Sleeping patterns: At project completion

My new year’s resolution for 2008 was to get my sleeping pattern into check. To help me do this I recorded data about my sleep on a daily basis throughout the year. Although it was clearly impossible to get precise measurements of things such as the time I fell asleep, I managed to make estimates for every single day of the year. As with a graph of my taste in music, graphs about my sleep tell a surprising amount about my life.

As before, these large graphs show seven day rolling averages of the variables, each of which should be self-explanatory. The smaller graphs concentrate on one variable each. The blue line represents the daily change. The red line is the seven day rolling average, while the grey straight line is a trendline.

Sleep graph 1 - 12 months
Sleep graph 2 - 12 months

The final quarter of the year didn’t start very well. After a relatively well-behaved summer, I began to slip into nocturnal habits at the beginning of October. At first this happened by accident, but I also encouraged it because at the time the following two Formula 1 races were “flyaways”, races in Asia that happen in the middle of night UK time.

What I didn’t think of, though, was that while it was perhaps, just about, feasible to stay up until about 6am to watch the Japanese Grand Prix, it was totally stark raving bonkers to stay up until about 9am watching the Chinese Grand Prix. Which is why the graph drops more quickly than it rises, as I changed my tactics for approaching the grands prix at the last minute.

In mid-November, my work situation changed. Instead of working primarily at nights, which I had done more or less since I started working at Woolworths, I was now working during the day (I don’t know why — must be the excellent customer service I provide!). This completely altered the path that my sleeping patterns took, and also led me to view the project in a new light.

Insomnia - 12 months The week I woke up the earliest all year was the seven day period leading up to 1 December, when I got up at an average clock time of approximately 09:13. At the same time, my “insomnia”, which was one of my primary concerns through the year, fell through the floor, lasting an average of just 21 minutes per night by the end of the year. The average “insomnia” for the whole year was 1 hour and 30 minutes per night.

Asleep for - 12 months All the while, the amount of time I was sleeping didn’t change too much, despite the earlier-than-normal starts. It fell to an average 7 hours and 1 minute per night on 18 December. That is pretty low, but it that was a one off (it normally hovered around 7½ hours) and it had been as low as 5 hours and 59 minutes in March.

Indeed, the fact that the amount of time I slept per night was pretty much stable at the recommended 8 hours per night was the pleasant surprise of the project. Maybe I had nothing to worry about all along.

All-in-all, my taste of what life in a 9–5 routine might be like left me with optimism about how I would cope. I adapted to regular early starts without a great deal of bother. I slept a bit less, but not uncomfortably so. And I was actually saving a lot of time by falling asleep much more quickly when I got to bed.

I came to realise that perhaps all of the sleep “problems” I had were actually down to a lack of routine rather than any genuine trouble with sleep. Of all the experiments I tried to help me sleep better, having a reason to get up early regularly was by far the best. And there’s no use in setting the alarm early if there’s no reason to get up, because I’ll only switch the alarm off and sleep in until at least the mid-morning. And why not? Maybe my new year’s resolution for 2009 should be to relax more about everything.

Slept from - 12 months You might be asking, “what’s with that mad spike on most of the graphs on 31 December?” Well, I was hit by a dodgy winter-related disease. I went to bed at about 16:30 and more or less slept right through until 08:30 the following morning. Apart from making me feel rotten, the illness caused a right mess of my graphs! Mind you, the finishing point of the seven day averages looks fairly normal because I had been so indulgent during that Christmas week.

Overall, I am pleased with how the year-long experiment has gone. The trendlines for almost every variable I measured went in the right direction as the year progressed. The exception was ‘lazy’, to my shame. The experience of the final few weeks of the year have assured me that I probably don’t actually have much of a sleeping problem at all.

But I found the whole thing fascinating, and I already kind of miss logging every detail of my sleeping habits. I referred to the graphs often just for interest. But I have decided that I had better stop graphing elements of my life in minute detail, before it jeopardises any relationships.

All of the remaining sleep graphs are included below the fold.

My new year’s resolution for 2009 is to read more books. I have quite a daunting pile (actually, it’s a shelf) of books that have gone unread, some for several years. I will make my aim to reduce the existing pile to zero by the end of the year. I think my primary strategy will be to get more reading done in bed before I go to sleep. After all, now that I’m no longer worried about my sleep, it’s probably the easiest place to cram it in!

Back to the sleep graphs. Here are the averages for the year as a whole:

Average - clock times

  • Bed at: 01:29
  • Slept from: 02:58
  • Alarm: 10:19
  • Slept until: 10:55
  • Got up: 11:36

Average - time lengths

  • Insomnia: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Slept in: 36 minutes
  • Asleep for: 7 hours 57 minutes
  • Lazy: 40 minutes
  • In bed for: 10 hours 7 minutes

Here are the rest of the individual variables:

Bed at - 12 months

Alarm - 12 months

Slept until - 12 months

Slept in - 12 months

Got up - 12 months

Lazy - 12 months

In bed for - 12 months


  1. Fascinating experiment. I knew it! The 9-5 is a great stabiliser of sleep 🙂

    I wouldn’t worry too much about only getting 6 hours of sleep – you’re still young and your body can adjust. I always think that as long as you are relaxing for an hour or so beforehand (with a book or some calming music – I find Radio 3 always sends me off to sleep, and always before the programme I want to listen to :/) then you can get away with it.

    Night night!

  2. Lol, had a little time on your hands?

    Re: the books, I usually manage to read somewhere in the region of about a hundred/year, and that’s after a busy day being at work, doing activist stuff, and blogging til the wee hours. It can be done. got any decent titles you’re looking forward to?