Sleep Experience

I haven’t been sleeping well lately. Actually, I haven’t slept well for the past 7 years, 9 months, and 19 days. Guess how old my daughter is!

But I can’t blame my daughter. The fault is entirely mine. I need to design a better sleep experience for myself. The following post may make you think, “Well, duh” and possibly “What does sleep have to do with design and usability?” Both of which are fair. But I think people often take certain things for granted, like sleep, and if you break the process down you might find areas for improvement.

Like any redesign (or realign, if you like), you can’t (or shouldn’t) fix something until you identify precisely what’s broken.

Break It Down

I am going to use me as the template for this, but hopefully you can extract something relative to you.

What’s the goal? Better sleep. Feel more rested. Feel less tired during the day. Stop having nightmares about Vidal Sassoon.

What is happening now? Have trouble going to sleep. Mind is overly active when it’s bed time. Wake up a lot at night. Have trouble getting out of bed when it’s time.

What can you control? Bed time. Wake up time. Room temperature. Pillow type. Mattress type. Before- and after-sleep routines. Exercise.

What can you influence? Sleeping arrangements (alone, dealing with a blanket hog, etc.).

What is out of scope? Killing neighbors who play loud music late at night. Getting prescription medication (at least for now). Entering into Sleep Therapy (for now).

Design Solutions

That’s a good start. It may not be all-inclusive but it’s probably enough to get up and running. Er, I mean, down and sleeping.

Turn off the TV. Turn off the computer There are plenty of studies referencing this. Google it if you don’t believe me. But likely you aren’t surprised by this. The light from monitors, especially modern LCDs, is bright and can trick your brain into thinking it’s “active” time. That and the fact that TV kills your brain.

At least a half-hour before bed, turn off all electronics. Give your brain a chance to finish processing some of the stuff you were watching/doing and start thinking in terms of sleep.

Don’t read. Reading makes your brain work. Much the same with TV or the computer, stop reading at least a half-hour before bed.

Breathe deeply. Take a few deep breaths. “Deep” meaning your stomach pooches out, and you inhale and exhale slowly. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Doing this 5 to 10 times in a row, at any time of the day, will calm your mind and body substantially.

Create a routine. Decide on a time that your bedtime routine will begin. Take into consideration how long you want to sleep and work back from that. If you want to sleep for 6 hours a night, start the process 7 hours before you need to get up. Always do the same things (brush teeth, etc.) in the same order.

When the alarm goes off, get up. Read that last sentence again. Then do it. Seriously. Before I was introduced to the concept of a Snooze Button (thanks for nothing, Claire!) I would get up when the alarm went off.

I realise this sounds tedious, but repetition is a way to learn that most people respond well to, and you are teaching your brain and body to sleep better.

Measure Success

How will you know it’s working or not working? Having a general feeling about your progress is fine, but if things aren’t progressing the way you want you’ll probably want to be measuring daily.

Keep a sleep journal. If you are like me, this sounds like a lame idea. But when I think in terms of being able to measure something, notes over time (trending) can be extremely helpful. Note the time you stopped interacting with electronics. Note if your mind felt active before falling asleep. Note how many time you wake up at night. Etc., etc., etc.

Define your trial period. How long are you going to test your solutions? I’d suggest a month with this one. There are so many factors that are outside our control or influence that can hinder our ability to get good sleep. Stress, weather, sickness… these factors need to be taken into account. You can then adjust for them with your sleep journal to see how well you are making progress.

Iterate. Iterate. Iterate.

You might get lucky and your first month gets you where you want to be. But if your first test doesn’t work out, don’t give up. It just means you found a way that doesn’t work and need to adjust something to get you pointed in the right direction.

If you are going to spend roughly one-third of your life doing something, you might as well try to do it as good as possible.


  1. Samantha says:

    This is a pretty cool post. You made sleep habits apply to the design process and that’s impressive. When I lived alone, I never had a problem sleeping or getting up early each morning. 6am – no problem! Life is different when you share a bed with other people and animals.

    Now, each night I say, I’ll be up no later than 7 (knowing I really want to get up at 6:30) but then by the time I roll out of bed, it’s almost 7:30.

    I’ll try avoiding snooze and see what happens.

    Sorry you have noisy neighbors. That’s almost impossible to fix. My neighbors smoke when they wake very early in the AM. If their window is open and mine is also open, I wake up thinking the building is on fire.

  2. I use my phone as my alarm clock. I have two alarms set: one for 6:30, one for 6:45.

    Today I got up at 7:50. And I have to get me and my daughter out of the house by 8:20.


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