Imagine a brain, like the one in the photo, made from a string of fairy-lights. Imagine billions of lights in the brain, all blinking in a seemingly random pattern, passing electricity onto each other in a pattern that only makes sense to itself. Now imagine that wires can grow directly between bulbs that commonly light at the same time, making a connection between them.

That's pretty much what is happening inside our brain, except the fairly lights are neurons and the wires are neural connections. The power comes via tiny electrical impulses and electro-chemical messengers.

Imagine that, like the one in the photo, your head is made of glass and that it were possible to record how fast and how bright the majority of surface lights in a particular area were flashing.

That's roughly what an EEG can achieve. 

It's complicated in there, and anyone who says that they have a complete grasp of what is going on inside is lying!


...but we have a few clues to guide us.

We can use an EEG to record the voltages that are present near the surface of various areas of the brain.

Essentially, an EEG is a volt-meter recording the voltages that escape to the surface via adhesive electrodes glued to the skin.

Straight away, this is a limitation because we are therefore oblivious to the voltages that are buzzing away in deeper areas of the brain and multi-lead EEGs can look at many areas of the brain at the same time.

However, we are still able to deduce an awful lot from a single site EEG.

These are slowly coming onto the market for consumer use, one that I've had for a while is the X-Wave. It's a large headset with a single forehead electrode and an ear-clip. The voltage from your forehead is monitored and by comparing the signal pattern to a known pattern for either "concentration" or "relaxation" the attached computer is able to deduce whether you are in either of those mental states. 

This is a neuro-feedback system. You can spend ages watching the flicking graphs and wiggling lines playing "trial and error" trying to make them respond as you wish. When you achieve the desired pattern you are given positive reinforcement by the computer, making it easier to achieve that state again. Oddly, being taught what to do is tricky, but given half and hour of experimentation you'll find that you soon pick up what to do.

With a little practice I was able to achieve 100% concentration...








...and around 80% "Meditation" which isn't that easy when you are desparate to grab a screenshot of being "relaxed"...

There are also computer games written for the X-Wave which allow you to control them by either concentrating, or relaxing. A good "real world" example is the "Star Wars Force Trainer" where you wear a similar headpiece and try various thought patterns until you find the one that makes the ball float.

I first purchased the X-Wave because I thought it would help me to determine sleep stages if worn when asleep. It would have been an uncomfortable night as the headset isn't really condusive to a good night's sleep. However, it doesn't (yet) have the ability to record and playback data, nor does it (yet) allow you to see the raw waveform, although I believe that this is something in the pipeline, although this would still leave the user needing a knowledge of EEG interpretation to be able to determine which sleep stage a sleeper was in.

The XWave may be useful for games and biofeedback, but it wasn't able to do what I wanted, nor did the PC interface become available as was available for pre-order on the website.

I then purchased the Zeo Bedside Sleep Monitor which uses EEG technology to do what I wanted (determine and record sleep stages automatically). Then, with updated firmware and a home-made lead, you can connect the Zeo to a computer and see an awful lot of what is going on in your brain. Granted, this is still a single channel EEG, so it is only looking at one area of the brain, but still the amount of activity that you can see is astounding!

First I'll mention some of the different types of brainwave that I've seen with this system. These waves are all recordings taken from my brain whilst I've been asleep. 

Generally speaking, the thing that determines one type of wave from another is its frequency (how many times it cycles per second), although some features jump off the screen at you such as "K-Complexes" and "Sleep Spindles", both features of Stage 2 NREM sleep.

It is possible that some features found in our brainwaves also serve a function, or at least they show when the brain is carrying out a particular function. For example, K-Complexes can be induced in a sleeping person by external noises. It is thought that the K-Complexes are a response to a noise that the sleeping brain has evaluated as not being a threat.

Sleep spindles also seem to be connected to the outside world. They represent when the brain is not consciously processing input from the world outside. In my oversimplified world I tend to think of them as little bundles of barbed wire that sit on the boundary of sleep and wake somehow shouting "La la la, we're not listening".

Like K-Complexes and Sleep Spindles, some wave patterns are closely related to sleep stages, such as Deep Sleep, which takes its correct name, Slow Wave Sleep, from the waves that are associated with it - Delta Waves, or Slow Waves.

Just as measuring the voltage from the screen of your television doesn't tell you what programme it's showing, measuring the voltage from your skull doesn't tell you what thoughts are being thought (although it's becomming ever closer ) Trying to detmine what the person is thinking or dreaming about isn't as simple as looking at the brainwaves they produce and then comparing it to a vast dictionary of known squiggles. For one thing, the brain is capable of producing (and does so) many waves at the same time, in the same area of brain. The relative power of these waves can be separated out using FFT algorithms.

However, thoughts and sleep stages are completely different animals, and the Zeo is able to determine sleep stages with a high degree of accuracy (References Shambroom, Fabregas & Johnstone, also here and here), which is after all what it was designed to do. We are just piggy-backing off its ability to show EEG data.

The following is the raw data from a section of sleep. The bottom is a hypnogram (shows the stages of sleep) for a whole night (top-bottom = wake, REM, Light, Deep); the top is the raw waveform for the current 15 seconds) whilst the line in the middle is a record of about 45 minutes of data.

The middle one is the result of the FFT analysis (mentioned above) and represents the types of waveforms in proportion to each other. From this it is possible to determine which is the dominant waveform. 

A good example of this is observing the transition out of slow-wave sleep. (Note the steep drop in the red line).

Click for larger image

It's also interesting to see what happens to your brainwaves while awake and carrying out various tasks.

Normally, the frequency distributions seems to be fairly scattered (the lines are nicely spaced out), but one night I woke around 3am and couldn't get back to sleep, I kept the headband on. It seems that when I was concentrating on reading Twitter the various frequency brainwaves became more focused, leaving Alpha and Theta as dominant.

These grouped together even tighter when I actually tweeted and a form of Beta wave became dominant (although only slightly). I presume the tight grouping is because typing required more concentration and more focused thought. Oddly I received a phonecall while awake, and this shows another pattern.

  Click for larger image

Through playing around with this set-up you learn to spot patterns. For example if I am disturbed in the night by a sound that wakes me you can see a brief period of concentration before I go back to sleep. it would be fantastic to actually see the change in brainwaves during an episode of sleep paralysis or a lucid dream.

This would make a great neuro-feedback system and I plan to use it to test the claims of various products that they are able to "induce delta waves" or "cause trance like theta waves" etc.




Sleep Paralysis

 A sound wakes you up in the night. You sense that you aren't alone anymore - something is there with you.

You rationalise: someone has come into your bedroom, that must have been what the sound was. Cautiously you turn your head to see if you can see them, but it doesn't move!

You panic.

The intruder is pushing down on your chest making it hard for you to breathe. You can't take a proper breath, let alone call out for help. You might just be able to make a slight sound in the back of your throat. You can't even move your head down to see who (or what) is crushing you.

There's a noise in the room too - ripping sounds, it's loud as if it's right in your ears. All sorts of thoughts race through your mind, before you pass out with fear. Then it's morning and all is well. There's no sign of intruders, no damage to your body.

What I've just described was an episode of Sleep Paralysis, and as scary as it is, it isn't harmful.

Most would class this as a strange night, and to be fair it is.  However it actually happens to some people, and more accurately, it happens to me.

Folklore has many "explanations" for this, but they largely centre around applying cultural beliefs over the top of the facts. Explanations are as varied as:

  • witches and old hags being the cause 
  • demonic attacks 
  • sexually active ghosts of both the male and female varieties (incubus and sucubus)

Many cultures have their own name and culprit responsible for Sleep Paralysis, and a comprehensive list can be found here. A more modern piece of folklore about Sleep Paralysis is that it is an alien abduction and that the noises you hear whilst paralysed are actually medical experiments that are being conducted on you. 

As the brain scrabbles to make sense of the situation it tends to fill in the gaps with dream-like hallucinations that are overlaid onto what you can see (remember that you have a fixed field of vision which is usually just your ceiling). 

In fact in my first episode of sleep paralysis (I was 12 or 13 years old) I remember that as I was trying to scream I was also remembering stories that our house was haunted. So, the logical thing for me to think at the time was that this was an attack by some sort of ghost and that I wasn't allowed to see whatever ghosts get up to in the night, so I was being held down. (Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was 12).

A nice (and rather famous) depiction of sleep paralysis is a painting by Fuseli called "The Nighmare" in which a sleeper (sleeping on her back - which is frequently the position that paralysis occurs) is being crushed by a demon-like animal whilst a presence watches in the room.

The Nightmare by John Henry Fuseli, 1781

...although a more modern take on this painting might be something like this:

What's the real cause?

When we dream, our brains are as active (if not more active) as when we are awake. Our brain is generating fake sensory input and processing it as if it were real. The only thing that stops us getting out of bed and running around acting out our dreams is that the brain induces muscle paralysis during REM sleep, with only a few essentials left un-paralysed. This is called "REM Atonia".

Ideally this paralysis is activated at REM onset, and de-activated as REM stops. But sometimes it can come on too early or switch off too late, not only can this happen at the beggining and end of a REM period, but it can also happen during a REM period if the sleeper is briefly woken in what is called "an arousal".

Whichever way it occurs, effectively, the brain is awake and conscious but the body is asleep.

I was chatting with a friend who confessed that she is woken by spiders in her bedroom, dangling from the ceiling and spends a while trying to get away from them before waking up fully and realising that nothing is there.

After chatting I suggested that she put a familiar object in the room, so that if she saw it when an episode of this occurred then it would remind her that is was just a type of dream and she would be able to calm down. This seems to be different from Sleep Paralysis, and I doubt that she is aware of her surroundings in the same way, so it may not be of any use, but...

I then decided to have a go at that idea myself and purchased a large copy of Fuseli's "The Nightmare", had it framed and placed in on my bedroom wall so that I would see if when I woke up paralysed and remember what was going on.

One night I was repeatedly woken by my son's oximeter, I had to keep getting up and dealing with things and then get back to bed. Each time I got into bed I found myself paralysed. The first time I was scared, as normal but the picture helped calm me down... By the third time I found it funny. I recognised the familiar feeling that seemed as if someone was deflating my muscles one by one. I then thought to myself, "Okay, your body is alseep, but you are awake".

I calmly looked around the room and decided that I would get up. I thought to myself that if my body wasn't going to bother getting up, then I would get up without it, and no sooner had I thought that then there was a buzzing crackling tearing sound and I found myself about two feet above my body looking at the ceiling.

I then moved down towards the foot of the bed, my feet descended to the ground and I was free. I could look back at my own body (I only saw my feet still in bed). Just to the left of the foot of my bed was a figure. I knew that this was the presence that I'd felt whenever I'd had sleep paralysis, but this time I could see it!

Having never left my body before I was feeling rather pleased with myself. I looked at the figure and he gestured for me to go past him. I did, straight into (and through) a mirror into the room next door!

From that day I haven't been worried about sleep paralysis, in fact I've welcomed it. I don't seem to be able to easily reproduce the feeling of leaving my body (more often than not I hear the buzzing ripping sound and the excitement wakes me before I can "leave") but I can quite easily turn the experience into a lucid dream.

With the folklore around such powerful events, there seems to be a specific term for the presence I saw:The Guardian of The Threshold. It seems that his job is to intimidate you into not proceeding until you are deemed "ready". I guess that this is similar to hallucinations, emotions and images that meditators see, and claim that their purpose is stall the meditators into staying in that particular level of meditation. 

However, for me, something seems to connect of Out of Body Experience and Lucid Dreams. It seems that I can't go through doorways in them, if I try to then I always end up somewhere else (usually on a high up place). I can go from room to room by walking through walls and mirrors easily enough, but for some reason never doors.

It's odd that now that I want it to happen more often, it seems to happen less frequently. Maybe the fear was a factor in causing it. What seems to happen is that as soon as I wake up and realise that I can't move I begin to think, "Right, let's see what we can do. Can I dream? Can I fill the room with dream imagery? Can I leave my body? etc". So the paralysis isn't the major event anymore, it's more of a gateway or a stepping stone.

Can anything help sleep paralysis? 

Speaking from my own experience, there are a couple of things that you can do.

The majority of my episodes have ocurred whilst sleeping on my back (leading me to link them with apnoeas), although I have had some episodes whist on my side (oddly, with a side-lying OOBE "I" still left my body in the same manner - chest first, then a turn to face the ceiling, then moving towards the end of the bed, then feet on the ground).


  • Don't sleep on your back
  • Have something in your room that you associate with Sleep Paralysis that you'll be able to see when an episode occurs. This will remind you that it's a trick and that you are safe.
  • Relax if it does happen.
  • Know that you are safe and that it will pass.
  • Don't struggle, it seems that the more you try to breathe normally the more you are aware that you can't.
  • Remember what the real cause is. Sooner or later you will either fully return to sleep or wake. 


You're tired and have just got into bed...

You close your eyes and stare at the blackness. Within a few seconds you see random sparks and colour flashes.

You've never really thought about them but if you have you've probably assumed that they're just the random firings of your tired optic nerves as they relax after a hard day.

It looks as if you're drifting through space floating past random galaxies and nebulae.

Then there's a bright flash to the bottom left of your vision, it whizzes off, it must have been a car driving past so, it becomes a car whizzing past on a dark road. Then there's another one. The lights are blurred, maybe it's raining and these are reflections of headlights on the wet road.

Why are you standing beside a road in the rain? Maybe your car has broken down and you are waiting for help. You sense someone behind you. Is it your passenger? Is it a stranger? Are you in trouble?

Fairly frequently, for me, this can evolve into a dream. Although many times these are just fleeting images on a black screen; sometimes they move (like the red blob that became an egg, which then hatched before vanishing) and sometimes they are just static images such as faces or objects. Most of the time the colours are exaggerated and over-saturated.

So what's going on?

My brain is doing what brains do best: it makes sense of the information that it is given. Sometimes it joins the information together to make a narrative, a story. More often than not, in a dream, it does this seamlessly so that you (as the observer, creator and participant of the dream) don't stop to think "Why is there a car driving past in space? Why am I now beside a road?", you just accept it as normal and carry on enjoying the story.

Sometimes as I watch the flashes and sparkles I am pretty much awake, certainly conscious. I am able to question those things and soon realise that the only way that I could have been in one place then magically transported to another place is if I am dreaming.

That's when sometimes I can separate out the creator / observer / participant aspects and consciously create the dream. This is called Lucid Dreaming.

I find that if I concentrate on the images as I fall asleep then as soon as I become conscious of them becoming a story that I wake up, almost as if that kick of consciousness drags me back to the waking world.

Or maybe this has happened to you...

You start to drift off to sleep when all of a sudden you hear your doorbell ring.

You jump up to answer the door only to find that there's no one there. So you go back to bed.

No sooner have you start to doze again than you hear another ring of the doorbell, but this time something is different - it's not YOUR doorbell, it sounds different. You sit up startled, and look around the room before getting back into bed.

Eyes closed, and then the phone rings once and stops. Tired, irritated, and a little scared that someone or something is playing tricks on you, you return to sleep.

Doorbells, phones, knocking, people calling your name, even short tunes wake me up, none of which are real. That is to say that none are generated by external stimuli, they are in fact hypnagogic hallucinations, and to the brain they are very real.

To be more precise, these images and hallucinations can be either hypnogogic or hypnopompic, but they are generally lumped together under the banner of hypnaogic.

Hypnogogic = going into sleep
Hypnopompic = waking from sleep

This is a well documented phenomena, and is nicely illustrated in the book "Head Trip - a Fantastic Romp Through 24 Hours in the Life of Your Brain". The whole book is illustrated in a similar fashion and is well worth a read. Original here:’-four-stages-of-hypnagogia

So this is normal. This comes as a relief to me because I first became aware of these flashes and images in my late teens. I'd just started work which involved being on-call, hence my sleep was frequently disturbed and I found it difficult to sleep at night as I was forever listening out for my pager in case I was called out.

I found myself drifting off to sleep at any opportunity during the day, at a desk, in a chair etc. Then when I did sleep at night I had increasing spells of sleep paralysis, so I went to see a doctor and asked if there was anything that could be done to help, such as tablets to help me sleep when I wasn't on-call.

He asked me to describe what went through my head as I tried to sleep at night. When I mentioned the colour flashes he didn't really react, but when I said that I was always tired he decided that I must have "mild depression", he explained that it "wasn't clinical, but it was just being run-down"... and prescribed trycyclic antidepressants.

I clearly remember thinking that this was odd. I didn't feel depressed, just tired. The last thing I said to the doctor before taking the prescription was, "So these colour flashes are because I'm depressed, and these pills will stop them?". To which he replied, "Yes".

The antidepressants made me tired, which did help me sleep at night, but they also gave me disturbed dreams and nightmares and left me feeling even more tired in the day. Not a great solution, and one that I was quick to give up on.

That was nearly 20 years ago, and thankfully awareness of sleep medicine has moved on since then. Nowadays I would hope that most general practitioners would be aware of sleep paralysis and the effect of a disturbed sleep routine on general wellbeing. However, I doubt that many would be aware of the subtleties of Hypnagogia and the normal blurring of states of consciousness that every sleeper goes through on the journey to sleep - despite travelling through them themselves!

As I write this it's occurred to me that the hypnagogic sounds that I normally hear are all things that demand my attention: Phones, doorbell, children calling, explosion outside etc. Only once has it been a few notes of music that didn't cause me to sit bolt-upright in bed.

Maybe this is a hang-up from the being on call nights or having to wake at the drop of a hat to deal with my son's prolonged periods of apnea for many years?

Could it be that over the years a brain learns to be in a "hypersensitive" state, ready to wake up and so is fooled by dream sounds? If so, why would this only happen in REM. This may be similar to Wehr's experiment showing that if a subject expected to be disturbed then the hormone Prolactin wouldn't be released during sleep.

"Wehr quickly discovered that prolactin was vulnerable to almost any disturbance. Simply talking to the subjects would interrupt its secretion, as would their expectation that someone was going to talk to them. It was a fragile state: the subject had to be lying in the dark, expecting not to be disturbed, for the drug to work. But when it did work, it appeared to produce a period of gentle quiescence, a pleasant, meditative state in which time passed very quickly for the subjects.

In addition, each period of quiet rest, wrote Wehr, always emerged directly from “particularly intense” periods of rem sleep featuring vivid dreams, full of emotional resonance."

(Jeff Warren, "Head Trip, a Fantastic Romp Through 24 Hours in the Life of Your Brain)

Hormones aside, I know that certain things that I do can induce these sounds. One example is if I sleep with a fan on in the room. I suspect that this is because the fan generates "white noise" which makes it harder to hear if I am really called in the night, so my brain "plays safe" by alerting me to the dream noises that, if they were real, would demand my attention.

Hypnagogic hallucinations can be actually involve all the senses...

Someone saw the painting of Fuseli's "The Nightmare" on one of my walls and asked me a question. They asked, "Do you ever get walked on at night?". Needless to say this threw me and I wasn't quite sure where they were taking the conversation, but they continued.

They explained that they had been on a holiday in an old stone cottage recently and that during the night they felt as if someone had walked through the room, across the bed and up the stairs in the bedroom.

Already I suspected that this may have been a parasomnia and asked them to tell me more about the day.

I won't recant the whole tale here, but the beginning was enough to confirm that it was a likely hypnagogic episode or even a form of sleep paralysis.

"It'd been a long drive and it was late when I arrived. I made the bed up and got straight it. Just as I was dozing off I felt the bed crumple as if it'd been walked on. I laid there as I heard the footsteps walking up the stairs"

There are several pointers here:

  • Strange room
  • Tired
  • Presence in the room

...and lastly (which is where this blog began)... 

  • Tired and just got into bed

I'll go into more detail about this type of event when I blog about Sleep Paralysis.

I've got a particular fondness for hypnagogia (thanks to the episode with the doctor) so I tried to capture what is going on when it occurs. 

I don't have a full EEG to experiment with, but I do have the raw output from the Zeo's single channel EEG. Although this only looks at the front of the brain (combined with muscle tone and eye movements), it still gives a good guide to what is happening when these episodes occur.

I've concentrated on the episodes that take place in the middle of the night.

When a phantom doorbell rings (or whatever form it takes) then I look at the clock. More often than not I remember the time in the morning and check what the Zeo picked up at that time.

From this data I have learned that most of the hypnaggogic hallucinations occur when I am flitting between sleep stages.

Click for a larger image

The 5 minute eopch of the whole Zeo hypnogram (not shown above) showed me as being awake for this period, which is unsurprising as the live raw data and the 30 second hypnogram showed me as flitting between wake and N1/N2 (and having come from N2 - indicated by sleep spindles).

What isn't clear to me is whether these noises are the cause or effect of sleep state transition. ie, did I wake up then re-doze, dragging some lingering elements of consciousness to the sleeping world with, or did the noise (and presumable unremembered noises cause me to wake up)?

Sadly, without a more precise time that the event occurred and a more detailed EEG I doubt that I will be able find an answer, or be able to point at a wiggly line and say, "THERE is the noise that woke me".

What I can see from looking at the raw data is that the event occurred in the minute of 2322h and I stirred for a moment before looking at the time, resulting in w1 (wake 1 shown by a red peak representing delta waves along with the corresponding mass of noisy delta waves on the EEG line) at 2323:04h.

Interestingly, there is a spike (d1) of delta waves which are much neater in appearance, much like those of slow wave (delta) sleep a few minutes beforehand. This was interpreted as an awakening, but I suspect that it wasn't (it looks too noise-free). 

What I'll have to hope for is a more prolonged episode to look at, or perhaps being lucky enough to catch an episode of sleep paralysis whilst I'm recording the raw data.



Vitamins, Minerals & Breaking the REM Barrier


Like a car, the body seems to need the correct fuel to run optimally. It seems that I may have been "running on empty" as far as sleep-related vitamins and minerals are concerned...

I ended my last blog-post regarding REM rebound with several questions, all pretty much along the line of "Where is my missing REM?"

Although typically the amount of REM that I have each night is within limits (at the lower end of typical) it was often broken by either periods of wakefulness or light-sleep.


It bothered me that I couldn't seem to achieve the expected REM rebound that conventional wisdom says should occur. What was wrong? Was it the equipment, the method or was it me?

I finished that post by wanting to increase the amount of REM that I have and also by trying to get rid of these periods of being awake.

Not an easy task considering that I can already probably attribute some of these awakenings to temperature drops and apnoeas!

I'd already found a way to decrease the number of apnoeas and hypopneas (AHI) that I had using 5-HTP which left me thinking that maybe I was lacking in other vitamins / minerals / hormones that are essential for sleep.

It was suggested to me that I try Vitamin D3 which is formed when we soak up sunlight during the day. This made sense to me as I am not a fan of bright sunlight (I was sun-burned badly as a child). So it was not outside the realms of possibility that I was lacking in D3.

I took this for a few nights without it seeming to make a difference to my sleep staging (as scored by the Zeo sleep monitor). Maybe I should have given it longer as I like the "scientific method" of only changing one variable at a time, but with the range of vitamins and minerals and other various supplements claiming to improve sleep I decided to go for an "all or nothing" approach.

During the time that I tried to find supplements to help with lucid dreaming (another reason to want more REM) I found many forums where people spoke about their "Sleep Stack" which refers to the stack of pills they take before sleep.

So, the question was: what to include in my "sleep stack"...

A brief look around the internet for supplements to improve sleep will pretty much turn up results for everything and yield many wild claims without much backing. Many refer to studies without citing them using phrases such as "Studies have shown" etc etc. This makes it hard to know where to begin when looking for supplements as science and advertising seem to blur into one.  

Getting to sleep isn't a problem for me (far from it), so I didn't include Melatonin or Valerian (although I've had good experiences with inducing sleep with both).

My chosen regime was:

Morning: Vitamin D3, Multi-vitamins & minerals with Iron

Bedtime: ZMA (Zinc, Magnesium and Vitamin B6)

Occaisionally I added 200mg of 5-HTP to the bedtime regime with the thinking that a reduced number of respiratory events would reduce the awakenings during the night.

My reasoning behind the choices (click for brand and detailed info):

Vitamin D3 (1000 iu / 25 ug)
I took this for the reasons already mentioned. In addition to that, D3 is linked to our Circadian Rhythm, which seems logical, considering it is produced by the skin in sunlight. For that reason I decided to take this in the morning as it seemed that is when it would normally be produced.

A safe dose seems to be 4000iu or 100ug according to Vieth, Kimbell et al (2004) so I didn't see a problem with taking 25ug or even 50ug. 

Multi-Vitamins & Minerals with Iron

I deliberately chose a blend with a high Iron content as Iron is essential for haemoglobin (used in gas transporation around the body). Low iron levels are also associated with Periodic Limb Movements which can cause awakenings during the night.

I also wanted a blend that had B vitamins because I have previously taken Vitamin B6 at night to help with sleep and dreaming. I found that B6 helped, although in a dose that is not recommended for the long term. B6 is also used in the production of serotonin, which links back to my 5-HTP post, so this seemed like an essential one to have.

B12 is also known to have an effect on Melatonin. Mayer, Kröger and Meier-Ewert (1996)

Magnesium may have an effect on Periodic Limb Movements Hornyak et al

With these seeming to be comprehensive multi-vitamins and minerals, I thought I pretty much had any possible deficiencies covered although I did add ZMA in the evenings...

ZMA (Zinc, Magnesium and B6)

This is found in the bodybuilding section of the health food shop. ZMA is to be taken at night (which sounded promising for sleep). It is also discussed anecdotally in body-building forums as having a positive effect on sleep. I thought that an additional boost of B6 and Magnesium (for the reasons given in multi-vitamins) would be useful at night. The Zinc seemed to be an added extra, although it does seem to have a role in regulating hormones and neuro-transmission

I am pleased with the result. A quick look at one of my typical Zeo hypnograms confirms why: 

Aside from how I felt, my criteria for deciding whether I'd had a decent sleep used to be if the amount of wake was less than the amount of deep as the two were usually similar in duration!

This is a graph from a week or so after taking the supplements mentioned above.

So I slept better on that night (despite a higher "sleep stealer" score), but what about the rest?

This is from a couple of weeks later:

Although there are still awakenings, they are relatively short (total of about 5 mins a night, well under the average for my age) my weekly average graphs show that the story of higher REM is repeated nightly along with less time spent awake:

(I started taking the D3 on the 19th of December and the additional supplements on the 23rd of December) 

That seems fairly conclusive to me. I hope that the pattern continues. This is all the more impressive as I haven't been doing anything more than taking the supplements. Some nights have been early, some late, some with a couple of drinks etc etc).

I intend to carry on with the regime with some additional monitoring - I'd like to see if the supplements also bring my AHI down, what the effect of 50ug of D3 is and what the combined effect with 5-HTP would be.

I'd then like to try the REM Rebound experiment again now that I seem to have broken my REM barrier.

We are all unique, and all I can say is that this works for me. I would be interested to know if anyone else has had a similar effect.





Electric Blankets

I'm posting this because it has me puzzled. As always, I'd love feedback and people's thoughts please, either in the comments section of this blog or via Twitter @Hypnagog

After seeing that my temperature dropped in REM sleep and caused me to wake up, I decided to get hold of an electric blanket to see if that could go some way to stabilising my temperature at night.

Before I carry on, this post is not an attack on electric blankets, nor their manufacturers, and I post the following findings as inconclusive and for discussion.

I fitted the blanket beneath my bedsheet, switched it on to preheat the bed (as shown in the instructions), then got into bed and turned it onto a maintenance setting.

I remember during the night that I was warm, too warm. I remember leaning over and turning it down to its lowest setting and still being uncomfotable, but I did sleep, and from memory it was most of the night.


When I looked at the Zeo data I found that I had almost no REM (5 mins) and that it was replaced by wake.

I was tired when I woke, so it seems to fit. REM rebound the following evening wasn't significant, although I did enter REM before SWS.

Possible Causes?

I did wonder if the electromagnetic field given off by the blanket could have either affected me, or the Zeo's detection of REM. 

Akerstedt et al (1999) showed that a 50-60Hz field can distrupt sleep with all of the following reduced: total sleep time (TST), sleep efficiency and stages 3+4 slow wave sleep (SWS). However, REM wasn't reduced.

It could be that with such a disturbed night there was little chance of hitting REM but that seems unlikely to me as my experiment with REM deprivation shows that REM is desparate to occur (and can even happen at sleep onset if severely deprived).

I do have a couple of Gauss Meters, so the following evening I checked the blanket out. Admittedly this was with the blanket up to it's highest setting (a setting that you would only use for pre-heating, not sleeping), but as expected there is an electromagnetic field around the blanket.

The blanket didn't give off a field until I placed my hand on it (simulating someone laying down on it).

This is no surprise as everything gives off an EMF field: low energy lightbulbs, microwaves, TVs, computers, WiFi, even us to a degree. This isn't going to turn into a jumping up and down blog post demanding that we all live in Faraday Cages but I did wonder if there was an link.

If EMF is to blame, then my instinct says that the blanket affected the measurement of REM rather than the REM itself.

Another possibility is that there is a link between reduced REM and increased body temperature, such as in the case highlighted here (a fever causing reduced / disturbed REM sleep).

Could it just be that the temperature disturbed me during the night, after all I do like the bedroom to be cold?

If I had to guess why this would only happen in REM, I would have to speculate that this is because the body doesn't regulate its temperature well during REM and becomes largely poikilothermic, so rather than waking because I was too cold, I was waking because I was too warm. This would suggest that I did go into REM but that it was too fragmented to be detected by the 30 second epoch of the Zeo. I would suggest that REM that is that fragmented is next to useless as far as restorative sleep is concerned.