Life. Change. Delta waves??

Sceenshot TED talk change-curve

Change slows down as we age. But not for all of us equally. It seems delta sleep keeps us younger for longer, and we can induce delta waves artificially.

A while ago I watched a TED video with Dan Gilbert which centered on the fact that people poorly estimate their future change. (Not pocket change, but change in values, behavior etc.) A study asked a wide range of people either a) how much they had changed over the last 10 years or b) how much they expected to change over the next ten years. Then they matched the answers by age: The 18 year olds thought they would not change much by the age of 28, but the 28 year olds thought they had changed a lot since they were 18, and so on. This is the focus of the story.

But I noticed the shape of the curve they drew. Three curves actually, but they were very similar for a number of ways in which people change over the course of their life. The change is rapid at first, and declines gradually but with some noticeable steps, then declining greatly in old age. The curve is familiar, but it took me some hours to recognize it, because I had not seen it before, just seen it described in text form. Oh, and I had described it myself too. I often answer basic questions about sleep on Quora, and one of the things I explained was the function of “delta sleep”.

Called NREM stage 3 these days, this deepest sleep is less formally called “slow-wave sleep”, because the brainwaves that dominate the whole brain in this sleep stage are large and slow. The slow, regular brainwaves are called “delta waves” and technically waves below 4 Hz fall in this category. The dominant waves during slow-wave sleep however are usually 1 Hz or less, in other words less than one complete wave per second! They can go as far as 1/3 Hz, where one wave takes 3 seconds.

Despite the slowness of the delta brain waves, the brain is actually doing various useful things. One of them is related to learning. A study shows that people who have been training to learn a 3D maze during the day have increased blood flow in the same brain area during slow-wave sleep, compared to a control group that did not undergo intensive training. Another important thing that happens during this deep sleep phase is the release of Human Growth Hormone. In children this hormone triggers growth, as the name implies, but in adults it triggers regeneration. Basically it keeps us young and healthy.

We know that delta sleep is important, because bad things happen to test animals who are kept away from it. Their learning is impaired, but worse, their immune system is also weakened, and they lose the ability to deal with stress. Eventually they die early. Luckily the body goes very far to recover this type of sleep. If you stay awake for days, the body first recovers delta sleep and also REM sleep, the vivid dream sleep that seems important for memory and sanity. If you become chronically sleep deprived, the body will start running short periods of slow-wave sleep, so-called “microsleep”, while you are awake. Thoughtfully this is done when there seems to be downtime, when nothing particularly challenging is going on. Like at school, at office … or on a long stretch of road. Suddenly 10 seconds are missing from your life. If those seconds should have included some adjustment to the car’s trajectory, they may be the last 10 seconds of your life. So don’t go around missing delta sleep.


In babies, delta waves take up much of their sleeping time and some of their waking time. The waking delta fades later in childhood. Delta sleep remains fairly high in teenagers, and may appear in all the sleep cycles. (The first sleep cycle is from falling asleep to the end of the first REM sleep. The later cycles are from the end of one REM period to the end of the next. Each sleep cycle features first a slowing of the brain waves, and later the waves become faster again, until REM – vivid dream sleep – where brainwaves are as fast and irregular as during excited waking activities.) In children and teenagers, the deep delta sleep can occur in all sleep cycles, but is longer in the first cycles. In adults, delta sleep only occurs during the first sleep cycles, and is markedly longer during the first of them. Delta sleep continues to shrink during life, and in the elderly it can cease entirely, especially in men, or occur only some nights and not others.

There is a remarkable parallel between the decline of delta sleep and the complex process we call aging. But is one the cause of the other? Or is there some underlying process that causes them both? This is a very good question. If delta waves keep us young, we could stay young longer by increasing the amount of time our brain spends in delta sleep, or perhaps even in delta waves during waking time, which is rare but possible.

As it happens, there is a drug that can induce delta sleep. It seems to have no serious side effects when used clinically. Apart from the usual conservatism of the medical establishment, there is one big reason why it is not more widespread: It is the best date rape drug on the market. You are not going to get this drug on prescription or walk out of the lab with it in your pocket. All legal sources of the drug are strictly controlled. And as long as humans are the way they are, this is not likely to change, unfortunately. So we won’t know whether people who take this drug regularly live longer and healthier lives, as they would if delta sleep was the “fountain of youth” that some suspect.

And here our story could have ended. But there is another, more cumbersome way to induce delta waves – or any frequency of brain waves that can occur naturally – and I have mentioned it repeatedly over the last few years. It is called brainwave entrainment.


Brainwave entrainment means that we use an outside impulse to synchronize brainwaves to a particular frequency. Sound, light and even touch can be used for this, but sound is by far the most common, cheap and convenient. There are several different sound effects that can be used as well. In the beginning, binaural beats were most popular. This is the coolest of the bunch, as you send sound to each ear with a slightly different frequency. The brain starts to resonate to the difference between the frequencies. So you could play back a speech or a piece of music but having altered the frequency slight on one ear, and simply listening to this would gradually induce the specific frequency of brain waves.

Other systems such as monaural beats and isochronic tones exist, and isochronic tones are actually considered the most effective, but they tend to be clearly audible unless masked with other more complex sounds. If you buy pre-packaged sound tracks you will normally find that they have some kind of soundscape like rainfall or other nature sounds that take the edge off the repetitive sounds that trigger the actual entrainment.

At first it takes up to 8 minutes to entrain the brain so that most of the brainwaves resonate to the same frequency across almost the whole brain. With practice this time can be lowered significantly, so that one slips into a familiar frequency more easily.

Brainwave entrainment can happen during sleep or while awake. Because delta waves only occur naturally during sleep, there is a tendency at first to fall asleep when these are induced while you are awake. With practice you become better at staying awake, but that may not necessarily be what you want. Certainly if you use brainwave entrainment as an aid in meditation, then you should practice while you are rested and train yourself to remain awake. But if you want the deep sleep effect, you would want to put on the delta soundtrack when you are going to sleep or taking a nap. If you suffer from insomnia, brainwave entrainment is awesome: If you fall asleep, good. If you stay awake, you still get the deep restful brainwaves.

I should caution here that from my own experience and that of my friends, some trippy and unpleasant side effects can appear if you start doing deep brainwave entrainment suddenly without gradually building up to it with shorter periods and less deep frequencies. Migraines, double vision, nightmares and temporary loss of short-term memory can appear during or after use, although this does not happen to all and is always temporary. For this reason I recommend starting with alpha wave entrainment, which induces waves you normally have during relaxation and when falling asleep. The brain is used to having these experiences, so side effects are likely to be harmless and often pleasant: A feeling of weightlessness, seeing lights while your eyes are closed, sudden bursts of memories or emotions, or sometimes a feeling of “energy” running along your body. But most of the time nothing, or just a sense of peace and relaxation.

With some months of practice, you should be able to use delta wave entrainment with no side effects, like I do. I did not actually get into this for reasons of longevity, and certainly not to change. It was pretty much scientific curiosity that made me try out Holosync, and later Lifeflow, and eventually making my own tracks using Gnaural, a public domain software that is not very intuitive to use but totally free and fairly flexible. After satisfying my curiosity, I continued because it helped with a completely different problem for me: Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, a situation where the patient does not become sleepy until the morning, and has a hard time staying awake early in the workday. By using delta brainwave entrainment I could go to bed earlier, and if I did not fall asleep I would still get a decent degree of rest from meditating with the entrainment. Ironically, knowing that you don’t  need to fall asleep is the best cure for insomnia.

I remember mentioning around New Years (after I started with delta wave entrainment in spring), that I had changed so much that year. But I was not sure whether it was because of the brainwave entrainment, or the “Happy Science” books by Ryuho Okawa, or the mostly Christian spiritual literature recommended on the One Cosmos blog. All of these things kind of heaped up in that year. But would the books have made the same impression on me if I had less delta waves in my life? I don’t know. I am just a single person (literally so) and there is just too much outside influences for my personal experience to prove or disprove anything. (As skeptics say: The plural of anecdote is not data.) In order to know more, we need many more people to try this course of action.

The way I see it, there is very little to lose. If you have the patience to start easy, there should be no unpleasant side effects, and it is in any case totally harmless. On the other hand there are the benefits of better learning, better health, and a subjective experience of having more time (because time does not just fly by without you learning from it). It may not be a magic pill, but it is close enough that I recommend it. Unless you think change could only be for the worse – after all, perhaps you are already close enough to perfect. ^_^

REM sleep

Screenshot anime Mysterious Girlfriend X

A very stimulating dream: This is sure to refer to REM sleep, which is important to regulate instincts. More about that below.

REM (rapid eye movements) is the name for the part of sleep where we have vivid and lifelike dreams; in fact, they may often feel “larger than life”, packed with emotional intensity.

It is thought that REM sleep fulfills two important functions. One is to integrate memories, the other is to balance instincts. Not only do people (and animals) learn more slowly without REM sleep, but they also become mentally unstable.


For the casual onlooker, it may seem like sleep is one continuous state of inactivity. But science has shown that sleep consists of three main types which alternate through a 90-minute cycle. (It is not actually 90 minutes for everyone, and is generally longer toward the end of the night, so you cannot reliably use the 90-minute multiplier to calculate when you will be in which sleep phase. Sorry about that.)

There are considered to be five sleep phases, which fall in these three main types, and one of these again is the most peculiar of all. That is REM sleep. Both humans and many animals have this sleep type, and one can wonder how it got started in the first place. It certainly happened long ago, because the friendly egg-laying platypus spends more time in REM than any other mammal*, and they presumably parted ways with the marsupials and us while the dinosaurs were still having a good time.

(* REM sleep in monotremes, or egg-laying mammals, is actually mixed with slow-wave sleep. Perhaps our separation of them into distinct times is more efficient. We like to think so, but no one asked the platypus.)

With electrodes on the head, it is possible to find out when people are having REM sleep, and wake them up immediately. If one does this for a few nights, people will have trouble learning, and become steadily more irrational and experience mood swings. They will begin falling asleep briefly during daytime, and at that point go directly into REM sleep (similar to what happens during narcolepsy). Hallucinations can also happen.

Similar effects happen if you take too much drugs that suppress REM sleep. The most common of these is ordinary alcohol, but also several prescription drugs have this effect, including some that are used to treat insomnia! Talk this over with competent health personnel if you can afford to. Because of such side effects, sleeping pills should be used with extreme caution, and must not be combined with alcohol at the risk of insanity and death (presumably in that order).

Because REM sleep mostly happens toward the end of the night, our use of alarm clocks mean that we start cutting down on REM before the other types. The body will compensate for this, if we keep it up, by having more REM sleep earlier in the night than before. But this only happens when (and for as long as) we have a “debt” of REM sleep. It will make sure that the REM debt does not grow beyond control, but we still have some, and it costs us.

Because we integrate memories less well, we learn more slowly than we could have if we slept longer. This is especially true for long-term memory.

Because REM regulates mood, with less sleep we will be less happy and energetic than we could have been. The exception to this is a fairly common form of depression, in which REM sleep actually makes the patient more depressed. Have this checked with a doctor or two before you try to treat yourself.

Because REM acts as a regulator of instincts, we put on more weight if we lack this sleep. The alarm clock may be one of the contributors to the so-called “obesity epidemic”. It is easy to say that people should eat less and exercise more, but when you are hungry and tired, talk is cheap.

REM also helps regulate the sex drive. It is a well known observation that men usually spend their REM sleep in a state of visible sexual arousal, even if their dream does not have any overt sexual content. (This sometimes causes misunderstandings between spouses who sleep in the same bed.) With less REM sleep, sexual distractions gain more influence over men. (I don’t yet have information on how this works for women.) Unfortunately for those with sexual dysfunctions, the lack of REM sleep increases attention but not ability.


REM starts as an “electric storm” near the brain stem and works its way through the primitive layers of the brain, which we share with reptiles and birds, then through the so-called “mammal brain” which we share with our furry friends. (In some animal species it stops partway through, but not in humans.) It is in these lower parts of the brain that REM regulates instincts and mood.

The intense activity then spread out through the neocortex, the large layer of brain that is specific to our species. This is where it causes vivid and strange dreams, which we may be able to assemble into stories that we call dreams. The process of making sense of dreams happens mostly after we wake up from them, and we only have a short time to do so before they fade. Because dreams integrate new memories with old – older the longer we sleep in the morning – we can use them to bring up memories not easily found in other ways.

If we don’t get enough sleep on workdays, it is common to sleep in on weekends and other days off (unless you have children, pets or other living alarm clocks.)  Some people are surprised that they wake up more tired when they have slept longer: Shouldn’t they feel more rested? No, not if you have REM debt. The brain will then pay off the REM debt by spending lots of times in this state once the alarm clock doesn’t go off. But REM is hard work for the brain. It is more intense than the thinking people are able to do at work, and second only to panic attacks in its sheer use of energy. To supply this brain workout, heart and lungs work harder than usual as well: Late in the morning sees a spike in asthma attacks and heart infarct. While the deep delta-wave sleep early in the night refreshes and rejuvenates us, and the “filler” theta-wave sleep lets us rest, REM sleep actually tires us.

I hope this little overview lets you appreciate the role of the mysterious REM sleep, and perhaps go to bed a little earlier or set the alarm a little later next time!

Our 3 types of sleep

Screenshot Sims 3

The three types of sleep may look practically the same from outside, but they are actually surprisingly different.

Even though humans have slept since before the dawn of history, it is only a few decades since we found out that we pack three types of sleep into each night. (Well, a few Buddhist monks have managed to extend their consciousness into the realms of sleep and tried to describe them, but it is hard to understand for outsiders.) Today we know from electrodes on the head that we all go through these phases, every night for most of our lives.

The three types of sleep have very different functions. The deep, dreamless Delta sleep restores the body. In this sleep, a hormone is released that sets off a cascade of repair in the body, as well as growth in children. The slow brain waves also allows the brain to rest, in so far as it is possible.

The intense electro-chemical storm that fuels our most vivid dreams happens on the opposite end of the 90-minute sleep cycle. It is the REM sleep, after the rapid eye movements that are eerily similar to waking life. Also the heart and lungs are working hard to supply the bursts of activity that pass through our brain at this time, as the brain compares memories, combines them … and perhaps destroys them. One theory is that erroneous combinations are flushed from the system, which would explain why people who don’t get this type of sleep tend to go temporarily insane (hearing voices, becoming unable to control their emotions, feeling hunted and sometimes seeing things that no one else can see.)

Both the deep Delta sleep and the intense REM sleep are necessary for memories to settle properly in the brain. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, children have a lot of both, but as we grow up we have less and less of them. Some elderly people hardly have deep sleep at all, and very little REM. They may sleep less overall, but mostly it is the third type of sleep that expands to fill the night.

As adults, most of our night is filled with Theta sleep. The theta brainwaves are slower than alpha, which is the relaxed waves of contentment, meditation and the feeling of just being alive with no worries. Actually alpha waves also are found in sleep to some degree, especially shortly after falling asleep, but theta waves dominate. The experience of Theta sleep varies somewhat, but if woken you may remember drifting images without intense feelings and without much of a plot. Some people when woken from Theta sleep will say that they were not really asleep, they were thinking.

It seems likely that theta sleep has no “medical” purpose, but simply serves to conserve energy and keep us from waking up and becoming active at night. For our ancestors both of these functions were very important, of course. Food was often scarce, and humans have poor sense of hearing and smell compared to predators. Staying in the cave with a fire by the entrance was definitely the way to survive long enough to pass your genes on to the next generation.

In today’s brightly lit world, it would be nice if we could cut down on the theta sleep. Alas, it is hardcoded into our brain. Sleep happens in “cycles” of up to 90 minutes, although in some people they can be shorter. After we fall asleep, we spend a bit of time in Theta sleep, then slide down to Delta for the first time that night. After 15-30 minutes, brain waves become shorter and faster again and we spend most of our 90 minutes in Theta, before having a short intense REM sleep of perhaps 5 minutes. Then slowly down again for a second round of Delta, unless you are too old. This Delta is typically shorter than the first. The next time we come to the top of the sleep cycle, the REM episode lasts longer.

The third Delta is quite short in college students, which are the usual “lab rats” of research on humans. It is longer for teenagers and children, and entirely absent for most adults. But the REM periods get longer and longer for each sleep cycle, and can grow into long, elaborate adventures in dreams that leave us tired. Fueling a raging brain is hard work, and sometimes asthma attacks and heart infarcts happen in the last REM sleep of the morning, especially on weekends when people can sleep an extra 90 minutes cycle or two. Less dangerous but somewhat embarrassing, young men frequently have orgasm during their longest REM sessions. This is much less common in women – probably. A number of boys and men don’t actually remember the orgasm, but ejaculation of semen leaves a sticky proof for when they wake up.

With this understanding of the three phases of sleep, we have an idea why some people can get by on 3 or 4.5 hours of sleep – they need the delta sleep but for some reason require less REM sleep than most of us, or possibly they start having longer REM sleep already during their first sleep cycles. Generally, the more Delta and REM we manage to pack into the first sleep cycles, the less we need to sleep overall. This happens naturally to sleep-deprived people: Their first sleep cycles contain lots of delta, which is the first sleep debt to pay off, and REM also takes up more time than usual. Unfortunately, sleep deprivation is not a good solution, since it also has the side effect that sleep intrudes on waking life in short burst. These intrusions happen when we are sitting still in a static landscape: At school, at work, and on the highway.

Well, that seems like a good place to stop for this time. On the highway. We may have the technology to move faster than a speeding cheetah and with the weight of a rhino, but we still have the brain of a caveman. Especially when sleepy…

Brainwave entrainment and sleep, again

Open your mind and let the New Age of Technology in! Messing around with your brain waves may sound scary, but that’s what they thought about flying too. And before that, running faster than horses. If God wanted us to go beyond our limitations, He would have given us the ability to create!

An online friend complained about insomnia again, so I hurried to recommend delta brainwave entrainment. This little masterpiece of modern science can replace up to 2 hours of sleep with half an hour of entrainment. Beyond that, you run into rapidly diminishing returns – it is not possible to replace sleep entirely, not even if you use several different frequencies of brainwave entrainment. Still, it is pretty impressive.

Unfortunately, it turns out my friend had experimented with brainwave entrainment in the past, on my recommendation, but experienced side effects that were worse than her lack of sleep. Even 10 minutes of delta entrainment caused blurred vision, sometimes migraine, and once she even experienced a seizure afterwards (although it is unclear whether this actually came from the entrainment). Unsurprisingly, she then gave up on the project, despite observing the almost magical effects of the technology.

It is more the rule than the exception that you will experience something when you first start using brainwave entrainment, especially if you start with delta, which is the slowest brainwave frequencies and only dominates naturally during our deepest sleep. So yeah, expect the unexpected. But for most people, the side effects are pleasant or just plain weird. Pain or neurological distortions like blurred vision or temporary loss of short-term memory are rare and typically symptoms of excessive use. The only permanent damage I have heard of is one user who got tinnitus, ringing in the ears. Given the thousands of users of brainwave entrainment, it is as likely as not that the fellow would have developed the problem during the same time period regardless. But who knows. Still, the odds are pretty good that you will benefit, and it is very unlikely that you will malefit, as it were.

Still, I recommend the LifeFlow approach of starting with a more accessible frequency. The LifeFlow program starts at 10 Hz, which is similar to a beginner’s meditation, or the relaxed feeling of lounging in a Stressless chair. It is recommended to use this for 40 minutes a day for two months before moving on to 9 Hz, a slightly deeper form of alpha wave, similar to what you experience the last few minutes before falling asleep. It continues this way down to 1 Hz, which is solid delta and comparable to deep sleep. During a night of sleep, you are unlikely to have delta after the first two sleep cycles unless you are a child. A sleep cycle is 90 minutes, and consists of several phases, so few adults and virtually no elderly get as much as 30 minutes of it naturally. Children do, however, and I don’t think delta entrainment is useful for them. They should get the opportunity to sleep naturally.

As I mentioned, the value of delta entrainment in connection with sleep is that it provides a type of brainwave that we need but which we don’t get much of as we grow older. Sleep consists of four phases, but two of them are particularly important. Deep sleep with delta waves is one of them. The other is REM sleep, or intense lifelike dreaming. Delta occurs naturally only at the beginning of the night, while REM increases gradually with each cycle through the night. Again, children have more of both, elderly less. In fact, elderly often go nights without delta at all, but also have less REM. Their dreams are often so prosaic that they wake up thinking they have not slept at all, despite snoring loudly!  When humans – and even animals – are kept awake for a long time, they catch up by having more delta and REM sleep the first night they are allowed to sleep again. This is a pretty good hint that these sleep phases are particularly important.

We don’t know any way to induce REM electronically. Sex will do it in rabbits, or so I have read. But delta waves we can create with precise sound patterns. All you need to do is close your eyes. You don’t even have to think about England. As long as you refrain from intense, primal emotions – fear, anger, lust or disgust – the entrainment will work its magic. You can even worry a little, if you feel the urge, just don’t panic.

But to reduce the risk of creepy side effects, I recommend starting with lighter frequencies (alpha or at least theta) and perhaps even shorter time spans in the beginning. Notice that most side effects are actually either pleasant or just psychedelic, but they are still distracting. The less you think about the experience, the better really. Just close your eyes, relax and let the sound wash over you.

I have an MP3 player with delta tracks beside me on my bed. That way, if I go to bed early enough to not fall asleep instantly, I can spend the time relaxing with delta waves. It is pretty nifty. I am a lot more awake at work than I used to be – I used to need to nap twice or thrice during most workdays, although my naps were brief – and I can now work full days instead of 90%. I still have Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome and perhaps I will for the rest of my life, but at least now I can do something to reduce the impact on my life.

I should admit that I am not sure it all comes from the brainwave entrainment, I made other changes in my life too. I learned laws of the mind from Happy Science and started to read esoteric books of timeless wisdom by Christian and near-Christian philosophers during the same time frame. It may even be a combination of several of these. Perhaps the passing of a couple years count as well, midlife changes and all that. But from a scientific point of view, when it comes to the effect on daytime sleepiness, brainwave entrainment is the main suspect.

A bit more enthusiastic than me, this fellow LifeFlow user escaped psychiatric hell by the power of brainwave entrainment. There are a number of such stories among the LifeFlow regulars.  His review is here at MeditationStars.


In praise of sleep

Sleeping girl (safe for work)

Sleep is necessary for most humans and animals, and can also be great fun. ^_^

Sleep has a bit of a bad reputation. In popular usage, it often equals laziness. “Great men are not born great – they become great while others sleep.” So says an ancient proverb, and it may have been true in the ages when the night lasted for eleven hours. Today, sleeping is such a scarce resource that an extra hour or two can actually make you greater: The average young adult American will do measurably better on IQ tests after sleeping an hour longer than usual.

The pressure against sleep may have started hundreds of years ago when coffee was invented, but it was only with the invention of electric light that the tide of the battle turned. Thomas Edison famously promised to make electricity so cheap, only the rich would buy candles. This also came to pass. No longer was darkness enough of an excuse for sleep; and with cheap coffee from the colonies, lack of sleep was no longer enough excuse for being tired. Over the span of one human lifetime, the night became the new border for mankind to settle, and lack of sleep became the normal human condition.

Today, sleep disturbances are among the most common health problems in the rich world, although they are rarely fatal in themselves. Instead, lack of sleep quietly increase the number of deaths from other causes. One obvious example is traffic accidents (driving while tired is comparable to driving drunk, but almost impossible for police to detect).  But lack of sleep also contributes more indirectly to mortality, by reducing our willpower and increasing appetite, contributing to the already large problem of obesity. And eating is only half the problem: Being half sleepy, we are more likely to sit down and zone out in front of the TV rather than do something active with our body. This is even worse for our health than the extra pounds we pack on. Ironically, it also contributes to the insomnia of the next night.

For despite our “sleep debt”, we experience insomnia more than ever. In part this is a self-fuelling process: When we have no more time left for sleep than we need, we become impatient, which makes it hard to sleep. The more we concentrate on sleeping, the less sleepy we become. Ironically, people who struggle to stay awake find it harder and harder, so instead of sleeping at night, we fall asleep at work or, if worst comes to worst, at the wheel.

Sleep has a number of health benefits in itself, but this mostly applies to the deep sleep (“delta sleep”, named for the large, slow, regular delta brainwaves.) In this sleep phase, the brain activity is at its lowest, but the body’s hormone and immune system are adjusted. Human growth hormone is secreted in this phase, and it takes up more time in children, less in adults, and almost disappear among the elderly. This form of sleep mostly take place early in the night, during the first and second sleep cycle.  (Each sleep cycle consists of four phases and lasts approximately 90 minutes – there may be some variation, but that is the rule-of-thumb number.)

Another important part of sleep is REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement), which is where the intense, lifelike (or larger than life) dreams appear. Strong feelings are common in this phase. While the muscles we normally control are switched off, the heart and lungs are working as hard as when we are awake or more so. Many heart attacks occur in the morning when we have most of this sleep. Another important effect of REM sleep is that it activates the sexual organs. This is very obvious in men, but does not necessarily imply that the dreams are sexual in nature. Pretty much any REM dream that is not a nightmare is likely to cause some sexual activation, at least in the young.

The first REM dreams tend to be short and unpleasant, but over the course of the night they become longer, more convoluted but usually also happier. This is a major reason why most people feel more upbeat in the morning (well, after they get over the rude awakening of the alarm clock). A certain type of clinical depression however has this reversed, so that the later dreams get worse and worse. Patients naturally tend to try to sleep less, but this has other negative effects on their health. Alcohol also reduces REM sleep, and it is not uncommon for patients with this condition to take up drinking.

Between the deep sleep and the vivid dream sleep there are two intermediate levels which are really neither. They tend to consist of disjointed images, trivial dreams or shallow thought. As we grow older, the experience in these sleep phases tend to become more and more thought-like, and it is not uncommon for people to wake up thinking they have not slept at all, despite having spent several hours in alpha and (mostly) theta sleep. As we age, this part of the sleep also takes up more and more of the time as the two others slowly dwindle.


It varies greatly how much sleep a person needs. Babies need more than children, children more than adults, adults a bit more than elders, and teenagers a lot more than they believe. The highly intelligent often need less sleep than others. But there are also great variations among families, and even individuals. So anything between four and ten hours is probably OK if you feel awake and refreshed when you wake up (or shortly after).

What is not OK, however, is a sudden change in sleep patterns. I don’t mean from night to night, but changes over the course of weeks or months. Changes in sleep patterns are among the first signs of psychosis, before disturbances in behavior. But there is also the risk that your hormones may be affected by some kind of disease, including tumors. So if you need a lot more or less sleep than you did half a year ago, on a regular basis, you should absolutely talk to a health professional or two. Since sleep problems are ubiquitous, your doctor may not listen if you are vague on this point. Make it clear that this is not a matter of sleeping in a new bed or having stress at work. (Unless, of course, that is the truth.)


There are several ways of dealing with insomnia or simply trying to get by on less sleep. The most obvious is the nap. If you have periods during the day when you are so tired that you almost black out, consider if it is possible to find a shielded place and nap for a few minutes. Napping for five or ten minutes is likely to restore your energy to a surprisingly high degree. In fact, this is generally more likely to leave you wide awake than longer naps of half an hour or more.

A related technique is to sit and close your eyes while holding an object in one of your hands. Empty your mind completely – this should be easy when you are super sleepy –  and give yourself over to sleep. When the object falls down, you will wake from the sound, or from the feeling of losing it. (Probably not wise to use an expensive vase for this – I use a plastic soda bottle with a little water in and the cap on. A bell would obviously be perfect. You can also tie some smaller object to your finger with a thread, which will wake you without making a loud sound.) You may not actually need to fall asleep, the point is having a way that ensures you will wake up if you do. A couple minutes of passing through the borderlands of sleep may be enough.

It would seem that the transition into and out of sleep is itself a particularly potent phase, as demonstrated by this “power nap” technique. We don’t know exactly why this is. Esoteric tradition says that information is passed between the conscious self and the greater soul (subconscious) at the moment of falling asleep and of waking up, but brainwave scans fail to show any such moment: The brain produces alpha waves that gradually get more and more mixed with theta waves, and you may address the test subject at any time in this sliding scale and they will return seamlessly to waking. In the case of intense bouts of sleepiness, however, there is subjectively a moment of falling asleep (or not) which is clearly perceived.

Another practice is sleeping twice rather than once. For instance you may return from work, sleep for three hours, stay up into the small hours, and sleep three hours again, yet perform as well as you otherwise would with seven or eight hours of sleep. Some people find this quite effective, while others find it horribly uncomfortable and quickly give up. It depends mainly on how much your body follows the circadian rhythm. Some people have great changes in body temperature over the course of the day, while others have rather small changes. The first group seem doomed to having at least one fairly long sleep, while the second group can split theirs into two or even more, and get away with less sleep overall.

Finally, there is meditation and brainwave entrainment, which I have some experience with. Neither of these can replace sleep, but both can reduce the need for sleep to some degree. If you get up an hour earlier in the morning and meditate for half an hour, you will usually be more rested, awake and alert than when you slept an hour longer. However, you cannot meditate for two hours and skip four hours of sleep; well, most people cannot, at least. Gurus who spend much of their day in deep meditation may need as little as a couple hours of sleep each night.

Brainwave entrainment offers the possibility to enter brainwave states that are usually only available during sleep, such as delta with its slow, large brainwaves that span most of the sleeping brain. Such entrainment may require some experience to make the full use of, and is best combined with meditation. Even without meditation, however, a great degree of entrainment will occur after about 8 minutes, as long as you don’t harbor primal emotions (fear, anger, lust or disgust). The entrainment starts in an area near the top of the brain stem, and the reptile brain with its primal emotions lies between this area and the larger brain which we want to entrain. It is in other words a practical rather than moral problem, if that helps.

Audio-based entrainment can be used in bed (especially if you are alone there) – binaural beats require headphones while monaural and isochronic can be delivered either over speakers, headphones or ear plugs. The benefit of this approach is that it is easier to fall asleep when you know you don’t need to. Since the delta entrainment will anyway ensure some of the benefits of deep sleep (just not all), you will not panic if you stay awake.

For the duration of your staying awake, your brain will be influenced by the sound pulse. During sleep, however, the 90-minute sleep cycle will to a great degree overrule any external impulses, so you will still experience vivid dreams etc. This is based on my personal experience. I have seen claims that deep sleep is deeper when there is delta entrainment going on, but I don’t have any reliable research at hand that proves this, and cannot attest it from personal experience. It seems to me that brainwave entrainment is most effective in the period leading up to sleep, and in the morning. It may be a good idea to have a sound track that times out but is easy to restart.

This concludes today’s lecture. ^_^

For further and even weirder reading, an external link: The Mystery of Sleep and the lucky few who don’t need it.


More fun with sleeping!

Duvet rolled into caterpillar shape makes for good sleeping! Definitely more so than mobile phones. Believe me: Unlike Kana-chan here, I have tried both.

Rather than meditate for hours, how about using the amazing power of the smartphone to improve sleep quality with less quantity? That is the idea behind applications like the successful SleepCycle app for iPhone. You put it somewhere in the same bed as yourself, and it maps your movements through the night and uploads them to the Internet… no, wait, it uses them to calculate your sleep cycles.

All humans have sleep cycles, evidently. They are not bikes, but structures of our sleep. They last from 90 minutes up to 110 minutes, most commonly the first from what literature tells me. In each such cycle we descend toward deep, slow-wave sleep, and gradually back up toward REM sleep, which is similar to being awake but with intense emotions. At the end of this dreaming, we may wake up for just a moment (but will generally not remember it later) and then sink toward the next deep sleep. If we don’t fall asleep at that point, for instance because we have already slept for 9 hours, we will generally feel pretty good and ready to take on the day. The SleepCycle app tries to wake you up at just such a point, but a cycle or two earlier than you would have woken up naturally. It should still be better than trying to claw your way up from deep sleep.

This is most important to young people, who continue to sink down into delta sleep, the deep silence of the brain, almost every sleep cycle of the night. As we grow older, we tend to only have that deep sleep in the first half of the night.  Now that I am past 50, that seems to be the case with me. (Although if you skip sleep a couple days, you will try to regain that particular type of sleep.) The elderly may have only minutes of deep sleep, some nights none at all. But enough about that.

I don’t have an iPhone, but I do have an Android smartphone. So I downloaded a very similar app, “Sleep as an Droid”. I even tested the sensor, that it was able to register the movements when I tossed or turned on my bed. But even though I tried to use it tonight, the alarm only went off at the last moment, and there were no statistics. I must have somehow gotten the setup wrong, I guess. It is a bit more complex than a common alarm. So I may try again.

On the bright side, it did not catch fire. It is generally a bad idea to cover your smartphone with highly insulating textiles for many hours on end. I tried to place it so that it was not covered, and did succeed, but still I guess it made me a little nervous: I woke up twice during the first few hours of the night. This may have turned to my advantage: I used the opportunity to restart the 2Hz delta brainwave entrainment track on my computer, getting extra doses of deep slow-wave sleep. I certainly was less sleepy than usual at work today, but it was hardly intentional on the part of the sleep app, so to speak.

Also, the phone was not warm at all in the morning, so perhaps I should give it another chance. I’m not putting it under my pillow though!


Sleep or meditation

“As a result, the treated subject appeared to lose its sanity and disappeared.” Unfortunately, this also seems to happen to blogs where the owner takes up a practice of meditating for hours a day. It seems to work fine in moderation though. Well, at least for the not disappearing part, so far. For the rest, judge for yourself.

We humans, and most animals, seem to have been made to sleep. Nocturnal animals sleep during the day, diurnal animals sleep during the night. Humans seem to naturally sleep some 9 hours a night, although most of us can get by just fine on 8, 7.5 or even 7. Much less than that and the majority will start to experience negative side effects.  Some have trouble even on less than 8.

Since our furry friends also need sleep (and feathered and scaled ones too), it seems pretty obvious that this need is biological rather than psychological. I mean, you could tell someone that hunger is just a feeling, and he may believe you strongly enough to go on without eating for quite some while, but he would invariably fall ill after a while. It is the same with sleep, if not more so. Pretty much any healthy person can go a week without food (as long as they have water, at least!) but a week without sleep is virtually impossible to arrange, no matter how much you engage the person to keep them awake. And even should you succeed, most will turn clinically insane before the week is over.

So why then is it a scientific fact that some meditation gurus can get by on half as much sleep, or in extreme cases even less?  And that even while they sleep, they still remain self-aware at the very least? Is it a miracle, a divine intervention overruling the usual laws of nature?

Actually there is a more this-worldly explanation, not that this world is not a miracle if you look at it in a certain way. But anyway! When you meditate, your brain waves gradually become synchronized across most of your brain. This also happens during sleep (except for the intense dream sleep, also called REM sleep). We spend some time early in the night in such REM sleep, especially as children and then gradually less over the years. Likewise we also spend some time, especially at the start of the night, in deep slow-wave (“delta”) sleep.  But most of the night is taken up by theta and very low alpha sleep. And this is brainwaves we can also have while meditating.

Usually people spend their meditation time generating alpha waves. This corresponds to a state of quiet and relaxed awareness. The same frequencies appear naturally when we lie down and begin to relax toward sleep, if we don’t have insomnia. Actually, people who start meditating will have a tendency to fall asleep if they get too comfortable.  But for an experienced meditator it becomes easier to stay awake and aware during meditation, and eventually more aware throughout the day… and finally throughout the night, for a few. Those who are able to reliably meditate even during the deeper theta waves, will basically get much of their “sleep” while meditating. The body and the brain both relax, but they remain aware instead of their mind drifting through fragmentary dreams.

So you may say the distracting functions of the brain are asleep, but the awareness is not. This, I believe, is how it works. But anyway, it works, but you are unlikely to see much of it if you start meditating during your midlife crisis. It tends to take a couple decades to get that far even if you start while you are young.


What else appeared to me in this context was acceptance. I had this idea that a lot of our sleeping brain activity is about problems, things we struggle with, things we fear or hope for, things we can’t let go of. I know that my own dreams at the beginning of the night tends toward the nightmarish – criminals, accidents, huge spiders –  while late in morning the dreams are often erotic or social, or occasionally religious. So it is a subconscious – or at least unconscious – form of thinking that is more involved than thinking in words. A form of processing. Working through our fears and worries toward what we really wish for.

What if we become more accepting of reality? What if we pare down our worldly desires and our attachment, and thereby eventually our fears? Then the brain would simply not have the need to do a lot of processing of that kind, right? So that may also be another mechanism by which meditation and similar spiritual practices reduced the need for sleep. It may be a two-pronged attack, both psychological and biological.


Unfortunately for the topic, I cannot explore this in my personal life. I am not a guru or anything. I began meditating when I was fairly young – in my late teens if memory serves – and did so actively for a while. But I had some experiences that seemed supernatural, and decided to cut down on meditation to avoid this. So after that I meditated only when I felt an intense need for it, for the most part, until now in my middle age where I have experimented more systematically with meditation and brainwave entrainment. (They are not the same thing.)

It does seem from my experience that using deep brainwave entrainment (delta frequencies) does reduce the need for sleep a bit and generally makes me less sleepy during the daytime. But I have not tested using theta brainwave entrainment for several hours a day, to emulate the hours spent in theta each night. I am not sure I am motivated for it even now, even for the sake of science.  Perhaps you or I will come across the writings of some actual guru who can tell us from firsthand experience. I am perfectly happy to take this second- or even third-hand. At least for now. You never know who I will be in the future, if any.



Sleep! Or not.

When I was little, I once dreamed that everyone else was eating cake and I didn’t get any of it.  I was grumpy for hours after I woke up.  As an adult, you can probably have all the cake you want, but perhaps you no longer can have all the sleep you want.  And grumpiness is the least of the consequences.

Sleep disorders are not just a “nightmare” for those who suffer from them. They also cost society much in lost workdays.  And not only those days when you are too tired to work, having tossed and turned all night and finally falling asleep when you were about to go to work. I have been there and you have my sympathy, but unfortunately your boss may be less sympathetic. It is common to come up with some more dignified excuse, which already distorts the numbers. And yet even this is only the top of the iceberg.

Lack of sleep, especially deep sleep, opens the body to a host of adverse effects further down the road.  Slow-wave sleep strengthens the immune system and helps rebuild muscles.  So a great number of sick days could have been avoided if you met the environment with a well-rested body.  And yet even this may not be the worst part.  Most of us don’t get sick every day or even every week, so a few days off is just part of what life throws our way.  But an increasing number of people are unable to keep a full job at all, or even a job at all, even though they want to.  And the truth is that mental problems is by far the fastest growing category here. Today’s information age has no room for those who barely can keep their mind together on an ordinary day, much less fill it with complex models of abstract information. Without sufficient sleep (and of sufficient quality) it is hard to remain alert and clearheaded enough for the workplace of tomorrow.

Indeed, sleep disturbances are among the first signs of major mental illnesses.  But they may be more than mere symptoms:  There are studies where healthy volunteers have been kept from dreaming for several days.  They reacted with loss of concentration, then changes in behavior  and attitude, and eventually hallucinations.  In these otherwise healthy people, a good night’s sleep restored their mental health.  But not all people get a good night’s sleep.

But knowing all this will probably cause you to worry even more, and so sleep even less!  Have I come to torment you before the time?  Hardly!  There are some good news, except they are not really new at all. On the contrary, some of them are approximately as old as civilization. Although some progress has also been made in recent years. Perk up your ears, you can sleep later!

“Meditation is not medication.”  This simple fact seems lost on some of those who arrive at places like the Project Meditation Forum. It is common these days to want a quick fix, and seek it out only when things don’t work anymore the old way.  Unfortunately, this is likely to cause disappointment and more frustration.  The effect of meditation is far more subtle, but it is still a solution in the long run.

A number of people find that their sleep becomes healthier after they have taken up the practice of meditation.  Stilling the waves of the mind, the carousel of thoughts and feelings no longer whirl through their heads when that head hits the pillow.  More prosaically, those whirling thoughts will show up when you try to meditate as well.  You will learn to watch them with detachment rather than hate them, fear them or repress them.  You will find that in the eye of the storm there is a calm center, and although it may take time to get settled there, you will find it gradually easier as time passes.  Unfortunately, by “time passes” we are talking months and years rather than this weekend.  Still, if you don’t have some terminal disease now, you will probably want next year to have done the right thing this year!  It is not like you do this for a stranger, but for your future self.

There are ways to speed up the process of meditation, or rather parts of it, with modern technology.  But first let us have a look at traditional meditation and how it interacts with sleep.

As I mentioned, many people will sleep better as soon as the turmoil inside starts to calm down.  But even if your sleep disturbances are physical and incurable, all is not lost!  People who meditate need less sleep too. In the beginning they may be able to get up half an hour earlier and meditate for half an hour, which seems a pretty tame exchange. But gurus and sages who have meditated for decades, can go with extremely little sleep and suffer no ill effects.  This does not happen overnight either:  The longer you keep at it, the greater the benefit.  There are very good reasons for this.

During sleep we use a different set of brainwaves from those we use when awake.  In everyday life, we mostly use beta waves, which are small and irregular but well suited for the constantly shifting attention of everyday life.  When we calm down and relax, we shift to alpha waves, which are slower but more regular.  On the road to falling asleep, these waves replace the beta waves, and eventually get mixed with the even slower theta waves. These take up by far most of our sleep time, especially as we grow older.  In the beginning of the night we also spend some time in delta (or slow-wave) sleep, which has even far larger and slower brain waves.  It is during this sleep phase that the body releases human growth hormone.  In adults this hormone mostly just repairs the body you already have (although nose, ears and sometimes hands and feet very slowly continue to grow even in adult life. It is worth it though.)  During the last part of the night, we instead spend more and more time in REM sleep, with intense dreams. The brainwaves here are much like in waking life. This sleep phase is essential to the mind but somewhat exhausting to the body.

As  we grow older, the pattern changes.  Deep, dreamless sleep is the first to fade. In many elderly several night can pass without any slow-wave sleep whatsoever. This is not only bad news for the immune system and muscles, but also seems to have a negative impact on learning.  Theta sleep expands to take the place of delta, but also dreamsleep suffers: In many cases, when the beta waves begin, instead of dreaming the elderly will simply wake up. They are not at all finished with their sleep for the night, but what are they to do?  The body reacts to REM (dreamsleep) by increasing heart rate and blood pressure.  If you wake up at this time, chances are that you don’t feel much like going back to sleep for a while, even if you are tired.

When you learn to meditate, at first you will spend the time in alpha waves.  That is actually a best-case scenario, because beginners are interrupted by beta a lot.  But time helps with this. Being able to enter alpha waves at will, you can fall asleep more easily.  But of course meditation time is not meant to be spent sleeping.  Rather, meditation causes an expansion of awareness.  With years of practice, you will be able to reach theta waves when you meditate. These deeper, slower waves are normally only active during sleep, but the guru or sage or advanced monk can enter them at will.

Now we remember that theta waves is where we spend most of our sleep, and particularly as adults and beyond.  So having spent hours in this state while conscious, there is no reason why these people should do it all over again while asleep.  Meditation itself is a rather pleasurable activity (although not at all exciting) so it is only natural that for those skilled enough, meditation gradually eats up sleep time.  Although there will always be some left. Probably. But we’re talking a couple hours here for old gurus.   That should make up for pretty much any sleep problems you may have.

Unfortunately, you are probably not a guru.  Well, there are some of them out there, but they probably don’t read this.  So what about the rest?  Well, we could get started with meditation without waiting overlong.  Also, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, we could speed up reaching the deeper brainwaves. This is easily done through brainwave entrainment, which I have written about occasionally in the past. Like last week.

You can buy elaborate soundtracks with lots of explanation and support.  I’m a bit of a fan of LifeFlow, from Project Meditation.  This system is meant to work with meditation, and gradually introduces deeper and slower brain waves over a period of 10 months. That’s a lot of time (and some money) but it still beats decades.

I have also used Holosync, from Centerpointe Research Institute.  To be honest, I think they have researched marketing more than brainwave entrainment for the last pretty many years, but they do have a tried and true formula which thousands of people have been willing to pay a substantial amount to continue using for several years.  So it may be worth looking into. In any case, they have a free sample CD.  It is mostly sales pitch, but there is about 10 minutes of pretty good delta entrainment in the middle (at the end of the first track).  That may not sound like much, especially when it takes a few minutes to get the brain entrained (especially the first times).  But remember that there are elderly people who go several nights in a row without delta at all.  So it may be worth the time. Not to mention the price, since it is a free demo.

Or you could download free software and make your own. Some research required. Gnaural is available for several platforms, including Windows and Linux. Certified geeky.

Anyway, to sum it up:  Meditation can replace sleep to a great extent and is generally a pleasant activity (or rather passivity) once you get the hang of it.  If there is just no way you can sleep without eating toxic stuff, you may give it a try.  It will take time, but you are just tossing and turning anyway, so why not use that time?  Works for me.

Just slightly creepy sleep

It’s been a month since the week with the two creepy dreams.  Tonight’s was much less so, but still enough to wake me up and give me goosebumps.

In my dream, I was in the house here, and the front door was open, as it often is in summer.  I was looking out and there was a boy standing outside.  He was no more than around 12 years old, possible even less, certainly not someone who would normally be a danger.  He did not look threatening in any way, really.  The strange thing was that he did not seem to notice me at all, even though the door was open and I was standing right there.  He was just not looking that way at all. I found this embarrassing and began to close the door.  But something made me look again.  And he was gone.  Disappeared in the matter of a couple seconds.  That’s when I was creeped out and woke up. That and there were sounds as if there was a tractor or some construction machine outside, and a sound as if something was pulling or pushing on the house and it was giving just a little, like during a storm.  But when the buzzing in my head stopped, the sounds had stopped as well.  Yes, there were spindles again, which means that despite the relative vividness of the dream, it must have happened during phase II.  It was about 20 minutes after I fell asleep.

The only common parts with the truly creepy dreams were the fact that the dream took place here, rather than in some fantasy world or somewhere I lived before, and the experience of someone overlooking me as if I was not there. A bit like those short ghost stories where in the last paragraph the main character realizes that he was the ghost all along.

I am writing this while it is fresh, before going back to bed. There haven’t been any strange sounds in the meantime. I think it was probably a passing train.  They do that irregularly but several times a night, and the heavy goods trains when they race past here make the ground shake.  I can’t imagine how it must be for those who live  almost right across the road from the railway.  There is one more neighbor between them and me, and some of the trains still make things in the house rattle and shake.

HoloSync vs. sleep


There are several reasons for lack of sleep… although in my case, our supergroup’s weekly gaming night isn’t until Wednesday. And even then I’ve usually had to skip it. Perhaps HoloSync can fix that too?

There is still some vegetation in my sinuses, although it mostly only blossoms up over the workday. Perhaps my workplace is cursed, there certainly are plenty of people who have felt the reason to curse us. Or perhaps work just sucks. There was some poll here in Norway a few years ago among the people on disability pension, and the vast majority of them reported good or very good health. This upset some people, who thought these folks were just relaxing with a drinking straw in our tax money, and not even sick at all. But the thing is, they were almost certainly ill, and many of them gravely ill, back when they had to work. Conversely, if we had the year off, we would be practically bursting with vitality. Work sucks. Even the Bible says so. But it has to be done. Even if that means my sinuses run full of stuff you don’t discuss during meals.

So on the night to yesterday, I went to sleep at a decent time, but told myself that if I woke up early, I would just get up and do a Dive (the entry-level HoloSync session) instead of trying to sleep more and get my bronchia full of goo. This also came to pass, although I should probably not have gotten up after only four and a half hours of sleep. In retrospect. Hindsight. 20/20 and all that.

The reason why I got up was actually also that I had just finished a rather dramatic dream, by my standards. It was certainly more exciting to me than I am able to describe it, but every bit as exhausting. I will write it later in the entry if it looks too short.

Anyway, I did the extra sync (I also do one after I come home, sometimes right after and sometimes later in the evening, but well before bedtime so I don’t go to bed too rested). I fell asleep, as usual, but I guess it helped. I did not fall asleep at work, or at least not for long. (I have written repeatedly about the value of naps at work. I don’t have as many of them as I used to, but often a short one, which restores my energy greatly in only a few minutes. Naps are good. People should do those instead of smoking and drinking coffee, and the world would be a better place.)

Fast forward to this morning. I had gone to bed too late, for reasons that fall outside this entry. So I only had 5:30 hours to sleep, while the optimum for me is 6:30 to 7, depending on my energy level. I decided against adding an extra hour to the timer, knowing that this will likely incur a cost when I try to get back. My body does not “go back” when it comes to wake-up time. Add that to the intestinal routines of my morning (again outside the scope of this entry) and I would soon end up at work after lunch. So once again I put my trust in HoloSync.

You may already know that yogis, gurus and Zen monks get by on much less sleep than most people. Because they meditate hours a day, and have done so for decades, something has changed inside them so that some of the meditation time counts as sleep time. Should I explain the biology of that? Normal sleep consists of several phases, which follow each other in a 90-minute cycle. The two supposedly essential phases are delta (deep dreamless sleep) and REM (vivid dream), but there is also time spent in vague, non-vivid dream sleep. People who wake from that “filler” sleep often believe that they have been thinking rather than dreaming, more so the older they are. (This type of sleep becomes more and more lifelike over time, in other words. It also makes up more of the total sleep time.) It is also worth noting that in the beginning of the night, delta sleep makes up more of the 90 minutes, while toward the morning REM takes up more time and delta sleep dwindles.

People who meditate very deeply enter into brain/mind states that are similar to some of the sleep states, but with the difference that they are passively aware during them, conscious instead of unconscious. In extreme cases they are also passively aware (“witnessing”) during actual sleep. I don’t know if there is any benefit to that except that it is cool. But making do with less sleep certainly sounds like a benefit to me!

Now HoloSync (and its competitors in the binaural technology) induce these altered brain waves through technology. The Dive starts with alpha waves, which are common in deep relaxation and just before falling asleep. It then moves on to theta waves, which plays some role during REM and possible also during filler sleep (I need to check that again) and which is slower than alpha. Finally it moves down into delta waves for the last part of the 30 minutes it lasts.

There is a second track on the CD, which you can set to play right after the Dive once you have gotten used to it, and it keeps you in delta for another half hour. That is substantially longer than you normally stay in deep sleep in one go, unless you are badly exhausted. I only use the Dive yet, however.

This time I stayed awake during most of the Dive, and minimally aware even during the last part. Although I lost volition fairly early, so that I could not have looked at my watch even if I wanted to (which I might be tempted to, since I did not have much more than the half hour before I had to go to work). I was surprised at staying aware so much for so long, since during all my earlier listens I have fallen asleep fairly quickly. (It still has some effect as long as your headphones stay on though, so no big loss.) This time I even had a very brief lucid dream scene, nothing interesting really (I was running toward our mailboxes and saw them coming closer and closer) but it was kind of cool to watch this and know that it came from my brain entering theta waves. (I can not normally visualize, the way most humans can, when awake. It just does not work.)

I was a bit tired at work, but I am pretty sure it helped at least somewhat. Normally I would have needed a 7 hour sleep at least since I was already in sleep debt from the previous day.

I think only the last 10 minutes or so of the Dive is actual delta, and perhaps 10 minutes theta, so it hardly makes up for a whole lost sleep cycle. But it does seem to mitigate lack of sleep somewhat. If I ever move on to add the 30 minutes of delta in Immersion, I ought to report any changes in my sleep habits here.

It strikes me that there are two groups of people who could benefit from this side effect. The most obvious is those who suffer from insomnia. If you don’t fall asleep when listening to the HoloSync tracks, that is considered a Good Thing. It is more effective if you are conscious at the time and can listen to it. If you fall asleep after all, well, sleep is what you don’t get enough of, right?

The other group is those who suffer from alpha intrusion in their delta sleep. There is a meme going around in the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome camp that this alpha intrusion is found in most people with the illness, and I have seen some who think it may be a cause of the chronic fatigue itself. Delta sleep is important for regenerating the body. There needs to be more study of whether delta without sleep has all the same benefits, but the few tests that have been done show hormone levels changing as if the test persons got lots of delta sleep. So theoretically binaural beat technology might restore function to ME/CFS patients, although they might need to use it for a couple hours a day for the rest of their lives. Also, they would lose their disability pensions, but if they are anything like me, they would probably rather work than be sick. Even though work sucks, being sick sucks more.

OK, this got pretty long. The dream was about getting off the train by mistake and chasing it. Not very exciting, I’m afraid. Then again it wasn’t a lucid dream at all. Lucid people rarely get off the train hours before their station. Although I am sure it happens and is more interesting to hear about than my dreams.