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.

The “Why Am I Anxious?” Checklist

I’ve come up with a list of things I should ask myself and do if I’m feeling anxious or antsy. Here it is:

  1. Did I not have any coffee today? Have some.
  2. Have I had too much coffee? Drink some water. Take a walk.
  3. Did I sleep not enough or too much? Keep working on that.
  4. Am I worried what someone is thinking of me? Talk to them.
  5. Am I worried about something I’m not doing? Stop worrying and do some of it.

No matter what:

  1. Remember you’re not stupid and people like you.
  2. Drink some water and take a walk.

How John Zeratsky Became a Morning Person

This post on Medium by John Zeratsky echoes a lot of what I’ve felt, and what I’m trying to get to. This part describes how I’ve been my entire life:

It didn’t come naturally to me. When I had to wake up early—for a meeting, an event, or class—it was like the vignette above. I struggled to get out of bed. Often I barely made it to my engagement on time. And that rushed, zombie-like morning loomed over my day like a hangover.

John also was motivated by the same thing I am though; the promise of how much more you can get done by being a morning person. Whether I like it or not, the world isn’t likely to adjust to my natural schedule, so if I want to get by in it, I need to figure out a way to change this about myself. Missing mornings — or being awake but useless for them — means I’m missing a couple hours every day I could be participating in the world, or doing something good for myself. The best part is that it worked for John, and he’s kept it up:

It worked. I traded a typical night-owl schedule—up ’til midnight or later, staring at a screen, writing, doing design work, coding—for an uncommon routine where I go to sleep early, wake up early, and get a lot of work done in those quiet morning hours.

If he did it, maybe I’m not hopeless.

Fixing My Messed Up Sleep Schedule

Sleep has always been a huge problem for me. My issue isn’t that I don’t sleep enough, it’s that I can’t sleep at night or wake up. If you don’t have a problem like this, that might sound stupid, but I’ve been like this as long as I can remember (at least since junior high). I’ve talked to a doctor before who thought I might have delayed sleep phase disorder, but haven’t gone so far as to do a sleep study.

Things I’ve tried are a sunrise alarm clock, a blue light I shine on my face in the morning, and over the counter sleep aids. They all helped somewhere between not at all and marginally. Last night, I tried something new: blue light blocking glasses. During the day, blue light from the sun tells your body it’s time to be awake and you start producing serotonin. At night the lack of that light tells your body to produce melatonin, which makes you sleepy. That’s what directs your circadian rhythm, which makes total sense evolutionarily. Unfortunately we didn’t evolve with televisions, household lights, and iPhone’s that produce that same kind of light in abundance. If you’re around any of those things, your body won’t produce melatonin and it will be harder to fall asleep (I’m sure this affects some people more than others). This web page explains it in more detail if you don’t want to just take my word for it. Anyway, I bought some glasses block blue light that I can wear in the evening to my body does the right things.

They are also the nerdiest looking things I have ever seen:

Blue light glasses

Never having company over in the evening again aside, the first night appears to have been a success. I started wearing them when I got home from work and was able to fall asleep earlier (surprising since I only woke up 11 hours before), and woke up the earliest I have in months (an hour before my alarm!) feeling fine. It would be sort of amazing if a $20 pair of yellow glasses really does that much to solve a problem that’s been ongoing for most of my life. My plan is to track my sleep (I love any excuse to make a spreadsheet) for the next couple of weeks and report back with the results. I also bought a new bulb for my sunrise alarm clock, so I’m going to start using that again, and I’m going to stop drinking coffee except in the morning.

Excited to see how this goes.

My New Job

I hadn’t mentioned it here, but a couple of months ago I took a full time position running iOS development at Lovely. Lovely is a great service for people looking to rent a new apartment, and it’s been really exciting working with the team. This also means I’m now living in San Francisco, so hopefully I’ll be able to run into some people here.

A Small Thing for My Dad

I’ve been hearing about Harry’s cartridge razor subscription service for a while on different podcasts, but since I’ve been using a safety razor for about four years now, it didn’t really interest me too much. The other day when I heard an ad though, I thought of how I’d been thinking of getting my dad a fancy-pants safety razor set with brush and everything, but hadn’t because I knew it’d be too fussy for him to use, and so I went to the website, read some reviews online to make sure they were actually good razors, and ordered my dad the “Truman” set in blue with a subscription that will sent him more razors and cream every four months.

For the cost of $93 a year (plus $15 for the initial pack) my dad will never have to think about getting fresh razors or shaving cream again. It’s a small thing, but something I can’t imagine anyone being upset that you did for them.

Push Notification Distractions and Anxiety

Everyone knows that distractions are productivity killers. But I’ve also started to become aware that all of the vibrations and dings going off in my pocket and on my desktop all day aren’t just distracting, but that every time they go off, I also feel just a little anxious. There’s a tiny bit of stress every time I hear or feel a notification that takes me away from what I’m doing.

I have no idea if I’m the only person to ever feel this way, but I don’t feel like it can be that uncommon. We just aren’t built to have our concentration broken in that way so often. So, in order to be more productive, less anxious, person I’ve decided to do a few things about it.

Deleting Noisy and Useless Apps

I had a bunch of different social apps on my phone I didn’t need: Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Path, Foursquare and Tumblr. Of those, I use Facebook to keep up with people who I don’t have a better way to track, and Tumblr for browsing and time wasting. Nothing has ever happened on any of these that needed my immediate attention, so I deleted all of them from my phone.

The social apps I kept were for Twitter, App.net and Instagram. For Twitter and App.net, I deleted the desktop clients I had and decided to only use them from my phone. I kept Instagram because I like some of the pictures I take with it, but I may change my mind on it too.

Any apps that I don’t use on at least a near-daily basis, I also deleted. If they’re that important, why do I have them buried in a folder on my third home screen? For any apps I use, but that send notifications for things that aren’t time sensitive (e.g., Instacast for new podcast episodes), I turned off notifications all together.

Dealing with Mail

Mail is one case where sometimes I might get something kind of urgent, but that most of the time is just buzzing away annoying me for no reason. I moved it to my second home screen, and turned off notifications and badges for everything except VIP. I also removed a few people from VIP that didn’t need to be there.

Using Do Not Disturb

The last thing I’ve started doing is keep “do not disturb” active on both my phone and computer whenever I don’t want to be bothered (which is a lot). On your phone, you can set it to always let certain people and repeated calls through, but I turned those off too. If I need to focus, nothing is so urgent that it can’t wait for a little bit.

Izze the Little Brown Pig

About seven years ago — when I was twenty-one and had just been hired at the Guitar Center in Sacramento — I bought a baby guinea pig and named her Izze (like the soft drink). Last Thursday she died. Friday I cleaned all of her stuff out, took her cage to the recycling, and put her food bowl in a drawer in the kitchen. Seven years old is a long time for a guinea pig to live, and a quarter of my life so far. The day I got her I could hold her in the palm of one hand. On Thursday I had to take her on the bus in a box to the vet so that they could cremate her and dispose of her ashes.

Before Izze, I had two others — Teddy and Dolly. Teddy I got when I still lived at home and worked at a Petco. She was one of these animals someone at the store decided couldn’t be sold for one reason or another, so they left her in the back with all of the sick animals. Eventually she would have gotten sick and died back there, so I took her. I had Teddy for about three and a half years, and she died while I was in Germany about a year before I moved to Portland. Dolly I got from a guinea pig rescue in the South Bay right after I moved out of my parents house. She only lived a couple of months; she was probably older than they thought when I adopted her from the rescue.

While Teddy was still alive — right before I was about to go to Germany to work with Cultured Code for a couple of months — I bought Mooby (like the fast food mascot from Kevin Smith movies). Mooby was big and had a lot of personality from the day I bought her. Since Teddy died while I was gone, the next four years it was just Izze and Mooby. When I moved to Portland, They sat next to me as I drove a U-Haul truck to Portland. The first month I was here, they stayed with me in a hotel and chewed up some of the furniture (oops). After that they both came with me to the three different places I’ve rented since moving to Portland. When Mooby died last year I was pretty broken up about it, and Izze was all by herself for the first time.

I was a little afraid to write this, because I thought people might make fun of the fact that I’m talking about a guinea pig, and not a dog or something. Really though, why should
it be any different? Seven years is a long time. I’m twenty-eight now, and that pig went with me to every place I’ve ever lived — from before I had any idea what I could do with my life, to finding a career that I love, to moving to an entirely different state. She was there for every part of what I consider my adult life so far.

Izze was a sweet little brown guinea pig who squeaked whenever I opened the refrigerator, peeked out her cage to see what I was up to, never bit anyone her entire life, and who was the companion who’s stayed with me the longest so far in my life. I’m going to miss her a lot.

Izze getting her cage cleaned. Macintosh Meets MoobyPainting a friend had made for me.