Category Archives: Sleep

Sleep hacking

Since I’m living a very unscheduled life these days, it’s an ideal time for me to experiment with my sleeping habits. I haven’t yet found a sleeping schedule that’s a stable equilibirium: either I build up a sleep debt until it becomes unsustainable, or I get enough sleep that I’m too energetic in the evenings to fall asleep again at a regular hour. In the latter case, I’ll either not get enough sleep the next night, or I’ll sleep even later the next morning, and my schedule starts to creep forward by 30–60 minutes each day. (In my current situation this makes the 28-hour day schedule, explained in this xkcd strip, somewhat appealing. The downside is that I like to be up during the day, as sunlight tends to improve my mood, and if I sleep through the day and then am awake through the night I generally feel a little depressed.)
Lifehacker occasionally posts links to sleeping tips, and the latest, from the Four Hour Work Week blog, contains several I’ve never seen before and might try. One that was familiar was the point about 90-minute ultradian cycles; this is something I’ve paid some attention to for the past few months, trying to allocate my sleeping time in multiples of 90 minutes, plus an hour for sleep latency. However, my sleep latency is actually highly variable, and this plus the accumulated phase error (since the cycles aren’t exactly 90 minutes) leads me to be awakened at any point in the cycle anyway. I think the key here is that if I set my alarm for 8 am, but then happen to wake up naturally at (say) 7:15, I should just get up even if I’m still sleepy. But this has proved difficult.
A cold environment is definitely important for me to fall asleep, and when I do get insomnia it comes with a sense of being too hot (it’s not obvious if one causes the other). The ice baths mentioned in the linked post, however, sound both painful and a lot of work. Since it’s winter, and my heating system is on a timer for energy conservation purposes, I can experiment with the room temperature instead: allowing the bedroom to cool before I go to bed, and warm up in the morning to help wake me up.
That post also recommends reading fiction (and avoiding non-fiction) before bed. I frequently do this, but it can have the opposite effect: if I get to within about 150 pages of the end, and it’s a halfway decent book, I’ll frequently be compelled to read on through, thereby massively overshooting my target bedtime. And then I’ll lay awake thinking about how it ended, especially if there was a big reveal or twist.
Post your favorite sleep hacks in the comments…

Not funny, Randall

Yeah, I’ve been there a few times. In the past my insomnia has usually been driven by anxiety, but my most recent bout (a couple months ago) seemed to be a shift in my circadian rhythm. I was able to resync my internal clock by strictly adhering to my target wake-up time no matter how little sleep I got, but only after several days of total exhaustion.
Since then I’ve found it easier to make adjustments to my sleeping patterns. I’ve had a few lazy weeks (ah, flexible academic work hours) but this week I’ve gone to a schedule where I actually get up strikingly early (by my standards) and (gasp!) eat breakfast, in order to have a substantial block of time in the morning reserved for writing my thesis. Those of you tracking the Project 365 photos will have noticed that this officially started on Wednesday, we’ll see how it goes…

Another way to wake up naturally

Lifehacker has yet another post with an elaborate way to get out of bed in the morning. When I moved in to my current apartment, this was a problem for me: my previous location got a lot of sunlight in the morning, but now I live in something more like a hobbit-hole. Waking up warm, comfortable, and in near-total darkness made it very tempting to just go back to sleep.
However, I have since discovered a reliable way to wake up naturally at about 7:30 every morning. The secret is to have an upstairs neighbor who owns a treadmill, and adheres to a strict workout regimen. The noise isn’t loud enough to wake me from deep sleep, but when I reach the end of my sleep cycle I reliably regain consciousness. Unfortunately, I rarely have any intention of waking up that early, which is why I keep earplugs by my bed.
It has occurred to me that instead of just going back to sleep, perhaps I should take this as a cue to go running myself. In the summer I prefer to go running in the evenings, but maybe after daylight savings time I’ll synchronize my workout schedule with my conscientious neighbor. (The real question is, how does he(?) get himself out of bed every morning? Especially to run on a treadmill, which is one of the most boring workouts in existence.)

Dream: Room 17

I feel like blogging my dreams is sort of frivolous, but it’s also an interesting exercise in a kind of writing I don’t usually do. So: I had two interesting dreams last night. I remember waking up from the first one thinking it was interesting and significant, but I went back to sleep and forgot the actual dream.
The second dream began with a friend showing me a hidden entrance to a nondescript Berkeley building. I went inside and found that the interior of the building was a setting for an elaborate puzzle game. Each room of the building contained a puzzle based around some eclectic collection of objects; there were 20 such rooms/puzzles and I was given a limited time to complete them all. There was a sheet of paper on which I kept track of which ones I’d completed. (Maybe including the answers to the puzzles, which would solve some overall puzzle when the whole thing was done? My memory of what was on the paper in the dream is hazy.)
Anyway, I’m pretty sure I dreamed multiple rooms of this, and fast-forwarded through most of them, but at some point I arrived at room #17 (having finished the first sixteen) with some extra time on the clock. Room 17 contained a stereo cassette player and a stack of 20 cassette tape cases, none of which contained cassettes. The covers were all for classical music; I specifically remember Beethoven and Schubert among the composers, and no composer appeared twice.
The actual cassettes were in a box nearby, but the labels had been removed and replaced with small handwritten numbers from 1 to 20. The puzzle, obviously, was to match the tapes to their proper case by listening to them. So I started going through them one by one, trying to identify composer or at least time period by the musical style, and looking for pieces that I recognized.
This was a slow process, and I became aware that time was slipping away. I was debating whether to skip ahead to Room 18, in the hopes of finishing the later puzzles and coming back for this one, when I woke up.
So it was sort of anti-climactic, but I thought it was interesting that my dream came up with at least one realistic and difficult but possibly doable puzzle. And I was quickly able to think of a very specific interpretation for this dream, but there is probably some bias on my part towards reading things this way. So other interpretations are welcome.

Hypnopompia and other disturbances

So: sleep paralysis. A condition in which, upon waking, a person is aware of the surroundings but is unable to move. Anyone here experienced this?
I ask because I had an experience like this last night that has a lot of the characteristics of sleep paralysis. I (apparently) woke up, lying on my side, and realized that I couldn’t move. I remember the sense of trying to move and being locked in place was very vivid and not dreamlike. I thought to myself, “Oh, this must be sleep paralysis.” Then I remembered that sleep-paralyzed people usually feel another presence in the room, often a malevolent one, and I should expect this. At that point my experience got much more dreamlike. I had an awareness of my surroundings, but it wasn’t my actual surroundings—instead I dreamed I was in a hotel room, and there was a dresser with a TV across from the bed. So I’m expecting a malevolent presence to show up, and, well, remember in Ghostbusters when Gozer is going to take the first form they think of? Yeah. Upon dreaming of the TV, I immediately think of Samara from The Ring, and right away I get the sense that Samara is indeed in the room with me (although I can’t see her) and I get absolutely terrified—a wave of total mind-numbing fear that also wasn’t very dreamlike. At some point thereafter all this dissipated and I realized that I wasn’t in a hotel room, but in my own bedroom, and I could move again.
Going down the list in the Wikipedia entry it seems likely that this really was sleep paralysis. Apparently the dream can continue through the experience. Also, the mechanism where the dream generates explanations for what’s happening, i.e. Samara and the TV, is similar to my experiences with hypnic jerks: when my leg undergoes a hypnic jerk, I almost always have a very short dream in which I am tripping over something or slipping on ice, in a way that explains the motion. (Annoyingly, the motion itself wakes me up.)
Something else that occurred to me while thinking about this is that, while I haven’t experienced the paralysis before, it’s not uncommon for me to get the fear and sense of presence without the paralysis: specifically I will wake up already out of bed and standing up, and filled with a sense of absolutely imminent doom, that I need to escape right now. It usually takes a few minutes before I realize that nothing’s wrong, except that I’m standing in the middle of the bedroom at 4:30 in the morning with my heart running at 120 beats per minute. This seems to happen maybe once every few months (that I remember). (This happened the night before I left Caltech for Berkeley, and I actually jumped out of the loft, waking up approximately when I hit the ground. I’m amazed I didn’t break anything.) I always figured I was waking up from some nightmare (that I never seem to recall) but now I wonder if it’s related to sleep paralysis.