Science in Action: Why Did I Sleep So Well?

Last night I slept extremely well. I slept about eight hours and woke up feeling really good. In the past I’ve slept this well only after being on my feet nine or ten hours. Yesterday I was on my feet maybe four hours. I usually sleep well but this was a distinct improvement.

What caused it? Yesterday had many unusual features (like most days), but I did deliberately vary one thing:

1. I looked at faces (actually, my face in a mirror) earlier than usual. Usually I start around 7:40 am; yesterday I started about 7:10 am. (Background: I discovered that seeing faces in the morning improves my mood the next day. For example, seeing faces Monday morning improves my mood on Tuesday. And makes my mood worse Monday night. Details here.) I’ve done this before — watched the faces earlier than usual — and hadn’t noticed anything unusual. Yesterday may have been different, however, because three days ago I changed something. I always listen to something (audiobook, a Google Talk, This American Life episode, etc.) while I look at my face in the mirror. Three days ago I moved the sound source directly behind the mirror.

This is my best guess why my sleep was better than usual. But yesterday was unusual in several other ways as well:

2. I went outside (in the shade) 30 minutes earlier than usual.

3. Usually wear contact lenses while sleeping but didn’t.

4. Usually wear a tooth guard while sleeping but didn’t.

5. Salmon for dinner, which isn’t unusual, but I had more than usual.

6. No aerobic exercise.

7. Did a lot of chores I’d put off. (Peace of mind?)

8. On the preceding days, the sound source was behind the mirror. In other words, it was the cumulative effect that produced better sleep.

9. The end of a cold.

Now I’ll do all sorts of things to test these possibilities.

There’s a saying No one believes a theory but the theorist; everyone believes an experiment but the experimenter. This illustrates why. The experimenter can see all sorts of confoundings and special circumstances that others cannot.


12 Replies to “Science in Action: Why Did I Sleep So Well?”

  1. You also leave out of the equation the actual eight hours of sleep!

    Do you know for a fact that no specific sound/noise (however small) occurred during your sleep ?

    If one were to follow the “prehistoric” man story you like to come back to, shouldn’t an uneventful sleeping state be correlated with a sign of no surrounding predators and therefore be correlated to a good sleep ?

    Just wondering…


  2. interesting. maybe hearing voices behind you tends to cause you to feel secure, as if you’re with friends who you can trust (“they have my back”) and provides a sense of security?

  3. Mike,

    I was not thinking in that direction (more in the direction that that night, Seth has not heard any noise/sound) but this is interesting. However, how would one explain that snoring is a major impediment for others to sleep in groups ? I am also of the opinion that snoring is also detrimental to the snorer as their noise is bound to make their sleep light.


  4. hi igor,

    i was referring to having the radio behind oneself while looking at oneself in the mirror. i hadn’t thought of effects of noise on sleep. i can’t recall being bothered by snoring myself (though maybe i don’t remember).

    having people talking around you seems an anti-depressant to me. i used to work in a closed office by myself and being a retiring person, i got a bit isolated, but then i had office mates and the door to my office remained open to the hustle and bustle of people outside it, and i believe my mood got better overall.

    obviously there could be other causes to my better mood, but it does seem true there’s some apparent correlation between hearing people talk and feeling good. placement of the voices seems to speak to trust–if you don’t trust people you seem likely to keep them in front of you, and if you trust them, behind you, so if you have voices behind you, it might trigger a feeling of security and friendship, which seems a plausible cause in elevating mood, as seth’s experiment might suggests.

  5. OT, but related to sleep. there was segment on sleep apnea on pbs’ news-hour that talked about an elaborate diagnostic procedure (sleeping in lab hooked up with wires etc.) and treatment that consisted of sleeping with equipment attached to one’s face; both of which would be fairly expensive.
    it turns out that i have had sleep apnea for several years and that merely using a breath right strip across my nose resolved the problem. (i didn’t have a scientific diagnosis, but the before and after difference in my sleep was clear). the point is that i did self-experimentation rather than be drag into the medical establishment to spend thousands of $$$. (one of the great things about reading your blog is that it leads one to consider and try self-experimentation). It may be that this simple inexpensive “treatment” may not work for everyone, but it ought to be tried before sufferers/society incur the expense of a cumbersome and often ineffective “medical” treatment.
    There are other simple treatments as well, such as a applying wrap to one’s head (from the chin to to the top of the head) to force one to breath thru the nose.
    I don’t see these simple treatments discussed on-line and they weren’t discussed in the pbs piece.

  6. Igor, I don’t think there were any unusual sounds while I was sleeping. It wasn’t unusually quiet, as far as I know.

    Mike, the voices were behind the mirror, not behind me. The effect was that looking at my face while listening to voices was a lot more realistic since the voices appeared to come from the face, rather than somewhere else.

    Peter, I completely agree. I hadn’t heard that before about the breath right strip resolving apnea, that’s really helpful to know. Those sleep labs tend to conclude you have disordered breathing whether you do or don’t, according to Insomnia by Gayle Greene.

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