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Sleep Hacking: a Potentially Anxiety Inducing Pastime

Owen Stone and his Oura ring came for a visit this August and conspired to make me decidedly less fun.

He did also bring his daughter. We had a fun time shopping for dresses, trying Persian ice cream for the first and last time (she’s no fan of rosewater), and sampling every bronzer Sephora had in stock. We ate a lot, ran around a little, and had a few drinks too. After complaining once again about my inability to sleep, Owen showed me his ring.

He started by explaining to me something about how this ring monitors your body temperature and that the NBA used it during COVID19 to monitor for early signs of illness within their bubbles. And that’s when I tuned out. Completely. I’m not even willing to pretend I’m sorry about how my ears stop working when men start talking sports.

Next, he told me that its original use was to help people sleep better. Now I’m listening.

A few days and a couple of hundred dollars later I was wearing my Oura Ring. Shortly thereafter the absolute misery of my evenings was presented to me in text and graphs. I’d sleep three hours a few nights in a row, try melatonin at 2 am, and sleep 6 the next day – but sleep right through my morning appointments, and shiver from exhaustion too many afternoons.

I tried eating earlier, turned off screens for hours, exercised more, and I thought I paid attention to my activities. When presented with data from the ring I found that the nights where sleep eluded me most were the nights where I drank. I’m not talking about three whiskeys and a beer, I’m talking about sips of alcohol.

The smallest serving of bourbon means I’m awake at 3 am even if I take an Ambien. I’m awake, I’m thirsty, and now I’m panicked about the fact that I’m awake and wandering the house. I’d often creep downstairs and write something (a lower quality would be difficult to achieve) and then creep back up at 7 am to ensure that I’m late to meet my friends for a workout at 9.

I can’t drink and get a decent night’s sleep.

I’m not even looking for a good night’s sleep, I’m just looking for five hours that are mostly in a row. The only way to achieve that is without alcohol. So I’m mad at Owen because I really do enjoy bourbon. Or at least I thought I did.

The next steps may include weaning myself off coffee. When a new doctor suggested I get more than 20 minutes of cardio a day. I stared at him blankly. When he asked how much cardio I get each day I assured him only that I was trying to stay under two hours, in an effort to preserve the health of my joints. I do a fine job of wearing out my skeletal system, my brain – not so much.

Less traditional meditation:

I’ve been an on-again-off-again meditator, but when Covid 19 brought us all indoors it was on again in a meaningful way. Sometimes more than once a day. I wish I could say that this has helped, but the numbers prove otherwise. It does leave me kinder, so I’ll keep it in the mix of mindful things I do for my health.

Recently I was invited to try floating, but it was a different kind of floating. SpaceVR has you in a traditional float tank except here it’s in concert with Virtual Reality (VR) goggles. I floated in body temperature water and gazed into outer space for an hour or so. It felt like five minutes and Space looked nothing like what I expected. It was weird and glorious, oddly womb-like, and an experience I highly recommend.

My friend Andrew and I were odd 17-year-olds. With some regularity we floated, right up until our early twenties. There used to be a place called Altered States inside an apartment building in West Hollywood. We’d go before final exams and other momentous events we largely didn’t bother to prepare for and floated in what I suspected at the time were modified coffins. Even today I vividly remember the sensation of floating down a river. It seemed as though my fingers and toes never touched the ends of the tank.

Floating has always been a journey inside my mind.

I never had issues with small spaces so the panic that some people describe when plopping themselves into a dark tank doesn’t resonate. I strongly suspect that my friends who suffer claustrophobia would enjoy the experience of floating with Space VR. The tank is close to the size of a room, and since you’re looking through a VR headset it doesn’t much matter if the lights are on or off. The floater would be unlikely to know either way.

Photo of the interior of a sensory deprivation tank where a woman is floating in the water

I know floating is meditative but I’m not sure it’s meditation? The same goes for VR. I’d probably call it hypnotic more than meditative. In either case, I slept soundly that night and the night thereafter. Ambien and melatonin free.

We talk about sleep (too much?):

I don’t know when sleep became such a popular conversation, and I can’t help but wonder if the constant chatter about hacking everyone’s sleep isn’t leaving us all a little restless. One of the Other Moms (the gaggle of women that raised us all) likes to remind me that I tried dieting for weight loss at age 17 and promptly quit because thinking about food all day long seemed like a horrendous way to exist in the world.

Has my obsession with sleeplessness kept me awake at night? It’s certainly taken over my social life. I found myself talking mattresses during two different dinners with friends and then again in endless text strings with family. I didn’t even start the conversation but everyone I know seems to be talking about new mattresses and if anyone has one they love.

I think I love Tuft and Needle, we’ve bought a few of them, but I’m not convinced the love lasts long enough. Perhaps I’m someone who keeps mattresses too long?

I hesitate to trust a mattress review, but I wholeheartedly recommend reading what Fast Company has to say about The Mattress Wars. I suspect my next mattress will be 8 Sleep or something from Sit ‘n Sleep. I love the concept of 8 Sleep, but I also know that our wifi is stretched to its limit and I’m not convinced that I’m ready to invite IoT in my bedroom, even less so my bed.

But hey, I resisted Oura and ended up sleeping with it.

Currently, my Oura Ring is en route to wherever 2nd Gen Oura Rings are sent to be refurbished, and my Gen 3 Ring should arrive any day. Allegedly it will alert me six days and then one day before my period is due to start. I wonder if this will be more accurate than simply wearing my most expensive white pants or booking a wildly romantic trip. To date, those have been the most reliable predictors.

My ring does suggest a bedtime around 12.45 am and I’m not sure how to change that. I’d much prefer to sacrifice evening fun than morning productivity.

Overall, I wonder if this focus on sleep is a function of having a little too much time on my hands or if it’s an important piece of a health puzzle. Either way, it’s got to get resolved.