I’ve been taking Unplug for over two years. I've barely missed one night since we first launched it in 2018. As a founder of the company, perhaps you won’t find that surprising, but Unplug is the one product I never go without.
Over this time, I’ve become accustomed to good sleep: 8 hours of uninterrupted slumber is what I expect every night. So to go without it for a month was a big ask. But I wanted to know: how is Unplug changing my sleep pattern? My team and I had some questions.
How does Unplug affect your sleep cycles? What happens to REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and deep sleep when you take Unplug?
And in my case, the most daunting question was: what will happen when I go off Unplug? When will I start noticing the dip in sleep quality? In 3 nights or after 13 nights?
Loaded with these questions, we scoured the world for the most advanced wearable sleep tracker out there. We settled on Whoop, strapped the smart band around our wrists and went off for a month without Unplug, followed by a month with Unplug.
Seven of us took part, and the results blew us away.
Month 1: Going Off Unplug
To measure the effect of Unplug, we first had to set a baseline of our sleep without it.
Truth be told, we started the experiment with 8 team members. Halfway through the first week, one individual pulled out: sleep trackers are not for everyone. Whoop bands work by tracking, storing and analysing every single heartbeat, 24 hours a day, for as long as you wear it. If you are prone to over analyzing data on a day to day basis, this can be too much to handle.
This data may seem excessive. But by storing this information and syncing it to your phone, the sleep tracker picks up your REM, deep and light sleep cycles through the night, as each phase is marked by particular heart rate profiles and body movements. REM sleep, for instance - known as the mentally restorative phase - is characterised by an almost paralysed body, with high activity happening in the brain and a heart rate similar to time awake. This sleep phase is essential for waking up with a clear mind and in a good mood.
Returning to pre-Unplug days
Through this first month without Unplug, I felt my sleep pattern progressively return to pre-Unplug days, pre-2018. I did not suddenly become insomniac - as a pro athlete, this was never the case. But even when I was training hard for the Commonwealth Games, I did use to suffer from a couple bad nights a week.
There were no withdrawal symptoms from stopping Unplug - but my sleep was less reliable. After the first 10 days, I found myself getting two or three bad nights per week when I’d wake up several times through the night and get up in the morning feeling tired. The pattern felt eerily familiar. I was not enjoying the reminder.
Even so: in the first week of no-Unplug, my sleep was still regular. But by week 2, as my stores of Unplug’s nutrients diminished, I was getting several suboptimal nights per week, and my actual sleep did not match my sleep need - as measured by Whoop.
Still, although I felt less rested, my sleep data was above Whoop’s average user. This was reflected across our team. When comparing our data to the average population, all in all, we were within the average of what is considered normal sleep. Yet it didn't feel right.
We felt less rested than what we’d become used to, but our data still compared favourably to the average population. We put this down to healthy sleep hygiene: practising the tips and routines we put in place as part of our holistic approach to healthy sleep.
Across the 7 of us, we got an average of 201 minutes of restorative sleep (REM + deep sleep) per night in month 1 without Unplug. This represented almost half (46%) of our total sleep time. A reasonable mix, relative to the average Whoop user.
But comparing to averages was never the point. In month 1, we simply set the baseline. Things became interesting when we introduced Unplug in month 2 and started tracking variation in sleep cycles comparatively over time. To be clear: the interesting part here is in tracking each individual’s changes over time, rather than comparing one individual to another, or to an average.
Month 2: Back On Unplug
We dived into the unknown at this point: does Unplug affect our sleep cycles enough to show on our tracking data? What would be the net result? I knew first hand how Unplug made me feel, but I had no idea whether it actually changed my sleep cycles.
To measure results as clearly as possible, we endeavoured to keep all other variables the same. We did not change our caffeine habits, our exercise routines, our bedtime, the amount of time we spent in bed or our bedroom environment. We gave ourselves a full two months’ worth of data to minimise the effect of any natural variances in stress or lifestyle so that the singular biggest change was taking 2 capsules of Unplug every night, one hour before bed. Real-world data is never perfect - life gets in the way - but we did everything we could to make it valid.
Unplug significantly increased REM sleep
Week 1 blew us away.
Across the group, our average time spent in REM shot up by over 15%, from 113 minutes average in month 1, to 131 minutes per night in the first week with Unplug. In my case, my REM sleep increased by a staggering 47%, from 2 hours to just over 3 hours.
Three hours of REM is not *necessarily* a great result. Some experts would say it’s too much - I'd agree. This evened out from week 2 onwards: my average REM for month 2 was 2.5 hours per night, which is great.
So what was happening? My REM spike in week 1 was a sign of my brain catching up on restorative sleep debt. Indeed REM sleep is considered the ‘mentally restorative’ sleep cycle: the sections of your sleep when your brain solidifies short term memories into long term ones and clears out waste from the previous day. And this is exactly what Unplug is formulated for: it’s not a sedative, it’s a brain supplement that helps you relax, sleep, and consolidate memories.
Here's what this looked like in practice. Below you'll see data from two weeknights, one week apart: during the last week without Unplug on the left, vs the first week with Unplug on the right. In both cases, I went to bed at 10pm, as is my routine, but without Unplug, I read for 45 minutes before switching off.
We were already aware of the link between Unplug and memory formation thanks to existing studies on Bacopa Monnieri (present in Unplug), but to see this taking shape so tangibly in our data, within such a short period of time, was awesome.
Where did the extra time in REM come from? Were we sleeping more, or simply spending a bigger chunk of our sleep in the REM stage? Across the group, two things happened in that first week:
- Light sleep decreased by 13 minutes on average
- Total time asleep increased by 7 minutes on average
Together, these shifts allowed for an extra 18 minutes in REM.
Although I had the most marked increase in week 1, there was a significant shift across the whole group, which stabilised over the following weeks as our bodies caught up on the sleep debt accumulated over the previous month.
Our total average time spent in REM sleep in month 2, with Unplug, was 127 minutes, up by 12% vs month 1. This is a significant shift in our sleep quality, and a big increase in restorative sleep.
What about deep (SWS) sleep?
Deep sleep is the physically restorative stage of our sleep cycle. A healthy individual should spend approximately 20-25% of their time asleep in deep sleep for proper physical recovery. This part of restorative sleep did not show any significant change in month 2 vs month 1. Throughout the whole two months of tracking, the group spent an average of 20% of their time asleep in deep sleep - as in my night of June 25th above. This came as no surprise: more than anything else, Unplug is about mental recovery from stress - and without any change in our exercise routine, our deep sleep requirements stayed the same.
20% more time asleep with Unplug
Across the group, we were conscious not to make any changes to our bedtime, or wake up times. Even so, our total time asleep increased by 6% in month 2.
In my case, the explanation is clear and simple: when I take Unplug, I read a couple of pages of my book and drift off almost immediately (just ask my wife!). By contrast, in month 1, I found myself devouring books and spending much longer flicking through the pages before my eyelids got heavy.
I was far from being the only one to feel this change. While my sleep time increased by 23 minutes with Unplug, my colleague Charlie saw a huge leap: his total sleep time increased by one hour and 15 minutes! He spent 20% more time asleep with Unplug than without Unplug.
This warrants digging a little deeper into his data, so let's take a look at his particular case.
From our 7 participants, there were a few standout cases with particularly interesting data. Let’s take a look at each one individually.
Charlie - male, 33
Charlie always considered his sleep to be good. Before this experiment, he was known to go on and off Unplug at a whim and did not think it had a big effect on him. How wrong he was!
Of our group, Charlie exhibited the biggest changes in sleep cycles when taking Unplug. Not only did his REM shoot up, so too did his deep sleep and his total time asleep. The bottom line was: Charlie was falling asleep much quicker with Unplug and getting more restorative sleep, for an overall much more refreshing night.
Charlie’s key data, without vs with Unplug:
|(time in minutes)
|Time in REM sleep
|Time in deep sleep
|Total time asleep
Diane - female, 63
Diane has been a poor sleeper all her life. She routinely reads for several hours before falling asleep well after midnight, and is frequently awoken by her snoring partner. Diane simply assumed this was her life. There was nothing she could do about it. What she lost in sleep, she made up for in caffeine consumption. Yet with Unplug, Diane’s sleep latency (how long it takes her to fall asleep) and time spent awake in bed dropped by 34%. Her time spent in light sleep reduced, while her restorative REM sleep shot up by over 16%. An incredible result!
|(time in minutes)
|Time in REM sleep
|Time in deep sleep
|Time in light sleep
|Total time awake
Phoebe - female, 30
Phoebe’s data opposed the rest of the group. Her case was particular for several reasons. To understand the reasons why, you must first know that of all the participants, Phoebe has the tightest control over her lifestyle. As a nutritional therapist and stress management expert, she has spent years carefully carving her routine for optimal health, recovery and sleep. Prior to this experiment, Phoebe had been taking Unplug every night for the past two years: just like me, it had become part of her curated routine. As an example of her devotion to good health: Phoebe seldom consumes alcohol and never drinks coffee, as she knows she responds poorly to both. That her results differed from the rest of the group should not be a surprise.
At first look, Phoebe’s data showed the exact opposite to the rest of the group - so we knew we had something interesting in our hands. Phoebe’s time spent in REM decreased in month 2, after complaining of extremely vivid dreams in month 1. Vivid dreaming happens in REM sleep: Phoebe was getting too much of it in month 1. Of her time asleep, Phoebe was spending 35% in the REM stage without Unplug - an excessive amount. With Unplug, this stabilised to 28% by the end of month 2.
This is where Unplug becomes even more interesting: its ability to support hormonal balance. In month 1, Phoebe noted in her journal that she was struggling from the impact daytime stress was having on her sleep. Her cortisol hormones were out of control, causing unusual sleep patterns, which she did not find refreshing. She woke feeling sluggish, and her workout regime reduced in intensity as her energy levels flagged. Bear in mind that Phoebe’s expertise is in stress management, so she was well equipped to make note of her body’s responses to stressors and analyse her data.
So how can we measure the benefits of Unplug on Phoebe? Enter the additional tool in the Whoop toolbox. Alongside tracking sleep stages, Whoop also picks up Heart Rate Variability (HRV): the measure of time difference between heartbeats. A higher HRV means your body is well-rested. Whoop also tracks Resting Heart Rate (RHR): commonly used to measure baseline cardiovascular health.
In month 1, Phoebe’s average HRV was 78ms. But by the end of month 2, she was peaking at 128ms, signifying much better overnight recovery. Through June, Phoebe’s average RHR was 45: a healthy starting point, but this dropped to 41 in July, indicating better overall cardiovascular health. Phoebe’s journal confirms these data points: in month 2, she rose once more with a spring in her step.
Despite Phoebe’s REM sleep shortening, her overnight recovery improved. She was recovering better, working out harder, and feeling happier in month 2.
After dragging my team and me through a month of no Unplug, I’m glad we got some eye-opening data from our sleep trackers.
Here are my main takeaways
- Unplug significantly affects REM sleep. For most in our team, this was demonstrated by an increase in time spent in REM sleep.
- Unplug can help in case of sleep debt. In the first week of supplementation, we saw spikes in REM sleep across almost every participant. Note: this can cause spikes in vivid dreams, but our data suggests REM sleep will return to a normal level once the sleep debt has been met.
- Unplug is all about mental recovery: the physically restorative deep sleep stage did not significantly change for most in our group during the period.
- Unplug is not addictive: there were no withdrawal symptoms when stopping the supplementation.
- The sleep benefits from regular Unplug use lingered for a week after stopping.
- Unplug can support our stress response in different ways: for some, it’s not about increasing REM sleep. As we saw in Phoebe’s case, the end goal is to improve overnight recovery, and this was consistent across our group.
- Even those of us with the strictest sleep hygiene saw improvements in their overnight recovery with Unplug.
- Even those of us who considered their sleep to be good without Unplug saw significant improvements in their sleep patterns with Unplug.
- Sleep trackers are not for everyone. Constant data collection can be a source of anxiety. Advance with caution.
- Unplug’s benefits in terms of recovery, resting heart rate and heart rate variability increased over the course of month 2. To feel the full benefits of Unplug, we recommend trying it for a month.
Want to do this experiment on yourself?
Aggregate data is great, but nothing beats seeing personal improvements.