For a couple of years now, I’ve been having some trouble sleeping. It’s not a constant problem, but it has become more frequent than the rare thing it used to be.

I think the problem is just a string of one-off instances of stress. During this period I had one older relative begin having cognitive difficulties and have to move to a facility that could provide additional care, my cat got sick and eventually died, had some personality clashes related to volunteer work I’m doing grow into a problem that eventually involved lawyers, and had another older relative began showing signs of cognitive difficulties.

Each of these resulted in a pattern where I’d fall asleep just fine, but then wake up in the middle of the night and start ruminating about the issue of the day and be unable to fall back to sleep for an hour or three.

In the past when I had problems of this sort they tended to be short-lived. I’d stress out about something for a night or two or three, but the issue would be resolved soon enough and I go back to sleeping fine.

Here the issues have stacked up, new ones following the old ones.  Further, some of them don’t go away. They linger on.

As I say, I think that’s what’s happening here. Ordinary life stresses have simply come at me a little too hard and a little too fast, with the result that my sleep has been impacted.

However, maybe that’s not all that’s going on. Maybe there’s more to it. I know there are some other issues. For example, if I don’t keep my carb intake down my nasal congestion returns, and that dramatically interferes with my sleep.

Given that I’m not sure what all might be wrong, I thought it might make sense to investigate further—gather some data, and see if I couldn’t find some patterns in my sleep problems. To that end, I bought an Oura ring, a tracking device along the lines of an Apple watch or a Fitbit, but with its focus specifically on gathering and analyzing data about sleep.

I’ve only had it for a week so far, and I’m really just getting started at looking for trends in the data. For example, three nights ago I slept poorly (awake for almost 2.5 hours of the almost 9 hours I was in bed).

One possible reason was a too-large meal too late in the day. (It was the Winfield Village holiday party.) One piece of data that suggests that possibility is that my body temperature was elevated by 0.3℃ during the night—perhaps because of increased metabolic activity digesting all that food.

Interestingly, I got more deep sleep than I had all week up to now, perhaps because I went for a long run the day before. (Deep sleep is where you get the physical recovery from things like heavy weight-lifting sessions and long runs. Maybe the first few nights had less deep sleep simply because I didn’t need more than that, because I hadn’t had the hard workouts that require deep sleep for recovery.)

Here’s the next night, where I spent less time awake and almost as much time in deep sleep:

My body temperature was still up, though, even without the big meal. We had turned the thermostat down one more degree, but that’s about as low as we want it, so last night I rearranged the covers, removing the down comforter, going with just the wool blanket. I don’t know if that was a key change, but I slept very well last night:

Not only were my quantities of total sleep and deep sleep good, some of the other metrics were good as well. My temperature deviation was -0.3℃, which suggests that maybe I’ve got the covers and thermostat thing balanced just about right. My resting heart rate was down to 47, which suggests that I’ve recovered completely from the long run I took three days ago.

My hope is that by paying attention to this sort of thing, I can gradually eliminate these sorts of problems affecting my sleep. Of course that will leave me with the stress-related problems, but I think I know how to handle those—fixing the ones that can be fixed, accepting the ones that can’t be fixed, and engaging in appropriate self-care to help myself handle the stress better. And, of course, get enough sleep.

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2 thoughts on “Oura-ringing out the old year

  1. Phil:

    This is fascinating data.
    I have been using a Mi Fit for the past four years to track my sleep. (It also tracks the number of steps I take but I don’t care so much about that). The information the MiFit provides is useful but doesn’t appear to be as detailed as the app that you are using.

    The single most important thing that I have discovered is that by going to bed early (something that is against my nature) I always get a better night’s sleep. If I retire around 10:00 pm I awake well-rested around 5:30 AM. If I go to bed later, I wake up around 6:00 AM and am tired.

    I often have difficulty getting to sleep because I can’t shut my brain off. I deal with this by taking a sleep aid (Zolpidem AKA Ambien). However, I am loathe to continue taking a drug in order to get to sleep because of the danger of dependance.

    Please keep me updated on any discoveries you make regarding enhancing your sleep. I would love to hear about them.

    All the best,

    Jerry H.

  2. Until a few months ago Jackie was working at a bakery, which necessitated getting up at 4:30 AM several days a week in order for her to be to work on time. To support that, we were going to bed by 8:00 PM most days. Even now, months later, we are still working to get bedtime pushed back to at least 9:00 PM. (Earlier than that not only makes evening activities untenable, it also puts bedtime too close to the end of supper.)

    In my case my brain shuts down just fine at 9:00 PM. The problem arises in the wee hours. If my brain gets going at 2:00 AM or 3:00 AM I can pretty much kiss the rest of that night’s sleep goodbye.

    Good to hear from you, Jerry! And I will keep the blog updated with what I learn from the Oura ring.

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