Sleep Experiment: How to get more REM Sleep… AND when things don’t go as planned

No Pain Principle #6: Self-Manage Your Stress, Health, and Movement

I’m in the midst of a small sleep experiment on myself.

My tracking is indicating insufficient REM sleep of late.

One of the major limiting factors of REM sleep is a lack of total sleep or basically how long you’re actually sleeping at night. The duration of REM sleep in each sleep cycle increases throughout the night, so if we don’t sleep long enough, we tend to limit the accumulation of REM sleep. While we may consider ourselves getting 7 hours of blissful slumber based on the time in bed, we have to consider things like sleep latency which is how long it takes to go from full wake to the first stage of nonREM sleep.

There’s also periods of waking up that can steal valuable sleep.

On the front end of the night, our sleep cycles favor long periods of deep sleep. This is a key to getting a truly restful and restorative night’s sleep.

I have some things I try to avoid that I know just destroy my deep sleep.

  • Large meals late in the evening
  • Alcohol before bed
  • Late blue light exposure (compute screen mostly)

The large meal thing was very interesting to me as not only does it interrupt my deep sleep but it’s clear that I’m stimulating a great deal of metabolic processes considering my lowest resting heart rate can be 10 beats higher (low 60’s vs low 50’s) after a late big meal.

As long as I stick to my guns and hit my bed time, deep sleep usually looks pretty good.

My total time in bed is a solid 7 hours and a few minutes, so theoretically, I’m in the ballpark for getting enough total sleep. Because of the deficit in REM, however, I wanted to see how things may change.

So far, I’m picking up some more REM sleep, but it’s less than anticipated. I’m tracking via my OURA Ring and now I’ve just added the Fatigue Science Readiband for the last couple of nights as a comparison. I’ll let you know how things progress.

When Things Don’t Go as Planned

Adding sleep on the back end means that my wake time is now a bit later than typical. I’ve added 30 minutes to my wake time, so instead of waking between 4:30 and 5:00 AM, it’s now between 5:00 and 5:30 AM.

Not a big adjustment you say?

I respectfully disagree.

My whole morning just feels off. Kind of like wearing my shoes on the wrong feet.

Everything feels late.

My morning ritual is disturbed and I like my consistency. I’ve also come to love my wake time. Just getting up before 5 AM, feels like a victory (Jocko Willink has a great description of how he feels about getting up before everyone else). I don’t have that feeling right now. I feel like Marcus Aurelius is standing over me shaking his head in disappointment…

“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?'” – Marcus Aurelius (as translated by Gregory Hays)

I realize it’s just going to take a little reorganization, a little more discipline, and a mindset adjustment, but it’s uncomfortable.

On the flip side, it may be the best thing for me. Maybe I’ve lost time due to a lack of concentration related to fatigue. Maybe I’ll take my focus up another notch.

I’m sticking to the plan for now.

Learning occurs at the point of struggle. I’m embracing the struggle.

Your comeback starts today.

[By the way, if you go to Chapter 13 in ALL GAIN, NO PAIN, you’ll learn how to determine the perfect amount of sleep for you.]



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  • P SM

    Hi Bill,
    One issue here is the whether a ring you wear on your finger can accurately measure REM sleep. Since “REM” stands for “Rapid Eye Movement”, seems like you would want your sensor near your eyes, not on your finger.

    That said, I use both — an Oura Ring and a Zeo headband. Although the two are often completely discordant in their reckoning of the total time I am asleep, their respective hypnograms — the graphs of sleep stage vs. time — show some similarity with respect to REM sleep timing and duration.

    Second issue, I started supplementing with Magnesium (Citrate) not long after I started powerlifting about 5.5 years ago. I think that probably drastically increased my amount of REM sleep. I’m generally above 40% REM sleep according to my Zeo. I won’t say how much Mg-citrate I take here, because salts of Magnesium will produce dramatic laxative effects if you jump into a high dose of them. Definitely something you want to gradually increase. Also they have a soporific effect, so you want to take them near bed time.


  • DeVona Lahrman

    Being awake before the rest of the world is actually one of the prizes I give myself each day. It is a calm meditative time. Without it, no matter how I sleep, I just don’t feel right with my day.

  • michaelhfwu23

    Hi Bill, curious to know how much your Oura Ring and FitnessScience Readiband have matched (or not)! I’ve been looking into both, so I’d love to hear your input.