I’ve have been using a sleep training app called Sleepio for the past few months and I am definitely sleeping better.
However, before I tell you why, I must confess: the Sleepio system was too hard for me. I couldn’t really follow it closely and I stopped using it last week.
But even using it partially, I learned a lot about sleep, my own personal sleep patterns and how to get a better night’s sleep, even when I travel.
A sleep class taught by experts
I wouldn’t exactly say I have insomnia, but like most people, I do go through periods where I have trouble falling and/or staying asleep.
Falling asleep is particularly hard when I travel. (First night in a new hotel = hours of laying there awake.) International travel is even rougher.
I choose Sleepio because it was developed by international sleep expert Professor Colin Espie of the University of Oxford, along with Dr. Bryony Sheaves, a clinical psychologist at Oxford’s Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, and Dr. Simon Kyle, a sleep expert at the University of Manchester.
Sleepio is really a six-week sleep class. It costs $US10 a month (so $US20 to do the whole six weeks) and you can use it on your PC or iPhone/Android. It works a little better on the PC, with more features, such as being able replay a sleep lesson. However, I mostly used the app on my iPhone because I found that more convenient.
The class covers the science behind most sleep problems, how to set up your room and how to deal with a racing mind at night.
It offers some guided meditations if you are stuck awake at night and includes a diary, where you can record your progress.
It also works with sleep trackers like Fitbit or Jawbone.
Focusing on “sleep ratio” not “sleep duration”
Sleepio focuses on one key measurement of sleep, something called “sleep efficiency.” That’s the ratio of the time you spend in bed versus time spend actually sleeping.
The goal is 90%, meaning you fall asleep pretty fast (within 15 minutes), don’t get stuck awake in the middle of the night (at least not for long) and pop out of bed quickly in the morning.
Sleep ratio doesn’t care how few hours you slept, as long as you were asleep while you were in bed.
That was one of my biggest gripes with the program (more on that in a bit).
During the time I did the Sleepio course, my sleep ratio ranged from a low of 72% (where I laid awake for hours) to 90%. At the end, I was mostly in the 80-90% range, and I felt like I was definitely sleeping better.
Here’s a portion of my final diary:
Here’s what I learned
Sleepio walked me through many of the basic stuff than any sleep program suggests:
- Don’t drink caffeine late in the day. (I actually mostly gave up caffeine, and now stick to decaf.)
- Don’t drink alcohol after 6 p.m.
- Don’t exercise within about two hours of bedtime. Exercise can rev you up.
- Do only relaxing things for 1-2 hours before you go to bed, reading, watching TV, listening to movies.
- Make sure your bedroom is slightly cool.
- If your mind races with to-do list items, keep a bedside to-do notebook.
- If you have trouble with noise, desensitize yourself to it. That was a biggie for me!
Learning to deal with noise turned out to be the best thing ever!
I prefer the world to be perfectly quiet when I sleep, but the world never cooperates. Ear plugs never worked.
I added a fan to my room to make it cooler and grew used to the white noise of the fan. It drowned out other noises. The last time I travelled, I also used a fan for a cool room and white noise and I slept better, even on the first night.
Only go to sleep when you are sleepy
I always thought I needed 8-9 hours of sleep. But my sleep diary taught me I’m actually averaging 7-7.5 hours of sleep even though I’m laying in bed for 8-9 hours. On bad nights, it’s closer to 4-6 hours of sleep.
Sleepio only lets you be in bed if you are sleepy, not just feeling tired. It teaches you how to recognise the difference between tired and “sleepy tired.” (Tip: yawning and eyes closing is “sleepy tired.”)
It creates a schedule where you are only allowed to be in bed a restricted certain hours, based on your sleep diary.
With Sleepio, you can’t go to bed earlier and you can’t sleep in later. Not even on the weekends.
If you are awake for more than 15 minutes, even at 3 a.m. you must get up and do something until you are sleepy again.
The part I couldn’t really do
If I followed the schedule, I would have kept myself slightly sleep deprived. The hope is that I would fall asleep faster and stay asleep at night until I was retrained and could add more hours of sleep into my night.
But the sleep diary taught me that even with a 90% sleep ratio, if I only got 5 or 6 hours of sleep, I felt exhausted in the morning, not refreshed.
In the end, I did about half of the recommendations like certain relaxation rituals before I go to bed and waiting until I feel sleepy.
But on the weekends I sleep in!
And I now have a bunch of options if I have trouble gain, from white noise to using a sleep meditation tape.
Overall, I’m very glad I did the Sleepio course and I would go back, or try another sleep app, if I ever had trouble again.