentiate between deep and REM sleep – and I am tracking the symptoms I have when I don’t get enough deep sleep – I can find out what is blocking my deep sleep.
Now, some of you may be wondering whether or not I can trust this Garmin watch to accurately distinguish between deep sleep and REM sleep or accurately predict how much time I spend in each.
That is a fair question and I had the same thought.
So, I found this study where they tested the Garmin technology against field-proven scientific equipment for sleep and checked the accuracy of Garmin. It essentially amounted to about a 70% accuracy for registering deep sleep. It is not perfect, but it is better than nothing. Even if it only points me in the direction of a possible answer, then it has served a useful purpose. And, as you might have read in an earlier article, my doctor has ordered an at-home sleep test for me since he suspects part of my fatigue might be due to poor sleep.
So, what did I do differently last night to earn a good night’s sleep score? Here is the list of everything I have been doing up until now, but which must not have made enough of a difference for my deep sleep:
- Sleep tape
- Breathe right strips
- Cooler bedroom temperatures
- Blackout curtains
- Air filter
- Humidifier with essential oils
- Reducing overall caffeine intake
- No caffeine 8 hours before bedtime
- No liquids after 5 PM
- No alcohol at all
- No screens 1 hour before bedtime
- Low blue light LED light bulbs in the bedroom
- Blue light blocking glasses (if I do watch TV at night)
- Same bedtime every night
- Same wind-down routine (30 minutes of stories for my son)
These efforts have met with varying levels of success, but obviously my overall sleep score was still not good.
I began to grow a little bit frustrated. Yesterday, I finally decided to research ways to improve deep sleep (instead of just overall sleep). Many of the tips and tricks I found were the same as what I had already been doing, but one recurring piece of advice that I hadn’t seen stood out: limit calories and carbs at night, especially simple sugars.
I realized that I had been indulging my sweet tooth lately. The night I had zero minutes of deep sleep was a night when I had especially indulged. I vowed to limit my carbs and calories and to have no sweets last night.
It wasn’t easy. I’m reaching my self-discipline limits with all the things I’ve given up (alcohol, caffeine in the afternoon, extra calories, free time for this project). But I know that if I can get better deep sleep, I’ll have more energy to make these changes.
So I buckled down and only had one bowl of mac & cheese last night with sausages and no dessert. When my sweet tooth struck later in the night, I had a handful of grapes.
When I woke up this morning, I was loathe to check my score. I’ve read situations where people become so obsessed with their sleep score that they begin to sleep poorly due to anxiety over sleeping well. 😝 I don’t want to become that person, so I purposefully put it off. I ran through my regular morning routine: meditation with Headspace, 32 oz of water and then one cup of half-caff coffee while playing on the computer, stretch, run, and make hydrating smoothies for me and my boy.
It wasn’t until I was getting ready for work that I checked my score. 87! I realized then that, although I had felt good this morning, I did set a new sprinting record during my run and I had been dancing as I got ready for work. Dancing is always a sign. I am not a dancer. But when the energy is too strong for me to contain and it boils out into spontaneous dancing, I know I’m doing something right.
Unfortunately, one night does not make a pattern. But for now, that’ll do, Chris. That’ll do.