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Sleeping with Zeo

My secret is out. I love my Zeo sleep monitor. In fact, I’ve slept with my Zeo device for a full year now. I even have a t-shirt announcing it (scroll to the bottom if you want to check it out). Sure, it’s an impressive gadget. More importantly, however, it’s helped me better understand how my body recovers from exercise, handles stress and adjusts my need for sleep.

My staff and I reviewed most of the sleep monitors available before I started my own experiment. At this point, the Zeo seems to be the best device for accurately measuring sleep quantity and quality because it measures actual brainwaves. That said, the seven things I’ve learned about my sleep over the course of the year weren’t dependent upon using the Zeo specifically. As for the lessons themselves, some were expected, others less so. Check them out and see what you think. Are they what you would anticipate?

1. Quality of Sleep Outweighs Quantity.                                     

When we work with people on improving their sleep, we usually start the process by focusing on the quantity of sleep they get. This is a great first step, but quality of sleep--as Zeo confirmed--can be more important.

Personally, I’ve found that even on nights when I haven’t gotten my ideal seven to eight hours of sleep, as long as I spent enough time in REM and Deep Sleep, I still feel pretty good during the day and perform well during my workouts.

I’ve had some nights during the past year (like December 10) when I got plenty of sleep, but the time I spent in Deep and REM Sleep was abbreviated. Even though my total hours slept should have been sufficient, I really didn’t get much recovery from those nights.


I’ve also had some nights when my sleep was quite short (like March 30), yet my total time in Deep Sleep was even a little more than normal, and REM sleep time was just a little shorter than desirable. Though I wouldn’t recommend regularly enduring shortened sleep, on these occasions, I felt pretty good the following day.


2. A Regular Bed Time Matters – A LOT.

As I talked about in Quality Sleep and the Zeo, the first third of the night is when your body gets most of its deep sleep, and the last third is when you experience the most REM sleep. Since I wake up most mornings at 4:45 am, I make a point of getting to bed between 8:45 and 9:00 pm. While the natural cycle of light and dark from the sun plays a role in the body’s circadian rhythm, so does your bed time pattern. If you go to sleep at a consistent time each night, your body gets used to it and hormones such as melatonin can be secreted normally.

For me, when I go to bed a couple hours later than normal, or at the usual time but in another time zone, my deep sleep is almost always sacrificed, and REM sleep is often shortened. It would make sense that if I’m hormonally set up for sleep at 9:0,0 but stay awake for an extra hour or two, I’ll miss out on the deep sleep I’d normally get during those one or two hours.

This could be an important point for those who do shift work. Though it’s more ideal to sleep and wake in alignment with the normal day/night cycles, it could be even more important to simply stick with a consistent schedule.

3. One Night of Insufficient Sleep, Not So Bad. Two Nights is Trouble.

I’ve found that I can recover reasonably well from a single night of insufficient sleep. Two nights in a row and I’m going to pay for it. I rarely get sick, but over the past year or so, I did get a couple colds. Both times, it occurred following two to three nights of disrupted sleep.

Is it possible something else caused me to get sick besides the shortened sleep? Sure. But sleep debt does suppress the immune system. Had I not racked up the sleep debt, it’s more likely my immune system could have fought off the infection.

Besides being more likely to get sick, I’ve consistently noticed that a couple nights of shortened sleep have a dramatic effect on my physical and mental performance. My workouts suffer from a couple nights of sleep debt. I’ve noticed my strength, which is heavily influenced by an efficient nervous system, plummets. I’ve also seen that I have a hard time elevating my heart rate during workouts. Some could mistake this for improved conditioning, but if you notice your heart rate won’t jump as high as normal, or you physically fatigue at higher intensities long before you feel any muscular fatigue or lactic acid buildup, it could be a sign you’re short on sleep.

Of course, with a couple nights of shortened sleep, my attitude isn’t so great either. One night of short sleep, and I’m okay. More than one, and I have far less patience. My head is foggy, and my productivity at work suffers. This doesn’t just happen with adults. Kids are impacted this way as well. Parents, make sure your kids get enough sleep too.

4. A Cold Bedroom is Better than a Hot One.

Getting out of a nice warm bed in a cool room sometimes feels like jumping into a cold lake after sitting in a sauna. It’s tempting to keep your bedroom at a warm temperature, but most people sleep better in a cooler environment. From personal experience, I can attest to this as well.

If the temperature gets over seventy degrees in our home, I don’t attain as much deep or REM sleep. I toss and turn a lot more during the night. Though I don’t actually wake up, virtually all of my sleep on those nights is light sleep. Is there a perfect temperature to sleep at? Some suggest 65-67 degrees is ideal. I think the ideal temperature is more of a personal choice than anything.

5. Alcohol Wrecks My Sleep.

I know there are some pros and cons (more cons) to drinking alcohol. For me, however, the biggest reason I drink so seldom is the effect it has on my sleep. For example, on September 11, I had a business dinner. Over the course of dinner, I had two glasses of red wine. As you can see, my sleep was awful. A got a measly twenty-seven minutes of Deep Sleep that night and I felt like a zombie the next day even though I went to bed only an hour later than normal.


Does alcohol affect everyone like this? Probably not to this extent. However, research confirms that alcohol does disrupt the rhythm of sleep and tends to diminish sleep quality during the second half of the night. Most people probably don’t make the connection or perhaps chalk it up to a shorter duration of sleep.

6. I Need an Occasional Catch-Up Night.

I’m not perfect about getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Even when I’m consistent, I still have times when I need a night or two of extra sleep. I do realize that if I have a night of shortened sleep (like I did on Friday, January 25), I need to allow for a rebound the next night or risk getting worn down. Although I went to bed later than I should’ve that Friday, the next night, I went to bed at my normal time and slept for a whopping 9 hours and 32 minutes! That’s generally unheard of for me, but sometimes our bodies are smarter than we give them credit for.


7. Monitoring My Sleep Helps Me Get More Sleep.

My first night of sleeping with Zeo was August 5, 2011. Admittedly, that first night was a little rough as I woke up three times).


Aside from some nights missed while I was getting a new strap, I’ve used it nearly every night since then. Just as my Fitbit helps hold me accountable to getting at least 10,000 steps each day, tracking my sleep with Zeo has had a significant effect on my decisions around sleep.

I know each morning I’ll wake up and be able to look at the data from the night before. I also know when the data doesn’t look very good, my workouts, work performance and attitude will suffer. Some say “what gets measured gets done.” I agree with that statement, but you don’t need to be a numbers geek to benefit from tracking sleep or activity. I look at three numbers each morning: total sleep time, REM sleep time and Deep Sleep Time. I know those numbers affect my ability to maintain my health and my current body fat percentage. Inevitably, they’ll also impact my performance and my productivity. Ultimately, my sleep quality will help influence what’s possible in my life and--as a result--will shape who I become.

I look at the right choices regarding sleep like I view investing for retirement. It isn’t the one-time good decision that determines long-term physical and financial wellbeing. It’s the culmination of consistent, good decisions over time. For me, monitoring my sleep helps me make better decisions every night.

There are alternatives to the Zeo for measuring sleep. I chose the Zeo because of the ease of use, accuracy and the particular data it collects. These are also the reasons we started carrying the Zeo at Life Time as well. If you’re interested, talk with a health and fitness professional at the Fitness Services Desk.

Have you ever tracked your sleep--with or without a gadget? How much of a priority do you make sleep? What do you consider your greatest aids and obstacles to getting a good night’s sleep? Share your thoughts below.

Written by Tom Nikkola - Sr. Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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