Here’s what happened when I tracked my sleep for one month

Ever since graduating from college and working 40+ hours on a weekly basis, I’ve wondered: how much sleep do I actually need to be productive? 

For as long as I can remember, my sleep has fluctuated throughout my lifetime. As a teenager, I slept from midnight to noon on weekends. As a working adult in my mid-twenties, I (somehow) survived 10-hour days at work after four to five hours of sleep. (Yikes!) In short: at different points in my life, I’ve felt energized from varying ranges of time spent dreaming.

In the present day, amid COVID-19 restrictions in New York City (where I live), most nights I get between six and a half and eight hours of sleep, which sounds like a healthy span of time cuddling with my pillow. After all, according to The Sleep Foundation, it’s recommended that adults ages 26-64 get between seven to nine hours of shut-eye each night.

It’s important to note: in a regular setting (before and even during the Coronavirus pandemic), I’m a physically active individual. I work out about five times a week, and therefore, my energy levels are undoubtedly tied to the amount of exercise I’ve committed to in a given day. With that said, my workouts vary (and so do my stress levels). Between on-and-off marathon training (and cross-training), writing a book, work, and regular everyday life responsibilities, my output levels can differ from week-to-week and even within a 24 hour period.

When I don’t sleep — or rest — enough, it’s definitely a struggle to be productive. To get a better perspective of how much downtime I really need to do my best work, I decided to wear a lightweight WHOOP strap around my left wrist for a month. WHOOP collects physiological data 24-hours a day and allows members to view their personal analytics in real-time via the WHOOP phone app. The interactive data charts help users (like me!) to monitor their sleep, measure recovery, and capitalize on their exertion. 

Over the course of a month, I viewed, tracked, and toyed with my energy output to see how it related to how many hours I was getting each night (and how much sleep I needed to achieve optimal performance). I also noticed the number of disturbances I endured during my slumber, my respiratory rate, and sleep efficiency. 

Throughout my 30-day trial, the WHOOP data was spot-on. Even on nights that I had slept 8 hours (which sounds like a lot), I felt lethargic in the morning and had trouble focusing on tasks at hand: my data it accurately reported light sleeping and picked up on the times I woke up in the middle of the night (the root causes of my less-than-stellar productivity, I’m sure).

During the first week of wearing the accessory, the device was getting to know my patterns (heart rate, exercise amounts, and of course sleep). Once that initial data was recorded, I started changing my sleeping patterns and basically gamifying my bedtime habits. Instead of sleep procrastinating and reading another article at 11 p.m., or keeping the T.V. on for an extra half-hour at night, I was eager to influence the data on my screen, and therefore, my actual sleep. I even went as far as setting my morning alarms to certain hours on weekdays and (some) weekends to make sure my body was fully rested.

The results were conclusive. By analyzing my energy output and mindfully going to bed, in an effort to achieve a proposed set of sleep hours, I felt invigorated and awake during early mornings — even before pouring my first cup of coffee. (And I was certainly drinking less caffeine throughout the day when I did get enough rest). 

Overall, my improved sleeping patterns were impacting my work output as well. I was less foggy, more motivated and less distracted. I even felt less stressed and more accomplished day-after-day.

Because everyone’s sleep needs are different (read: everyone’s genetic makeup, athletic output and stress levels vary), a blanket (pun-intended) recommendation of “7 to 9 hours” of sleep might be accurate (for some), but it surely personalized. With my WHOOP, I could see exactly what my body needed to recover and perform as my best self, in workouts and in work.

Even if I’m not training for a marathon (but still having marathon days in front of my computer), I’ll continue to use the technology to determine how many hours of sleep I’ll need to be the most productive —  if not just to feel good, and well rested, in general. After all, a good night’s sleep isn’t solely beneficial for your job, it’s a part of a healthy (happy) lifestyle too.