Sleep Hacking on the Rocks

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Since my first night with Zeo, I've learned a few things. My first week of data was confusingly all over the place, until I realized that I probably had the headband too loose. I ended up discarding that data and starting over again, so I've only got two weeks worth of information so far. Still, it's enough to infer a few things.

First up, I'm learning a bit about the device itself. I think as an overall trend, it provides reliable information; however, it does seem to make the occasional mistake. A couple of times I've put on the headband and it's shown me in deep sleep within five minutes, which is unlikely unless I secretly have undiagnosed narcolepsy. Similarly, I'll sometimes wake up in the morning and it will show me in deep sleep for a period of time that I thought I was awake. These weird readings were intermittent, and it took me a while to figure out what was causing them.

Alcohol is supposed to reduce your amount of REM and deep sleep. However, Zeo's cause and effect graph shows me something apparently atypical:

That's right... apparently alcohol drastically increases my amount of deep sleep. My first thought was perhaps I just sleep longer after drinking, but another graph dispels that notion:

So, despite getting roughly the same amount of sleep with and without alcohol, I'm apparently spending a much higher percentage of time in deep sleep. Zeo's support centre says that deep sleep is "important for growth, restoring muscle and building immunity". Does this mean that I'd have stronger muscles and a better immune system if I got tanked every night? Somehow, this doesn't seem quite right. I'm more inclined to think that Zeo misinterprets my "drunk" brainwaves as "deep sleep", especially given the times I've been awake (and tipsy) and it's told me that I'm in deep sleep.

Does this mean that Zeo is completely inaccurate and useless for tracking trends associated with alcohol consumption? Not quite. The other portion of restorative sleep, the one stage that everyone's heard about, is REM. REM is when the crazy dreams happen, and it's also apparently responsible for organizing memory to better apply what you learn. Essentially, REM sleep is for mental improvement, and deep sleep is for physical. Now, let's look at what happens to my REM sleep when I drink:

Quite the opposite! I suppose it is possible that Zeo is misrecording REM sleep as deep when alcohol is involved, but I'd prefer to see it as a true negative impact. Certainly, my brain doesn't feel quite as limber and organized the next day after I've had a few, so perhaps there's something to these results. Then again, I can't say my muscles and immune system feel particularly improved either.

One thing I think I can accurately take from these results is that having 1-2 drinks has no statistically significant impact on my sleep quality. This is rather interesting, and something I will continue to pay attention to. It's possible that the results may level out over time, as there are far more nights of 1-2 drinks than there are 5+ (which, I believe, is a good thing!).

As an aside, I'm a dreaming machine. Without alcohol (or with only 1-2 drinks), I'm averaging 150 minutes, or about 38 minutes above average for 17-29 year old women. This makes sense to me, as I can't think of a night in the recent past that I haven't had memorable dreams. On the flip side, my deep sleep is a little bit below average for my age group, but not by much. In fact, for all my complaints about not sleeping well, I'm actually pretty average, since my schedule allows me to stay up as late as I need and then sleep in a fair bit. If I had to regularly get up early, I'm guessing my scores would drop significantly. One day, I will put that to the test, but not until I absolutely have to.

Sadly, I won't be able to collect the next 3 weeks of data... I'll be in Europe! Conferences are the best thing about grad student life. Or is it the flexible schedule?


  1. Very cool...

    some time.. when you are going away.. I would love to borrow the thing and give it a test drive..

    I would not test the drink vs sleep however.

    There are mountains of information that support that having one drink a day is very good for you (not me however)

    Have fun in Europe....

  2. Perhaps the physical damage caused by the alcohol necessitates additional deep sleep in order for your body to repair this damage. It wouldn't be too surprising if drunk brain waves somehow resemble deep sleep brain waves though. I wonder, then, if being drunk also tricks your body into thinking it's in deep sleep, in addition to tricking the Zeo? ;)

    Have you analyzed the time-dependent graphs for these cases? It would be interesting to see whether the graphs typically deviate from your uninebriated patterns near the beginning or the end of your sleep - the WebMD article suggests that alcohol's negative effects on sleep tend to manifest in the latter half of your sleep session. Thus, if you weren't getting much deep sleep in the latter half of your normal sleep anyway, then the disruptive effects of alcohol may not be detrimental to the amount of deep sleep you get.

    Food for thought ;)

  3. Maybe the alcohol is sedating your dreaming mind and allowing you to catch up on deep sleep? Just a quick thought. Thanks for posting!

  4. Great post! I'm an "excessive dreamer" too. Have you noticed a correlation in deep or REM sleep and how subjectively alert you feel the next day? For me, it feels like after dreaming a lot, I wake up tired... How do you feel in the morning after drinking (i.e., getting a lot of deep sleep) vs a normal night?

    I haven't looked at the effect of alcohol on my cycles but am curious. Next up, I'm looking at blublockers on deep sleep, then melatonin.

    Thanks for answering my curiosities. Enjoy Europe!

  5. Thanks for all the comments!

    Mark: Sorry, Ryan is getting it while I'm in Europe... next time though!
    Richard: Deep sleep does tend to happen in the first part of the evening, though I've noticed that with alcohol it's a lot more spread out through the night. This is part of what leads me to think that perhaps it's a false reading.

    Videomaker: I wonder if that is possible! If so, the implication is that I should consume more alcohol for more deep sleep... but it sure doesn't feel like that's what my body wants.

    posts: I agree with you, I feel more tired on the super-dreamful nights as well. It's possible that this is because I'm more likely to wake up during REM, but it's something to pay attention. Are you posting your experiments with blublockers/melatonin anywhere? I'd love to read about it.