mattbell: (Default)
 I posted earlier about my experimentation with blue-blocking glasses to help improve my sleep.  I ended up not enjoying the experience of wearing the glasses, but I realized that I could achieve similar results by setting up red and orange colored night lights in my house.  This was especially nice to add to my bathroom, as it now allows me to use the bathroom in the middle of the night without forcing myself awake again with bright white lights.  You can get these lights for cheap ($5) at Home Depot.  

While this took care of the ambient room light, it didn't take care of the bright white of my computer screen.  For that I used f.lux, which reduced the blue light coming from the screen. I used f.lux on the strongest setting (Tungsten lighting) and I was surprised by how quickly my brain's white balance adjusted to the new color, especially when the surrounding room lights were red and orange.

This combination of colored room lights and f.lux seemed to work well at helping me get to bed, but not quite as well as wearing the blue-blocking glasses.  

However, based on a couple of weeks of data (which admittedly isn't much), the partial blue blocking setup using the colored lights and f.lux starting 2-3 hours before bedtime did not substantially affect my sleep latency -- it averaged 19min instead of 23min.  What did change substantially was my bedtime.  I found I shifted to going to bed an average of 28 minutes earlier and waking up an average of 5 minutes earlier.  The results actually seemed much bigger until I realized I had seasonal fluctuations in bedtime, so I went back and compared only with data from February, which had a similar day length.  I'm getting more sleep and feeling more well rested, which is good.  

Now I'm going to play with Nocturne, a program that gives me much more full control of screen brightness and appearance than f.lux.  Nocturne lets me set my display's entire color space, invert white to black, and do lots of other tricky things.  So far the best compromise between minimal blue light and maximum readability I've found is to just use the "monochrome" and "tint colors" settings on Nocturne, with the "white" color set to pure red and "black" set to black.    It's not the sort of thing I'd want to use for photo editing, but it works fine for working with text and some web browsing.  I'll report back in a couple of weeks on how that goes.

--

At some point I'm not sure mow much more sleep self-experimentation is worth it.   I do know I still move a lot more than the average sleeper, I'd like to get rid of my remaining mild snoring, and I'd like to improve my recovery time on days when I have to get up extra early, but I don't know how much improvement to my waking life I'll get from further changes.  For now I'll keep gathering data, since the cost to do so from a time perspective is very low.  

It would be nice to declare some sort of victory at some point, but this is one of those infinite games where improvements may continue but the margins will diminish, and true value lies in correctly answering the question of when it's no longer worth the trouble to try to improve further.  
mattbell: (Default)
After hearing about blue-blocking glasses at the Life Extension Conference, I decided to give them a try.  The basic principle behind them is that your body keys its circadian rhythm off of the presence of sunlight, specifically light in the blue wavelengths.  A lot of insomnia (the hypothesis goes) is caused by exposure to blue light well after sunset via our artificial lights and computer screens.  This light apparently confuses our circadian rhythms and causes a suppression of melatonin production, which can lead to insomnia.  There have been some studies (both in mice and in human shift-workers) coming out linking a lack of melatonin to a variety of cancers. 

I've found melatonin to be useful as a sleep aid, but the idea of using blue-blocking glasses to naturally increase melatonin production earlier in the night seems even more appealing as it's less of a brute force method. 

Here's my experience after trying it for a few nights:

First, the world is ugly while wearing the glasses.  Each type of light is a different sickly shade of orange or yellow, and when they're both lighting an object, the combination of colors in the light and shadow areas is unpleasant and irritable.  It's like some bad '70s nightmare.

The color gamuts of the camera and computer monitor are insufficient to capture the rancid sickliness of these colors, no matter how much I try to manipulate the white balance or use Lightroom's advanced color management. 

The world with blue-blocking glasses  The world with blue-blocking glasses
The world with blue-blocking glasses  The world with blue-blocking glasses

Especially on the first day, this miscolored world made me irritable.  It's become less annoying with further uses though.  One frustration that doesn't go away is that the glasses make you blind to a lot of information on the computer.  Graphs will have lines missing, blue buttons will be invisible, unvisited and visited web links will be the same color.  It gives me more appreciation for what red-green colorblind people have to deal with. 

However, on the plus side, they do appear to work.  While I haven't noticed much decrease in the time it takes me to get to bed, I have noticed that it makes me get up earlier and with less grogginess.  That alone makes them worth using on certain days.  Scientifically this makes sense, as suppressing blue light in the evening causes the brain circuits responsible for controlling circadian rhythms to start (and thus end) the night phase earlier. 

While wearing the glasses can be a pain, there are some easier things that you can do to help your body have a more natural rhythm:
- Buy red LED night lights.  Turning on bright bathroom lights in the middle of the night totally messes up your melatonin production.
- Get red compact fluorescent lamps for your bathroom, bedroom, and living room, and use them exclusively during the last hour or two that you're awake. 
- Turn your monitors' brightness as far down as possible during the last couple of hours of the day.

I'll be doing more quantitative research on the glasses over the next month or two.

If you want to buy the glasses, you can buy them from lowbluelights.com for $70 or from Amazon for $10.  your choice.  :-) 

For $10, they're worth a try. 
mattbell: (Default)
I'd like to talk about a serious shortcoming of the medical system in treating a category of illnesses, and a simple, self-experimental approach that allows you to potentially treat these illnesses cheaply and easily.

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Introduction:

"Diffuse Conditions" is a term I made up to describe health conditions that have numerous potential causes and numerous potential treatments.  These conditions include insomnia, allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, and anxiety. 

Diffuse conditions are hard to treat via the medical system.  Due to the economic, research, and procedural constraints of the medical system, patients are often steered toward a narrow set of potential treatments.  Moreover, these treatments are generally expensive drugs or procedures rather than simple practical advice.  In addition, because of the prescription system, patients are only able to try one potential treatment per doctor visit, and since diffuse conditions have many potential cures, that potentially means a lot of doctor visits to find one that works.  In addition, the diffuse conditions are sometimes bad enough to affect a patient's quality of life, but not bad enough to merit "medical attention".  Doctors are generally focused on fixing people when they are broken as opposed to tuning them for optimal function.  Basically, all this means that someone with a diffuse condition is likely to have a lot of difficulty finding a solution, and will end up spending a lot of money (either directly or via the tragedy of the commons system known as health insurance) trying to find a solution.  At this point, healthcare is already up to 17% of our GDP in America, so we need to figure out a cheaper approach.  I believe medical experts can be useful in treating diffuse conditions, but they need to empower patients to engage in a highly iterative cure discovery process. 

The solution, I believe, is to data-mine your own life.  This is a five-step process.
1. Get quantitative tools for measuring your performance.
2. Try various interventions. 
3. Track performance and interventions over time
4. Look for correlations to suggest ways you can improve your condition
5. Share your findings online so that others can see if your successful interventions work for them. 

-----

I'm going to provide a personal example of this to show how it can be done: 


Sleep videos:

I've always had trouble with insomnia.  For a long time, I just ignored it as a fact of life.  In my early twenties, I decided to finally do something about it and get a sleep study.  I went to one of the best sleep clinics in the country (Stanford).  They found some minor issues (sleep apnea so mild that it could not be designated "mild sleep apnea") but nothing medically actionable.  Unfortunately, that gave me little to act on.  A sleep study requires you to sleep in a hospital with an unbelievably large amount of equipment attached to your head.  Sleep studies are so expensive that any given person is only likely to do one or two of them.  So unfortunately a sleep study is not a good way of determining anything useful.

I got the idea to use a cheap near-infrared video camera (Sony sells analog "nightshot" video cameras that can see in the dark) to do my own sleep study at home by doing time-lapse recordings of myself sleeping.  I ended up with fascinating videos like these, which show the range of strange things that happen during the third of our lives when we aren't conscious.


Here's what I learned and did about it:

- I move around a lot while I sleep.  Limb movements were documented on the sleep study.  They appeared to correlate either with my posture (specifically, lying on my back) or with dreaming.  The limb movements appeared to be impacting my quality of sleep as they appeared to often line up with or precede awakenings as seen on the sleep study.  By looking at several night, I was able to see that the limb movements most often appeared when I was dreaming, regardless of posture.  Also, as any good scientist knows, it's good to have a control group for comparison.  As a result, I taped myself sleeping next to three different people, and found that I moved around substantially more than any of them did.
- If I'm sharing a bed, it needs to be king-sized if I am to sleep well.  The video shows many instances of sleep-disturbance ping-pong, in which one person shifting causes the other person to shift, and that's in a king bed.  In a smaller bed, it's even worse. 
- If I'm sharing a bed, everyone needs their own quilt.  Quilt-sharing dramatically worsens sleep disturbance ping-pong. 
- Morning light dramatically lowers sleep quality.  The morning light stimulates production of hormones to help me wake up, but this is not useful if I'm going to bed many hours after sunset.  As a result, I started using heavy curtains to help myself get a full night's sleep. 
- I don't have Restless Leg Syndrome.  Based on the movements, I thought I might have it, so I got a doctor to prescribe the two most commonly used RLS medications.  Both of them made my sleep worse. 
- Posture interventions didn't change my quality of sleep.  It appears that I need to spend some time sleeping on my left side, my right side, and my back.  If I choose one particular posture to fall asleep in, I will spend most of the tail end of that night in the other two postures.  If I force myself into a particular posture (eg by wearing a shirt and stuffing a pillow into the back), I fight it intensely.  I think this may have to do with circulation; no part of my body likes to be compressed for long periods of time.  I dislike extended sitting when I'm awake.
- Anti-apnea technologies don't help reduce the movements.  CPAP is loud, messy, and obnoxious, and actually made the movements worse.

----

Sleeping pills:

I also did an evaluation of just about every type of sleeping pill I could get my hands on, and rated how effective they were at getting me to sleep and how much of a "hangover" effect they have the next day.  I evaluated them via self reports, and sometimes with the videos, for how much they affected my sleep quality.  Your results may vary.  Here's what I found:

- Most over-the-counter sleeping pills (Tylenol PM, Nytol, Sominex, Benadryl) are bad.  They tend to be based on the antihistamine Diphenhydramine HCl.  While they are great at getting me to sleep, they worsen apnea (probably by relaxing the throat muscles too much) and they seem to make me stupider the next day.  I was excited when earlier this year, a study came out showing that my "it makes you stupider" observation isn't just anecdotal. 
- Alcohol (even a single drink) is a bad sleeping pill. 

- Valerian was okay (decent effectiveness but some hangover), as was Lunesta. 
- Melatonin was best for everyday use, and it's available over the counter.  Your body produces it naturally, and you're probably already deficient in it if you are around bright lights before you go to sleep.  I found 1mg was sufficient to do the trick.  At >= 3 mg, I started to have some hangover effect the next day and some habituation issues (making it harder to go to bed the next night without it).  However, at 1mg, I had very little hangover.  I now tend to take it if I haven't been able to fall asleep after 45min.
- Ambien is useful as a "nuclear option" when I'm taking a transatlantic flight or on a packed overnight bus.  It has some hangover, but it's shockingly effective.  It has the bonus effect of helping reset your circadian rhythm to a new time zone if you take it at the bedtime you desire for the new time zone.  Ambien has been known to have some substantial side effects, like sleepwalking, in certain people.   In addition, before putting you to sleep it provides you with a feeling not unlike drinking an entire six-pack of beer in one sitting.  I wouldn't be surprised if it eventually ended up as an illegal drug. 

----

Quantitative interventions

While the above research yielded a lot of gains, I was able to learn even more when I started using automatic sleep-tracking technologies like the Zeo.  Zeo uses an EEG headband to monitor your brainwaves.  It can determine if you're awake, dreaming, in light sleep, or in deep sleep, by looking at them.  From there, it comes up with derivative measures like sleep latency (how long it takes to fall asleep) and sleep efficiency.  It also has an adaptive alarm so that you can be woken up at the end of a sleep cycle instead of mid-dream.  It's accuracy isn't perfect, but it's fairly good.  (When I'm awake, it registers me as awake at least 90% of the time).  Because Zeo only takes data in 2-minute increments, it cannot notice short awakenings.  Hopefully, the next version will have an accelerometer or a bone conduction microphone to detect apnea, limb movements, and snoring.

In addition to the Zeo's data, I manually wrote down how happy, focused, and stressed I was each day, as well as a detailed 2-sentence description of what I did.  From there, I derived several more quantitative measurements, like whether I exercised, if I slept alone, if I had sex etc.  Then I dumped it all in a big spreadsheet and looked for correlations between measures of sleep quality and my activities.  Several useful correlations popped out.

Here's a subset of what I found after gathering four months of data:


One issue that has always bugged me is sleep latency -- the amount of time it takes me to get to sleep.  Here's what was correlated with lower sleep latency:

- Get exercise
(though don't do it too late in the day).  I had heavy exercise on 66% of the low latency nights vs 42% of the high latency nights.
- Going to bed earlier.  This is counterintuitive, as I'd expect myself to be more tired later in the night.   (Average 1:16am bedtime for low latency nights vs, 2:04am for high latency)  From personal experience, I know sleep latency gets much longer again if I go to bed before midnight.  There's basically an ideal window.
- Don’t have intense new social connections in the evening   I'm not about to make my life more boring to sleep better, but I can be more proactive about exercising or taking melatonin to help myself sleep.   (10% of low latency nights had intense new social connections, whereas 38% of high latency nights did.  The same applies to arguing at night.
- Don’t sleep alone  Having someone sleep next to me helped me get to sleep faster. 
(52% of low latency nights were with a partner, while 28% of high latency nights with partner)  Just make sure the bed is big enough!
- Have evening sex 
The effect was astonishing.  (22% of low latency nights had evening sex, vs 0% of high latency nights)  Even morning/afternoon sex has an impact (31% of low latency nights had morning/afternoon sex vs 22% of high latency nights)


Exercise:

Digging through the data more, I discovered other interesting things. 
Exercise turns out to be good for a lot of things:


- Earlier to sleep (1:37 vs 1:52)
- Increased total sleep (436 vs 400 min  (+36min))
- Reduced sleep latency (22 min vs 25 min (-3min))
- Increased REM sleep (153 vs 137 min (+16min))
- Happier, more engaged, less stress that day (6.9 vs 6.1, 6.5 vs 5.9, 3.3 vs 4.0 on 1-10 scale)
- Happiness/engagement/stress benefits even carry over to next day (6.6 vs 6.3, 6.4 vs 6.1, 3.5 vs 3.8)

This is one of the things that encouraged me to start getting daily exercise.

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Correlation vs causation:

As any good scientist knows, correlation does not imply causation.  In regular terms, if two things tend to happen together, it doesn't mean one directly causes the other.  There could be a third thing that causes both of them.  Thus, doing one may not cause the other.

For example, the correlation between having a sleeping partner and shorter sleep latency could be explained for many reasons.  When I have a sleeping partner, I'm more likely to have sex before bed, spend evenings out, cuddle before bed, and not work or browse the internet late at night.  Any of those could be the actual cause.  However, doing that kind of multivariate analysis requires a lot more data, as, for example, there are only a handful of nights where I had sex before bed but no sleeping partner.  I could run a controlled experiment, but at some point I have to stop being a scientist and live my life.  "No sex tonight honey, I need more data for the control group" is a great way to ruin a relationship. :-)  In the end it's good enough to know that being in a healthy relationship helps me sleep better, regardless of the mechanism.

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Application to other areas:

As I mentioned in the beginning. this technique of personal data mining does not just apply to sleep; it can be used against things like irritable bowel syndrome.  I tracked what I ate every day for a month, and noted if I had gas or diarrhea.  From there I could correlate the consumption of various foods with digestive issues.  By avoiding those foods, I've substantially reduced instances of IBS. 

---

Conclusions

Overall, by paying personal attention to numerous factors and making use of some self-tracking technologies, I was able to make lots of improvement to my quality of sleep.  While medical advice and technology was useful, the ultimate evaluation of the effectiveness of everything was up to me.  I had to be willing to self-track a variety of things, including things that had no known connection to sleep, and vary my life to include different behaviors.  Most of the interventions I tried didn't work, and what worked for me may not work for you.  

I think if these approaches are going to be adopted broadly, a few things need to happen:

- Patients' relationships with medical professionals need to change.  Patients need to become active partners in solving health conditions.  This means that interactions with medical professionals need to be longer and more frequent, perhaps with automatic sharing of health data between visits.  Given the cost of medical degrees and the way doctor visits are billed, it likely won't be doctors that would be doing this.  Insurance probably won't pay for it anyway. 
- Data collection needs to be super easy.  Techniques for automating data collection are great, and any manual data collection should be available via a wide variety of methods so that everyone has a method they find easy -- eg a phone app, text messaging, paper forms that can be scanned or photographed to extract the data, websites etc. 
- Wikis and social networks need to make the sharing of potential remedies easy.  Sites like CureTogether do a good job of giving people a space to share potential remedies.  Voting systems help ensure that suggested remedies aren't totally off base, and these potential remedies are really just meant as raw material for experimentation so it doesn't matter if many of them don't work.  With experimentation, you'll find the ones that work for you. 
mattbell: (Default)
I already self-track numerous metrics, such as weight, body fat %, cholesterol, sleep, stress, and happiness.  However, the Life Extension Conference helped me realize that there are far more things that I should track.  Here's why:

- You might discover that you are abnormally low or high in a particular metric, and this knowledge will allow you to quickly and cheaply take corrective action that will improve your quality of life or prevent you from developing a disease.
- Although it is useful to know how well you stand relative to the rest of the people your age and gender, knowing how you are doing relative to a past version of yourself is also very helpful as it can indicate some physiological change that has taken place.  For example, the PSA test, which tests for evidence of prostate cancer, is notoriously inaccurate, but it has been found that a significant increase in PSA over time is much more predictive.
- Frequently collecting data on a particular metric allows you to do self-experimentation to see what affects that particular metric.  The more frequent the testing, the more we are able to learn about ourselves.  The self-experimentation approach is especially good when trying to deal with diffuse conditions that have a range of possible causes, such as insomnia, allergies, anxiety, and depression.

So what is worth tracking?   Here's my first cut at things I might want to check periodically:

Physical performance:

Cardiovascular fitness:

- One of the biggest indicators of cardiovascular health is something called VO2Max, which is the maximum rate of uptake of oxygen by your lungs.  Actual VO2Max testing requires a doctor and lots of specialized equipment.  However, there is a way of indirectly testing VO2Max that's very simple, very accurate, and just about free.  It's called a beep test or shuttle run, depending on which side of the Atlantic you grew up on.  You basically run between two cones 20m apart at a particular rate, and the rate gradually increases until you can't make it in time.  

Agility/speed:

- I'm tempted to measure my performance on a particularly hard song on Dance Dance Revolution, but perhaps something simple, boring, and technology-free like the Hexagon Drill would be better, especially if I want to be able to do the same test in 20 years.

Strength & Power:

- Max # of pull ups.   (In high school I could do 1-3, now I can do 12-14. :-) )
- Max bench press for some # of repetitions.  
- Standing long jump
- Standing vertical jump

Flexibility:

- I could do the sit & reach...  (ah, memories of high school)
- This site also recommends a trunk rotation test and groin flexibility test

Physical health:

- Body composition (body fat %, water %, total weight).  My current scale has decent but probably somewhat inaccurate measurement of this.  
- Glucose levels fasting and after eating a high-carb meal.  This is easy to measure.
- Sleep quality (sleep latency, time in each sleep stage etc.  Technologies like Zeo and FitBit allow for some measure of this.  

I can also order specific tests for levels of various minerals, fats, and other components.  While these tests are somewhat expensive, I really can get by doing them every 1-5 years, with possibly more frequent tests around things I'm trying to change.  The way my health insurance works (high deductible, low monthly premiums) I would order these tests myself from sites like directlabs.com and lef.org (their testing and supplements business is way more respected than their monthly magazine).  

[LOTS OF RESEARCH CONDENSED INTO A GOOGLE DOC]

The above table, and the decisions of what to take, took a couple of hours of research.  Doing all the tests I want to do will take about $500, and I estimate that I'll spend a fraction of that each subsequent year.  I'm still not sure about the food antibody IgG vs IgE tests -- I have heard that some of them are highly inaccurate.  


Mental performance:

This is a tricky one.  There are so many possible things to measure, some of which are extremely difficult to quantify repeatably.  In addition, while I like the automatic data gathering of computer software, anything I use has to still be available in 20 years so that I have consistent methods of measurement.

I could use a brain training suite not to train my brain (only a subset of the tests appear to generalize to other situations) but to periodically test it.  The best brain software appears to be the web-hosted lumosity.com, but I'm worried that the tests may change over time (the site brags that they're making changes and improvements *all the time*).  In addition, the service costs around $80 a year, which is a lot if I only use it a couple of times a year to assess mental performance.  I started looking for desktop software and quickly realized that the low/mid end desktop software market died several years ago.  There's very little, and most of it is crap.  One alternative would be to get iphone/ipad software.  (I'm imagining myself 20 years from now, turning on some ancient hardware to run some games.)  However, getting access to the performance data will be an issue.  


In terms of specific things to test, it would be interesting to cover:
- Working memory
- VIsual attention and tracking
- Ability to focus with distractions
- Multitasking
- Visual/Spatial processing
- Audio processing
- Logic
- Mental flexibility (Boggle?)
- Face recognition (lots of these exist)
* Idea generation / creativity (Ability to plan and prioritize short and long term goals simultaneously)
* Organization
* Self-awareness of emotional states
* Emotional processing
* Recognition of social cues
* Reading comprehension
* Performance under stress
* Willpower 

The eight starred items do not appear to be easily testable in an automated way with the software I've found.  There are a couple of ways of measuring willpower, such as resisting a particular temptation or enduring a painful but harmless sensation.  

Any suggestions on brain testing technique (or any of the things I'm considering, for that matter) are highly appreciated.

Also, if you're interested in doing a testing/discussion group with me (these things are more fun with friends anyway), let me know.
mattbell: (Default)
For years I've been convinced that sleeping pills that have Diphenhydramine HCl as the active ingredient (this includes most over the counter sleeping pills: Tylenol PM, Nytol, Sominex, Benadryl etc) make you dumber.

This study was only done on older African-Americans who were regular users of such pills, but it did establish just such a connection.. 
http://www.physorg.com/news198238000.html

Apparently they're finding longer-lasting impairment, not just the next-day hangover effect I found. 

Take something else.  (eg Melatonin).  Or get some more exercise so you have less trouble falling and staying asleep.
mattbell: (Default)
My talk on Sleep Hacking from the May Quantified Self is now online. Thanks, Alexandra!

Matt Bell - Hacking the Sleep/Wake Cycle from Loren Risker on Vimeo.

mattbell: (Default)
I bought a Zeo Personal Sleep Coach in my continuing effort to improve my quality of sleep so that I have more energy during the day,  Getting even one additional productive hour out of each day is like getting an extra four years of life.  It's a huge difference.

Zeo uses an EEG headband to read your brainwave state and determine whether you are awake, dreaming, or in light or deep sleep.
The device is perfect for informavores and quantified self types -- in addition to a holistic sleep quality score, it produces a little graph showing your minute-by-minute sleep activity.  It encourages you to experiment with your daily activities to see how they affect your sleep.  Given that most people are not self-starters or sustainers of this kind of experimentation, they have created a coaching system that gives you experiments to try and helps you interpret the results. 

I've had a professional sleep study done.  These studies are incredibly sophisticated and measure a wide variety of things, but have some serious drawbacks.  First, you are so covered in sensors that it's really hard to sleep naturally.  Second, sleep studies are so expensive that you can only really do them for one or two nights.  This makes it very hard to see how various factors affect your sleep. 

In contrast, the Zeo is minimally invasive and leaves me full freedom of movement.  I can use it as often as I want, allowing me to test my sleep performance under different circumstances. 

The downside of the Zeo is that it measures far fewer things, and potentially at a lower quality, than a professional sleep study.   It only measures EEG, and only does so in 2-minute increments.  This means that short awakenings can be missed entirely.  Thus it does not catch apnea unless the apnea is severe enough to cause long awakenings. 

----

Here's what I've learned so far: 
(some background on sleep stages may be useful if you don't know them)

- My professional sleep study claimed I did not get any deep (stage 3/4) sleep.  However, the Zeo claims I get a good amount of deep sleep every night.  It's unclear whether this is because the sleep study was on a "bad night" or because the Zeo and the sleep study technicians score sleep differently.  Apparently I have high delta brainwave activity in general (even when awake), and it's possible that this is biasing the Zeo.  Or perhaps my sleep habits have changed in the four years since I did the sleep study.

- I apparently dream *a lot*.  Normal people get 90-120 minutes of REM (dreaming) sleep per night.  I get 160-180 minutes.  I'm inclined to believe the accuracy of Zeo on REM sleep as its brainwave signature is very distinctive.   My sleep study only showed about 60 minutes of REM.  Again, it might have been a change in sleep habits over time, or interference due to the sleep study environment. 

- As I've long suspected, having intense, emotionally difficult conversations or arguments late at night dramatically negatively impacts my sleep.  I only have one data point on this, and I think I'll stop short of encouraging people to call me late at night with stressful things to discuss in order to get more data.  :-)  On this night I dreamed a lot less and took much longer to get to sleep. 

- I tend to not have regular sleep periods.  Most of my dreaming occurs in a huge block up to two hours long around 5-7am.  I have no idea what this means.

- Zeo claims I wake up 0-1 times per night.  My sleep study showed 20 awakenings, most of which were under a minute.  Zeo is probably not time-sensitive enough to measure these short awakenings.  I feel I wake up more than once per night -- in fact, I'm making a point of looking at the Zeo when I wake up so that I can see how accurate it is.  This has the unfortunate side effect of producing dreams in which I look at the Zeo and try to remember the time.  I know this is happening because the time on the clock I remember from the dream was later than when I woke up for real. 

----

Some experiments I'd like to run:

- See how periods of intense learning affect my sleep.  There are different types of learning of course -- going to a party and meeting lots of new people is very different from spending a day learning to snowboard. 

- See what kind of correlation I get between exercise and sleep.  I'd vary the amount, time, and type of exercise to see its effects. 

- See how consistent vs inconsistent bedtimes affect sleep quality.  I know that consistent bedtimes are better than inconsistent ones, but it's a question of how much better.  I often sacrifice sleep in the name of fun, and I want to know how much it's costing me, quantitatively speaking. 

- See if taking allergy meds at night would improve sleep quality.

---

Some ways I'd love to see Zeo improved:

- Add a microphone to measure snoring and environmental noise.  Snoring tends to have a distinctive enough rhythm that it should be easy to distinguish it from most other types of background noise.  This is the sort of thing that Fourier transforms were born to do. :-)  Since snoring is indicative of sleep hypopneas or apneas, it's worth measuring.  Some apneas are silent though.  The microphone could even be on the headband so that it could use bone conduction techniques (like wireless headsets do) in order to isolate noises you make from other noises in the environment.  Alternately, an accelerometer could be used to pick up on the physical vibrations of your head as you snore. 

- Add a Bluetooth accessory that acts as a lucid dreaming tool.  The tool could determine when you're in REM sleep and start giving you audio and visual hints to begin lucid dreaming.  The system could even adjust its strength by turning its volume / brightness down if you start waking up. 

- Add a photosensor that tracks light levels in the room so that its effect on sleep can be automatically measured. 

- Use the EEG headband to monitor concentration and focus levels while awake via alpha and beta brainwave levels.  Of course, only people without a shred of self-consciousness would wear it outside their home, but I imagine there are a lot of interesting things that could be measured at home in the evening.  For example, my concentration and focus could be monitored during the last hour or two before bed.  The device could recommend the optimal time to go to sleep.  Earlier in the day, the Zeo could be used as a neurofeedback tool in order to train me to maximize concentration and focus. 

- Do whatever it takes to get the measurement sampling period down to a few seconds while preserving accuracy.  This would let the device pick up on the frequent short awakenings (microarousals) that chop up sleep and are often correlated with apneas.  I think it's somewhat disingenuous to claim, as the Zeo blog did, that this would "overwhelm users with data". 

- Open up the system to 3rd party developers so that new peripherals can be created (like the ones mentioned above) and the sleep data can be integrated into other programs that are focused on exercise, weight loss etc. 
mattbell: (Default)
I'm often slow to wake up in the morning -- I usually spend half an hour or so in a grumpy, groggy, and not-so-intelligent state.  I also find myself in traps of laziness when I'm tired.  This occurs for example when I'm feeling too tired to do the things I need to do to get to bed (eg brush my teeth) so I end up sitting on the couch relaxing and not going to bed.

I recently downloaded an iphone game called Flight Control.  It's a clever little air traffic control game that involves fast reflexes and very high-speed multitasking.  The hardest level (the aircraft carrier) typically lasts no longer than a minute, as it rapidly overwhelms you with an enormous number of planes that you have to prevent from crashing.

I find that playing 3-5 rounds of the game wakes me up extremely rapidly.  Since my phone is right next to the bed, it takes almost no effort to grab the phone and start playing.  I've used this technique for a couple of weeks now.  I think the game works because it's very short (a couple of minutes at most), very intense, and very accessible as it's always in my pocket.

Last night I tried the same technique to motivate myself to get ready for bed.  It gave me the "activation energy" (to borrow a chemistry term) I needed to get up off the bed and go brush my teeth. 

I'm curious to play the game while hooked up to an EEG.  I'd imagine that the device increases my beta waves during and after playing it.
mattbell: (Default)
Some material from my Quantified Self presentation on sleep self-experimentation is on Wired's blog today.


-----

Some Q&A:

> Why are you doing these sleep experiments?

I'm hoping to improve my amount of wakeful, pleasurable, and productive time during the day by improving my sleep. I've been specifically trying to shorten sleep latency and decrease awakenings during the night.

> You've done some experiments with drugs. What works best? What sucks?

I tested sleeping pills for two things -- effectiveness at getting me to fall and stay asleep, and the amount of "hangover" I experienced during the next day. I found two types of sleeping pills that worked best for me. Melatonin was best for typical situations, as it was moderately effective and had almost no hangover effect. Ambien was best for extreme situations (eg a noisy bus) as it was highly effective and had only moderate hangover effect. Ambien also had the nice side effect of resetting my circadian rhythms, so it's great for adjusting to new time zones when traveling internationally. Diphenhydramine HCl (the active ingredient in most over-the-counter sleeping pills) was the worst as it was moderately effective but produced a very strong hangover effect. I noticed that it also tends to lower my sleep quality by dramatically increasing the amount of snoring and number of apnea events.

Of course, effectiveness and side effects vary from person to person. I am not a doctor. Consult your doctor before [disclaimer] etc.

> What advice do you offer to friends who want to improve their sleep?

Different people have very different sleep issues. Some people have difficulty going to sleep. Others have difficulty staying asleep. Still others have a lot of awakenings during the night.

As a result, I'd recommend tracking the aspects of sleep you have trouble with and experimenting with various factors to see how they affect your sleep quality.

Some factors I'd recommend experimenting with include:
- If you share a bed, try a queen (or better yet, a king) bed and get one quilt per person so that your partner's sleep movements are less likely to disturb you.
- Get some aerobic exercise every day.
- Don't do stressful things (work, arguments etc) late at night.
- Lower the lights during the last couple of hours that you're awake.
- Play with your diet. Don't eat large amounts of protein (or large amounts of food in general) late at night.
- Try a range of sleeping pills to find one that works well for you on nights where you can't fall asleep naturally.
- Use curtains and timed lights to control the morning onset of light in the bedroom.
- Sleep with earplugs.
- Change sleep posture (side vs back vs face down)

It is of course worth talking to sleep specialists as well. The Stanford Sleep Clinic is one of the best in the country.

> After your experiments, what were you surprised about?

The biggest thing that surprised me was seeing how much I moved around while sleeping. It was fascinating to glimpse the workings of this hidden unconscious world that occupies close to a third of our lives.


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mattbell

February 2011

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