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Tools and techniques

To the best of my knowledge, I’m inventing this field. So, I’ve been thinking, what really would one need to get into the sleep design business for real? Part of the problem in trying to answer that question is that we don’t have a perfect understanding of why we sleep, or more specifically, what the different stages of sleep do for us.

Even without that kind of knowledge, there are some things we can start to do. At minimum, to begin engineering one’s sleep cycle, it’s important to be able to figure out:

  1. Circadian phase
  2. an individual’s PRC
  3. amplitudes for the various ultradian components in an individual’s periodic sleep tendency
  4. sensitivities to various inputs (light, sound, melatonin, etc.)
  5. current sleep architecture

Have I missed anything? Probably. In addition to these, I’m interested in studying the effects of the various approaches to brainwave entrainment which are available. How easy or difficult is it to selectively drive a particular sleep stage? Can one construct a sound track which guides the sleeper through a predetermined sequence of sleep stages? In other words, how much of sleep while under the influence of one of these products is under the brain’s control, and how much is entrainment to an outside influence? Are there factors which make entrainment more likely? More robust?

The last piece of the puzzle, once we have good measurement tools and a way to predictably drive the sleep system, is a set of simulation tools. How solid is the two process model? Do there need to be separate processes for each sleep stage? Does the system admit multiple stable limit cycles? What about aperiodic cycles? These last two questions are interesting from an applied math standpoint, and are things I could probably get published if I can answer them satisfactorily.

In terms of specific tools, the measurement tool I really need is an EEG. There are a couple of options floating around, including the Zeo, but I’m not sure if I can access the raw data easily enough with the Zeo. If it just gives a hypnogram, it won’t be nearly as useful to me as if I can see the raw EEG data. Of course, it may be possible to use the Zeo headband with my own amplifier, which would get around that problem. There’s also an EEG headset being marketed as a potential tool for gamers which looks interesting, but their SDK is windows only, and I’m preferring Macs these days.

There are lots and lots of binaural beats recordings and programs out there. Probably the one that interests me the most at the moment is Pzizz, but I’m guessing that as I get into this, I’ll end up writing my own. Likewise for the simulations. There’s nothing out there at the moment to get at circadian phase or to run a proposed sleep schedule through a two-process simulation. All of these things are on my list. For now, though, I’m off to bed.

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