on sleep

If you're reading this, you're almost certainly sleep deprived.

The best thing I've ever done for my sleep can be summed up in three bullet points, which you'll most certainly disagree with at least one of:

ditch the bed

I sleep on a $28 walmart cot. It wasn't a transition I intended to make, but I was rather broke at the time and the air mattress I'd been using had more or less turned into a giant shapeless blob. This change is the first on my list and not by mistake.

At the time, I worried I'd have trouble sleeping. I worried I'd be cranky and grumpy and sleepy all day every day for the rest of my life. But I also knew that the human body is an incredible device that is capable of all sorts of adaptations. Hopefully, I figured, the inevitable disaster of sleeping badly would pass and I'd adapt.

This is a lie: "I can't sleep on anything except <your mattress>"

At this point in my life I can fall asleep just about anywhere. Hotel beds are, regardless of the cardboardyness, a fantastic place to sleep. Couches. Floors. Recently a desert with particularly rocky soil.

ditch the alarm clock

I haven't used an alarm clock regularly in about 5 years. When the Android G10 first came out, I found a great app in the store called "Smart Alarm Clock"1. It monitors movement, and buzzed lightly when you were at a nice place in your sleep cycle. Today there are lots of these little wristbands and belt clips that claim this functionality. I sometimes question why I'd want to wear one of these contraptions on my wrist or belt while I'm sleeping, but I digress.

I used that little app for the entire time I had the phone, which I estimate to be about two years. By the way, I loved that phone. The hardware keyboard it had is unmatched to this day. A dedicated row for common symbols? Yes please. Thanks for nothing, Apple.

After sleeping with one of the smart alarm clocks for a while, you begin to notice patterns2 in your sleep. I wish I had the organization in my photos to search for a picture of my own sleep history graph, but I'm reasonably sure Android didn't have screen capture functionality at the time.

The most important thing I learned was that, as long as I don't need to wake up exactly at a certain time, I'll wake up ±20min every day. I can better time this by going to bed 4, 6, or 7.5 hours before I "need" to wake up.

This is a lie: "I can't wake up without an alarm clock"

People slept and woke up for a long time without alarm clocks. You have an addiction to your alarm clock.

I use an alarm clock about once a month. Inevitably I'll stay out late or get distracted watching youtube or binge watch some sci-fi show and worry that I've destroyed my circadian rhythm to the point that I'm not going to wake up on time. I rarely actually wake up to the alarm. I wake up about 5 minutes before the alarm. The brain is an incredible organ.

Ditch the computer

I'm not as good at this. I still find myself computing at late hours far too frequently. However, at some point, I installed an automatic screen tinting application3 that helps me close the lid responsibly.

The theory goes that LCD screens emit a color of light which your brain might use to keep you awake. This must be at least partially unprovable or unreliable because we don't install these lights in places which would benefit from awake people.

But what is really great for my sleep is when I leave the computer on the table in the other room. And I plug in the phone and leave it on the desk, across the room.

The bed is for sleeping, not computing. Not twittering. Not squiggle.city-ing.

This is a lie: "I use the computer until I fall asleep."

The computer keeps you awake. The movie keeps you awake. The show about time travel and super-villains keeps you awake.

Eventually you'll fall asleep. When you're medicated, deprived, or desensitized enough.

on sleep.


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTC_Dream
  2. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.kosenkov.alarmclock&hl=en
  3. Sleep history graph
  4. f.lux