Aug
28

Philips Hue review: programmable lighting for sleep and alertness

Philips Hue Programmable Lighting for sleep and alertness.

Just 3 days ago I became aware that there’s a new kind of lightbulb on the market. For 200$, I got 3 programmable bulbs, and have already updated one of my apps to use this technology. Check out this article to find out why I think Philips Hue is the way of the future, and how having such bulbs can benefit your sleep.

Not all lighting is created equal.

philips hue lightbulb compared to standard

Philips Hue remote controlled bulb (top) compared to standard 60w frosted incandescent bulb (bottom)

Hundreds of millions of people in the developed world have trouble sleeping every day for the majority of their lives. Why? At least in part because our bodies still control our sleep using primordial mechanisms that are based on light. You see, at night, there are no natural sources of bright blue light, and this is why human eyes contain a special photopigment, called Melanopsin. When blue light (420-480 nanometer wavelength) hits our retina, cells in our eyes that contain Melanopsin get excited. These cells signal our brain that it is daytime, time to hunt, gather and evade predators. The brain suppresses production of sleep related hormone Melatonin, reducing our drive for sleep.  This mechanism has helped humans adjust and sleep soundly amongst changing seasons and different daylight duration over the course of the year.

But life in the modern western society is full of light at all times of the day or night. For generations, our lightbulbs sucked- their chief advantages were being cheap and/or energy efficient. Just a year ago, in 2012, the American Medical Association recognized and started to promote awareness that light at night is harmful to your sleep and health:

Recognizes that exposure to excessive light at night, including extended use of various electronic media, can disrupt sleep or exacerbate sleep disorders, especially in children and adolescents. This effect can be minimized by using dim red lighting in the nighttime bedroom environment.

What does sleep disruption feel like? Let me refresh your memory:

  • Decreased drive to sleep – after light exposure at night, you may not feel sleepy and go to sleep hours later than usual
  • Poor quality of sleep – it’s harder to fall asleep and stay asleep
  • Various transient symptoms, like Type2 diabetes or anxiety may manifest themselves following circadian rhythm disruptions

By reducing your exposure to blue light in the 420-480 nanometer range you can improve your sleep – feel sleepy earlier in the evening, fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

What Philips Hue programmable lighting can do for your sleep.

Philips Hue is a new kind of a adjustable LED lightbulb – it’s color (hue), and brightness can be controlled remotely, using an iPhone. The bulb has similar dimensions to standard lightbulbs, fits in the same socket, and draws only 8.5 watt of current. The lamp boasts up to 15000 hours lifetime.

Most importantly, the bulb can be adjusted to reduce blue light late in the evening and increase it during the day, helping you sleep and concentrate better.

  • Less blue at night for better sleep
  • More blue during the day for concentration
  • Dim and turn off lights on a timer
  • Create a schedule to maintain your bedtime routine

While Melanopsin in the human eye most strongly responds to blue light, bright light of other frequencies can have strong effect on sleep as well, therefore the recommendation is to use dim red or orange light in your bedroom. While orange takes some getting used to, it is a lot easier to operate in an orange-lit room than in a red one.


 

A new App ecosystem.

The Philips Hue app lets you contol the color and brightness of your lights remotely.

The Philips Hue app lets you contol the color and brightness of your lights remotely.

As an iPhone developer, I’m delighted to find out that the app comes with a very comprehensive API and a demo project created for iPhone. While the stock Hue app has mixed reviews on the app store, the API seems really powerful and was easy to work with. Within 3 hours, I had my Blue Light Therapy app adapted to use the Hue bulbs – bulbs not only shine blue light, but also change color in response to user tapping the screen. At 600 Lumens, 3 bulbs is more than enough to compete with many portable lightboxes. If you are interested, check out the app on the app store.

The ease of use of the API makes me believe that we are about to experience a host of apps that use the technology – from artificial sunsets, to smarter alarm clocks, to apps intended to increase your concentration.

 

How does one measure blue light spectrum

Household lights spectrum check. Right side of each image is filtered using BluBlocker glasses

Household lights spectrum check. Right side of each image is filtered using BluBlocker glasses

Human eye is bad at detecting the colors that light is made of – while we can say that some light is “cooler” or “warmer”, it is far from being able to say what is the intensity of individual wavelengths, or if they are present or absent. However, a digital camera, like that of an iPhone can easily see spectrum, if a transparent piece of DVD is fitted above it. Here’s a comparison of the “old and cheap” lights that are available on the market:

  • Halogen bulbs have a lot of blue and cyan
  • Incandescent bulbs have full spectrum, from blue to red, with more red than blue
  • Compact fluorescent have distinct bands of color, with quite a lot blue

Now I was able to test the Philips Hue bulb set to different color light:

White light, as expected produced all wavelengths – the halos in the image below indicate what light wavelengths are present in the bulb’s output. True blue-cyan on the left is light in the 420-480 nanometer range. The moral of the story is: white light from Hue is just as harmful to your sleep, as any other bulb on the market

White light from Philips Hue contains all colors, from Blue to cyan to green to yellow to red

White light from Philips Hue contains all colors, from Blue to cyan to green to yellow to red

 

 

Next, I attempted to shift the color to magenta to see what LEDs are used to produce the effect. As expected, elimination of Green and yellow produces a distinctly colored light, which while looks spectacular is still not the best for sleep.

Magenta/Purple still contains a large amount of blue light

Magenta/Purple still contains a large amount of blue light

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, I turned the dial all the way to Red/Orange and as expected, the blue light disappeared from the camera’s output. There was a little bit of purple, which excites the eyes far less than blue.

Orange light is least harmful light you can see before bed.

Orange light from Philips hue has least amount of blue

Orange light from Philips hue has least amount of blue

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May
03

Playing with EEG Display for Neurosky Mindwave Mobile

EEG Display For Neurosky Mindwave Mobile

In the spring of 2013 I have built a fairly simple app that does ElectroEncephaloGram (EEG) analysis: EEG Display for NeuroSky MindWave Mobile. It is an iPhone/iPad app that plots EEG data in real time from my Neurosky headband. I’ve long known about brainwave bands, and being able to take a look at mine with a 130$ headband seemed too good to pass up.

The defining feature of Neurosky is its ability to output raw EEG data at about 512 Hz. A stream of raw numbers can be continuously sent to an app via Bluetooth. The first order of business was plotting this data and making sure that the graph is fast enough to actually display data without delay. With some iOS magic I was able to get graphs both on iPhone and iPad to show up without delay.

EEG Display For Neurosky MindWave Mobile Proper Operation

This is the correctly setup headband outputting raw data. Top graph shows last second of data. Bottom graph shows 90 seconds of data

So far I had over 20 people try it, and the results have been very encouraging. I don’t know if the app is novel or cool, but people seem to like it. In fact, so many people have tried the headband over the course of the last couple months that I started to sanitize the headband between users.

The special “Brain Activity Index” algorithm, originally developed for sleep studies is very responsive to changes in the raw EEG signal and helps people understand that something is happening. The EEG signal comes in very fast – at 500 data points per second, and while you can visually see that the waveform has changed, it’s off the screen in half a second, and it’s hard to quantify what it was.

With the Brain Activity Index algorithm, the app has a cyan “Scored” line at the bottom of the graph. The line goes up and down, and stays up long enough to see changes in brain/facial muscles activity. This makes it very easy to see that something is going on in the brain.

Here’s documentation for the EEG Display app

EEG Display for Neurosky MindWave Mobile in action

Current discoveries

In the couple months that I’ve been experimenting with the app, people have pointed out a number of interesting phenomena:

  • Conversation changes the brainwave  pattern (listening or talking) (Phil’s hypothesis)
  • Looking at the screen with a head turned produces elevated pattern due to muscular activity
  • Blinking and swallowing produces clearly visible artifacts
  • Genuine smiling produces different waveform than “fake” smiling.
  • Chewing on grape skin produces a unique waveform, different from regular chewing
This is the headband

This is the headband

 

What are next steps?

The new update is coming out soon, and it will make the iPad version better – larger graphs with more history, so waveforms that clip the top of the graph on iPhone would be clearly visible.

Another update that might happen within the next few weeks is adding an iPad in server mode. It works like this :

  • a headband is connected to an iPhone through Bluetooth
  • multiple iPhones/iPads can be connected to an iPad via wifi
  • iPad displays brain activity index for connected devices side by side.

This “multi-user” mode of operation offers possibility of new kinds of brainwave games, or could be used for research purposes.

 

 

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Feb
21

Neurosky MindWave mobile headset review – how it may help with lucid dreaming

 

The headset is a AAA battery powered, connected by bluetooth and has a single metallic sensor

I’ve recently bought NeuroSky Mindwave Mobile headset to take a look at the commercial-grade EEG recorder. One of the biggest selling points of this headset is ease of use and ability to get raw EEG output at ~200Hz. My experiments have uncovered that there is potential to use this device or its modification for lucid-dream related tasks.

The NeuroSky Mindwave Mobile device

NeuroSky Mindwave Mobile is a black plastic headband with a single metal pad that touches the user’s forehead. A metal clip is attached to the ear to provide ground reference. The device looks like headphones, but fits a bit too snugly around my head. I was unable to find a comfortable fit – after a few minutes of use, my head feels “constricted” for a lack of a better word.

The device is powered by a AA battery and connects to a Mac, Android or an iOS device via Bluetooth. Setup was easy on both Mac and my iPhone. Windows users would likely require an extenral bluetooth dongle and have to go through the bluetooth stack installation.

Raw output – EEG, EMG, EOG, EKG what?

The NeuroSky Mindwave Mobile headband may be configured to provide you with a raw EEG data in arbitrary units. From what I calculated, it does so at a rate of about 200 points per second, which is good enough for a high-resolution graph.

EEG stands for ElectroEncephaloGram, a readout of electrical activity from the surface

Raw EEG output. Top image is zoomed in, bottom one is zoomed out

layers of the brain. There are other ExG out there:

  • EMG –  ElectroMyoGraphy – reads electrical activity of the muscles (in particular jaw muscles)
  • EOG - electro-oculogram – records movements of the eyes
  • ECG – ElectroCardioGram – the electrical readout from the heart

As I was looking at the raw output of NeuroSky Mindwave Mobile, I noticed that there’s quite a lot of high-amplitude noise on the signal. It is the sum of EEG and the components described above. The single sensor signal picks up everything – brainwaves, muscle movements, maybe even heart rate data. As such, it’s very hard to clean up the signal and get something useful.  For example, rolling my eyes or blinking produces a sharp ~1 second peak on the raw output graph. Moving my mouth produces additional artifacts. Holding two pads in separate hands lets me clearly see the heart

Brainwave frequency bands.

Having observed how the device’s raw output responds to motion and the kind of artifacts

2 sessions of brainwave band data, I saw a lot of randomness there

there is, I proceeded to examine the various brainwave frequencies that the headband outputs. Most likely the headband takes 5 seconds of motion data and does Fast Fourier Transform and just quantifies the coefficients of the transform into brainwave bands. They are from Delta to “High Gamma”, or about 3-50 Hz. From what I’ve seen, the output of these jumps quite unpredictably from one reading to the next, even with perfect connection to the head. Doing stuff like looking around (potentially looking at the device displaying the brainwaves) produces high-amplitude output spike, which screws the results of the brainwave analysis. For example, the Delta (slow wave sleep) reading is constantly high and is made even higher by motion.

The device produces two proprietary metrics (attention, or “mostly beta” waves) and meditation(“mostly alpha” waves), which I found to mildly respond to my actions. Meditation metric consistently stays high, and the app provided by neurosky labeled me a “Zen Master” within 15 seconds of starting the app. I must be that good…Or the meditation metric does not really work.

I had more success with the Attention metric, which appears to rise more in response to thoughts. As I was scanning the app I made to display the data and thinking of logic, the attention parameter did increase significantly.

Applications for Lucid Dream induction

NeuroSky Mindwave Mobile headband is not very accurate as an EEG device, and the brainwave frequency bands shift too randomly to be really useful for detecting states like REM or slow wave sleep. But one thing that I noticed about this device brings me hope – it is extremely responsive to eye movements. Rolling one’s eyes. Blinking, looking around. All of these are clearly visible as high amplitude peaks on the raw eeg output.

Being able to see one’s eye movements on the EEG output has these potential applications:

A typical problem of lucid dreaming experiments is lack of communication between the subject and the experimenter. The subject has no ability to influence the real world from within a dream. While it is too early to promise anything, it might be possible for a computerized algorithm using a consumer-grade device like NeuroSky to look for a series of blinks or eye movements executed by a dreamer and perform actions in the real world. For example, Michael Paul Coder, another lucid dreaming researcher already has a series of experiments using Neurosky’s headbands. His lucid scribe software has a potential to execute a mouse click on a computer in response to pre-determined eye movements. This can potentially play music while you sleep to truly see how brain perceives audio from within a lucid dream.

The potential of this technology is very exciting!

 

 

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Dec
08

Blue light, circadian rhythms and your sleep

Having trouble sleeping?

The cause may be staring at you right now! Your monitor, iPhone, tablet PC or TV may be the cause. Read this article to find out why.

 

The problem of biological time

Our bodies are very sophisticated organisms, that need to coordinate and organize biological activities:

  • Feeding
  • Hormonal cycles
  • Cell division
  • DNA repair

Many of these activities are accomplished within  a 24 hour cycle, referred to as circadian rhythm. All life on earth, from the lowest bacteria to humans exhibit some form of this rhythm. Our bodies have to have a way to keep this cycle aligned with daylight for optimal health.

Why is circadian rhythm important?

Different organ systems must coordinate and work together to sustain life. This is done by various biological clocks within your body. There is one master clock – the suprachiasmic nucleus, and other clocks. The clocks in the body are there to tell what biological time it is. For example, it may be time to feed, and you may feel your stomach growling. Or it may be time to sleep, and you will feel sleepy.

If clocks are out of alignment, the body “falls apart”:

  • Hormones, like cortisol secretion are improperly timed
  • Genes are activated at wrong times.
  • DNA damage occurs due to repair in daylight

A host of conditions, diseases and symptoms that come and go, appears.  These are caused by disturbances in circadian rhythm and the overall chronobiology of the body. If your internal clocks are poorly aligned,  your health is poor. But if they are working together, the body has a chance to repair itself.

If you still don’t believe me, think of a 4 cylinder drive car that runs on only 3 cylinders. One of them is misfiring. The car’s engine shakes, roars, and does not output quite as much power as it should. While it may be possible to drive a car around a corner to a mechanic, you won’t take such car on a highway, and prolonged operation at 3/4 cylinders would result in permanent damage. The body is a much more sophisticated machine.

How is circadian rhythm regulated?

Cold-blooded creatures rely on temperature to determine what time of day it is – when it’s warm, lizards become active, but humans maintain consistent body temperature and cannot rely on external temperature cues to know what time it is. This is why humans, as most other warm blooded mammals rely on sunlight to keep their biological clocks properly synchronized.

Melanopsin, a specialized pigment within human eyes responds to blue light and sends signal to the master clock within the human body that it is day. In particular, Melanopsin responds most strongly to 420 nanometer true blue light, like the color of this sentence. Additional wavelengths, up to 480 nanometers also affect it.  When melanopsin detects blue light, it sends a signal to Suprachiasmatic nucleus  within the human brain to signal daylight. Suprachiasmic nucleus has a lot of functions related to regulating the circadian rhythm in humans.

Blue light is everywhere at night!

I live in United States of America, and the color Blue is very popular here. This color is literally everywhere, from the cans of coke in a supermarket to 12% of cars to the color of hyperlinks in this article. Blue is a very good, pleasing color to use during the day, because the clear sky is blue.

The following groups of people work during the day. They plan and build during the day, when blue is good.

  • People who build software, like windows and web browsers
  • People who create websites and run advertising campaigns on the internet
  • People who run TV programs
  • People who conduct research and  focus groups
Content produced by such people is viewed at all times of the day. It is most frequently viewed on light-emitting devices, meaning it radiates white light containing the 420-480 nanometer blue spectrum:
  • Televisions
  • Computer Monitors
  • Smartphones and tablet PCs
  • Fluorescent lights and compact fluorescent lightbulbs
  • Even some night lights and alarm clocks!

The color blue is very bad for you when seen at night!

Recall that your eyes have a special pigment melanopsin, which most strongly responds to 420 nanometer light wavelength. This pigment sends information directly to your brain’s  Suprachiasmatic nucleus. This tiny part of your brain is “dumb”, but has a lot of responsibility. So when it sees blue, it triggers and maintains activities that are associated with wakefulness.

This is very bad if you are about to go to sleep, because you will get only a fraction of the true restorative power of sleep you need. So if you want to sleep 8 hours, but turn off the computer just 15 minutes before bed, chances are you wont be getting 8 hours of quality sleep!

This is very true for me, because I have to sleep for 10+ hours at less than 50 % efficiency, and still feel like crap, unless I turn off the computer a couple hours before bed… Which I do, occasionally.

 

Using Computers, smartphones and TVs at night

A typical 3.5 inch iPhone can radiate up to 200 lumens of light. There have been studies that determined that such amount is enough to trigger changes in sensitive individuals, if the screen is observed at night.

An iPad is much larger, and has already been proven to negatively affect sleep in people

Most 17 and 19 inch computer monitors today do not automatically adjust brightness, meaning that you are looking at about 4 iPads worth of white light.

Any big screen TV is a monster – just turn off the light in a room and look at your walls, you will see what color light it is shedding.

Good sleep hygiene practices recommend turning off these devices a couple hours before bed. Do any of us follow these practices?

 

Compact Fluorescent Ligthbulbs use 420 nanometer blue!

I was a big fan of Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFL) when they first arrived. I’m going green! I’m saving energy, I thought. Yes, but it’s still bad for you!

No, it’s not just mercury or disposal issues. Take a look at the graph on the right. It compares the

  • “old school”  incandescent lighbulb that your parents used(left side)
  • and  the modern equivalent – compact fluorescent (right side)

Notice the huge spike at around the number 400 for the fluorescent lightbulb. More precisely, this number is 420 nanometers – the exact wavelength that tells your brain it is day.

Because your brain may be confused by these lights, it is best not to use them at night. Try to avoid using CFL bulbs before bed – they will confuse your sleep regulation.

 

Quick fixes don’t work!

  • Blue light in the 420 nanometers is here to stay.
  • You won’t give up your monitors, TVs, iPads before bed.
  • Software manufacturers are unlikely to act, unless sued for major money.
  • Compact fluorescent lightbulbs are here to stay.

And so people seek quick fixes to circadian rhythm disorders and misadjustments, while the numbers of ever-fatigued, depressed, bipolar and insomnia users seem to rise. Quick fixes to these problems include:

  • Sleeping pills
  • Sleeping aids and placebos
  • Melatonin, a sleep promoting hormone
  • A “night cap” – using alcohol to knock the body out
  • Abuse of cold medicines like Nyquil, which are intended for short term use
People want sleep, and they are getting it any way they can! I myself have used melatonin for over 9 years now, tried sleeping pills, and still suffer from insomnias due to computer use. All of these quick fixes are like clobbering a confused brain into submission. “SLEEP! NOW! I COMMAND THEE!!!”- insomniac to the brain
Forcing the brain to sleep when it cannot, is not ready to is not good in the least. The brain adapts, compensates, but the quality of sleep is still low. For example, when alcohol is used to induce sleep, the brain’s restorative Rapid Eye Movement sleep is suppressed until the effects of alcohol wear out. Then the brain “rebounds” and dreams like crazy. Well, maybe it is crazy at that time!

 

Permanent Solution? Eliminate blue before bed!

Sounds simple, right? Just turn off all devices and chill out.  Well, if you are like me, you won’t give up hours of entertainment. If you like to save energy, you will keep the compact fluorescent lightbulbs. So what’s the way out? I can think of these things:

  • Read, and light your room with incandescent(old school) light bulbs and reduce overall light intensity with light dimmers

    These glasses claim to block blue light of the appropriate frequency

  • Install F.Lux, a software to make your monitor less blue
  • Turn off additional monitors if you have more than one
  • Watch TV on your tablet PC, not on a monstrous plasma screen before bed.
  • Wear Blue Light Blocking sunglasses like Blublocker( Amazon affiliate link).

Unfortunately this is not a bandaid or short term fix for the problem. It is likely that these solutions would have to become permanent, meaning ever single day you reduce the amount of blue light that confuses your sleep centers. I bought myself the Blublocker sunglasses and intend to keep wearing them before bed.

 

Blue light blocking in action – the image loses blue color and appears yellow. This is different from the typical sunglasses or shades.

 

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Nov
27

Remee is a cash grab and here’s why

 Remee is a cash grab, and here’s why:

When I first learned about Remee in May 2012 from a reader of my blog, I was excited. I thought that the future is here, and the 80$ lucid dreaming aid is reality. I even put up a link to their kickstarter page on my site.  When my Remee finally arrived, I realized I was wrong.

Yes, I own remee

You see, in the 6 months it took to get the mask, I’ve heard about Remee mentioned next to real lucid dreaming induction masks, like NovaDreamer and REMDreamer so many times, that I started to believe I’m getting the real deal…cheap.

With the name like Remee, it’s easy to get confused. It turns out I was wrong, and should’ve read the fine print. The fine print (somewhere in the comments section) says:

“Remee does not detect REM(Rapid Eye Movement) sleep”.

 

What is this REM sleep?

Rapid Eye Movement sleep is when you are most likely to dream, and most likely to remember your dreams. The amount of REM sleep is unequal throughout the night, with the majority of it starting to appear towards the end of the night. REM sleep occurs as a part of  sleep cycles, which are roughly 90 minutes long. Later sleep cycles have more REM sleep, thus more intense and long dreaming. A person can dream in non-REM, but is less likely to remember such dreams. A person can stay in REM and not dream coherently.

While you may see pretty-looking hypnograms posted on the web, the real distribution of REM sleep varies from night to night and is heavily influenced by:

  • Use of alcohol and caffeine (REM Rebound effect)
  • Use of medications and drugs

REM periods, and dreaming within a REM may start earlier or later, be hazy or crystal clear. There are a lot of variables to account for.

 

What is a cash grab?

Cash grab is the use of hype to get as much money out of a movie or video game sequel as possible, before the reviews come out. The publisher knows that the movie or game would not live up to overly inflated expectations, but does not care. I see Remee as very similar in most respects – a lot of hype surrounding the release, while downplaying it’s weak points:

  • No REM detection
  • Low overall success rate of lucid dreaming masks
  • Training requirement to recognize the cue

 

Real Lucid Dreaming Masks – what do they do?

Real lucid dream induction masks(300$+), like NovaDreamer and REMDreamer are built around these two principles:

  1. Detect when the user is experiencing REM Sleep by monitoring eye movements
  2. Produce a signal to the user

A real lucid dream induction mask uses eye movement sensors to actually detect when the user’s eyes exhibit slow rolling or other kinds of movement that is frequently observed in REM sleep. The only need for timer in such masks is to enable detection after some time delay. Unlike the real ones, Remee simply starts flashing after a timer has counted down 4.5 hours.

The intention of the real masks is to limit lucid dream induction attempts to the REM phase only, and to minimize the disruption of regular sleep. Signals sent during non-REM sleep are at best harmless, at worst they wake you up and you cannot go back to sleep. Because Remee does not detect REM sleep, it is just  a bunch of LED lights sewn into a mask, with a timer circuit attached. It will flash light whenever the timer fires, without regard for whether you are dreaming or not. In vernacular, Remee is not a  real lucid dreaming mask.

 

Why random timers do not work.

I’m a sleep researcher. I built two lucid dream induction apps for Android and iPhone. I look at my sleep cycle graphs with Zeo Sleep Manager’s EEG, and over the last year I’ve recorded over 700 dreams times in my electronic dream journal, like in the screenshot.

Each green marker stands for the time when I’ve woken up from a dream. I have complete 90 days of sleep history published, if you wish to review it.

I hope this gives me some authority to speak on lucid dream induction, and what I have to say is:

  • The dreaming period is short.
  • Even if I remember 6 dreams in a night, they are less than 15 minutes long, with most being about 5 minutes.
  • The times of dreams shift from night to night
For example, in the image to the right, I experience two more or less consistent dream awakenings: one at around 6AM, another one is at around 7:30 AM. Mind you that this is after monitoring my sleep history for 90 days. A regular person would not have this information available.
Why Remee timer would fail to catch this “clear and predictable” pattern of awakening? Take a look at the black circle to the left of green ones. This circle indicates when I went to bed at a particular day. If you count the number of hours from the black circle until 6AM or 7:30 AM, you will notice that the times are not consistent: on one day it is 4.5 hours, on another day it is 3.8 hours, then around 3 hours. With Remee, I have a single shot with a followup at hitting my dream. But if your bedtime changes, and your dream times change, then it would be very hard to hit a 15 minute dreaming window that occurs around 4.5 hours after bedtime. Arm your timer too early and it will, at best do nothing, arm it too late, and it will flash when you are awake.
Now, here’s another catch: Notice how some circles on my sleep history are brighter than others? These bright green circles are high-clarity, long dreams, while dark green circles are fragments. Not only do I have to hit the correct dream time with Remee, I also have to hit the correct dream intensity.
I tried, and thousands of users of my app tried, but hitting REM, even with a “smart timer” is hard, and I have not heard many success stories. Hitting REM with a blind timer is  a ridiculous task.

 

Why I’m upset at Remee.

It’s a harmless gimmick, right? So what if people put 80$ for a harmless sleeping mask?  The answer is simple – such cash grabs hurt the public’s good faith in development of real, evidence and science based lucid dream induction aids, like halographs. The incredible amount of hype and publicity around the Remee will easily turn sour, once people realize that the mask does not work as advertised.

For example, I’ve bought several “lucid dream induction pills” on the web. They were all crap. Will I buy lucid dream induction pills again? Highly unlikely, unless there’s a ridiculous amount of evidence that pills work safely. Now lets say a biohacking team comes up with a semi-working lucid dream induction pill. To market this pill, they have to fight an uphill battle against all the crap publicity that will remain on the web forever from the previous scammy lucid dream induction pills.  The public’s good faith in the product has been tarnished.

Another example – a lucid dream induction app comes along that is marginally effective. Now it has to fight against all the existing publicity and hyperlinks to this site, and my apps. Will a user download another lucid dream induction app after the first X failed? Possibly, but not for 9.99$. This means a lot of effort put into marketing, something that most engineers, scientists and hackers are not accustomed to. As such, a new semi-working lucid dream induction app is less likely to get off the ground, and is less likely to be completed and made functional.

Finally, the Remee, a lucid dreaming mask. It’s cheap, so many people may get it. But without REM detection, most people would just put it on the shelf after less than a dozen attempts. Would these people buy another lucid dream induction mask? Would they buy the new and improved Nova Dreamer and support real lucid dreaming research? Something tells me that these people would be wary of spending money on lucid dreaming products.

Real lucid dream induction masks are built by researchers who spent quite a lot of time on… research and development. Such people are not the best at marketing, and the high product cost of their products keeps amateurs away. With 80$ Remee, which will soon flood eBay for like 30$, novices are exposed to the mask, that looks like a lucid dreaming mask and shines light. Such novices will not know better to distinguish between the real mask that detects REM and a gimmick that only shines light, because they look the same. Think the following conversation:

  • “What do you think of Lucid dream induction masks?”
  • “Oh, they don’t work, I got one”

What is REM enhancement anyway?

The project’s name is  Remee, an REM (rapid eye movement) enhancing mask. The first thing that bothers me is the name REMee. Each lucid dreamer will recognize the term REM in the name. Why is REM there, if the mask is just a timer? It simply confuses potential customers, sure did trick me into seeing what I wanted to see.

One might ask, what is REM enhancement? How can the interaction of 100 billion neurons, making 100 trillion connections, and exhibiting a cyclical pattern of activity each sleep cycle be enhanced by 6 light emitting diodes?  Hmm. I’m out of ideas here. What I would be concerned about is that it does not disrupt my sleep.

 

Wrong, oh so wrong

I’m amazed at the amount of hype and publicity that surrounded the release of Remee, a lucid dreaming aid that does not even detect REM, even though articles like the one below might make you believe a whole bunch of things that the mask might do. They make you hear what you want to hear:

With Remee, a series of flashing red lights on your sleep mask will appear within your dreams, reminding you that you’re in a dream state. Once those stimuli are acknowledged and understood, a user can begin lucid dreaming as they say see fit. From person to person, lucid dreaming can be a great many things — a means to fly, teleport or meet famous people.

This is wrong, because light cues will occasionally integrate into your dreams, and will appear as random light. Not red. Not flashing. Random. Occasionally the user will recognize that the lights are out of place. From what I’ve heard, the effectiveness of even the “real” lucid dream induction masks is from 13-30% for a trained user, on nights when the user puts effort into signal recognition.

The Remee mask will target the parts of your sleep pattern — typically toward the end — that fall under REM, where dreams occur. It is then that the six red lights under the mask will begin their work. If you’re not in REM, the lights will not effect your sleep, but if you are, it will present the opportunity for the user to become lucid.

What it should read: Remee is a hit and miss timer. It will fire after a static amount of time, with the possibility of some “wiggle”. As a developer of two lucid dream induction apps, I can tell you that this simply does not work that way:

  • REM times are not static
  • Dream times shift over the course of several days
  • REM times are dependent on how long it took you to fall asleep, and when you went to bed.

This means that using Remee after a delay is like tossing a dart in the dark and hoping that it sticks into something.  There are a few free timer-based lucid dreaming apps available for your smartphone –  try them and see if they work for you. But I would not drop 80-100$ on Remee, because in its current state, it’s a gimmick, no better than a timer circuit sewn in a sleeping mask’. I remind you that I backed the project 6 months ago and even posted links to the project.

Upgrade potential?

A close up of the remee circuit (LED diodes not shown)

A close up of the remee circuit (LED diodes not shown). The watch battery is on right. The microcontroller is surface-mount, meaning any attempt at piggy-backing something on top of it would be really hard. There are two switches

I checked reddit and see that people are excited about Remee and Zeo, Remee and EEG headband X. So I opened up my Remee and checked what’s inside. How upgradable it is? As an electrical engineering student, who has experience assembling electronics, I say:  looking inside the mask leaves a slim hope for upgrades this version.

The “flexible printed circuit board” that causes so much of a delay in production is glued on top of 2 pieces of regular circuit board, making it flex through the middle. There’s really no space for additional electronics, like a low power bluetooth module, and the 3.3 volt watch battery would not be able to support wireless data. I guess we get what we paid for.

While discussions about integration of Remee with other devices, like iWinks continue, I have not seen anything concrete come out of it.

 

 

While the circuit board might be "flexible", being mounted on two squares of regular PCB kinda defeats this point

While the circuit board might be “flexible”, it is glued on top of two regular PCB squares, making it behave like a regular PCB with a ribbon connection through the middle. 

 

Is there anything right about Remee?

You bet, the simple fact that a couple guys were able to

  • raise half a million dollars
  •  put a product on the market with public funding is good.
  • It’s good that they were able to develop a product that is wearable.

This shows that there’s an unfulfilled need for a lucid dreaming aid at affordable prices. It shows that Kickstarter projects can succeed given right marketing.

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Nov
16

Better Mood Tracker released

Better Mood Tracker released!

I just wanted to let you know that my latest app – Better Mood Tracker has been released, and is available in the iPhone app store for free!

You can download Better Mood Tracker here

What’s in the app:

Better Mood Tracker is an app focused around recording moods

  • Sleep tracking from the Singularity Experience app (for free)
  • Event tracking over the course of the day (from 5-in-1 Journal)
  • Reminders over the course of the day
  • Life history - day by day, hour by hour
  • My day – biological clock with weather
  • And much more!

I built this app for people with mood disorders (I’m suffering from one too), but the app can be used as a general life tracker too. For example, you can track when you eat, what you see and check how this impacts your dreaming. I think this would be very useful if you take supplements for dreaming too!

Please check out hte app and tell me what you think!

 

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Sep
19

Melatonin and the biological clock

It has been a long time since I first heard about Melatonin and Vitamin B6. It was a random forum post that mentioned taking 50mg of vitamin B6 with melatonin after 4 hours of sleep that got me to become interested in the topic. I’ve followed suggestions in the post and seemingly from nowhere, lucidity arose in a dream. The dream itself was vivid and awareness good. Still, I did not know why it worked some days and did not on others. Now come the answers!

Since then I’ve been keeping my eye on the new information about Vitamin B6 and Melatonin and recently have stumbled upon a treasure trove of information about Melatonin. This book: melatonin and the biological clock, published in 1996 contains a lot of information about Melatonin, far more than I’ve ever seen on wikipedia or internet articles. It describes interesting combinations, goes in depth about melatonin- B vitamin interactions. It makes Melatonin seem like a wonderful substance.

While the book is not dream-specific, I strongly recommend melatonin and the biological clock as a reading if you are experimenting with Melatonin and B vitamins, as there are some timing-related issues that you should be aware of.
For example, inappropriate use of melatonin may worsen depression, something that the book talks about.

Endocrinology and Sleep.

Over the past summer, I’ve been looking at the biology of sleep, in an effort to make sense of what’s going on in sleep.  I’m pleasantly surprised at the amount of information that is currently available in 2012. There are new studies, new compounds and new sources of information on them available. For example, at a site like, biology.stackexchange.com , it is possible to ask questions to biologists and get references to scientific articles that talk about biology. Another site exists for cognitive science.

One of the cool things that I recently discovered is this wikipedia article on neuromodulators. This article opened my eyes on the subject – in short, a neuromodulator changes how you feel, act and look at the world. Neuromodulators are compounds that alter how the entire nervous system operates and have very far reaching effects. There are 4 neuromodulator systems known, that are entangled together in both synthesis and effects: Noradrenaline, Cholinergic system, Serotonin system and the Dopamine system.

I was surprised to find that these systems are related:

  • For example, Dopamine gets converted to  Epinephrine (Adrenaline)
  • Production of Epinephrine creates Homocysteine, a substance with negative effects on cognition
  • Homocysteine gets metabolized or recycled with two pathways, one using Vitamin B6 and another using Vitamin B12
  • Melatonin, a hormone that we all know and love gets synthesized from Serotonin
  • Serotonin is synthesized from Tryptophan, which is obtained from food.
  • Norepinephrine (Precursor to Adrenaline) in turn has an effect of stimulating Arylalkamine N-acetyltransferase (AANAT), one of enzymes that converts Serotonin to  Melatonin.
  • While another Enzyme of Melatonin synthesis, Hydroxyindole O-methyltransferase (HIOMT) is influenced by the photoperiod (length of the day) and time of the year.

I’m fascinated by this interconnectedness. While there have been previous attempts to explain dream-related phenomenon as effect of neurotransmitters(For example the Advanced lucid dreaming: the power of supplements focused on the Cholinergic system), seeing this interconnectedness makes me look at dreaming in an entirely new light. The description above is over-simplified, but it starts to look more like at sleep and dreaming as a set of “gears” in a clock. One gear turns another one. If one cannot turn, the entire system is malfunctioning. It appears that Melatonin is at the bottom of the chain of synthesis – Serotonin, Dopamine and Adrenaline all have impact in influencing the level of Melatonin. As such, it is not a surprise to learn that  melatonin and the biological clock lists abnormal melatonin levels as a marker for numerous diseases of the body and mind (for example bipolar depression).

Influencing one neuromodulator level would not only have an effect on the entire nervous system, but would also propagate and cause changes to the levels of other compounds, which in turn will impact the quality and clarity of sleep and dreaming. This puts a whole new spin on dream interpretation -dreams may give a glimplse of neuromodulator activity at the moment of dreaming. For example, I hypothesize that aggressive dreams of violence or fleeing may be a result of elevated Epinephrine (Adrenaline, fight or flight hormone) levels, which would also increase the vividness of dreaming by influencing melatonin synthesis at night by raising the availability of AANAT. At the same time, conversion of Norepinephrine to Epinephrine would create Homocysteine, which at elevated levels has been associated with dementia-like symptoms in elderly. Low availability of vitamins B6 or B12 may cause homocysteine levels to stay at elevated levels. While such elevation may not cause noticeable effects on the waking mind, I hypothesize that they may have a profound effect on the person’s ability to think and reason clearly in a dream. I would hypothesize that the “WTF did I do?” dreams may be influenced by elevated levels of homocysteine, and it makes sense, because homocysteine levels are lowered by the presence of vitamins B6 or B12, hence the “spontaneous awareness” associated with B6 supplementation in the middle of the night.

I emphasize that the descriptions given above are 0ver-simplified. It may be a complete BS.  The metabolic pathways of neuromodulators are mind-blowingly complex, do not happen in one place, involve intra-cellular transport, work on a gradient basis and are very interconnected. And this is just the physiology of them, completely ignoring cognitive effects on the entire system, and the system’s ability to transport them to the right locations. Still, I’m happy to find these extra bits of information that improve my understanding of sleep and how my lifestyle/supplement decisions may impact my dreaming.

I hope that this book and the keywords provided would spark your own interest in the topic and help you with web searches. Maybe you know something about these neuromodulators and would like to share it?

Thank you for reading!

-Alex

 

 

 

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Aug
15

Sleep cycle estimation

Singularity Experience: the lucid dreaming app for iPhone comes with a couple research tools that I used to build the app – sleep history and sleep cycle graph. Over the past 8 months, I’ve been using these tools by looking at the pattern of my midnight awakenings (I wake up multiple times each night) . The human eye is drawn to patterns and I’ve identified a number of interesting discoveries, which I will discuss in this post.

 

Discovery 1: The ~90 minute sleep cycle

Over the last 6 months my sleep pattern has been hectic. Even thought I continued to experience multiple episodes of midnight awakening and dream recall, the timing of recall was varying. On August 13, I found myself awakening at 90 minute intervals, as indicated in the image to the right:

  • 00:59 (green dream marker)
  • 02:37(green dream marker)
  • 04:09(green dream marker, followed by ~25 minutes of wakefulness)
  • 05:49
  • 07:03
  • 08:46

If you take a look at the timings, you notice that they are all in the 80-100 minute range. Observing the pattern over the course of the night, I was able to predict with a high degree of certainty when my next REM awakening would be, and the times of dreams I recorded confirmed the estimated REM times.

Discovery 2: The optimized bed time and partial sleep cycle

Sometimes I feel the urge to go to sleep, but I finish doing something in real life – playing a video game, programming a few more lines, listening to an audiobook, etc. To be more specific, on August 13th I felt an urge to go to sleep at 10:00PM. My eyes get that heavy feeling, I start yawning, but I pushed myself to finish whatever I’m doing in real life. By the time I finished, brushed my teeth, etc, it was close to 10:37PM. I headed to bed and found myself being unable to sleep for a very long time. I tossed and turned around, all kinds of thoughts are in my head, and that sleepy feeling is nowhere to be found!

Why was I unable to sleep, when I was so sleepy just 37 minutes before that?

I’ve experienced this phenomenon for some time, but yesterday’s and today’s experiments confirmed this. I examined my dream markers and counted back in 90 minute increments from the first dream awakening:

  • First dream awakening at 00:59
  • This means that the sleep cycle for that dream started at ~11:30 PM (23:30)
  • This means that the previous sleep cycle would’ve started at 10:00PM (22:00)
  • I felt sleepy feeling at 10:00PM
  • I went to bed at 10:37PM
  • I reported being awake all the way until 11:30 PM
  • Singularity Experience reports a sleep onset time as 75 minutes (time until the first sleep phase of the first sleep cycle)
  • This means that I fell asleep at 23:52

The calculations above confirm that by going to bed way past my preferred bedtime, I was unable to enter a full sleep cycle and remained awake until the subsequent sleep cycle.

I’m still uncertain as to what prompted my body to start the sleep cycle pattern at 10:00PM. But on August 14th, I decided to go to bed close to 10:00PM to see what would happen:

  • Bedtime at 9:47PM
  • Sleep onset in 25 minutes: at 10:12PM
  • First dream awakening reported at 11:47PM ( 23:47) – 95 minutes after sleep onset
  • Second dream at 00:47 -60 minutes after first dream
  • Third dream at 1:20 – 93 minutes after first dream
  • Fourth dream at 2:45 – 85 minutes after third dream
  • Fifth dream at 4:03 – 78 minutes after fourth dream
  • Another dream at 4:29
  • Another dream at 5:35 – 92 minutes after fifth dream
  • Another dream at 5:51
  • Another dream at 6:06
  • Another dream at 6:09

With later sleep cycles, the REM window becomes fairly large, and multiple dream awakenings may belong to the same sleep cycle. With better choice of bedtime, I observed:

  • 9 dream awakenings in 8 hours of sleep
  • Complete first sleep cycle with a dream awakening
  • More regular sleep pattern (deeper sleep between dream awakenings), more regular sleep cycles

 

Normally, I do not report any dreams from my first sleep cycle. Such events are very rare. Looking at the results above, I’m wandering if this is because I always miss the proper time for my first sleep cycle. I hypothesize, that by picking the correct bedtime, it is possible to improve sleep to the point where the first sleep cycle is complete, and it produces a dream at the end. More REM and deep sleep means better quality of sleep!

 

Additional sleep patterns

Patterns are present at ~4 hours after bedtime, 6.5-8 hours after bedtime and

I’ve observed additional patterns of dream awakenings, although I do not know what they mean. What seems to be certain is that I cannot maintain a stable pattern for long – in the top left image, you can see a fairly regular pattern of awakening at ~4 hours after bedtime, followed by a second pattern at ~6.5 hours. Both lines drift and appear to “split” into branches on some days. I’m not sure what this means or if it is just my eyes playing tricks on me.

 

In the bottom left image, you can see a very stable pattern of awakenings at 4:00, 5:50 and 7:30 on three consecutive days. I do not know if such pattern means anything, but it seems that I fail to maintain it for a very long time – different choices of bedtime shift the pattern.

 

To help study such events, I’m putting in an improved sleep graph into the app – this one would be 24 hour and include additional events. Additionally, I plan to create the same vertical stack of sleep graphs (currently visible only through graphX) to help observe changes to sleep cycles.

 

 

Observe the pattern of dream awakenings after about 4,6 and 7.5 hours after going to bed,

 

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Aug
07

Development efforts are back on track!

After 6 months of having to work to earn a living, I’ve saved a little bit of money, enough to be able to stay as an independent developer for the next 6-10 months. During that time I intend to continue working on the lucid dreaming app and related projects.

Here’s the list of upcoming fixes, features and projects:

Singularity Experience: the lucid dreaming app for iPhone

  • Will Receive a 24 hour graph, similar to5 in 1 journal app for iPhone.  This would help tracking times of going to bed, as well as times of awakening (to more accurately predict when most of your REM episodes are happening).
  • Will allow tracking of additional events over the course of the day: caffeine, supplements (vitaminB6), alcohol, and food. I have observed that such things have impact on sleep, and having a long history of tracking such events may help quantify their impact.
  • The algorithm of REM detection will be improved based on 6 months of observations.
  • I will fix various bugs that I’ve observed with the app.
  • I will add Dropbox sync to backup dreams logged in the app. Once I’ve uninstalled the app by accident and lost 3 months of valuable data. With dropbox sync, it is possible to store dream files on the cloud and restore them to any copy of the lucid dreaming app!
  • Potentially a smart alarm feature. It is already in the app, but has not been tested extensively or made publicly available.

 

Additional apps I have planned:

Music Therapy App for iPhone.

The impact of audio on the person’s awareness and brain is much more complicated than I’ve anticipated. Music therapy app combines parts of the lucid dreaming app to help the person undergoing music therapy to keep track of their sessions, while the app monitors their activity pattern over the course of the session. From my observation of sleep patterns over the course of the last year, it appears to me that the state of the brain and the gross motor activity pattern are related.

I expect that by publishing the free music therapy app, it would act as a conversation starter between myself and any musician/music therapist that I may meet. Maybe someone out there already has perfected the art of influencing the brain with audio?

 

Non-lucid dreaming sleep tracker.

Singularity Experience works great as a sleep tracker, it calculates sleep onset latency, shows a graph of sleep cycles and allows events over the course of the night to be recorded. I’ve observed over 8 months of data logged with the app, and think it would be a valuable tool for tracking various forms of sleep disorders.

 

 

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Jun
26

Blue Light Therapy App released

Blue light therapy is a prototype of simpler apps that I will be building in the future.

I’ve published another small app called “Blue Light Therapy”.  The concept is simple: blue light influences the brain. How/why/if it works is not very well
known. The app is a prototype of future “simpler”, more “intuitive” apps that I may be building, including a simplified version of the lucid dreaming app.

 

Here’s the app (free!)

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/blue-light-therapy/id537446731?ls=1&mt=8

Here’s more info about the app

http://luciddreamingapp.com/iphone/blue-light-therapy/

Touching the screen creates ripples that bounce off the walls, producing all possible shades of blue!

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