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I believe when it comes to productivity only the individual can know what's best. And that takes time and intentional reflection.

I want to optimize my sleeping patterns. I think I need 8 hours of sleep, but I usually get 7 hours. I don't really know this--it's just an educated guess. Whether sleeping more, less, rising earlier, later, or whatever the change, I am willing to try it if I can be as well rested each day as possible.

What should I be observing in my life that may impact sleep? What can I change? How can I study my sleeping patterns scientifically?

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an app such as Sleep as Android or Sleep Cycle could be part of your toolset. –  Vic Goldfeld Sep 30 '12 at 2:49
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2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Piotr Wozniak, creator of the spaced-repetition software Supermemo, has a massive article on sleep and sleeping patterns on his webpage.

His main point seems to be that if ever possible, people should ditch alarm clocks and prefer -- as he calls it -- free-running sleep. For optimizing and measuring one's sleep patterns, he has written an excellent tiny Windows application called SleepChart. Thanks to this program, I finally came to my senses and beat an obvious (but neither admitted nor accepted) sleep deprivation.

That aside, Wozniak seems to be an odd, somewhat controversial guy, criticized by the people who advocate polyphasic sleep (another concept you'll probably soon be familiar with; however, see Wozniaks' views.)

Another thing to notice and take into account is the concept of sleep cycles. In other words, humans tend to sleep in approximately 1,5-hour cycles (this is, of course, individual). Thus we feel most refreshed when we get up in the end of a cycle, not in the middle. This means that you might feel yourself better after sleeping for 6 or 7,5 hours (having completed 4 or 5 cycles). But getting up after, say, 5 or 8 hours might result in grogginess because you interrupted a phase of deeper sleep.

I'm no expert, but I've been trying to figure out my "perfect" sleeping pattern for a couple of years. And I'd say following those cycles has helped me the most so far. (So I'm always aiming at getting 7,5 hours, not 8 hours of sleep. And I usually have a short, 30minute nap around noon.)

Taking a nap is, BTW, the third thing to look into. Wozniak has written a lot about this -- his thesis being that people get naturally tired after 7-9 hours of wake time, so it's healthy to have a short nap then. However, if a nap lasts longer than 20-30 minutes, you'll risk feeling groggy again, because you've once again interrupted a "wrong" phase of sleep. I'd say this theory works very well, too.

This is interesting stuff, so here are some more links for you:

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Great articles! Thanks! –  nayrb Sep 30 '12 at 23:13
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You can know how much sleep you need by waking up naturally, without an alarm clock. Your body knows its condition very well, so if you feel energetic, productive, not tired, etc. then your sleep has gone well. See the answer to my question about sleeping earlier or later, you'll get charts of your sleep cycles with an Android app :), which are "scientific" and personal studies.

Also keep in mind that when you try another sleep rythm, you need adaptation, so it may be kind of painful for one week, but way better when it's settled. Try to go to bed earlier, later, to take naps, try everything you want, but plan your experiences and take enought time to do it.

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