Dear Sleep, You Had Me At Zzzzzzzzzzzz

If science has taught us but one thing, it is that repetition is key to the process of learning about the world around us.  With that thought now sitting at the fore of your mind, let me begin this post with the following statement: I am a huge nerd.  I am a huge nerd. I am a huge nerd. As evidence (you know, beyond the evidence offered here, here, and near the bottom of the post here), I offer the following Consumed By Wanderlust entry:


Some of you may be aware that I do not sleep very much.  In fact, I sleep far less than the recommended 8 hours per night.  I’m generally up until at least 1:00 am, although usually it’s more like 1:30 am. And since returning from my trip, I’ve pulled several 3:00 am and 3:30 am nights, because obviously I can sleep when I’m dead.  Further, I wake almost every day by 6:00 am.  Even weekends (although I will grant myself an extra hour or two from time to time on a Saturday or Sunday).  Point is, I rarely ever sleep more than 6 hours in one sitting, unless I’m sick, dying, or dead.  This is nothing new.  That is, I’ve always been a needs-little-sleep-to-function type of person.  So much so, that I’m often annoyed with myself if I sleep longer than 6 hours in a single go.  I always feel like I’ve wasted my day.  Clearly, I’m insane.

Now recall if you will, that on my Not-So-Bucket-List list, I had added the challenge of going to bed before midnight for 2 weeks straight AND getting at least 6 hours of sleep (item #73).  I set this challenge assuming that after 2 weeks, I might try to continue getting 6 hours of sleep – you know, try to be more normal.  Long obvious story short, it so didn’t take.  I was back to my regular habits once the challenge was satisfied.

But, the challenge awoke something inside of me1; my Sleep Nerd. Long he had laid dormant, until the possibility of tracking sleepy-time data was placed at his feet. But how to track my sleep data? I mean, I’d be sleeping. Clearly I couldn’t do it.

And then the Sleep Gods shone down on me2. Specifically, they brought a little iPhone application to my attention. The app is called Sleep Cycle. You can learn all about it by reading their website (as I’m too tired to actually write a lot of detail at the moment). Further, for those that wish to try it out, you can purchase it for a bank-breaking-sum of 99 cents in the AppStore here. And honestly, I highly recommend that you do. It is AWESOME.

But what, pray tell, does it actually do?

This is where the application is full of so much nerdy awesomeness, that I can barely contain myself. It tracks my Zzzz-time, to the point of identifying when I am in various stages of REM sleep. It does so by monitoring my movements; learning the patterns, and using them to estimate which stage of sleep I am experiencing. If I’m in a lighter sleep cycle, and the current time happens to be close to whatever time I have set to rise, the program slowly begins to wake me. If I’m not in the best cycle for waking, the program will still act as an alarm; waking me at the best possible time (in its educated opinion). Regardless of when it wakes me, selecting a time when I’m in a lighter sleep cycle is theoretically better for me. That is, I should wake up less groggy, and full of a ready-to-take-on-the-world attitude.

It also, to the satisfaction of my nerd-centre, records how long I have slept; providing an average based on all the data recorded. And since I fall asleep almost immediately, I’m not worried that the getting-to-sleep time will bias my results.

How does one app do all this?

You might suggest that “the app could be using previous sleep movement data as some sort of Empirical Bayesian Prior to inform the sleep model, thus providing an updated Posterior Distribution to estimate the best time to wake up”. Sounds reasonable to me. Of course, I have no idea if this is the case. I just know that it works.

And it works well. I wake up far more refreshed now than prior to using the app. And that is true even when I get 4 hours or less of sleep. Additionally, I don’t require a blaring alarm to wake me. The music that Sleep Cycle plays is very soothing, and the volume is gradually increased, thus waking me in a much more civilized manner. Finally, I don’t have to hit the snooze anymore (where anymore should be read “as often”). I could hit snooze; the option is present in the app, but I don’t find that I need to. Clearly this app is magical.

As further evidence of the nerdiness of this program, I offer some screen shots of the application in action (from this past week).

Note my average sleep time of around 5h 40m per night. This fits with my usual 1:00/1:30am bed time, and 6:00am wake up. Also note the total amount of sleep I’ve posted in the past week (although I’m missing a day because I forgot to turn the application on – GAH): if my math is correct, I’ve posted 26h 26m in 6 days3, or approximately 4h 24m 20s on average per night. Plots are provided on a daily basis to give a sense of when, during the night, I am in various stages of sleep. Now, if only I could have these plots overlap to investigate movement trends; that would be uber cool.

I’ve mentioned that I’m a huge nerd, right? 🙂


1 Ha, awoke. Sleep humour. AWESOME. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

2 The Roman Sleep God was known as Serta, while the Greek Sleep God was known as Sealy. Or perhaps I made that up, and the true names were Somnus and Hypnos, respectively.

3 Nerd Alert: I find it awesome that 26 appears twice in my sleep total. And that I would have a full house if these were cards in my hand.


Under the category of full disclosure, be it known that the title of this post was stolen borrowed and then modified from a tweet that I sent into the twitterverse over the weekend. Because my tweet was so awesome, it had to be used again. Or because I’m tired and can’t think of anything near as clever. Not to say that the tweet was altogether clever. It wasn’t. But it’s the best I have right now.

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9 Comments Add yours

  1. Carolyn says:

    I must have this app! It’s like your own sleep lab! I suck at sleeping, too. But sleep science is fascinating. Nice find.

    1. dangillis says:

      It’s an awesome app. Awesome long time!

  2. Beth says:

    I’ve been meaning to write a blog posting about the Sleep Cycle app, but haven’t gotten around to it. Probably because I spend, on average, 7 hrs 35 mins sleeping per night compared to your 5 hours 40 minutes per night and clearly you used your extra awake time to scoop me on this blog topic!

    1. dangillis says:

      LOL. Sorry Dr. Beth. Perhaps we should chat about apps we wish to blog about. Maybe a joint blogging experience?

      1. Beth says:

        You totally should have followed up that “Sorry Dr. Beth” with “You snooze, you lose!” Which, in this case, would be literally true!

        I wish there were some easy way to schedule our blog postings about apps. Why isn’t there an app for that??

        1. dangillis says:

          “You snooze, you lose!” = BRILLIANT. Why didn’t I think of that?

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