It was almost 8 a.m., and I was exhausted. Despite getting about nine hours of sleep — approximately two hours more than the average American — I felt like I had barely slept. Perhaps I actually wasn’t sleeping very well.
This was April 2012, and I was in the middle of my mission to live a healthier life. The “quantified self” movement had just begun to pick up steam. People had realized they could leverage devices and data to make better decisions about their habits, including how often they exercised, what they ate, and when they slept. Two years ago, wearable technology — “wearables,” as they’re now known — was not yet hot, but there were a few devices on the market that could track both my sleep and my exercise.
I decided to try the Fitbit.
After wearing the device for a few nights I found that, much to my surprise, I was getting up several times during the night without knowing it. It explained why I was so tired despite sleeping so much: I actually wasn’t sleeping — at least not restfully.
Too little sleep is a huge issue for most people. The average American gets fewer than 7 hours of sleep per night, according to the National Institutes of Health. The NIH’s baseline is 7.5-9 hours.
The story can be worse when you work in a demanding business environment like the one that exists on the Eastside. Hours can be long at tech giants like Google and Microsoft, and the startup lifestyle is an extremely difficult one to live. For those in the latter industry, a 3 a.m. phone call informing you that a server has gone down can mean saying goodbye to a good night’s sleep. Just the stress of working in demanding industries can keep you from getting solid sleep — even if you think, like I did, you’ve slept the advised amount.
For those who think you don’t need sleep, think again. The National Institutes of Health explains that when you don’t get the recommended amount of sleep, you struggle to focus, pay attention, and respond quickly. A lack of sleep may even cause mood problems. Also, growing evidence shows that a chronic lack of sleep increases your risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and infections. Nationally, chronic sleep loss and sleep disorders result in an annual cost of $16 billion in healthcare expenses and $50 billion in lost productivity.
Clearly, solid sleep is important not only to keep us safe, but also so we can be more productive in our professional and personal lives. While there weren’t many options for me to measure my sleep patterns in 2012, there is now a broader batch of sleep trackers that can not only help you see how much sleep you’re (not) getting, but also understand your sleeping patterns better so you can identify the cause.
Peter Chee, CEO and founder of the Redmond-based coworking space Thinkspace, highly recommends sleep trackers for other Eastside executives. As he explains, “I started using the Jawbone UP back in November 2011. Needless to say, I was hooked. I loved that it tracked my movement and it also tracked my sleeping patterns. I was a bit skeptical that the sleep pattern was accurate so I downloaded Sleep Cycle to compare the charts from both Jawbone UP and Sleep Cycle. They actually were close enough.”
In fact, Chee thought he was getting about 6.5 hours of sleep, but found he was only getting 5-5.5 hours. After a few weeks, he realized his productivity and mood actually improved once he started tracking his sleep.
“I also started to reflect back on how I would feel when only getting 5.5 hours of sleep versus getting 7 hours of sleep. I recognized that I felt and functioned much better when getting more than 7 hours of sleep. In fact, my mood
at work was actually much better when getting more than 7 hours of sleep,” Chee said.
Clearly, it doesn’t matter what device you use to track your sleep, as long as it’s accurate and you stick with it. I’ll keep using my Fitbit, and Chee likely will keep using the Jawbone. At the end of the day, though, we’ll both be more productive (and likely happier) than if we weren’t tracking our sleep. And while you may think you can do without sleep, your job and happiness are definitely things you can’t do without. And sleep affects both of them.