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Everything You Need To Know About Sleep Cycles (And Four Ways To Hack Your Sleep Cycles)

For years, I've avoided any significant amount of intensive sleep tracking, sleep monitoring or sleep quantification. Frankly, I simply haven't wanted to subject my body to the potential damaging effects of WiFi or bluetooth radiation during sleep (due to lack of long-term research on the effects of constant low-level radiation exposure and the “dirty electricity” reasons I discuss here).

Plus, when it comes to quantifying sleep, the motion sensing devices in most iPhone or Android app are notoriously inaccurate. So any sleep data you actually do get can be kinda useless.

That's why, until this month, I've simply rolled over each morning when I wake up, put on a heart rate chest strap, and conducted a very simple five minute measurement of my heart rate variability (HRV), which allows me to measure how well I’ve recovered, and the actual strength of my nervous system when I awake. This directly correlates to the quality of my sleep, and my physical and mental readiness for the day. To learn more about the NatureBeat app I use for that and how HRV works, click here.

But recently, things have changed.

After finally, a few weeks ago, getting my hands on the new ŌURA ring, which has a built-in internal computer that allows you to be in “airplane mode” all night long while you're sleeping, and which has been proven to come extremely close to professional sleep-monitoring laboratory equipment…

…I have begun to quantify every single night of my sleep.

As a result, I've accumulated oodles of sleep data, including total sleep time, sleep efficiency, sleep latency, sleep disturbances, sleep heart rate and amount of time spent in each stage of sleep, including light sleep, deep sleep and REM sleep.

And what I've realized is that this sleep quantification stuff can be freaking confusing, and can raise all sorts of sleep questions. For example…

-What is “normal” when it comes to how long it takes you to fall asleep?

-Does it matter how low your heart rate gets during sleep?

-How much time are you supposed to spend in each of the different sleep stages?

-What's the difference between rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) sleep?

-Can you “biohack” your body into getting more deep sleep?

-Are there ways you can reduce sleep latency and get yourself to fall asleep faster?

So in today's article, I'm going to address these questions, and you're going to discover exactly how sleep cycles work, how much time you're supposed to spend in each sleep stage, four ways to biohack your sleep cycles, and much more.

If you use any kind of sleep quantification system, this is a must-read for you to finally be able to make sense of the sleep data you're getting. And, as usual, leave any of your comments, questions or thoughts below the article, and I'll reply!

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How I Personally Quantify Sleep

Like I mentioned above, I've been using a ring called the “ŌURA” to quantify my sleep (and my activity levels, readiness to train, etc.). You can click here to listen to a podcast I recorded with the inventor of this ring, which I discovered while attending a biohacking conference in Finland.

During the night, the ring detects my smallest hand and finger movements, continuously monitors my heart rate, pulse amplitude, changes in breathing rhythm and small variations in heartbeat intervals throughout the night, and with that information it detects all variables that reveal what is really happening in my brain while I sleep.

Each morning, I can then view a graphical trend of sleep time that shows the total time in bed, the amount of each sleep stage I got and how that changes from night to night. By scrolling the trend graph horizontally, I can bring up details of any night in my sleep history.

Here's a screenshot:

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The lower part of the sleep detail view shows sleep information for the night. This includes overall Sleep Score, which summarizes the sleep quality of the night and Resting Heart Rate, including the lowest heart rate recorded during the night and the time at which that lowest heart rate occurred.

The variables affecting the total Sleep Score are called contributors and they include:

-Total Sleep Time, indicating the effect of the total time slept.
-Sleep Efficiency, indicating the effect of how much of my total bedtime I was asleep.
-Sleep Disturbances indicating the effect of waking up or getting up during the night and overall restlessness of my sleep time.
-REM indicating the effect of the amount of REM sleep I got.
-Deep indicating the effect of the amount of deep sleep you got.
-Sleep Onset Latency indicating how optimal the time it took me to fall asleep.
-Circadian Alignment indicating how well my sleep time was aligned with the sun.

Notice that the nightly sleep analysis details also include bedtime start, total time in bed and bedtime end, shown together with what is called a “sleep architecture chart” (also known as a “hypnogram”) that shows how sleep stages varied during the night. The total amount of time spent in each sleep stage (Deep sleep, REM sleep, Light sleep and Awake) are on the bottom part of the view.

The little heart symbol over the hypnogram shows the time when the lowest Resting Heart Rate was registered during the night, which can be a sign of overtraining or poor sleep quality if that Resting Heart Rate occurs much later than usual, or is much higher than usual. Also, on the ŌURA reading, there is occasionally an orange dotted line on the hypnogram, which will show if my sleep has shifted from my normal rhythm – i.e. I went to bed earlier or later than normal.

So let's take a look at how I can actually use this information for practical purposes, shall we?

In the first ŌURA ring screenshot below, you can see that I was in bed from 10:31pm until 7:29am. Pretty impressive, eh? Makes me a good little sleeper. But upon closer glance, you can see a few issues, including:

A) I spent a good hour of that time simply “awake”.

B) I spent 5 hours and 13 minutes of that time in “light” sleep (59% of the total night of sleep!)

C) My lowest resting heart rate of 39bpm occurred at about 4:30AM, nearly two hours later than my lowest resting heart rate normally occurs, and three beats higher than my normal lowest resting heart rate of 36bpm.

So although one would think upon first glance of me hitting the sack at 10:30 and getting up at 7:30 that I had a complete rock-star night of sleep, that would be, in fact, far from the truth. As a matter of fact, in the second ŌURA screenshot below, you'll see that I receive a warning that my “readiness score” is low and that I may not be recovered fully from the previous day's activity. Interestingly enough, the previous day's activity was a four hour horseback ride, an activity my body definitely was not used to and needed enhanced recovery time from.

Pretty cool, eh? 

Now, before moving on to a really complete description of what exactly all these sleep cycles are, and how to “biohack” them, let's look at a couple more examples of how sleep quantification can inform you in quite useful ways.

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In the first screenshot below, you can see that on the 8th, I had a much higher-than-normal level of physical activity – about 23,000 steps, compared to my average of around 15,000. The ŌURA keeps track of not only how many steps you have taken and how much you've moved, but also how high your heart rate was during that movement, and in this case, my activity burn shows that I was not only moving, but moving with intensity, and had zero breaks of sitting for longer than one hour.

Now here's the deal: one of the things the ŌURA does is make microadjustments to your day's physical activity recommendations based on the previous day's activity. So you can see in the second screenshot below that although my “goal” on the 8th was to achieve at least 6.2 miles of moving (I instead got 13.5 miles), my goal on the 9th was adjusted to just 3.7 miles of moving.

This was not only a result of the high amount of physical activity on the 8th, but also due to the fact that, as you can see in the third screenshot below, that I only achieved 39 minutes (8% of my total sleep) in deep sleep on the night of the 8th (which makes sense, as I had just flown back from East Coast to West Coast).

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OK, almost down to the nitty-gritty science of sleep cycles, but first I want to show you what an ideal, fantastic night of sleep should look like.

I had to take a few screenshots from the ŌURA to be able to capture it all, but (using the sleep cycle biohacking techniques I'm about to teach you later in this article), you can see that I achieved a sleep score of 97%, my lowest heart rate during sleep was 36bpm, achieved at my ideal time of 2:30am, I spent 27% of the night in deep sleep with only 5% of the night awake…

…and I was even congratulated the next day on sleeping “like a bear in the winter” and given a high readiness score and high physical activity recommendation.

Hooray for me.

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OK, you ready to learn how to acheve this type of sleep for yourself? Let's do this…but first: an explanation of sleep cycles.

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What Are Sleep Cycles

In 1929, scientists invented something called an electroencephalogram (EEG). An EEG records brain activity. From EEG recordings, sleep researchers could now see that sleep is a dynamic behavior, one in which your brain is highly active at times, and not simply “turned off” during sleep in the way that was previously thought.

Over time, sleep studies using EEGs (and other instruments that measure eye movements and muscle activity) revealed two main types of sleep. These two types of sleep were defined by characteristic brain wave patterns in a sleeping person's brain, as well as the presence or absence of eye movements.

These two main types of sleep, as shown in the hypnogram below, are:

  1. Rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep
  2. Non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) sleep

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Let's start with the first: REM sleep…

REM sleep is a unique phase of mammalian sleep characterized by random movement of the eyes, low muscle tone throughout the body, and the propensity of a sleeper to have vivid or lucid dreams. This phase is also known as paradoxical sleep (PS) and sometimes “desynchronized sleep” because of its physiological similarities to a waking state, including rapid, low-voltage desynchronized brain waves – basically a combination of alpha brain waves and beta brain waves.

During a typical night of sleep, you usually experience about four or five periods of REM sleep, which are quite short at the beginning of the night and longer toward the end. The first REM episode typically occurs about 70 minutes after falling asleep. Cycles of about 90 minutes each follow, with each cycle including a larger proportion of REM sleep. REM sleep typically occupies 20-25% of total sleep in adult humans, or about 90–120 minutes of a night's sleep.

Here's the important thing to look for when evaluating the “sleep percentage” your sleep-tracking device of choice gives you: REM sleep typically occupies 20-25% of total sleep in adult humans, or about 90–120 minutes of a night's sleep. That's the number you should be shooting for.

Next comes non-REM (NREM) sleep, which is best defined as any sleep not recognizable as REM sleep. NREM consists of three separate stages: stage 1, stage 2 and stage 3, also known as N1, N2 and N3 – with N1+N2 typically being classified as light sleep, and N3 being classified as deep sleep.

Stage 1 (NREM1 or N1) is the stage between wakefulness and sleep, sometimes referred to as “drowsy” sleep, in which your muscles are still quite active and your eyes roll around slowly, and may open and close from time to time. In more scientific terms, stage 1 is the period of transition from relatively unsynchronized beta and gamma brain waves (with a frequency of 12-30 Hz and 25-100 Hz), which is the normal range for the awake state, to more synchronized but slower alpha waves with a frequency of 8-13 Hz, and then to theta waves with a frequency of 4-7 Hz.

During N1 sleep, your breathing gradually becomes more regular and your heart rate begins to slow. Dreaming is relatively rare during this stage, but sudden twitches or jerks (sudden short micro-awakenings) are quite common, and these are simply the last gasps of waking control before sleep fully takes over. During this short period of very light, easily disrupted sleep, which usually lasts less than 10 minutes, you can be aware of sounds and conversations, but you feel unwilling to respond to them.

Typically, this stage should represent only about 5% of your total sleep time.

Stage 2 (NREM2 or N2) is the stage of sleep in which muscle activity decreases still further and conscious awareness of the outside world begins to fade completely. Brain waves during stage 2 are mainly in the theta wave range (just like N1 sleep), but N2 sleep is also characterized by two distinguishing characteristics: sleep spindles (short bursts of brain activity in the region of 12-14 Hz, lasting maybe half a second each, also known as “sigma” waves) and K-complexes (short negative high voltage peaks, followed by a slower positive complex, and then a final negative peak, with each complex lasting 1-2 minutes). Together, these two waves  protect sleep and suppress response to outside stimuli, as well aid in sleep-based memory consolidation and information processing.

Because you pass through this stage several times during the night, more time is spent in stage 2 sleep than in any other single stage, and N2 should typically constitutes about 45%-50% of total sleep time. If you add up N1 (ideally 5%) and N2 (ideally 45-50%), that is what something like the ŌURA will quantify as total light sleep, so now you know that total light sleep should be around 50-55% on a sleep quantification reading.

Finally, stage 3 (NREM3 or N3) occurs, and this known as deep or delta or slow-wave sleep (SWS), characterized by delta brain waves with a frequency of around 0.5-4 Hz. During this stage, you are even less responsive to the outside environment, essentially cut off from the world and unaware of any sounds or other stimuli. Neuronal activity, brain temperature, breathing rate, heart rate and blood pressure are all at their lowest levels during stage 3 sleep. Dreaming is more common during this stage than in the other non-REM sleep stages, and this is also the stage during which “parasomnias” such as night terrors, sleep-walking, sleep-talking and bedwetting occur. Information processing and memory consolidation also take place during this stage.

Interestingtly, it is much more difficult to wake a person during stage 3 sleep, and if awakened at this stage, you will often feel very groggy. It can take up to 30 minutes before they attain normal mental performance (known as sleep inertia). Hence the advent of many new alarm clocks and self-quantification devices that sync to your phone or cause a vibration or alarm to occur during the point in the morning when you are not in this stage of sleep (I think that's a quite handy feature).

This stage 3 sleep (AKA “deep sleep”) should ideally represent around 15%-20% of  your total sleep time.

OK, so let's review what kind of percentages you should be looking for when analyzing your sleep data:

-Awake time should be 1-5%

-REM sleep should be 20-25%

-Light sleep should be 50-55%

-Deep sleep should be 15-20%

As you learn in my podcast with sleep expert Nick Littlehales, you should ideally go through four to five of these sleep cycles from REM to NREM during any 24 hour period, and the five biohacks I'm about to give you will help you to optimize these cycles and percentages, so keep reading…

…but first, there's one aspect of sleep quantification that can be confusing: and that is whether a sleep tracking device registers REM as deep or light sleep.

After all, REM is a paradoxical phase. As you now know, REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement, in which your brain and your eyes are both active. But in REM sleep, you limbs are not active because you secrete hormones that put you into a narcotic, paralyzed state, so, just as in deep sleep, your body, fingers, wrists, etc. are completely still.

And this can only mean one thing…

…most sleep quantification devices, such as the FitBit or the Jawbone UP (or anything else that isn't actually sleep laboratory equipment which uses EEG) will register REM-sleep as deep sleep. These self-quantification devices, although useful, cannot keep the two apart because they don't look into your eyes and don't measure your brain activity (again, you’d need an EEG for that).

So this means that when you see “deep sleep” percentages or times on a self-quantification device, what you are seeing is REM sleep combined with the “real” deep sleep.

That is not the case with the ŌURA.

This is because, in addition to detecting the smallest hand and finger movements, the ŌURA ring continuously monitors your heart rate, pulse amplitude and small variations in heartbeat intervals throughout the night. With that information, the ring can detect changes in your breathing rhythm and other variables that reveal what is really happening in your brain while you sleep. That's why you can see from my screenshots in this article that I'm getting Awake time, REM time, Light Sleep time and Deep Sleep time.

Cool, eh? Click here to get an ŌURA ring with full shipping refund if you mention my name.

Alright, let's jump into my four ways to biohack your sleep cycles…

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Four Ways To Biohack Your Sleep

1. Two Pre-Sleep Nutrients

I get dozens of questions about which pre-sleep nutrients or supplements I personally use. After all, from mixes of apple cider vinegar and raw honey to phosphatidylserine to melatonin and beyond, the wide world of pre-sleep supplements can be quite confusing.

So I keep things simple. I only ever use two supplements at night: “Sleep Remedy” and “NatureCBD“.

The first, Sleep Remedy, is a formula created by a sleep physician and former Navy SEAL Dr. Kirk Parsley, who wanted to design something that would help extremely hard-charging, stressed-out folks settle down at night without the use of damaging sleep drugs like Ambien or Valium. You can listen to my interview with him at “A Navy SEAL Physician Reveals How Hard-Charging, High-Achievers Can Fall Asleep Fast“.

The cocktail contains simply very small amounts of the nutrients involved in the production of melatonin, specifically:

-L-tryptophan
-5HTP
-Vitamin D3
-Magnesium
…and a very small dose of melatonin.

Since an increase in brain GABA levels is a key player in the initiation of REM sleep, Sleep Remedy also includes a small amount of a unique form of GABA called “phGABA” that, unlike most forms of GABA, can actually cross into the brain. Here's a study that just came out yesterday on the potent sleep aid and growth hormone increasing effects of just 100mg of GABA.

NatureCBD is comprised of a legal form of cannabidiol, mixed with the natural sleep herbs ashwaganda and lemon balm.

Here are a few key studies on CBD and sleep:

In sum: smaller doses of CBD provide you with a calm and relaxed focus that comes in handy during everything from writing to music to parties to workouts – very similar to what you would experience with THC, but without the psychoactive or paranoia properties. And if you combine these smaller doses of CBD with common natural sleep-inducing compounds like melatonin, magnesium, or lemon balm, then you can get yourself into an even more relaxed state. But larger doses of CBD (which are going to range based on the actual absorption of whichever CBD blend you are using) can be used all by themselves to enhance sleep or combat insomnia.

You can learn more about CBD in the most comprehensive article I've ever written on the stuff, which is at “A 100% Legal Way To Get All The Health Benefits Of Smoking Weed Without Actually Smoking Weed.” If you don't have the time to read all that, and instead want a succinct audio explanation of how CBD works, then take a listen to an extremely recent podcast episode I recorded with SmartDrugSmarts entitled “Cannabidiol: THC’s Legal Sibling“.

Here's exactly  how I use these two:

-3-5 capsules NatureCBD 30 minutes prior to bed (higher dosage on more stressful days)

-1-2 Sleep Remedy 30 minutes prior to bed (higher dosage on more stressful days)

2. PEMF

In the article “A Tiny, 1/2 Ounce Piece Of Game-Changing Sleep Technology (And How To Use PEMF For Sleep)“, I report on a tiny device called the “SR1 DeltaSleeper“, which I now place on my collarbone prior to sleep. The device generates frequency specific pulsed magnetic fields that copy my sleeping brain’s naturally occurring pulsed magnetic fields – specifically targeting delta sleep waves.

This can be especially useful if your sleep quantification data reveals that you're spending less than 20% of your sleep time in a deep sleep cycle, since this PEMF device specifically drives your body into that deep sleep cycle, whether you turn it on before bed, or when you wake up at night.

Since originally publishing my article about the SR1 DeltaSleeper device, I've been asked quite a bit about the research science behind such devices, and recently read a fantastic article entitled “Therapeutic PEMFs and Sleep” that addresses much of the current science, written by PEMF researcher Dr. Pawluk. Here's an anecdote:

“Magnetic fields from a small battery-operated 0.5 mT/5 Gauss 4 Hz generator were tested in a double-blind study. Effects on sleep were studied prior to treatment and after 2 and 6 wks of treatment. They found that this field and intensity was effective in reducing sleep disturbances in 83% of the exposed group, compared with 57% in the controls. There is a strong impact psychologically of someone being studied, and changes are seen even if a placebo device is being used. Nevertheless, the people receiving active treatment consistently had better results for sleep whether it was at 2 weeks or 6 weeks. Results were stronger at 6 weeks. If anything, these results show that after 2 weeks of treatment results are decent and are more consistent at 6 weeks. This means that for a weak intensity magnetic system, longer treatment may need to be carried out to have consistent results across a larger number of people treated. Results between individuals can vary significantly. Because most research is time-limited, we typically do not know what happens when treatment is discontinued and whether people need to use treatments over long periods of time to get consistent and continued benefits. (Fischer)

In a 4-week double-blind, placebo-controlled study impulse magnetic-field therapy was tested for insomnia. One hundred patients were randomly assigned to either active treatment or placebo. They fell into one of three groups: (1) trouble falling asleep (sleep latency); (2) interrupted sleep; or (3) nightmares. The researchers looked at sleep latency, frequency of interruptions, sleepiness after rising, daytime sleepiness, difficulty with concentration, and daytime headaches. Those with active treatments had In the active-treatment group, the values of all criteria were significantly improved results. As is often seen with this kind of research, the placebo group also had significant symptomatic improvement. But, the differences between the 2 groups hugely favored the active treatment group. 70% of the people given active treatment experienced substantial or even complete relief of their complaints; 24% had clear improvement; 6% slight improvement. In the placebo group, only one patient had very clear relief; 49% slight or clear improvement; and 49% saw no change. No one had any adverse effects. The PEMF therapy helped about 90% of the individuals, versus only about 50% of the placebo group seeing benefit. This study was useful in showing that most basic types of sleep problems can be substantially helped with the use of PEMF therapies. (Pelka)

During much of the time of sleep, brain neurons undergo near-synchronous slow oscillations in brain cell membrane electrical activity. This is like synchronized swimming. These slow oscillations are obvious in the normal EEG. This was studied in sleeping individuals. Each high intensity Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) pulse at <1 Hz causes an individual, high intensity EEG slow wave that originates under the coil and spreads over the cortex of the brain. These evoked slow waves lead to a deepening of sleep and to a more widespread increase in EEG deep or slow-wave activity (0.5-4.5 Hz). This slow-wave activity is believed to play a role in brain restoration and memory consolidation..”

Anyways, you can click here to read Dr. Pawluk's full article on the use of PEMF for sleep.

So basically, the DeltaSleeper SR1  is like a snooze button for my nervous system. I just push the little button anytime I need to send calming delta wave signals to my brain. You can also listen to my podcast with one of the co-founders of the DeltaSleeper company here.

For any long time podcast listerners or blog readers, it's no secret that I also own and use a second, more powerful EMF device: the Earthpulse PEMF Sleep Machine. You can consider this to be the “big gun” of PEMF: and I use it when jet lagged or after a very big workout, and also, based on research like this and this, on pain and soft tissue injuries.

Binaural Beats

In your normal waking state, your brainwaves are primarily involved in beta frequency wave production. This is an alert state of consciousness that you experience when you are stressed or anxious. Granted, there is some alpha brain wave production that occurs during the day as well, but if you have difficulty falling asleep at night or your sleep cycle graphs are less than optimal, it can be a sign that you are having difficulty coming out of the beta state and entering into the alpha state, that first state of light relaxation prior to deeper stages of sleep. You experience the Alpha brainwave frequency when you are daydreaming or in light meditation.

Binaural beats (also known as “isochronic tones”) can help lull your brainwaves from a beta state into an alpha state, and then progress to take you into theta and delta states, mimicking the natural progression of a healthy sleep pattern.

Interestingly (and similar to PEMF) when you use binaural beats every night, you get an “entrainment” effect, which means that you gradually train your brain to enter into relaxed states more easily, making sleep come more naturally.

Sleepstream is a binaural beats app that contains over 8 hours of downloadable audio based around the concept of binaural beats, but also including calming sounds such as rain, wind, waves, etc. that have been handpicked and crafted to remove irritating frequencies and volume inconsistencies, along with guided voice meditations for sleep, relaxation and energy.

There are over 140 options for “Binaural & Isochronic Brainwave Programs” within the app, and these are split into 15 separate brainwave categories that include sleep, relaxation, energy, focus, meditation, hypnosis, learning, mood, motivation, creativity, lucid dreaming and more. To me, this initially seemed like a dizzying and confusing array of options, but after about 20 minutes of playing with different sound, music and binaural beat combinations (and annoying my wife with combinations of piano music, lucid dreaming binaural beats, and crackling fire sounds) I settled upon:

1) the pre-programmed 8 hour sleep phase download available within the app (this cost me an extra 99 cents), which begins with light sleep phase beats and gradually lulls you into deeper phases and;

2) the pre-programmed “Power Nap” setting. Both of these work like a charm for their intended purpose.

Now here is something important to understand about binaural beats in apps like Sleepstream: they work best with headphones, as opposed to simply pumping out the beats via an audio player next to your bed. Since I’m not a fan of using wireless bluetooth radiation technology next to your head all night while you sleep, I personally use a wired solution, and the best I’ve found so far are called “SleepPhones“, which allow me to sleep on my side without an earbud or a bulky noise-isolating headphone getting in my way or digging annoyingly into my ear.

My single biggest complaint about SleepPhones is that they don’t do a great job blocking out external noise. While this typically isn’t a problem in the bedroom, it can be an issue in airplanes and other public places where you may want to catch some zzz’s or do any other form of meditation. What I have found, though, is that when I combine SleepPhones with a wraparound Sleep Master sleep mask, the sleep mask “presses” the phones into my ear, and this really does a much better job blocking out ambient noise.

Finally, if you’re scratching your head about binaural beats and have no clue what I’m referring to, then please reference the article “How You Can Use Sound And Music To Change Your Brain Waves With Laser Accuracy And Achieve Huge Focus And Performance Gains“, and/or read up about them on this binaural beats wiki page. When you first hear them, they sound like a gentle, quiet, oscillating hum that hypnotically wanders back and forth between each of your ears.

4. Essential Oils

If you're wondering what the cylindrical black device in the photo at the top of this blog post is, it is portable, cool mist humidifier in which you can place any variety of essential oils, which then diffuse into the air all night next to your bed as you sleep.

Before I go to sleep at night, I've personally been putting several drops of two different oils in my diffuser: lavender and rose.

The first oil, lavender, when inhaled before or during the early stages of sleep, has been shown to enhance deep sleep and improve sleep quality, lower sympathetic nervous system arousal (the stress response), lower blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature, and lower cortisol levels.

The second oil, rose, has also been shown to inhibit sympathetic nervous system activity, and also to decrease adrenaline levels.

The nice thing about using a humidifier like this to diffuse essential oils is that you can take it anywhere you go, and the mist of air actually cools the area where you're sleeping, resulting in the lower temperature and mild drop in body temperature that has been associated with enhanced REM sleep.

If you are interested in learning more about how to use essential oils for everything from sleep to testosterone enhancement to decreased salary cortisol production, you should listen to my podcast episode with essential oils expert Dr. Sarah Lobisco, and also check out this very interesting, recent research-based article on essential oil for written by my friend and former podcast guest Tom Nikkola (there's an especially cool testosterone hack in that article).

Sure, I also follow all the normal “sleep hygiene” tactics I discuss in this podcast episode with sleep expert Nick Littlehales, but by throwing in these extra little biohacks, I've noticed a profound improvement in my sleep latency, deep sleep percentages, and overall sleep quality.

So let's take a quick look at how I put all this together and turn it into an actual pre-sleep “habit” or routine:

Step 1: 30 minutes prior to bed, take Sleep Remedy and NatureCBD

Step 2: Upon getting into bed, place the SR1 on my collarbone and turn it on.

Step 3: Turn on the essential oil diffuser.

Step 4: Turn on the Sleepstream app and pull the Sleep Master sleep mask over the SleepPhones.

Once placed in airplane mode (which I do while sleeping) the ŌURA will automatically begin to collect sleep data. And it's good data. As you learn in my podcast with the folks at ŌURA, so far the ring has validated our sleep against professional sleep labs,  along with interbeat interval data (HRV), ECG derived R-R intervals (your heart waves), temperature against a temperature logger used in professional sleep lab measurements, and activity measurements against the gold standard of metabolic measurements: indirect calorimetery. In all of these, the ring has either reached or exceeded the expected performance levels. Just sayin'.

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Does Self-Quantification Suck The Enjoyment Out Of Sleep & Exercise?

Ultimately, you may be wondering if this apparent obsession with self-quantification and biohacking is actually healthy? Should you quantify metrics such as exercise and sleep, or are there proven drawbacks? Are there hidden costs?

Turns out the Journal of Consumer Research recently looked into this, reporting in the article “The Hidden Cost of Personal Quantification” on the results of six different experiments that looked into devices that measure how much of different activities people do (e.g., walking, and also even non-exercise activities such as reading more).

For example, in one experiment, researchers had 105 students color in shapes for a few minutes, then rate how much they enjoyed it. Those who got numerical feedback on their coloring (e.g. “you have colored one shape”) did indeed color more shapes, but reported that they enjoyed it less.

In two other experiments, researchers gave 100 people pedometers (step measuring devices) to wear through the day. Just like the colorers, the people wearing the pedometers walked more than the people without pedometers, but also reported enjoying their physical activity less, even when they didn’t have access to the device’s feedback and metrics. So it seems the mere act of wearing a device during exercise may take some of the enjoyment out of it.

And in another two experiments, 300 students reading for a brief period of time while having their reading metrics recorded did, as you’d probably guess, read more than a control group who wasn’t having their reading measured, but the measured group enjoyed the reading less, especially when they could see how many pages they had processed (ahem: Kindle, anyone?)

The article in the Journal of Consumer Research hypothesizes that this phenomenon occurs because measuring an activity can undermine intrinsic motivation to complete the activity. By drawing attention to the output rather than the process, constant measurement and quantification can make enjoyable activities feel more like work, thus reducing their enjoyment. The consequence of this can be decreased continued engagement in the activity and decreased subjective well-being.

So in summary: measuring something like exercise may make you exercise more, but enjoy the exercise less. The same could potentially be said of sleep: sure you might quantify a good night of sleep, but did you wake up simply wondering about your sleep metrics, rather than waking up grateful that you feel like a million bucks?

Well, I'm not about to stop quantifying. But here's what have I personally implemented based on these recent findings:

1) I Track, But I Don’t Obsess.

Sure, I’m wearing the self-quantification ring nearly every day now, but I don’t obsess over the results or run statistical evaluations on them daily. Instead, at the end of the day, I take a quick glance at just a few key metrics, such as: did I do a good job not sitting unbroken for any longer than an hour? Did I move my daily goal of 15,000 steps? Was my heart rate or body temperature higher than it usually is, indicating excessive stress or overtraining? Then I move on, always reminding myself that it’s more important to spend your time experiencing life, not just analyzing life or staring at a screen that tells you how life is “going”.

2) I’m Careful With “Electrical Pollution”.

As I discuss in the podcast episode “Is Bluetooth Radiation Dangerous”, I am wary not to put devices on my body that constantly emit a Wi-Fi signal or a Bluetooth signal, as I simply haven’t seen enough research to show that this type of constant exposure is safe or healthy in the long term.

3) I Listen To My Body.

If a self-quantification device tells you that you exceeded your daily activity goals, you might be tempted, even if you’re not hungry, to have a slice of cheesecake after dinner. Or, if your device tells you that you got 45 minutes less sleep than you normally do, you might be tempted to be tired or grumpy that day, even if you’re really not that tired, but rather simply influenced by what the device is telling you. So I’m always careful to, every morning, simply take some quiet time to listen to my body and “feel out” what my energy levels really area, and I’m always careful when I get a big amount of daily activity to stop before stuffing my face as some kind of reward or refueling effort, and to eat mindfully, asking myself whether I am actually hungry, or whether I’m just having a knee-jerk reaction to technology. Hopefully you get the idea!

4) I Recognize The Value Of Intrinsic Motivation.

Extrinsic motivation comes from knowing your ring or your bracelet is “counting” what you're doing, somebody on social media is watching you, there is some kind of event you've signed up for like a triathlon where people will be seeing you try to achieve your goals. There's nothing wrong with that. But you need to recognize the value of intrinsic motivation too. Intrinsic motivation arises from the experience of simply enjoying something. The very definition of it is that you're getting some kind of joy, some kind of satisfaction, so kind of feeling of competence from the activity. You're establishing a deeper connection with yourself, whether you're exercising or sleeping. So sometimes it is important to stop, and not necessarily remove your self-quantification device, but to simply ask yourself whether you'd be enjoying and doing what it is that you're doing whether it's being quantified or not – focusing on not just the destination (e.g. 15,000 steps) but the journey (the sun on your face and wind on your skin as you take those 15,000 steps).

OK, that's it. I'll step off my woo-woo soapbox now. Don’t worry about self-quantification ruining your life, but be careful with constant exposure to technology, obsessing too much, and forgetting to occasionally just unplug, listen to your body and follow your intrinsic motivation. And if you find things happening such as exercise becoming non-enjoyable or sleep becoming disrupted, try completing removing your device for a few days and see if that changes things!

———————-

Summary

What do you think? Do you plan on tracking your sleep now? Do you have questions about sleep cycles, activity readiness, or anything else I discussed in this article? Leave your comments and questions below, and I'll reply. In the meantime, if you want to begin the process of self-quantification for yourself, you can…

Click here to get an ŌURA ring.  Just mention my name in the comments section of any order for an ŌURA ring and they'll knock $10 off after you order, whether USA or International.

Click here to get the NatureBeat app I use to track my morning heart rate variability (HRV).

Thanks for reading!

50 thoughts on “Everything You Need To Know About Sleep Cycles (And Four Ways To Hack Your Sleep Cycles)

  1. Ben –

    Forget about tracking sleep and start actually sleeping well. Get a NuCalm system and enjoy. Best thing I ever ever did for my sleeping and waking life.

  2. Hi Ben,

    I’ve enjoyed the Ōura ring for several weeks and have a couple questions for you: 1) when will Ōura release the new app that will provide user with more data that is apparently already trackable? 2) can you explain specifically how Ōura tracks activity? (My issue is that my ring appears to track movement well but if I, e.g., train on my stationary bike, I seem not to get much, if any, “credit” for the work. I ran one day and received high marks but biked (stationary) the next – twice as hard in terms of time and output and with similar if not higher heart rate – and got almost no credit. Ditto for weightlifting: lift heavy/hard but my activity registers as “low”.

    I’m not a professional athlete anymore but “I used to be somebody” and I still train hard and am in shape – my point being simply I’m not a novice with unreal expectations/knowledge. Full disclosure: I’m a 54 y/o doctor practicing sports medicine and rejuvenative/regenerative medicine.

    Ideas or comments please?

    Best,

    Rand

  3. Just wondering, if I have achieved a good amount of rem and deep sleep, but don’t quite sleep through the night (i.e. 6 hours instead of 7.5). Do I really need 7.5 hours in that case? Is the extra ‘Light Sleep’ that I might be missing that important? I’m tracking my sleep and have recently started using the SR1. Just wondering if others have had similar experiences and if that worked for them. Don’t mind sleeping less, but was always under the impression that in order to be heathy I needed a full 7.5+ of sleep every night – I also figure if my body needs more that it will make it up the next night since I do make allowances in my sleep schedule to get up to 9 hours if needed and I’m able to sleep. Great article, thanks for posting the ideal sleep percentages…I’m using those percentages to quantify my sleep in order to determine if my sleep will start to improve over time with the SR1.

  4. Hi Ben,

    Is it possible the Oura ring may not measure deep sleep correctly? For example: 51BPM (9.30pm), 8 hrs 22min total, sleep from 9.20pm-6.15am, 1min deep sleep, REM 3hrs 4min (34%), Light 5hrs 32min (61%), Awake 15min (4%). This sort of reading has happened twice before but generally I have deep sleep cycles of between 2-7% (occasionally 9-10%) which is quite low and does not seem to be effected by a multitude of biohacks. What sort of factors could the ring miss interpret as REM sleep and not deep? I tend to have large amount of REM sleep 30-54%.

    I have good sleep latency and onset.

    I have trialled small amounts (0.3-0.6mg) of melatonin, binauaral beats, 100mg PS, 200mg Theanine and 500mg phGABA (from PrimaForce) with no effect or if anything may be a slight change decrease in deep sleep.

    I have also trialled this device:

    MagnaField from MagnacareUK | PEMF Therapy

    It has an induction of 0.4mV @ 0.2uT, so quite low strength field but magnetic field range of 2-3metres in all directions due to its generating pad.

    It was invented by Bob Grace (Australian) an more recently sold/ incorporated into the UK company due to issues we were having here in Australia with the TGA.

    You can set it from anywhere from 0.5 – 18 Hz frequency with a 20 min single cycle or 20min on 20 min off repeating cycles.

    I have trialled 0.5 Hz for a 4x on-off cycle at the start of sleep with no change in deep sleep. I see you have suggested EarthPulse uses 10Hz (not sure if this changes through the cycle), is this a better frequency?

    It’s unclear to me if the SR1 uses 4Hz or < 1Hz pulses at 0.05 or 5 gauss. Your 'A Tiny 1/2 Ounce Piece……' suggests 0.05 gauss but the 'Dr Pawluk article link within: How Sleep cycles Work' article suggests 0.5mT/ 5 Gauss @ 4 Hz generator but then also TMS pulse @ < 1 Hz, so not sure if trialling 0.5 -1Hz or may be 3-4Hz would be beneficial.

    Thank you for any suggestions you can give.

    Tim

    1. Hey Tim, I’m in the same boat as you. I’m sleeping good but my ring tells me I have very little DEEP SLEEP. I’ve tried the binaural beats, lavender, teas, and sleep cocktail but my deep sleep is rarely good on the Oura Ring. Dis you ever find a way to get yourself in deeper sleep.

  5. Hi Ben…it would have been great if you had actually spent some ” real world” time with this ring..it is the worst product I have ever bought, it is cracked in two places now, it does not monitor any signs if the battery is under 8%, all other measurements other then sleep are almost 50% off against a fitbit and a Suunto. And even when wearing my HR strap with my suunto overnight, the heart rate measurement from the ouro is always 8-10 bpm off as well. This, i could see is a good idea at the concept level but for instance they now say it is scratch resistant and not scratchproof, and this ring does nothing to ” improve” your sleep, it just tells you what kind of sleep you had, a great mattress improves your sleep, the proper pillow improves your sleep, this is just a near miss effort at a simple concept of tracking sleep and it is being done much much better with the ever increasing number of sophisticated devices available…this is not one of them.

    1. I've spent a TON of time wearing it and comparing it, actually. It is far fmore accurate than FitBit, Suunto, etc. In terms of the technical stuff, here's a response from Oura:

      To help you solve the issues you claim would you please contact ŌURA support support@ouraring.com directly. Claiming something without checking with the company directly does not help much. If you have been able to crack the ring it has not been on your finger when you have broken it. ŌURA wants to inspect the ring and if there has been any manufacturing issues or anything like that you can ask for replacement.

      If battery is under 8% it still monitors all the movement and body temperature but does not use heart rate measurement for sleep and recovery assessment. Therefore the recommendation is that when you go to sleep the charge level should be above 50%. You better charge the ring on daily basis (for 15 min) or every other day (20-30min) to make sure the ring has enough juice continuously.

      Could you clarify in more detail which measurements are 50% off against Fitbit and Suunto? So far the ŌURA ring has been validated as follows:
      1) sleep staging algorithms against Polysomnography, 2) Interbeat interval (IBI = the time between the heartbeats in millisecond, this is the basis for Heart Rate Variability analysis) data against ECG derived R-R intervals, 3) temperature measurement against a body temperature logger used in professional measurements and 4) activity measurements against indirect calorimeter (like is done in serious research). Fitbit can give different values in steps and calories since their algorithms do not take into account all the every day home works etc what ever movements you have in your normal daily life in addition to actual exercises or walking etc.

      From Suunto HR strap you do not get such figure what the ŌURA ring gives as you lowest resting heart rate during the night. The ring measures every heart beat, the pulse waveform and amplitude variation as well as the exact time between the beats. From these it derives among others the lowest resting heart rate value based on certain algorithms to make it comparable for you over the time. The person who has developed the algorithms for ŌURA, Mr. Hannu Kinnunen, is one of the most experienced person in the world in developing algorithms for wearables using heart rate and movement and other physiological signals for giving accurate data. You can check his profile at Reseach Gate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Hannu_Kinnun… and LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/hannu-kinnunen-576957…. He has developed most of the algorithms for Polar's pioneering HR and activity monitoring products.

      ŌURA has been validated by third parties to be the most accurate commercial device for sleep staging and monitoring. It's on par with FDA approved medical devices and is still continuously developing. Improvement of sleep relates to many things like e.g. adjusting your daily activity levels, time and intensity according to body's recovery status as well as building up daily rhythms to apply to circadian alignment etc. Also in addition to measuring the sleep stages accurately, actually even more important is to understand the restorativeness of sleep. ŌURA is continuously developing the product and app to provide more insights and later on also the cloud UI will allow digging deeper into the data. Already now the ring measures much more than the app is showing. The messaging for sleep improvement develops continuously as well. Over 3000 rings have already delivered from the factory but the app development is in early phases and will continuously develop and provide more value.

      If you have complains or further questions please do not hesitate to contact ŌURA support directly since it is there for you.

      1. what you say in your reply sounds like oura…have gone the service route with no satisfaction and you can tout whatever you want to..except the data i have gathered refutes everything you say..so there is no arguement….and i was wearing the ring when it got cracked..so that comment was at the very least odd and it suggests you are simply trying to stick to your story for credibility sakes and that alone..the numbers i have gathered support my claim..nuff said

  6. Ben – apologies if I missed it, but has anyone experienced a major “void in communication” after ordering the Oura? I submitted my order on April 18th, after receiving the fitting kit, I responded with my ring size on May 2nd.

    Since then I have submitted 4 separate emails over the last 3 weeks about when I can expect to receive the ring as well as a shipping tracking #….but have not received a single response. They have gone dark, which is a no-no in terms of customer service for a company trying to launch a new product (without much of a track record). Anyhow – I understand new products can take longer to fulfill, but not responding to inquiries is quite frustrating. If anyone else or Ben has experienced similar, please share your strategy in getting the manufacturers of Oura to reply :).

    Much appreciated.

    1. Hey Buckeye, I was one of the original Kickstarter backers after Ben had their founder and CEO on the show – and I am really glad I hung in there thru all the ups and downs of a typical Kickstarter project.

      Having received my ring 2 or 3 weeks ago, the insights on sleep have been super helpful. And the product fit and finish are first rate. Seriously top shelf.

      My gut is there are slammed but the wait and gaps in communication will be worth it.

    2. i have been told there are a thousand rings still to be made before i get my replacement ring…not worried though as the ring is currently in the bottom of my fish tank

  7. You’re doing all those things to improve your sleep and the result (apparent from the tracking given as example) is not that good

  8. Ben, you are reccomending regular 3-5 capsule use of a supplement that you sell 30 capsules for $100? Can you reduce the price?

      1. I hear ya. I just had to moan n groan a bit. I live in bellingham and have been trying the low low thc and high cbd bud from the stores. I swear it still has strong paychoactive effects even with 1 percent thc. I wonder if part if that is frim smoking it.

  9. first – amazing article and packed full of good info.

    Have you tried the Basis peak with all the latest firmware updates? You can turn off bluetooth at night, it measures heart rate, movement, and skin temp / perspiration – so theoretically Intel’s algorithms should be better than the ŌURA for measuring REM sleep. I’ve had amazing luck with it, it would be cool to see a comparison.

    Anything you do to increase REM sleep? I noticed the cold room is key for me.

    1. I have not yet tried the Basis peak but would be happy to compare to OURA. Which one exactly did you use? For REM sleep, yes, cold room and darkness are key. That is more "normal sleep hygiene" stuff…

      1. the Basis Peak, it is really all they sell right now
        http://www.mybasis.com/shop/
        Intel bought them a couple years ago for around $100M, and the next Basis with an Intel chip is likely due out second half of this year with the new Curie chip they showed off during the Xgames. The most interesting aspect is they are releasing all the software algorithms for sleep as part of their APIs, called BodyIQ. I would suspect we see sleep / activity trackers from Dell, HP, Lenovo, etc. soon.
        http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/wearables/…

        even the old Basis was the only sleep tracker that could get anywhere close to detecting REM sleep. I can’t wait to try the OURA, but a bit pricey.
        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-christopher-wint…

        love the show Ben!! You sir – know your shit. I cover sleep tracking and sleep quality in my Udemy course on testosterone. Happy to give it away free to any of your readers.
        https://www.udemy.com/testosterone/?couponCode=be…

  10. I love both products but I can’t pick which one I should buy first? I wake up a few times a night and the ring could give me an idea on what is going on but the SR1 might help me get back to sleep quicker. So confused!!!! lol

  11. Hi Ben – I’m very interested in purchasing the Oura, but for me, one of the features that (I believe) it’s missing is being able to vibrate to wake you up when the ring detects that you are not in a deep / delta sleep. Are you aware if this will be a feature at some point down the road? What do YOU use as an alarm in the morning? Thanks!

        1. Do you happen to know if this will be a hardware update (i.e. a whole new version of the Oura) or can this be accomplished with a firmware/software update? I don’t want to buy it only to realize that I missed out on a new / improved product.

  12. General sleep cycle question. Do you find it better to wake up at the end of a 4th cycle, so you get around 6 hours of sleep, or better to get an additional hour or so of sleep and wake up in the middle of a sleep cycle. Its obviously easier to wake up at the end of a cycle, but do you think one would be more productive throughout the day with an additional hour of sleep?

    This is assuming one doesn’t have time to get a full 5 cycles (7.5 hours).

  13. Good article. Interesting to know what impact the Delta Sleeper has had on sleep latency and awake time at night (using to return to sleep when you awake at 2am….). I read your article on the Delta Sleeper but would appreciate more quantification of its benefits especially in regards to the above. Have you “Oura-d” your sleep with and without? My personal issue is waking multiple times at night and having difficulty returning to sleep. thanks much.

  14. Great article Ben, really good insight on sleep cycles. I definately learned something. I’m going to find out if CBD is available in Australia and can be imported without any hassle. I ordered an Oura ring 3 weeks ago looking forward to testing it out.

    1. I don’s feeel comfortable wearing it at the gym, and im pretty sure it could eventually damage on heavy bar lifts. It doesn’t feel nice at playing golf either. I hope they could get my activity from Fitbit (or similar) and use Oura’s great sleeping monitor during night. Thanks for great article Ben! Ps. I need more deep sleep

  15. Great article.

    As usual a load of great insights and I’ve already incorporated a few of these and improved my own sleep ‘performance’ and now have some more to add.

    How come you don’t incorporate the earthpulse in this regime; from earlier podcasts it sounds like the most powerful sleep device you’ve used?

      1. I’ve been using the Deltasleeper for the last few weeks (I have a wakeful toddler and find it useful to put me back to sleep if I have to get up to settle him). My earthpulse arrived today; I guess I’m trying to understand why the earthpulse isn’t your every-night go-to device – if it’s the most powerful why not use it every night?

  16. Hi Ben,

    Great review of the OURA! I was wondering if the app will give you your actual HRV measurement or does it just give a recommendation? If it does give you the measurement, have you tried comparing that to what you get from NatureBeat? Is the OURA ring value on par with NatureBeat? If the OURA app does not give you the measurement and only a suggestion on how active you should be for the day does that generally align with the HRV measurement from NatureBeat? I guess I am just wondering if you have done any comparison testing between the OURA HRV measurement and NatureBeat to see how accurate it is. Thanks again!

    1. The app is still in development but you can extract all interbeat intervals and raw HRV data from it. They will eventually be including all of those in the app. I would imagine that it will eventually pair with NatureBeat as well. It is well worth owning to stay ahead of the game. ;-) And yes it seems to align extremely well with the NatureBeat

  17. Hi Ben,

    Would you recommend the Oura Ring for someone who only wishes to measure sleep and not wear it throughout the day?

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