Because this post is long, I'll start with a summary:
- I slept a lot in 2013. I logged my sleep, and tried to improve my habits.
- Sleep Cycle was a helpful app for this. It helped fix weaknesses in my training / life schedule.
- As a result, I missed a few social events. But anecdotally, it improved my quality of life and may have made me a better athlete.
Like most of us, I have, since high school, had the vague sense that I was not getting enough sleep. With the help of a $2 sleep app called Sleep Cycle, and integrating sleep into my daily training log in 2013, I gained a better understanding of and better control over my sleep.
The results? Sleep Cycle says I averaged 8 hours, 19 minutes per night. This excludes naps and a couple weeks' worth of nights due to airplane travel, crashing on a couch, etc. My training log has me at 8:23 (each entry is rounded to the nearest half-hour, and is more inclusive of naps and odd days). I don't have anything to compare this to, but my gut tells me this is much more than I have slept previously.
What is Sleep Cycle? Primarily an alarm clock that wakes you up at your lightest sleep. But it also monitors and aggregates data on your sleep, such as amount of time in bed, quality of sleep, etc. Using this I was able to hone in on some "weaknesses" in my sleeping schedule, and try to eliminate them. That's the athlete mentality, right?
Check out the screenshots below to see my data and how I've used the app over 365 days (hover over the image to see the description):
The three major downsides to Sleep Cycle are that 1) it doesn't seem to understand naps, 2) it doesn't work well with time zone changes, and 3) trends get lost in the aggregate and the analytical tools become less useful after using it for several months. My hope is that the Sleep App folks might fix these areas in the future.
1. Regardless of how much time I spent sleeping, a consistent wake-up schedule was the single most determining factor of my energy level and mood. This was especially noticeable when traveling twelve time zones to Singapore, but even noticeable without travel. I was rested on 8 hours/night of sleep that is consistently 10 p.m. – 6 a.m., but then exhausted on a random sleep schedule that averages over 9 hours/night (usually achieved with naps and over-sleeping on the weekends).
2. When I got on a consistent schedule, I rarely slept over 10 hours (even when I tried, 9.5 was a stretch). I slept over 10 hours 26 times (or 7% of the year), and slept under 7 hours 32 times (9% of the year), leaving 307 nights between that range (84%).
3. By far, my sleep was best during racing periods. Racing keeps me motivated to do "the little things" more regularly (also including foam rolling, icing, etc.). It makes me think that squeezing a couple races into the off-season would be beneficial, so there is always something to be motivated for around the corner.
4. Travel is rough. Clearly the worst sleep of the year happened in periods of travel. That said, these were work trips, and I would hope that true vacations would be more restful.
5. Like with training and goal setting, the most important thing is to be held accountable. Whether it's a coach or a sleep app or a training log, being accountable for and aware of your habits is the most effective way to improve them.
For scientific literature on sleep, check out the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine. Cheri Mah is one researcher there that works with several professional leagues (NFL, NBA, and NHL), and consults for Nike on how sleep affects performance. Because the research can be dense, suffice it to say that sleep probably helps athletic performance. This article by ESPN nicely summarizes some of Cheri's work on the topic: Sleeping Giants. I also found this Q&A interesting. So far, I haven't seen any research directed at endurance athletes (there is probably less funding for research on triathletes), but someone can correct me if I missed it.
Has anyone else tried this or other sleep apps? Care to share thoughts on sleep? I'm especially interested to hear a full-time athlete's perspective.