The Sleep Experiment


For everyone who thinks the days of not getting enough sleep suddenly disappear when you hit financial independence, well I’ve got some news to share — They don’t disappear.

When you finally hit your FI number, and leave that 8AM-to-6PM job, the days don’t get any longer.  

Instead of filling your time with work, those hours get filled with all kinds of “other stuff”.  Maybe you do the grocery shopping (it’s faster in the middle of the day), travel, or work on personal projects.

Regardless of how you do it, the hours still get filled.  The main difference is YOU control those hours instead of you boss.  YOU decide when to wake up, WHAT to do, and WHEN to sleep.

And sleep is what today’s post is all about.

After more than a year of financial independence, I can honestly admit that I suck at sleeping, and I don’t have a job I can blame anymore.

 

Terrible At Sleeping

OK I admit it, I’m terrible at sleeping.  I almost feel like this could be part 2 of my post about making mistakes, because this is a giant mistake in my life.

I’m just not a good sleeper.  I’m not alone in this problem either.  Roughly 40% of adults and 70% of teens in the United States don’t get enough sleep, according to some studies.

For me, it’s been this way for as long as I can remember.  I’ve always been a night person.  If I head to bed at a reasonable hour, I have the hardest time falling asleep.

I end up lying there with my mind active and busy….wanting to be active, busy, and doing something else besides being in bed.

So instead of heading to bed at a reasonable hour, I usually end up reading late into the night, or writing posts for this blog.  Eventually when I’m way too tired, I’ll crawl into bed hoping to finally fall asleep.  Only it doesn’t end there.

Our youngest child, isn’t quite 2 years old yet and he doesn’t sleep through the night.  Almost every night, he wakes up at 4AM or 5AM and wants help getting back to sleep.  Since I’m not working, this job usually ends up falling on my shoulders…

I end up exhausted the next day.  Let’s just say I don’t exactly spring out of bed in the morning with gusto and enthusiasm.  

Thank goodness for mid-day naps, eh?

The Napping Couch
Naps on the couch are great, but they really don’t make up for a good night sleep.

 

Changing Habits

Only naps don’t entirely cut the mustard.  I neglect my sleep hygiene in favor of “getting stuff done”, and it’s a terrible habit I need to break.  I’m hurting my health by not sleeping enough, and I’m frequently exhausted…  That’s not a good way to live.

Research has shown that sleep deprivation can be linked to Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer, and a host of other issues.  Clearly I don’t want to develop any of those problems, so my sleep habits really need to change.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.  I’m usually lucky if I get half of that (4 to 5 hours per night).  Terrible, right?

Hotel bed.
I don’t remember the last time I managed to get a proper night of sleep. Either I stay up too late, or the kids wake me up in the middle of the night. Or both.

But changing long held habits is hard.  Really hard.  

Old habits are like gravity.  With effort, we can escape the gravity well for a moment, but the minute we slack-off gravity begins its pull again.

Bad habits are like that.  There’s something about our personalities or lifestyles that pulls us back into these old habits.  Many people try to change their lifestyle by making New Year’s resolutions, but they fail miserably after a couple months and revert back to the same old habits.  

Gravity continues its pull.

So what am I going to do about it?  Be a slacker and not even try?  Hardly.  That’s just not my style.

 

Anti-Gravity

In physics, the way to counteract the pull of gravity is an equal (or greater) opposing force.  In my own life, I need a pull into the opposite (healthy) direction.  But how do I do that?

I’ve tried and failed at this numerous times already, so willpower alone just isn’t enough for me.

What I think I need is a system to keep me accountable, and a way record my successes and failures at meeting my goal.

Hmm…that sounds a lot like a tool people already use to keep track of finances.  A budget?  Only for sleep.

The main difference between budgeting for sleep and budgeting for finances is that the total hours slept isn’t as important as daily sleep hygiene.  I can’t skip sleeping one day only to sleep 50% more the next day.  That’s just not good sleep hygiene.

Instead what I need to do is keep track of my successes and failures on a daily basis and report it regularily (to keep myself honest).  It’s more like a scorecard than a budget.

 

Scorecards, Etc.

So here’s what I’ll do — I’m going to start this little sleep experiment with a scorecard to see if I can do better.

Starting on the first of March, I’m going to keep a “sleep scorecard”.

Each day I’m going to record my successes and failures at hitting my sleep hygiene ideals:

  • Sleep a minimum of 7 hours.
  • Get to bed by 1AM (or earlier) every single day.

If I manage to achieve these daily goals, I’ll call it a “good sleep” night and mark it down as a positive on my sleep scorecard.  If I mess up and don’t meet these goals, I’ll mark down as a negative.

I’ll record this all in a spreadsheet, and then report the results in my regular monthly reports. (Yes, I am a numbers geek.)

I don’t actually believe I’ll do well at this to start.  Maybe the first month I’ll only get a 70% score (70% of days being “good sleep” nights).  

Over the remainder of the year, my goal is to improve my “sleep score” significantly.  By the end of the year I’d like to have racked up several months of 90% to 100% scores.

(Ha! Look at me being optimistic!)

I consider this a big experiment.  I have no idea how I’ll do, but I know that my bad sleeping habits need to change.  It’s not healthy long term, and I want to be able to enjoy my life of financial independence, not spend it in hospital bed.

hospital bed
Spending my early retirement in a hospital bed isn’t part of my plan. Obviously I need to change my sleep habits if I want to avoid this fate.

So this is a first easy step.  Keep track of my sleep, and try to keep myself accountable by posting the results here.  

Maybe that won’t be enough, but I am optimistic.  

Financial independence gave me a giant dose of optimism about life after I left work.  Life can be better.  It did get better.

It also means I can make changes that have a real impact on my life.  Life isn’t just a revolving door of days up until death.  Change is entirely possible for those willing to put in the effort.

 

[Image credit: Flickr1, Flickr2]


29 thoughts on “The Sleep Experiment

  • February 24, 2017 at 11:01 PM
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    Hey Mr. Tako, I agree that there are a lot of people who don’t get enough sleep. However, I think the ideal sleep length is very individual. My wife requires a solid 8 hours to function well the next day, but I can operate decently on 5 to 6.5 hours.

    I’m a night owl like you. I’ve tried the early morning transition, but thus far it hasn’t stuck (never say never). I generally stay up to 3:30am on average and get a quick 1-hour power nap in the afternoons with any luck. This works well for now, but my kids are slowly ditching their afternoon naps which means I’ll need to adjust soon too… boo. I love my power nap!

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    • February 27, 2017 at 10:14 PM
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      Seven to eight hours seems about right for me…when I can get it. (Can’t remember when that last was) I’ve never been an early bird, but after kids it’s gotten worse. When I do sleep it gets interrupted several times a night and I have to go through the whole process of falling asleep again.

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  • February 24, 2017 at 11:50 PM
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    You’re right, there are a host of health issues which can arise as the result of chronic lack of sleep. I’ve also noticed when I am running on too little sleep, my patience level is compromised and my fuse is slightly shorter than it should be.

    With that being said, I have found myself sleeping much less than I normally do since I decided to start blogging. There are just not enough hours in the day and with a job and family, it’s usually the wee hours of the night which lend themselves best to writing.

    I like your idea of tracking and scoring your sleep like you track your finances. I look forward to seeing your results. Good luck.

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  • February 25, 2017 at 5:15 AM
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    Sorry to hear of your sleeping problem. Getting enough physical and mental exercise in a day as well as being in bed before 10 pm seems to help me. Cutting out excessive sugar is also supposed to keep one’s blood sugar stable so you are less likely to wake up from a sudden dip at night. Keeping track of how much sleep you get every night might Be kind of stressful. Better to look at the week as a whole to see if your system is working? Best of luck!

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  • February 25, 2017 at 5:56 AM
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    Strenuous exercise and good sleep go hand in hand for me – I don’t get one without the other. Good luck to you.

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  • February 25, 2017 at 6:21 AM
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    Your not alone in this situation. I’m a night person. I like to go to bed somewhere between 1030 and 1130. It’s when I do my best work. But out two boys are up at 6 come what may. The younger one is also usually up at least 30 mins to an hour somewhere during the night. My wife graciously handles this during the week but it falls to me on the weekend. As such I’m in a perennial state of lack of sleep. When I do something about it and catch up it’s like my kids sense it. Shortly after they have horrible night sleeps and I’m back to square one. I’ve decided it will get better at 6 for the older one because then he can keep himself and his brother quiet. So for now I just wait. The best approach, no. But going to sleep early doesn’t work for me either because just as I work better then my body won’t go to sleep gen even if I try.
    Fulltimefinance recently posted…Traveling to the Caribbean, Martinique on $300

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  • February 25, 2017 at 6:22 AM
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    The description you gave of yourself is exactly me about a year and a half ago. I NEVER slept well.

    Now, I sleep fairly well each night (and certainly much better than I used to).

    The difference? I started an aggressive workout plan with a trainer. My body is so tired each night that I now fall asleep within minutes of hitting the bed.

    You may want to consider something similar…
    ESI Money recently posted…Millionaire Interview 5

    Reply
    • February 27, 2017 at 10:09 PM
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      I’ll have to talk to my trainer kids about that. The vigorous exercise program they have me on right now doesn’t seem to be working despite my exhaustion.

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  • February 25, 2017 at 7:09 AM
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    I’m a night owl too. If I try to go to bed before 12 midnight I just can’t fall sleep. The only time I’ve ever fallen asleep before that is when there’s a time difference and we’re going from North America to Asia. That was actually a fun experience because I ended up falling asleep at 5pm and waking up at 1am in the morning. Turns out you can get a ton of stuff done in the early hours of the morning when everyone else is asleep.

    Interested to see how your sleep scorecard works out. Keep us posted!

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    • February 27, 2017 at 10:03 PM
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      I think just tracking it will make me a lot more aware of my sleep habits. There’s not much I can do about the kids waking up though.

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  • February 25, 2017 at 7:46 AM
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    All the best Mr. Tako, I hope you get a decent score in March. If your kid regularly gets you out of bed between 4 and 5, may be your goal sleep time should be earlier than 1 if you are shooting for 7 hours? The way you have it set up now even if you score a 100% on getting to bed by 1, you will never get your 7 hours.

    In other news I tried out your pad Thai recipe. It turned out well and the family loved it, so thank you!
    Mrs. BITA recently posted…Should I Get Divorced?

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  • February 25, 2017 at 10:14 AM
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    What I love about my current job (I’m not FI yet) is that I never have to start working before 10 AM. To me that means a very relaxed sleep. In the old days, when I had jobs starting at 8 or 9 AM, waking up at 5 AM would mean staying awake the rest of the night fretting about “how little sleep I had left until the alarm goes at 7 AM”. Now, if I wake up at 5 AM, I think: well, then I’ll just sleep in a bit – and I can easily fall asleep again.

    Now while you have small kids, you have your own “natural” alarm clock, so unfortunately this doesn’t really help you. I hope getting to bed a bit earlier helps.

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  • February 25, 2017 at 12:49 PM
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    I was very interested reading this one – a big part of me looks forward to FI just for getting some extra sleep… and then you break me down with this bad news! 🙂

    I’m one of those guys that needs a full night’s sleep or I’m a wreck the next day. I usually get between 7-8 hours a night, but could definitely be in better shape with another hour a night.

    The only thing I might have going for me is that, unlike you, I can usually fall asleep pretty easily. I’m really interested to see how your sleep experiment goes – good luck!

    — Jim
    Jim @ Route To Retire recently posted…Get Paid to Get Laid Off – How to Engineer Your Layoff

    Reply
    • February 27, 2017 at 10:01 PM
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      It’s partly my fault, and partly the kid’s fault. I can’t remember the last time I had 8 hours of sleep.

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  • February 25, 2017 at 2:01 PM
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    Retired over ten years now, chronic insomniac most of my life, and I have finally solved this problem.

    I assume you get decent exercise (kids), eat well (home cooking), avoid sugars and caffeine after noon, and use your brain actively during the day. You might read up on the affects of blue light (computers and tv) on sleep. Also be sure your bedroom is relatively dark and free of electronic lights and lights from outdoors through the drapes (use heavier drapes).

    Apart from things like: a small snack an hour or so before bedtime can help make you drowsy, as can light exercise or physical activity (sex), and switching from computers to books. The single most important aid for us night owls and people who have been affected by long-term shift work is taking a MELATONIN supplement. I can sleep almost every night exactly when I want. And now if I stay up later than usual it is no trouble to get up only slightly later the next day and get to sleep the next night at the normal time.

    [edited for brevity]

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  • February 25, 2017 at 2:50 PM
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    Cool idea Mr. Tako. I will be interested to hear whether tracking a sleep metric will help. When I was in my twenties and thirties I had trouble falling asleep at night, but it has improved greatly as I have gotten older. Just like Bob and ESI mentioned, for me, I think having regular exercise has made the biggest difference.

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    • February 27, 2017 at 9:59 PM
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      That’s probably a pretty good idea. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t need more exercise!

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  • February 25, 2017 at 5:15 PM
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    Aww man, I’m sorry to hear you have a tough time with sleep. Mr. Picky Pincher is this way, too. Although I do think some people are genetically predisposed to not need a lot of sleep.

    I am not one of those people.

    I honestly love sleeping. If I could sleep ALL day, I would. I need AT LEAST 9 hours of sleep each night to function. And a 2-hour nap in the afternoon is nice too. 🙂 It’s funny because I’ve always been that way, too.

    But way to go with taking steps to improve your health and your sleep! I hope you can get some great rest. 🙂

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    • February 27, 2017 at 9:58 PM
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      Sometimes I think I really could sleep all day too. I’m just that tired. Sleeping 9 hours is like some kid of sick joke. Once you have kids you’ll understand the punchline 😉

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  • February 26, 2017 at 4:42 AM
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    I found no caffeine after lunch is a big one for me.
    One of the times I was unemployed and could do my own sleep schedule it was awesome, so I do have hopes for FI of repeating that.
    Because of the job, I go to 7 pm yoga class which means not getting home until 9 or 930, if I watch a show etc it’s 1030 or 11. Which gets me into bed around 1130. And then the morning is slow because I want just 5 more minutes so I get to work around 9 which means not getting to yoga for a 5pm class, and the cycle repeats.
    I’ll second a vote for melatonin. All my research says it’s good and the brief time I tried it it seemed to help.
    Having a bedtime routine and trying to go earlier and read a book (not electronics) can be helpful.
    The ability to function on limited sleep has come in handy, and when someone asked about it my answer was like The Hulk, ‘because I’m always tired’.
    Best of luck and I’m interested to hear your score card and if you add any parameters over time.

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  • February 26, 2017 at 7:55 PM
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    Since going FIRE, I sleep like the dead. I still get up early (usually) but tend to get in bed earlier.

    I am human or cephalopod.

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    • February 27, 2017 at 9:56 PM
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      Yeah, just rub salt on that wound. It burns more that way.

      Reply
  • February 27, 2017 at 9:52 AM
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    You can get a Garmin Vivofit, it tracks sleep time. I’m sleeping better since I cut back from 3 to 2 blogs per week. Less work at night. Now, I usually get to bed before midnight. Normally get 6-7 hours of sleep now. Kid wakes up around 6:30 am.
    On Saturday, I went to bed at 9 pm. I spent 4 hours scrubbing and caulking 2 bath tubs and I was beat. I slept for 9 hours and still was super tired the next day. Still not enough sleep.
    Soon, your kids will be older and you’ll be able to sleep more. Good luck! 🙂

    Reply
    • February 27, 2017 at 9:55 PM
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      Gosh, I hope so! To sleep again would be sooo good!

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  • February 27, 2017 at 12:02 PM
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    Ouch! Yes, I remember those years of constantly being woken up. Sleep deprivation is indeed a form of torture!

    If I might suggest, as a former night owl, turned unlikely early birder, who’s slowly regaining night owl status once again, uninterrupted sleep can just as important as the total number of hours in bed.

    If you’re like I was – “too awake” by the time the munchkin has been persuaded to go back to sleep to do so yourself as well – a “strategic, temporary retreat” from night owl-hood for a couple of years might be in order.

    I hated shifting to an early to bed/early to rise schedule (felt like a granny being in bed by 10pm & I resented what initially was the loss of ‘my time’ after the kid was finally in bed!). But eventually I wound up gaining far more productivity & energy overall making the early hours when the rest of the world was snoozing my productive time rather than trying to hold on to the late night hours just because ‘I’m a night owl’.

    And as my daughter started sleeping through the night…and then (hallelujah!) sleeping past 6am…I’ve been able to (mostly) regain my night owl status. 🙂

    Reply
  • February 27, 2017 at 1:28 PM
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    I think that changing your sleeping habits is like changing your eating habits: it’s a long, slow process, 2 steps forward, 1 step back. Maybe make one change a month to give yourself time to adjust. Easiest things first. First month, sleep in a dark, cool room. Next month, no screen time 2 hours before bedtime. Etc. There are different suggestions on-line. Some people say lavender is soporific. Maybe put on some quiet music like waves crashing.

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  • March 11, 2017 at 4:41 PM
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    Aww man don’t tell me FIRE won’t solve my sleep problems! After the obvious “not-wasting-life-in-an-office” getting enough sleep is at the top of my reasons for FIRE.

    If you figure out some magic solution to sleep let me know! Even when I’m exhausted I suffer from to-much-to-do-to-have-a-nap-itis…
    LadyFIRE recently posted…She’s making a list…

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