Optimize Your Sleep with a Simple Experiment

Posted on May 9, 2012 by


Sleeping is one of the most important things we do everyday.  You could even argue it is more important than food since you can survive up to a month without food but I doubt you could go even half that long without sleep.

For such an important aspect of life how come we spend so little time thinking about how to optimize it?

I know that I never gave it much thought until recently when I started tracking my sleep with a Zeo.  In reality I didn’t need a fancy sleep tracker to reveal the most obvious finding.

I wasn’t sleeping enough. 

I figured this out by performing an incredibly simple experiment and you can too.  You don’t need any equipment other than a pen, paper and clock.

Getting Started

If you are interested in improving your sleep I hope you have already implemented some of these common tips:

  • Turn off lights, TV, loud noises, etc an hour or two before bed
  • Wake up at the same time every morning
  • Go to be when you are tired
  • Only use your bedroom for sleeping
  • Make your bedroom comfortable
  • Don’t take naps


This experiment is going to help you find out your optimal amount of daily sleep.  I propose that you aren’t sleeping enough and if you start tracking how long you are sleeping and how well you feel the next morning you will start going to bed earlier, sleeping longer and feeling better.


Every morning when you wake up you need to answer two questions:

1) How many hours did I sleep?

This is easy.  Subtract the time you woke up from the time you went to bed.  Don’t worry too much about how long it took you to fall asleep or if you woke up in the middle of the night to have a drink of water.  We are looking for a rough measurement of how much time you spent sleeping.

2) How do I feel on a scale of 1-100.

This one is little tougher.  I like to give myself enough time to fully wake up but not enough time for my day to really begin.  I usually write this down after my morning shower but before breakfast or talking to anyone.  You don’t have to use a 100 point scale but you do want to use a scale that gives you enough of a range to have a variety of scores.  If you use a scale of 1-3 you are probably going to end up with a bunch of 2’s and that isn’t going to tell you much.

Bonus: write any notes about the night. 

If there was anything out the ordinary about the night you may want to write it down.  Maybe the baby woke up at 3am, or you stayed up later than usual, or the house was too hot.  You get the idea.  These should be exceptions to your normal sleep routine.


Pay attention to how you feel every morning and throughout the day.

Did you wake up tired or groggy?  Did you feel any mid-afternoon drowsiness?  Certainly you should start feeling tired after dinner as your night winds down. These are signals that you may not be getting enough sleep.

Try going to bed 30 minutes earlier.  Record how you feel when you wake up.  Keep iterating like this until you start feeling well-rested every morning.

Some signals that you might be approaching your optimal sleep time:
  • You wake up several minutes before your alarm
  • You wake-up without any grogginess
  • Your mind is active as soon as you wake up
  • You are optimistic and positive about your day.
Some signals that you may not be getting enough sleep:
  • You feel groggy or foggy when you wake up
  • You want to snooze and go back to bed
  • It takes a long time before you feel awake
  • You feel cranky or negative about your day.


When I this experiment I quickly discovered I was under-sleeping by 30-60mins.  I thought I needed about 6-7 hours and I discovered I needed 7-8hours.

More importantly I become aware of how important sleep was and how even one less hour of sleep had noticeable effects on my mood and cognitive function.

I used to think that I could cut an hour of sleep out each night and be more productive with my day.  Now I realize that I am much more productive if I sleep that extra hour because it provides me with the mental and physical stamina I need to perform at a high level all day.

Have you figured out how much sleep is optimal for you?  I would love to hear about it in the comments.



Posted in: Self-Tracking