Experiment: Hacking my REM sleep

The Zeo Sleep Manager is a great device for tracking your sleep quality. Although looking a little dorky wearing the headband (see above and below for proof) the data garnered from it after a night’s sleep and the wider picture it paints through accumulative nights of sleep wearing it provides detailed insights in to how you can ensure a more quality sleep.

Quality doesn’t necessarily mean a longer sleep either. Getting a quality six hours full of both REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and deep sleep is better than having nine hours of light sleep and intermittent waking. The old adage of quality over quantity certainly applies here too.

Since February I’ve been using technology to  track and analyse my own sleep. Initially I used the Sleep Cycle app for iPhone which uses the phone’s accelerometer to determine the number of times you awake during the night. The app is fairly basic and I wanted something that was more robust and provided me with more data so I invested in the Zeo.

Through the Zeo data I’m content in the knowledge that my sleep is generally pretty good. I need around six to seven hours to function well through the day; I fall asleep on a night very quickly;  I wake up less during the night now that I’ve moved place and have a different bed, and the amount of deep sleep (the kind of sleep that helps the body repair itself) I get is high which helps me recover quickly after training.

REM. The bane of my sleep

One thing the Zeo has consistently told me is that my REM sleep is low. REM sleep is associated with memory and, in simple terms, it helps you archive the previous day’s learnings in to your brain for future reference. It’s also the part of sleep where you dream. It’s important!

There are numerous reasons why my REM sleep is low. Working at a computer just before bed is probably a key factor since this has been proven to reduce REM sleep and I do this quite regularly.

Drinking caffeine later in the day probably plays a part too as I generally finish my last drink of coffee at around 6pm. Last but not least, my Vitamin D intake (particularly in the colder months of the year) may be insufficient. I’ve always been one to supplement through the years but reading Dave Asprey’s blog on Vitamin D and sleep I’ve noticed I’m nowhere near my optimal daily allowance (it varies but somewhere around 4,000 International Units (IUs)). In other words I’m likely to be Vitamin D3  deficient.

Hacking my REM sleep

In the next few months I’m going to implement a few hacks to improve my REM sleep quality. Based on the above I’m going to:

  • Use f.lux software for night time working. Rather than say I’m not going to work two hours before I go to bed (this is the time I’m usually at my most productive, creative and motivated) I’m going to use this free software which turns the light and colour of your computer screen to represent the time of day. At first I was sceptical about using it but after a little searching it’s received a lot of good reviews.
  • Drink my last coffee of the day earlier. Instead of drinking my last coffee at 6pm I’m going to reduce it by two hours and drink it at 4pm creating an additional two hours between my last coffee and sleep time.
  • Increase my daily Vitamin D3 intake. My current daily supplementation of Vitamin D3 is 1,000 IUs which, in light of recent information, is insufficient. Upping my intake to 5,000 IUs each morning should make a significant difference.
I plan to make the above tweaks almost straight away (I suspect the coffee one will be the most difficult) and will allow a period of two months to note any improvements. I may come across other REM improving hacks as I go and will implement if it’s likely they’ll help.
Update to follow.


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  1. How does iPhone measure how many times you awake? Following direction you rest iphone on end table plugged into charger?

    • It’s not the iPhone that measures wake time. It’s one of the three sensors on the Zeo headband that does it. Very clever.

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