Sleep: My Study of Data to Test, Measure & Optimize

In my wellness coaching practice, one of the top goals my clients hope to achieve is better sleep.  And, I can relate.  I have written before that my first year+ of motherhood while balancing an intense Manhattan-based career in advertising nearly brought me to my knees.  The lack of sleep was hands-down the greatest challenge that I faced (I’ll take an at-work dumpster fire any day of the week over a bad night’s sleep)…that Maslow was bang-on when he included it in the base of the Hierarchy of Needs.

While the days of late-night feedings and diaper changes are behind me, the nagging thoughts of workplace stress, personal demands, a 5-year old bed-guest that seemingly turns into an octopus after dark…among other sleep-killers, can still wreck my best attempts at getting Zzzzs.  So, as we often say in business, if you want to solve a problem, you should follow the data.  So, I did some digging.

Over the past few months, through a method of online research, trial and error, I hoped to find the magic formula.  But, with a recent Christmas present I received from my husband (by some gentle suggestion, mind you), I’ve been able to find some even better success by adding some rather interesting personalized data to the equation that I suspect could be quite ubiquitous in helping crack the quality sleep code.

Introducing the Oura ring…billed as “the most accurate sleep and activity tracker.”  Now, in the name of authenticity, I’d like to be clear that at this time, I have no affiliation (that I’m aware of), nor paid endorsement for this product (womp-womp), so I’m giving you my honest opinion on this.  So how did I stumble upon this gem?  Well, in a rather unremarkable story, I simply noticed the shiny ring on another friend’s hand (Ooooo!  Shiny object!), did a little recon online, put it on my Christmas wish-list, and now I just think this is a pretty neat trinket and wanted to share my own personal observations in the hopes that it will illuminate some “ah ha” moments for your sleep as well.  Who doesn’t love some fresh insights?  Woot!

So here’s the gist: Oura provides your sleep stats around awake, REM, light and deep sleep.  It shows your total time in bed vs. total sleep time, your sleep efficiency, resting heart rate trends, scores your total restfulness, and features a few other nifty charts and measurements.  It also tracks fitness and resting activity and provides you with a score each day for your overall “readiness” with tips for how to improve that score.  I realize that a few other fitness trackers measure much of this too, but I’m just personally less comfortable wearing a watch to bed.

Now for context, let me give you some of the details and benefits behind good sleep – though I’ve covered that plenty of people already know intuitively that they need more of it.  Adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep each night, but the quality matters.  13-23% of your total sleep needs to be deep sleep.  And from Healthline, getting enough restorative sleep helps you:

  • Manage weight
  • Stay healthier, longer
  • Perform at your best
  • Be more productive
  • Strengthen your immune system

Amen to that.

Conversely, according to the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services, loss of sleep impairs your higher levels of reasoning, problem-solving and attention to detail among other downsides you can read here because let’s be honest, this post has gotten a little wordy already.

So with that in your back-pocket, what my Oura data has done for me is validate what the experts have already said, but for some reason, I needed to see my own personal data to believe it (my app screen shot below):

  • If I have even 1 alcoholic drink, my sleep is significantly affected.  I’m unable to reach deep, restorative sleep and my readiness for the next day is significantly affected.  Sometimes I thought I had slept quite a long time, but the data showed me that it wasn’t the quality I should have achieved…and I really hate under-achieving.
  • If I go straight to sleep relatively early, rather than watching a couple hours of TV to unwind before bed, the data shows that I have a more consistently, restful sleep and a more consistent heart rate throughout the night.
  • If I have a big meal too close to bedtime, I also lose a lot of readiness points the following day so something has gone awry during my night of digestion combined with sleep.
Danielle Reardon's Oura Ring Sleep Data Snapshot
A snapshot of my first week of Oura ring data where I experimented with different influences on my sleep patterns and quality.

As time goes on, I’m sure I can get even more finite in some of my personal learnings as it relates to specific activities or food consumed that affect my sleep scores.  But, this is enough for me to play with for now.  There could be a fine line here between leveraging data insights and becoming OCD.

So, between my previous unscientific test and measurement approach, general online research, and data-supported items above, here’s where I’ve landed on my favorite tips for sleep success…at least for me:

  • Hot showers before bed may promote more slow wave sleep.  This is one of my favorite ways to relax before a good night’s sleep.
  • Go to bed at the same time each day.  I’m lucky to have a child that keeps me disciplined on this front.  I’m usually tapped-out by 9pm.
  • Don’t eat too heavy, late or close to bedtime.  As the saying goes, eat breakfast like a King, lunch like a Prince, and dinner like a Pauper.
  • Cover any bright lights in your bedroom like the cable box or your phone.
  • Put your phone in airplane mode and don’t have it next to your head when you sleep.
  • Play some white noise.  I have an air purifier that I love for the double-benefit here.
  • Avoid booze and caffeine as illustrated above.
  • Consider a weighted blanket.  I like my Quility weighted blanket with the substitute cotton duvet cover – both available on Amazon.  Even Harvard wrote about it as well as Autism Parenting Magazine which outlines research that shows how a weighted blanket reduces anxiety and provides a good night’s sleep for children with Autism – some insights we can all consider.
  • Don’t rely on bedtime teas or magnesium drinks before bed. You’re going to end up defeating the purpose by needing to go to the bathroom around 2-4am.  Or maybe I’m just old…
  • Brain dump: try to write down any nagging thoughts in your mind before you sleep.  I like to keep a legal pad next to my bed to avoid the temptation to write in my phone’s Notes app and blast my face with a screen again setting back my natural melatonin.
  • Avoid cardio workout too close to bedtime, but strength training may be ok.  Read what the National Sleep Foundation has to say about that.
  • Try a nighttime meditation and/or meditation app like Insight Timer. Ooommmm…

Nighty night!


Danielle has a degree IN advertising from Michigan State University (Go Green!) and a degree OF sarcasm in life.  Her perfectly imperfect pursuit of wellness is rooted in the research and practice of wellness in efforts to revitalize her mind, body and spirit after 20 years as an executive in the advertising industry and a hobby of collecting home addresses in Detroit, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City and Atlanta. You can reach her on The Well-Intended social channels or at danielle@thewellintended.com.

1 comment on “Sleep: My Study of Data to Test, Measure & Optimize

  1. Great read as I lie in bed after a late work out, shower and on my phone. (Sigh) I suppose there’s always tomorrow night! I started using the Whoop strap in October for similar sleep and work out data. LOVE overanalyzing and setting goals!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: