It is no surprise that the United States is full of chronically sleep-deprived people. The latest report from the CDC estimates that 1 in 3 Americans, a staggering 111 million people, are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis. As a full-time medical student, I quickly found chronic sleep deprivation to be my new worst enemy.
When I was an undergrad, surviving on 5 hours of shuteye per night seemed manageable, but as I got older, the negative effects of chronic sleep loss started to catch up to me. During medical school, I prioritized getting more hours of sleep per night. Oddly enough, even when I slept the recommended 7-8 hours, I didn’t wake up feeling well-rested; instead, I felt completely drained throughout the day, which significantly impacted my health and ability to study.
When Julia Discovered Wesper
When I first started my journey to better sleep, I didn’t know what to do. Should I try some sleep hacks I read online or should go so far as to consult with a doctor?
While I had suspicions as to what was contributing to my poor sleep quality, I did not know how to properly evaluate myself without committing to a full in-hospital sleep study, which I felt would be too time-consuming and expensive. That was until Tiffany, my close friend and fellow medical student, introduced me to Wesper, a startup aiming to transform sleep technology through two wearable diagnostic smart patches designed to evaluate sleep from the comfort of my home.
At first, I was skeptical (I am a medical student after all). How could two small patches possibly claim to perform a similar sleep evaluation as a traditional, in-hospital sleep study without all the wires and machines? Could it even be accurate?
As I started doing more research, I was surprised to read reviews from people who had used Wesper as a screening tool to determine if they were at-risk for major sleep issues before committing to the full in-hospital sleep study. There are a lot of sleep trackers on the market, but few have the ability to determine whether one is at-risk for a medical condition. With this in mind, I decided to give Wesper a shot.
My Experience Using Wesper
Although Wesper’s sleep report does not perfectly replicate the data that a patient would receive from an in-hospital lab report (for example, it cannot provide information on brain waves during sleep), it is an excellent alternative for someone like myself who didn’t feel like my sleep issues were severe enough to justify seeing a doctor. It is also an amazingly accessible and affordable (not to mention, COVID-friendly) option compared to paying for a full sleep study. Another great advantage Wesper has over traditional sleep studies is its comfort level, which is a far cry from the nightmarish reality of traditional sleep studies. No more sleeping in a strange bed in some lab at a hospital, entangled in an intricate web of wires and hooked up to machines.
My Results and Insights
The next morning, I was surprised by how quickly I got a phone notification from Wesper, alerting me that my sleep report had been generated. Scrolling through the report, I was fascinated by all the insights these two small, yet powerful patches provided me.
The report showed that my breathing quality was “good” and had remained consistent throughout the night, which came as a relief because it meant that I was less likely to have a more serious condition like sleep apnea, an increasingly common sleep disorder in North America. Unfortunately, my sleep efficiency was poor– this was the section that provided me with the answers I was searching for.
In the section on “Sleep Time”, there was a helpful timeline depicting my asleep and awake times. Unsurprisingly, the sleep timeline showed a significant time awake prior to falling asleep, also known as “prolonged sleep latency”. Prolonged sleep latency has been a consistent issue for me, as the stresses from the day translate to racing thoughts at night. However, what was surprising to me was the frequency of awakenings (or micro-awakenings) I had throughout the night. Although I knew I was a light sleeper, I had no idea I was not sleeping through the night.
This combination of issues caused my sleep efficiency to be low. Sleep efficiency is the amount of time you spend asleep divided by the amount of time you spend in bed. Even though I was in bed for 9.5 hours, I only managed to get 6.5 hours of total sleep time. No wonder I felt so sleep-deprived during the day!
In my sleep report, Wesper also generated a personalized video clip portraying a time-lapse of my changing sleep positions throughout the night, further solidifying the restless nature of my sleep. These results clearly indicated that while I was spending enough time in bed, my overall sleep quality was poor.
While Wesper’s sleep report was easily digestible and gave me immediate insights into my sleep quality, I still had some questions. Thankfully, Wesper gave me the option to book a short video consultation with Wesper’s sleep specialist to review my test results with me.
Meeting with the specialist was very fun and insightful! After she asked me questions about my lifestyle and sleep habits, she explained that it was clear to her that I was having major issues with stress-related insomnia. The specialist explained that although insomnia caused by stress can be challenging to treat, there were various techniques I could use to improve my sleep hygiene and decrease bedtime anxiety.
While some of the sleep hygiene techniques, such as not drinking caffeine too late in the day and avoiding electronic devices too close to bedtime, were ones I had heard before, the specialist explained how some of my habits, such as my tendency to study in bed until I fell asleep, were affecting my overall sleep quality. She helped me understand how studying was a stressful activity, which can overstimulate the brain, causing me to mentally associate my bedroom with stress.
Dr. Chelsie Rohrscheib also noticed how I was not sleeping at the same time every night. She stressed the importance of adhering to a consistent sleep schedule in order to maintain the body’s circadian rhythm. I was recommended to establish a soothing bedtime ritual that I perform at the same time every night before bed to promote relaxation. She shared some scientifically backed pre-bedtime activities: specific deep breathing exercises, light reading (unrelated to my studies), meditation, and taking a bath. After my consultation, the specialist sent me a summary of what we discussed. This included a personalized action plan for me to follow and having easy access to her felt amazing. I could contact her via email anytime!
Easy and Seamless
The entire Wesper process, from start to finish, was seamless. It was not only a simple process compared to a traditional sleep study, but it also felt considerably more personalized.
After my meeting with the Sleep Specialist, I took her suggestions to heart. I started sticking to a sleep schedule and played around with different bedtime rituals to see which techniques worked for me. I came to find a ritual I love, which consists of deep breathing exercises and a short meditation. It has been months since my consultation, and looking back, I can say I’ve come a long way in my journey to better sleep. Overall, I am thankful for this experience, and hope others can learn from it. If you have a sneaking suspicion that there may be more going on in your sleep and are curious to find out more, I recommend using Wesper as a screening tool to understand the severity of your condition and which direction to go on your journey to optimal sleep health.
Author: Julia Huang
Julia is currently a medical student at Georgetown University School of Medicine.