I vividly remember lying in bed, listening as the world outside my window packed away the day and settled in to slumber. As the people in my life slept my brain, ever active, chanted nursery rhymes, made up stories and conjured imaginary playmates. At a guess, these memories were made around the age of four.
But I wasn’t four when insomnia hit; I was born an insomniac. From birth until the age of two I slept, on average, two hours per night. When my poor mother could take no more she put me on sleeping medication. Now some of you may be appalled at the the thought of a two-year-old being drugged, I’m simply amazed that she held out so long. The situation was so bad, my father actually started working nights in order to get some sleep!
Fast forward a few years and the decision to withdraw sleeping meds was made. I was at an age where I had began to ‘do as I was told’ – in other words; stay in bed until morning. Now this may sounds cruel, and I can’t say I didn’t suffer – I spent many, many lonely and boring hours lying awake in the dark. Yet I’m not sure what else my parents could have done. We now live in an age of knowledge, if we need to have a better understanding of a situation we simply Google it. Back in the sixties there was only the local GP, or the library. And believe me, bookshelves were not brimming over with information about childhood insomnia.
There was hope that I would simply grow out of it – yet here I am in my 50’s, still tolling the insomnia bell. There have absolutely been periods of my life when I have slept well, and boy did I enjoy them! But on the whole, unless I take a sleeping tablet, I sleep badly. So I tend to muddle through for a few weeks, then take a dose of over-the-counter sleeping meds when I’m starting to burn out. It works – kind of. It is rare for me to feel truly rested, my brain is often sluggish and I have noticed that my bouts of depression become longer and more severe if I don’t take sleeping meds. So, despite my desire to live a toxin free life as possible, I always have a pack of sleeping tablets to hand.
Trying every cure
After trying every ‘cure’ out there (you name it, I’ve tried it), this is probably how I would be handling my insomnia from herein. But, being ever the optimist, I can’t help but wonder if there is a better way? And do I really sleep as badly as I think I do? For a few years now I have flirted with the idea of attending a sleep clinic but, as I’m not great at being probed and prodded, I pulled away from making even rudimentary enquiries. Yet the thought of investigating my sleeping patterns and maybe, just maybe, finding a trigger to and cure for my insomnia fascinated me.
You can therefore imagine my excitement at being offered the S+ by ResMed: the world’s first non-contact, fully comprehensive sleep tracking system to try.
So what exactly is the S+, how does it work and how can it help insomniacs?
- As stated above, the S+ by Resmed is the world’s first non-contact sleep tracker. This rather clever gadget monitors sleep without the sleeper being touched or having to sleep on mattress strips. It accurately tracks every stage of a sleep cycle.
- The S+ tracks breathing and body movements overnight. By recording the movement of the chest whilst breathing in and out and overall body movements, the S+ is able to analyse any changes in sleep patterns. Making it possible to determine whether sleep is affected by light, temperature or noise levels.
- Users are given a daily sleep score and sleep charts, advice from the S+ Mentor and offered features such as Mind Clear, Relax To Sleep and Smart Alarm which are all designed to help increase better sleep.
- The device sits beside the bed, and is cloud-hosted.
- All stages of sleep (sleep onset, light sleep, deep sleep and REM) are measured via a highly calibrated respiratory and bio-motions sensor. In addition, sensors help analyse the sleeping environment by measuring light, temperature and noise levels.
- The S+ has only recently been made available in the UK, but results from the US show that users’ sleep improved after just one week of use.
- 10 years in development, ResMed analysed more than two million nights of sleep in order to fine tune the S+.
- Each morning the S+ app delivers your sleep score and sleep chart to a connected phone or tablet. A user is then able to interrogate their results to determine whether factors such as caffeine, alcohol, stress or exercise had a marked effect on their sleep cycle.
All well and good, but does it work?
The answer to that is; it’s all according what you are looking to achieve. Are you trying to find out what may be causing bouts of insomnia? Maybe you’re seeking an answer to exactly how much, and what type of sleep you are achieving? Or maybe you are looking for patterns of insomnia? The S+ will certainly help you answer all these questions. However, if you are looking for an overnight insomnia cure, you will be disappointed. You will need to use the S+ for at least a couple of weeks before you have the information you need to make accurate diagnoses as to the cause(s) of your insomnia.
Some of the features on the S+ may very well improve your sleep. Mind Clear offers an easy to use ‘notepad’ for any last minute thoughts you may have before drifting off. Either tap out a note, or voice record what’s on your mind. Relax To Sleep plays soothing sounds which synch with your breathing (I particularly enjoyed this feature, as did Mr Chic). Smart Alarm, which I loved, has the ability to gently wake you from light sleep. By choosing a time window, the Smart Alarm avoids waking you if you are experiencing deep sleep – it waits until you have entered light sleep before playing your choice of alarm.
I used the S+ for two weeks, during that time I was at home, stayed with relatives and had a few hotel stays. As travel is normal for me, I didn’t see the point of only using the S+ when I was in my own bed. I was also keen to see if my sleep issues were exacerbated by my hotel stays.
According to the S+, for my age I should be achieving 6 hours and 17 minutes of sleep per night. Of that, 1 hour and 26 minutes should be REM, 1 hour 6 minutes should be deep sleep and 3 hours and 44 minutes should be light sleep.
It’s pretty important to hit all the quotas. During REM sleep our brain becomes incredibly active, particularly in the areas that control how we process memories and emotions. Deep sleep is associated with profound muscle relaxation as our body goes into a state of recuperation. Light sleep marks the appearance of two specific brain-wave patterns: K-complexes and sleep spindles. So it’s not necessarily a case of, “Well, I got six hours sleep so I shouldn’t be feeling this tired.” There’s a lot to be said for the quality, not just the quantity of sleep you achieve.
Here’s what I noted during my two week experiment:
- On average, I sleep 5 hours and 12 minutes a night. This is around an hour more than I thought (I’ve always said I sleep between 4 and five hours a night). However, on two of the nights I took a sleeping tablet, which upped my average.
- At an average of 7 times per night, I wake way more than I thought I did.
- My sleep efficiency it only 74%. This seems pretty bad as I’m not even aiming for eight hours of quality sleep.
- I frequently failed abysmally to hit my REM quota – the worst night I scored a measly 7 minutes.
- Even when I take sleeping tablets, I wake a lot in the night.
- My bed time varies by only 32 minutes every night. I was completely unaware of this fact; I don’t have a set bedtime.
- There didn’t seem to be a correlation between my alcohol consumption, exercise, stress or caffeine intake and my sleep pattern. The S+ allows you to interrogate your sleep score. You can see, for example, the results of caffeine intake verses REM achieved.
For me, the S+ experiment didn’t cure my insomnia but it did offer validation – a way to prove to myself and others that I really do sleep that badly. Seeing the numbers onscreen almost gave me permission to be a little bit more lenient with myself. If I’ve had a bad night I now cut myself some slack.
Moving forward I’m going to implement some of the ‘cures’ that I’ve tried and dismissed in the past. By doing so, whilst using the S+, I will be able to truly see if something is working, or having no effect whatsoever. As and when I see results (positive or negative) I will make note of them and share them with you via Twitter with the hashtag #SplusSleep
I have to say, I found the whole process fascinating, as did Mr Chic who is waiting patiently to try the S+.
What are your thoughts? Do you suffer with insomnia? Do you have a tried and tested cure? Let me know in the comments, I may put them to the test for the next stage of my sleep experiment.