What is your first thought when you think about the uses of a fitness tracker? Do visions of squats, marathons, HIIT workouts and yoga run through your mind? What about sleep?
Late last year, I got the opportunity to try out the Whoop 4.0, the newest passive tracking wristband from Whoop. I was most excited by the ability to monitor my workouts, read my body’s signals, and translate that into a more effective fitness regimen. However, once I got the Whoop, calibrated it to my body and began to collect data, a whole new side of tracking became incredibly appealing: my sleep.
Sleep is unexplored territory, for most of us. We partake in it every night, for one-third of our lives, and yet we’re basically unconscious for it. Do I snore? Do I talk in my sleep? How do I act in the middle of a dream? For many of us, the answers to these questions lie in our partners’ feedback, meaning it’s not really a firsthand experience.
So when I discovered that Whoop recorded not only my waking moments and activities — Pilates, hikes, rest days and stressors — but also my sleep, I was intrigued. Finally, I could peek into what happens once I drift off to sleep.
So first off, what metrics does Whoop actually track to measure sleep success? Respiratory rate, disturbances, time in bed, efficiency, light sleep, REM and deep sleep are all logged. It also gives recommendations, telling you how much sleep you need to achieve maximum recovery. (Turns out it's not as simple as clocking the same number of hours every night. Based on the activity of that day and the day before, I may need to go to sleep earlier — or if I’ve rested, I can stay up a bit later.)
Sleep scientists say the optimal amount of sleep is between seven and nine hours. Anything less, and you’re putting yourself at an increased risk of developing dementia, among other health concerns. Just as important as the hours of Zs you catch is the quality. Did you get adequate REM and deep sleep? Did you dream? Were you able to sleep uninterrupted?
When I looked at my first tracked sleep’s data, I was shocked. Whoop had picked up 24 disturbances. I felt like I hardly knew myself — was I really up that often throughout the night, without being conscious of it? What else was I missing out on?
The following night was similar — 22 disturbances, with an 89 percent efficiency rating. However, the third night was different — I had 12 disturbances, half my typical rate, and a 95 percent efficiency score. I had also fallen asleep in a fraction of the time it took the previous two nights. The major difference that third night? The introduction of cannabis.
It’s no secret to anyone that’s even tangentially familiar with weed that many proponents of the plant speak of its ability to enhance sleep. But is it hearsay, or at least anecdotally legit? I decided to guinea pig my way to answer and set up a little experiment: for the month of December, I would track my sleep nightly. For the first two weeks, I would be stone cold sober. For the second two weeks, I would take 10 mg of cannabis each night. At the end of the experiment, I would compare my sleep scores, with a focus on disturbances.
I used two forms of cannabis: Moon Berry Blaster candies, and CBD mints from Feals. I had noticed that the full-flower gummies had a tendency to leave me groggy in the morning, so I incorporated the CBD to combat it.
Partaking in my self-assigned sleep assessment was easier than I thought; before the sleep experiment, I'd used cannabis semi-regularly to combat extremely vivid dreams, the type that would wake me up multiple times a night and sometimes keep me up. Cannabis curtailed my psychedelic dreaming, and also helped me fall asleep quickly. But spoiler alert: that deep sleep feeling was little more than an illusion.
My Whoop showed me that after a month of testing, I still average 24 disturbances a night, with the exception of one evening where I only logged six. Respiratory rate is pretty individual, and as long as it doesn't fluctuate wildly, you're good. Mine hovered right around 17 breaths per minute the entire experiment. My sleep efficiency stayed in the 90 percent range, other than a couple dips into the 80s.
My sleep metrics stayed consistent, which confused me: when I wasn't taking the cannabis for the first two weeks, my dreams were vivid, intense and frequent. When I took the cannabis, I hardly had any dreams at all. I looked into what effect cannabis really has on sleep, and I was concerned with what I found.
According to Matthew Walker, a scientist and professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley and author of the book Why We Sleep, cannabis is disastrous for our REM and deep sleep, two crucial elements to health and wellness. Weed essentially stops you from dreaming, which is problematic because, well, we need dreams to process our days, cement information and learning and recover for the day ahead.
I may have been "pausing" my dreams, but my brain is one step ahead. According to Walker, each night of missed dreaming, our brains log the dreams we should have had. When you stop taking cannabis, you'll get a REM rebound, where you have incredibly intense dreams. For some habitual users, lack of REM for an extended period of time has led to periods of wakeful dreaming and hallucinations. Yikes.
So while there may indeed be health benefits associated with cannabis, better sleep does not appear to be one of them. What I learned from my Whoop: It’s more important to be in a place that is comfortable and safe. My best nights of sleep, like that six I mentioned, happened while I was camping under the stars. So thanks to a product that sits near the pinnacle of modern hyperconnected technology, I learned exactly where I need to be: away from it all, back in the wild.