How I’m Getting An Extra Hour of Sleep Every Night

A simple, easy way to increase sleep with just one minor adjustment.
A simple, easy way to increase sleep with just one minor adjustment.

Subtle hints are not my thing.

For example, my husband gave me a FitBit for my birthday after I blatantly told him, “I want a FitBit,” no less than 12 times. As I writer, I spend tons of time sitting at a desk, which according to everyone is slowly killing me. Hence, the FitBit to get me off my lazy ass.

And it worked.

My high tech wrist buddy enticed me to pick the farthest parking space or always choose stairs over elevator. It also forced me confront an unexpected health obstacle: The eight hours of sleep I thought I was getting? It was actually more like six. And the quality of sleep? Just so-so.

Research links lack of sleep to a slew of health problems, including weight gain, impaired cognitive function, hypertension, diabetes, depression and cancer. And if that isn’t enough to motivate you, a recent study by UC-Davis showed just an extra hour of sleep may result in earning five percent more annually. (You can learn more about it on Freakonomics’ two-part sleep episode).

Show me the money!

There are some simple tips to getting more sleep nightly, and on paper they sound really easy. Don’t drink caffeine after noon, get up and go to bed at the same time every day, don’t chug wine before bed, exercise, eat well, and quit screen time an hour before bed.

For the last two weeks, I focused on just that last one in a very specific way:

I slept with my phone outside of my room.

“What’s the big deal?” I thought. “I can totally do this,” I said. And then on night one, as I lay my head on the pillow, I panicked.

I use my phone as an alarm clock… how will I wake up?! I fixed that by setting an alarm on my FitBit (who am I kidding though. The dog wakes me up at 6:30 every morning). What will I do if I can’t lay here and scroll through Instagram? I decided to read a book. And the kicker: My dog looked so cute laying next to me in bed. I wanted to send a pic to my husband (who was out of town for work), but alas, no phone. So I took a picture with my brain and kept it to myself.

I was appalled at how many times I reached for my phone that first night– as I tried to fall asleep, and then the FIRST thing in the morning. It’s like my adult pacifier! But on night two, the interest in my phone waned and continued to do so.

After a week, I went from getting a nightly average of 6 hours and 35 minutes of sleep to 7 hours and 10 minutes.

Week 1: Okay, but not great sleep.
Week 1: Okay, but not great sleep.
Week 2: Hey, I think this is working.
Week 2: Hey, I think this is working.

By week two, I averaged 7 hours and 27 minutes. The last two nights? 8 hours, 8 minutes.

Week 3: Damn, Gina.
Week 3: Damn, Gina.
Week 4: WHO AM I???
Week 4: WHO AM I???

What’s especially interesting to me is that I didn’t intentionally go to bed any earlier than normal. I simply didn’t look at my phone every night while laying in bed. I fell asleep faster and slept more soundly. How great is that?

I recently interviewed a sleep-specific doctor for an article I’m working on. His words struck me:

“Sleep is no luxury. Sleep is as important as nutrition and exercise. Healthy sleep provides an opportunity to promote the health of our heart, brain, digestive tract, hormones and muscle mass. But there are benefits beyond the physical – sleep is vital for balancing stress and promoting our emotional well-being and mental health, too.”

If you care about your health, getting enough sleep should be right up there with eating well and exercise. And if you’re looking to get healthier, maybe just start with trying to sleep better. It’s more fun than running, and tastes better than a kale smoothie.

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More sleep-centric posts: How I changed my diet to get more rest every night, plus why I hate taking naps.

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Comments (8)

  • nikkiana 2 years ago Reply

    After reading this, I feel like I need to rethink my alarm clock situation since I use my phone as my alarm at the moment…. I think I’m probably losing out on a few hours of sleep a night by having the phone within arm reach!

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    I honestly didn’t think that it would make that big of a difference, but it does. Give it a whirl!

  • Liz Scott 2 years ago Reply

    Ah! This is incredible – I’ve been thinking I need to cut my nighttime ties from my phone and this might just be the push I need. I’ll start trying this weekend – and report back!

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    YES! let me know how it goes.

  • Ashley 2 years ago Reply

    How does the Fitbit measure your sleep? I have a sleep app on my phone that helps measure sleep quality and quantity, but it’s based on when you tell it to start reading (aka set it at 10:30pm but you don’t actually get to sleep for another half hour). I feel like I could be getting better quality sleep.

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    I wear mine when I sleep (it’s the watch version you wear on your wrist). Here’s what FitBit has to say about how it works:

    HOW DOES MY TRACKER AUTOMATICALLY DETECT SLEEP?

    The Force, Charge, Charge HR, and Surge can automatically detect your sleep.

    Autodetection is based on your movement. When you haven’t moved in over an hour, algorithms assume that sleep has begun, which is confirmed by the length of time your movements are indicative of sleep behavior only (rolling over, etc). Morning movement tells your tracker that you’re awake. If you’re not moving but not asleep for long periods of time it’s possible for your tracker to falsely record sleep, in which case you can delete the sleep record from your dashboard.

  • Kathryn 2 years ago Reply

    I was just listening to a Freakonomics podcast that talked about this. One of the researchers has a newborn baby and committed to keeping technology out of her bedroom. She started getting 1.5 hours more sleep every night by going back to sleep instead of surfing the internet after the baby’s 5:30am feeding!

    http://freakonomics.com/2015/07/16/the-economics-of-sleep-part-2-a-new-freakonomics-radio-episode/

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    I know! I was completely shocked to hear that, especially when it seems like all new parents seriously struggle with sleep. I guess we need to put down the damn phone already. Can you read a book and breastfeed easily?

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