I Tracked My Sleep for 60 Nights—These Are the 3 Huge Changes I Discovered

Updated: Jun. 09, 2024

Is quality sleep as a mom of toddlers but a dream? One reporter reveals the findings that were major awakenings—plus, here's how long it should really take to fall asleep.

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For decades, diet and exercise have been promoted as two of the best areas to focus on to improve health. These days, the power of a good night’s sleep is gaining more awareness. As a refreshing wake-up call for an overachieving society, a great deal of recent research has shown how important sleep is for aspects of health like the immune system, weight management, cognitive function, the fending-off of chronic diseases, and much more.

But, insert real life here: So much gets in the way of healthy sleep. In my case, the obstacle tends to be my little ones. My husband and I had tried pediatric sleep experts, read books on creating a disciplined bedtime practice and followed the instructions to a T—but we were at a loss. Co-sleeping was the only way I could get any sleep, even if it wasn’t blissfully restful.

I worried: Were the kicking and squirming and wakeups for water affecting the time my body needs to heal and restore? I decided to test the Oura ring to track my sleep and find out. The Oura ring is a wearable tech device that can track heart-rate variability (a measure of cardiological wellness), blood oxygen rate, body temperature, and sleep duration.

Oura Ringvia merchant
An Oura ring wearer. Photo courtesy of the brand

What I found completely surprised me: My kids weren’t the problem at all! Also, some of my sleeping rituals like wearing a mask didn’t seem to make much of a difference.

However, there were a few other habits I needed to change if I wanted to optimize my sleep. Ahead, I share what I learned from 60 days of tracking my sleep health.

How I tracked my sleep

I chose the Oura ring because I’d heard it was a highly effective wellness tracker, thanks to high-profile fans of the brand like Jennifer Aniston, Miranda Kerr, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kim Kardashian who posted about their stellar “scores” for optimal readiness and sleep.

After getting the ring sizer and choosing my size, I picked out the gold ring, which fit right in with my other jewelry so I could wear it to yoga and even a nice dinner out. I charge the ring every five days or so and can even wear it in the shower. It was the most fashionable and functional wearable I’d researched.

Prior to tracking my sleep, I’d heard mostly about the importance of REM sleep, but it turns out there are multiple sleep stages and factors that contribute to a good night’s rest. Oura tracked my total sleep hours, efficiency (the percentage of time spent asleep compared to time spent awake in bed), restfulness (wakeups and movements), REM, deep sleep (another important stage), latency (the amount of time it takes to fall asleep at night, which should be 15 to 20 minutes) and timing of when I went to sleep.

According to Oura’s website: “Your Oura Sleep Score (1 to 100) tells you how well you sleep every night. Your score is based on how long you spent in each sleep stage and your body signals like temperature and heart rate.”

The brand also gives tips on how to improve sleep and show trends so you know why you didn’t get a good night’s sleep and how to fix it. “Oura can tell when you might be experiencing breathing disturbances which could impact your sleep or your health,” they say.

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Three things I learned from tracking my sleep

Sleeping with my kiddos wasn’t the problem

It turned out that sleeping with my children wasn’t an issue. If they squirmed or woke me up for a short moment, I was able to fall right back to sleep, something I had struggled to do when I would have to walk them back to their room. The problem occurred when I went to sleep a little too late. (According to the app, that meant anytime after 9:30 p.m! That would call for some changes, if we could manage it at all.)

Alcohol plays a bigger role than I realized

What had an even worse impact on my sleep was any time I drank alcohol. “Alcohol impacts your body’s ability to run through sleep stages normally (it raises your heart rate and impairs deep sleep),” said Caroline Kryder, a product manager at Oura. It became clear that if I had a couple of glasses of wine at dinner with my husband once or twice a week, my sleep score was in the red and in the 60s or 70s.

Rebecca Robbins, PhD a Harvard professor of sleep medicine, explained: “Alcohol, when more than one or two glasses (depending on your body mass) are consumed, can have deleterious consequences for sleep.”

Dr. Robbins commented about my sleep specifically: “Your data are almost a perfect example of this. Overall, your sleep efficiency was somewhat low (this is the proportion of time you spent actually sleeping compared to the time you spent in bed), indicating that your sleep was somewhat fragmented.”

She explained that alcohol “will increase your urge to urinate, causing you to wake up to use the bathroom. Alcohol can also suppress REM sleep. Your data reveal that your REM sleep was slightly lower than expected. For all these reasons, after a night of alcohol consumption, you may have spent time in bed, but likely will wake up and not feel restored.”

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Other diet choices were impacting my sleep

Other factors Oura representatives said can contribute to a poor night’s sleep include a late dinner and caffeine. If I went to sleep early enough, had an early dinner, and had no alcohol, I’d have a sleep score in the 90s. Watch out Gwyneth!

The best ways I can improve my sleep are to choose a reasonable consistent bedtime so my body isn’t feeling essentially jet lagged by the different times I go to sleep (sometimes falling asleep with my kids at 8 p.m. and sometimes staying up until 11 p.m.).

I can guarantee I won’t be going to bed super early every night, but Oura’s analysis concluded that if I want to feel my best, I need to try to be more consistent: “What stands out right away is how variable your total amount of sleep is from night to night,” said Kryder. “One thing that we’ve learned in sleep science is that our bodies crave consistency so if it is possible to strive for similar bedtimes and wake times each night, it can help your body fall asleep faster and ‘plan’ to deliver the best sleep possible each night.”

Another big change? From now on I’ll usually be having tea with dinner.

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How much sleep I need

I found that I need about nine hours of sleep to feel my best, which means I need to go to sleep by 9:30 p.m., since my kids usually wake up at 6:30 a.m. I’d been averaging closer to 7.5 hours of sleep so I needed to find time for at least an extra hour. “The recommended duration for adults is to consistently obtain between six and nine hours of sleep, so 9.5 is not terribly far outside the recommended nightly duration,” Dr. Robbins said. She added: “It is possible that you, as a mom with a very busy, fast-paced career, are not getting enough sleep, so when provided the opportunity, are able to fall asleep, even if quite earlier than usual and sleep longer than usual.”

Oof! I like to spend time with my husband once the kids are asleep. (Confession: I am currently working on this piece at 10 p.m.!). But if I want to fall asleep easy, Dr. Robbins warns that switching bedtimes is not recommended. “Typically, we do not recommend varying your bedtime widely (e.g., falling asleep or waking up more than one hour from your typical fall asleep or wakeup routines) from one night to the next,” she said. “This is because our sleep is governed by our internal circadian rhythm, which refers to any process in the brain or body that oscillates in a 24-hour pattern. Our circadian system is truly a well-oiled machine and does not do well with rapid, large changes (e.g., sleeping in two or three hours on a Saturday morning), but instead, thrives with routine and consistency. That allows the brain to understand when you want to be tired and when you want to be alert.”

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Tips to falling asleep

There are many tips to get a good night’s sleep including avoiding phones before bedtime, using blackout curtains and setting the room temperature on the cooler side (though some people fall asleep best when it’s nice and warm). Sleep hygiene is all the rage and while some tips aren’t possible for some people to do (such as the suggestion that sleeping alone is better for sleep than sleeping with a partner), in general, I say find what works for you.

For me, I love nighttime tea in the early evening (if it’s too close to bedtime I’ll have to wake up to pee!), lavender oil, a sleep mask and sound machine. Although surprisingly, the nights I forgot to wear my sleep mask didn’t make much of a difference, according to Oura. But it still made me feel better going to bed.

Other tips include: breathwork, sleep restriction therapy, a weighted blanket…and even blowing bubbles! How’s that for relaxing?