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What My FitBit Taught Me About Sleep

Over the summer I bought myself a FitBit Versa 3 wearable fitness tracker. These smart watches have been around for many years now, but I never took the plunge on buying one. I decided to give it a try this year, since so many of my clients have them and want to know how to better utilize them. 

Getting some insight into my sleep quantity & quality is one of the main reasons I bought a tracker. How much sleep am I actually getting on average? How much am I awake in the night? Are there any patterns to which nights have better or worse sleep? By wearing my FitBit while I sleep, I got answers to all these questions and more. It tracks which phase of sleep I’m in at all points during the night, and gives me a “sleep score” each night based on the data. Generally speaking I think the scores are pretty solid, at least in the sense that on higher-score days, I feel better throughout the day than on low score days. 

One of the big takeaways is that I don’t get as much actual sleep as I thought. On average I’m awake in bed about an hour each night, so that “8 hours” really ends up being more like 7 hours. Going to bed a bit earlier would probably help my energy level and recovery from workouts quite a bit. 

I also noticed a strong correlation between my sleep quality and alcohol consumption. I am a very light drinker — I average maybe one beer per week, sometimes two. Usually my wife and I will share them in the evening after the kids are in bed while we’re relaxing and recounting the day. Without fail, the nights where I drank alcohol before bed — even half a beer — had lower sleep quality scores than the average night. Alcohol has been showing to reduce REM sleep (which is an important restorative phase of sleep), and also causes other sleep disruptions, like waking up to pee and extra time. For the folks out there who are habitual “night cap” drinkers, this might be something to consider if you’re trying to get better sleep quality. 

I’ve also noticed a correlation between the temperature in my room, and sleep quality. The air conditioning in our old house struggles to keep up on really hot days, so I often times feel too hot at night while I’m trying to sleep. I wake up more often when it’s hot, and take longer to fall back asleep. The recent cooler evenings where I can pull cool air in from outside has helped improve my average score. Something for me to think about next summer — perhaps a cooling mattress pad is in my future? 

The last and most obvious correlation I noticed was that the better my kids slept, the better I slept. The rare occasions that my six year old son sleeps through the night are always my best sleep scores. My all-time best sleep score (86 out of 100) was just this past Tuesday. My son slept through the night, and slept in until 7am. There’s not a whole lot I can do to change his sleep patterns that we haven’t already tried, but it should continue to get better as he gets older and can get himself to the bathroom in the night without my help. The other variables are much more in my control than this one for now. 

The big takeaways for you, the reader:

— If you want a full 8 hours of sleep in a night, you probably need to be in bed for closer to 9 hours. 

— Alcohol in the evening will reduce your sleep quality, guaranteed! IT might help you fall asleep faster, but on average it will be worse sleep quality through the night. 

— Most folks get their best sleep in a room that’s a bit on the cooler side, in the mid to high 60s. Do what you can to create the sleep environment that works best for you. 

Sleep is the foundation to so many important bodily processes! Whether you’re trying to have more energy to keep up with the kids, you’re training for a sport or activity, trying to build muscle, or any other sort of body composition change — getting enough quality sleep is vitally important!  Rebuilding, repairing, restoring — sleep is when the magic happens.

  • By Coach Chris

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