Hello Sense, Allergies, and Better Sleep

As I’ve written about before, going to bed and waking up early has been an ongoing problem for me as long as I can remember. I’ve had more success fixing my sleep issues the past ten days than anything else I’ve ever tried in the past. A lot of that has been due to what I’ve learned using this little ball called Sense that tracks my sleep, monitors room conditions, and has a Sleep Cycle style smart alarm clock. After everything I’ve tried, this feels the most like I’m actually close to solving this problem for myself. It’s a crazy feeling after struggling with sleep my whole life.

Sense and pill

I’d used a FitBit Flex as a sleep tracker in the past, but it wasn’t super helpful. As long as I remembered to tap it when I went to bed it did a good job of tracking how long I slept and how much I moved, but that wasn’t enough. I could see I was taking a long time to fall asleep, sleeping too long, and moving a lot gave me zero hints why I could sleep for twelve hours and wake up tired.

The sleep tracking part of the Sense is similar to the FitBit, but has two things that make it better. First, I don’t have to remember to wear anything or tell it when I’m going to sleep (newer FitBit trackers are also automatic). The Sense has a tracker called the pill that attaches to your pillow and then you never have to think about again except to not accidentally wash it. Second, instead of just time and movement, Sense tracks the room conditions while I’m sleeping. I can use the report it gives me to maybe figure out what was going on during the night and why I’m I slept how I did. It also gives me a sleep score which — while I have no idea how it’s calculated — does usually seem to match up pretty well to how I feel the next day.

Sense sleep log

The report tells me: what time I went to bed, fell asleep, what phase of sleep it thinks I was in, when I was moved around, and if there were any noise disturbances during the night.

It also tracks conditions in my room 24 hours a day and tells me if anything is unideal for sleeping:

Sense room report

I started noticing that there were several “noise disturbances” every night, so that seemed like something to investigate. I downloaded an iOS app called Sleep Talk which records noises while you sleep. I then tried to match up the times the Sense said there was a noise disturbance to the recordings to see what was going on. It would be nice if the Sense did this itself, but the app worked well enough.

What did I hear? Snoring and labored breathing. I was “lucky” that I’d been suffering from especially bad sinus allergies and was even more congested than usual the day I got the Sense. Because of this I was able to see my sleep quality improve over the next few days as my congestion got better. I’ve never been able to breath well through my nose, and I’ve also always had trouble with sleep, but for some reason I’d never considered the two might be connected. I started reading online about breathing, and of course not breathing well affects your sleep. In fact, that’s probably why I could sleep twelve hours and still be tired — it took me that long to get enough quality sleep to be rested.

I decided to do an experiment. I knew that Zicam nasal spray would clear out my sinuses instantly, but that I could only use it for a few days in a row. I used it before going to bed one night to see what would happen. I also read that sleeping on your side is better for breathing and that a pillow between your legs helps you stay off your stomach, so I did that too. The next three days that I took the Zicam before bed I woke up by 8:30am after about eight hours of sleep feeling fine and rested. That’s remarkable for me. I honestly can not remember having a change like this before. My Sense sleep score also went up (from the 70s to the 80s).

Since I couldn’t take Zicam for more than a few days, I also began taking Claritin every morning (as well as D-6, B-12, and a daily multivitamin). The Claritin helps, but not as much as I’d like. After some research, I found out that Flonase is usually better for people with year round allergies, and so I’ve started taking that. It takes a few days to reach full effectiveness, but the initial results are promising.

I don’t want to speak too soon, but I think I may have figured this sleep thing out.