Sleep Hacking on the Rocks

Since my first night with Zeo, I’ve learned a few things. My first week of data was confusingly all over the place, until I realized that I probably had the headband too loose. I ended up discarding that data and starting over again, so I’ve only got two weeks worth of information so far. Still, it’s enough to infer a few things.

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First up, I’m learning a bit about the device itself. I think as an overall trend, it provides reliable information; however, it does seem to make the occasional mistake. A couple of times I’ve put on the headband and it’s shown me in deep sleep within five minutes, which is unlikely unless I secretly have undiagnosed narcolepsy. Similarly, I’ll sometimes wake up in the morning and it will show me in deep sleep for a period of time that I thought I was awake. These weird readings were intermittent, and it took me a while to figure out what was causing them.

Alcohol is supposed to reduce your amount of REM and deep sleep. However, Zeo’s cause and effect graph shows me something apparently atypical:

That’s right… apparently alcohol drastically increases my amount of deep sleep. My first thought was perhaps I just sleep longer after drinking, but another graph dispels that notion:

So, despite getting roughly the same amount of sleep with and without alcohol, I’m apparently spending a much higher percentage of time in deep sleep. Zeo’s support centre says that deep sleep is “important for growth, restoring muscle and building immunity”. Does this mean that I’d have stronger muscles and a better immune system if I got tanked every night? Somehow, this doesn’t seem quite right. I’m more inclined to think that Zeo misinterprets my “drunk” brainwaves as “deep sleep”, especially given the times I’ve been awake (and tipsy) and it’s told me that I’m in deep sleep.

Does this mean that Zeo is completely inaccurate and useless for tracking trends associated with alcohol consumption? Not quite. The other portion of restorative sleep, the one stage that everyone’s heard about, is REM. REM is when the crazy dreams happen, and it’s also apparently responsible for organizing memory to better apply what you learn. Essentially, REM sleep is for mental improvement, and deep sleep is for physical. Now, let’s look at what happens to my REM sleep when I drink:

Quite the opposite! I suppose it is possible that Zeo is misrecording REM sleep as deep when alcohol is involved, but I’d prefer to see it as a true negative impact. Certainly, my brain doesn’t feel quite as limber and organized the next day after I’ve had a few, so perhaps there’s something to these results. Then again, I can’t say my muscles and immune system feel particularly improved either.

One thing I think I can accurately take from these results is that having 1-2 drinks has no statistically significant impact on my sleep quality. This is rather interesting, and something I will continue to pay attention to. It’s possible that the results may level out over time, as there are far more nights of 1-2 drinks than there are 5+ (which, I believe, is a good thing!).

As an aside, I’m a dreaming machine. Without alcohol (or with only 1-2 drinks), I’m averaging 150 minutes, or about 38 minutes above average for 17-29 year old women. This makes sense to me, as I can’t think of a night in the recent past that I haven’t had memorable dreams. On the flip side, my deep sleep is a little bit below average for my age group, but not by much. In fact, for all my complaints about not sleeping well, I’m actually pretty average, since my schedule allows me to stay up as late as I need and then sleep in a fair bit. If I had to regularly get up early, I’m guessing my scores would drop significantly. One day, I will put that to the test, but not until I absolutely have to.

Sadly, I won’t be able to collect the next 3 weeks of data… I’ll be in Europe! Conferences are the best thing about grad student life. Or is it the flexible schedule?

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