Counting Steps, Counting Sheep: My Own Data-Driven Design Experiment

Blogger: Ross Keyes, Electrical EIT | Lawrenceville, New Jersey, USA
November 04, 2016

Here at HDR, we support the merits and reap the benefits of data-driven and evidence-based design in our work every day. For example, when we design a lab, we take into account that the number of steps researchers have to take back and forth from the lab bench to the support space can affect their satisfaction on the job. Just the same, the design of a hospital room can affect a patient’s ability to rest, relax, and recuperate.

But some variables simply can’t be designed around. One such variable is fatherhood. Since January of this year, I have been wearing a Fitbit Flex to track my steps and sleep patterns. Then on May 4, 2016, my first child, Howie, was born. His birth provided an opportunity for me to quantify the effects that a newborn can have on one’s sleep and activity levels.

It should be noted that this is an extremely small sample size of one parent with one child (I didn’t track my wife’s steps or sleep patterns—only my own.) All family dynamics and children are different, so this case study should be considered anecdotal only.

The time table of my very own data-driven design experiment is as follows:

  • January 1, 2016 to May 3, 2016: Baseline period
  • May 4, 2016: Howie’s birth
  • May 4 to June 13: Paternity leave
  • June 14 to July 21: Back at work

Despite a few technical issues when gathering the data, I saw a clear pattern in the baseline period with an average of just below seven hours of sleep per night. Surprisingly, the average number of hours I slept bumped up to just over seven hours per night while I was on paternity leave. Then after returning to work after my leave, my nightly sleep average dropped back down to just below the baseline average.  In other words, while my total amount of sleep changed only slightly once I was back to work, the number of times I woke up changed dramatically.

With some added context, a few conclusions can be drawn from the data. First, and as expected, a newborn child will wake you up a bunch of times during the night. It goes without saying that during those weeks when Howie was up every one to three hours and required a decent amount of time to get back to sleep, the quality of my work and productivity would have undoubtedly suffered had I not taken paternity leave.

Interestingly though, the number of times I woke up remained elevated even after my son started to sleep through the night. The latter development is counter to what I would have expected. Maybe the anxiety related to being a new parent caused me to wake up more easily. Regardless, the increase in the amount of times I woke up on my own after Howie started sleeping through the night shows how helpful it is to take time off after the birth of a child.

But no amount of time off can fix my memory, unfortunately. Aspects of wellness that are associated with getting a good night’s sleep (such as memory) have dipped for me since becoming a parent, and I have concluded that poor-quality sleep (and not just a lack of sleep) is the main culprit.

On a fun final note, I discovered something else while looking over the Fitbit data. My average number of steps per day before having Howie was 6,309. That number increased to 7,876 steps after we had Howie—and the number has remained at this level. Since we live in a very walkable area and my son likes to go with us in a carrier or stroller, we tend to walk more now. And then there was the whole Pokemon Go craze, which had me averaging 10,000 steps per day. Talk about the gamification of fitness!


Reader Comments (1)

Ross, you should keep this up! It will be so interesting to learn how your sleep and steps (and Memor) change over, say, Howie's todlerhood.  Congratulations on your article!

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