The 7-Day Sleep Experiment: Small Wins Can Lift Big Challenges
On February 7, Bassel, Lucy, Maria, and Marina started a 7-day journey called The Sleep Experiment, a project designed by someone who struggled with sleep for people who share the struggle.
Meet the heroes
Motivated by his desire to fix his encumbered sleep schedule, Bassel set out to design a life-in-times-of-lockdown outside his pajamas. Maria, who tried many a way to get back control of her rest time but to no avail, found in the challenge a way to reconnect high productivity with high energy and enough rest time. Marina had never really tried any tool or strategy to give structure to her days and nights before the challenge. So, for her, the commitment to the experiment and the unwavering support of the group got her to double her productivity. And last but not least, Lucy, the leading mastermind behind the creation of the challenge, also embarked on the journey and realized the difference between connecting with a habit theoretically through research and actively implementing the steps on the ground. For her, the practical experience made all the difference.
What is The Sleep Experiment?
It is a 7-day journey that proposes fixed daily micro-missions to accomplish by the end of each day. Every mission proposes two small tasks. None of these tasks is entirely foreign to us, but, more often not, we do not really live by them. Truth is, sometimes, the most groundbreaking solutions are also the simplest and most accessible ones.
The story behind the project
This experiment comes as a response to a survey PersEd and its ambassadors organized online back in February 2020. The survey sought to understand what skills the youth really wanted and needed to learn, not just because they have to but because they’re motivated to do so.
The questions gathered 16,788 interactions from all over the world through the power of a network of ambassadors from 4 continents (Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe). The answers revealed the top skills that the youth wanted to further explore:
- sleep management
- public speaking
Up until now, three experiments have been launched for creativity, self-discipline and self-awareness in 2020. They are available in the format of personalized tests to diagnose skill deficiencies and propose a customized roadmap for personal improvement.
The fourth challenge, called The Sleep Experiment, adopted a new route, to encourage accountability. Whoever decides to join this journey, can implement missions with like-minded growth seekers through PersEd’s Facebook Group or with family members and friends…
The foundations of the challenge
Throughout The Sleep Experiment, participants got the chance to explore different ways that can boost their sleep patterns. Each day is slightly more demanding than the previous one, but all are pretty simple actions. And on the seventh day, they can select a favorite routine that has the potential to stay and have positive impact on sleep and performance.
The Sleep Challenge draws upon the works of many sleep experts, such as the English scientist and professor of neuroscience and psychology, Dr Matthew Paul Walker, science educator and host of The Model Health Show, Shawn Stevenson, sleep specialist, Dr Barry Krakow, and Dr Robert Rosenberg, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center of Prescott Valley, Arizona.
This challenge from PersEd’s Better Me Project series doesn’t pretend to hold the secret Grail to perfect sleep. Its purpose is to take you back to the fundamentals of sleep and time management through fun, social, and continuous experimentation.
Active practice makes all the difference. Ask the athletes, the researchers, the experienced professionals. Ask the apprentices from the time of the Renaissance — ok that might be slightly challenging without a time machine (Elon, we need your help here). It is through the repetition of positive habits that a foreign but desired lifestyle can become a second skin.
Fueled by personal roadmaps, daily challenges and an opportunity to connect with peers, the Sleep Experiment seeks to reconnect you with your best self through habits that work for you and that boost your wellbeing.
Sleep: much more than a few hours of rest
In times of great change, when everything is in motion, we cannot sit still and do nothing! Idleness is for those who have time to waste, and we are not those people. Sleep is for those who are willing to sacrifice long-term success for short-term satisfaction, and we are not those people. (Reread with a pinch of irony)
You are not an elephant
We are pressured to work harder and for longer hours, to hustle, to sleep less or not at all. When do all those sleepless nights come knocking on our door? And what do they knock on our door for? Burn-out? Diabetes? Chronic fatigue? Depression? Does it come with the keys you constantly forget wherever you go? Is it for the doctor’s appointment?
Here’s the shocking truth: you are not an elephant.
Elephants require three hours of sleep per day; not you. A study by the University of Chicago tested partial sleep deprivation with 11 healthy young men. The participants slept for 4 hours for 6 nights and then 12 hours for 7 nights. Tests showed that their body’s ability to dispose of glucose was reduced by 40%. Other tests involving sleep deprivation showed that the leptin levels, a hormone that suppresses appetite, are reduced by 19% (oh, that explains the cravings!).
As a result, eating behaviors change. Your mood suffers. The dysregulation can alter the immune response and increase the risk of inflammation. On the medium to long term, this might result in higher risks of developing diabetes or cardiovascular diseases.
Extra: If you are curious and want to dig deeper into the science of sleep deprivation, check this study on Sleep and Metabolism published in the International Journal of Endocrinology in 2010.
If you are not an elephant, then what are you?
If you’re an alien or still believe that you’re an elephant, you can skip this paragraph.
Humans are said to require around 8 hours of sleep per day. There are exceptions to the rule brought to you by several rare gene mutations, such as the ADRB1 (a mutation of the ß1-adrenergic receptor) and the NPSR1 (a mutation in the neuropeptide S receptor 1). Before yelling “that’s my case” at the top of your lungs, — we humans tend to fall in the trap of confirmation bias — consider that you have a 0.00000025% chance of being right about the NPSR1.
If you’re still not convinced that sleep is important, think of all the things it can do for you:
- It increases your immunity
- It protects your heart (yes, you have one)
- It repairs your muscle
- It regulates the release of hormones (hangry, anyone?)
- It synthesizes protein (the equivalent of a polymath for molecules in your body)
- It helps your nerve cells to reorganize and removes toxic byproducts from your brain
- It improves learning and memory
- It increases concentration
- It boosts your creativity and problem-solving
- It keeps you at bay of rash decisions
- It increases the activity in your amygdala, this little pea that regulates emotion and, when out of balance, panics and inspires fear
- It also increases activity in the hippocampus (champion of learning and long-term memory), medial prefrontal cortex (famous for facilitating judgment and decision making), striatum (mainly known for facilitating voluntary movement), and insula (too many functions to cite).
- It keeps you in shape, summer-style
- It helps you be more productive during the day
- You get to appreciate and use every moment of the day
Do I have to sleep 8 hours?
You don’t have to do anything! No one is forcing you to sleep more or to sleep less. You decide what works best for you. Forget the pressure you feel coming from the outside world. No two people are exactly the same.
Arianna Huffington went from sleeping 3 to 4 hours to getting solid 8 hours of sleep; and that increased her productivity and helped her make better decisions. She even started a “sleep revolution.” Leonardo Da Vinci is said to have a polyphasic sleep pattern: every four hours, he’d sleep for 20 minutes. Mariah Carey, the famous singer, needed 15 hours of sleep per day. Bill Gates sleeps 7 hours. Elon Musk doesn’t sleep more than 6 hours a day.
But your life is no else’s, only yours. And it’s up to you to choose how you want to spend your time and manage your sleep. However, you can only know that by trying yourself and experimenting with different strategies before settling on the best course of action for you. But rather than denying facts about sleep, better acknowledge possible consequences, accept them and/or deal with them. For instance, you can be proactive about finding ways to curb the effects of sleep deprivation (pay attention to the food you eat, incorporate exercise into your routine, schedule rest time, be more self-aware of changes in behavior, etc).
How can the challenge change your life day by day?
The Sleep Experiment lasts one week. And during those seven days, you get the chance to experiment with different potential routines, understand what works best for you through experience and then choose how you want to move forward with your life. There are many benefits to taking part in the challenge but here are the top three as recognized by the heroes who embarked on the journey first and tested out the process for you:
Experimentation: the “routine-tasting” trip
When met with openness, the challenge gives you the opportunity to test a variety of different ways to boost your sleep and create a routine that energizes you. No two people are the same. Some loved the brain dump, others hated it. It is only through trials and errors that we can deeply understand how things work for us.
“The true method of knowledge is experiment.”
In 7 days, you get to try 14 ways to boost your sleep, manage your time and improve your energy and productivity. The fact that it’s condensed makes it ideal for fast progress.
A study by the University College of London revealed that it takes 66 days to form a habit and 254 days until it’s fully formed. If you were to struggle through every habit for 66 days, you will need more than two years and a half to go through all 14 strategies. That’s if you never lose the motivation to start from scratch after every 66-day round.
The purpose of the Sleep Experiment is not to form a habit but to do a “routine-tasting” for you to choose the wine bottle you want to leave with — I mean the habit that you want to adopt and incorporate into your life.
Awareness: feel the hot drops of water
Most times, you go through your days from task to task and place to place. You skim through your hours, as if you were forced to read a boring article about paper typology. And before you get angry at me, it’s not because your life is boring but because you don’t pay attention.
Perhaps you take the first coffee sip with presence and pleasure. What happens to the last drop? What happens when you’re starving and you finish a meal in 1 min and 49 seconds?
The participants of the Sleep Experiment got the opportunity to experience each routine mindfully. Perhaps you already take a warm bath before you go to sleep but do you actually feel the warm drops of water on your skin? I seldom do (will try it out tonight). But the power of the 7-day challenge is that it shows you a roadmap and as you follow the roadmap, you look at your day-to-day life with a fresh pair of eyes.
“It brought awareness to the routine in an everyday disorganized life.”
Maria Tawk (Sleep experiment participant)
And what happens when you start paying attention? First, you start enjoying the moments that you used to take for granted. Second, you understand what works for you and what doesn’t. Third, you make informed decisions about what habits to incorporate into your life.
Accountability: we are in this together
The final pillar of this challenge is the social aspect that comes with it. The participants of the Sleep Experiment connected together and committed to reaching out and sharing their progress on the implementation. As they shared their milestones, they encouraged others to do the same. And when insights emerged from the conversation, the heroes of the journey became more aware of their practice.
Accountability means that you will be held responsible for what you do or don’t do. Disclaimer: No electrical chocks were involved in the challenge, so no, you will not get tased.
As social beings, we tend to want to make a good impression. So when you know you’re being “observed”, you’re most likely going to alter your behavior. We also tend to learn from others and model their behavior. Call it peer-pressure or social learning, it does the job!
“The Sleep Challenge was like nothing else! I discovered some aspects of my personality that I never knew I had. It was an unforgettable experience that definitely left an impact on me.”
Bassel Tammim (Sleep Experiment Participant)
After having piloted the Sleep Experiment, PersEd’s fourth Better Me challenge is opening its doors to the larger public. On the 28th of February, the Founder, Alexandra Kodjabachi, and the project leader, Lucy Tabakian, will be going live on PersEd’s Instagram channel to explain the Sleep Experiment and prepare all the enthusiasts and goal-getters for one of the most balancing and centering journeys of 2021. The journey is open to all and free of charge. The purpose behind it is to encourage as many people as possible to lead healthier lives, especially in these difficult, uncertain and ambiguous times.
So the next steps are yours to make:
- Join the Facebook Group, connect with like-minded goal-getters and get ready to get back agency over your life’s rhythm.
- Join the Instagram channel to get to watch live chats with the first participants of the Sleep Experiment.