Dreaming with the Zeo Personal Sleep Coach

Dreaming with the Zeo Personal Sleep Coach by Kelly BulkeleySince August of 2009 I have been using the Zeo Personal Sleep Coach, a new consumer electronics device that allows you to monitor your sleep cycles at home.  It involves wearing a headband with a wireless sensor on your forehead that transmits data to a bedside clock while you sleep.  The Zeo system then calculates the length of your sleep and the contours of your sleep cycle, divided into four stages: waking, light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep.  Zeo has a website where you can upload your data and track the patterns over time. 

The motto of Zeo is “The more you know, the better you sleep.”  I was skeptical at first, as I assumed the headband would be uncomfortable and distracting.  Now, after 350+ nights of using the Zeo, I’m convinced it’s true.  I already slept pretty well before using the Zeo, but the information I get from it has made me much more sensitive to factors affecting my sleep, for good and for ill.  Zeo calculates a single number, the “Z Score,” to summarize the overall quality of your night’s sleep.  100 is the baseline and represents a good night’s sleep (calibrated according to your answers in the introductory survey).  A Z score below 100 is a less-than-optimum night’s sleep, and a Z score of 100 or more indicates an excellent night’s sleep.

My worst Z score is 68, the night after hosting a big party at our house.  My best Z score is 125, which came just last week on the first night of a vacation in Mexico.  I seem to average in the high 80s and low 90s during a regular week. 

During this same time period I have, as usual, been keeping a dream journal.  My goal has been to gather at least a year’s worth of Zeo and dream material to work with before trying to correlate the two sources of data.  On a parallel track, I’ve been developing a digital archive and search engine (the Sleep and Dream Database) to provide new analytic tools for engaging in this kind of comparative study. 

So I’m just about ready to address my primary question about the Zeo: Do the patterns of your sleep match up in any way with the patterns of your dreaming?



Dreams in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Dreams in A Midsummer Night's Dream by Kelly BulkeleyA dream researcher friend asked if knew anything about the role of dreams in Shakespeare’s romantic comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” since she could not find any good info on the web.  Here’s my response, which she suggested I post:

One way to think of this play is as a commentary on the glorious folly of love.  Shakespeare is saying that love is like a dream—it radically changes our perception of reality and other people, it compels us to behave in ways that are foolish and irrational, it’s wild and magical and unpredictable, and it ultimately must yield to the sovereignty of the waking social order (as the end of the play makes clear).

After Bottom has returned from donkey to human status he says some funny things about how crazy and unbelievable dreams are, which is extra amusing and paradoxical because we in the audience have just seen that his “dream” of being an ass was indeed real (IV.ii.203-222).

One of the young lovers, Hermia, has an alarming dream about her beloved Lysander smiling cruelly while a serpent bites her breast (II.ii.144-150).  Her dream turns out to be an accurate “threat simulation” reflecting Lysander’s sudden change of heart towards her.

When all the lovers awaken toward the end, they marvel at their strange nocturnal experiences, and say some nice things about sharing dreams with each other (IV.ii.189-202).

Add to this the fact that the play was originally intended to be performed on midsummer’s night, traditionally a “dreamy” celebration of the shortest night of the year, when people stay up and carouse about till dawn.

And in the final lines of the play, the mischievous Puck asks the audience to pretend they’ve been asleep the whole time, dreaming the spectacle before them (V.i.429-430).

All in all, it’s a play that emphasizes the powerful emotional truth of dreaming and the energizing tension between dream desire and waking structure.

Thanks to Justina Lasley of the Institute for Dream Studies!

 

REMcloud: Adventures in Social Dream Networking

REMcloud: Adventures in Social Dream Networking by Kelly BulkeleyI’ve just joined REMcloud, a new social networking site devoted to dreaming.  It’s an idea whose time has come.  As a technophobic introvert it pains me to say this, but sharing dreams in a Facebook-like setting has a lot of appeal.  It allows you to connect your personal dreams with dreams of countless other people all over the world.  It’s quick, easy to use, and free, and it provides tools to explore recurrent themes in your dreams and the dreams of others. 

The space for writing a dream is limited to 400 characters (about 70 words), which is enough for many dreams but inadequate for the ones that are really detailed and elaborate.  Some of the dreams reported by other people are written in text-messaging style, making it hard to understand what the heck they’re talking about. 

There’s an option to get interpretations for particular words based on typical dream dictionary meanings (e.g. a cellar means a subconscious place where problems are hidden).   This kind of interpretation can be helpful if taken as one possibility among others rather than as definitive fact, a point that could be made more clearly somewhere on the site.

The most intriguing possibility opened up by REMcloud is the ability to observe in real time the macro-trends of collective human dreaming.  The “Dream Mosaics” on the site bring together people’s dreams of celebrities, sports, news events, and potentially other subjects of broad social interest.  Of course there’s no guarantee that people aren’t just making shit up when they type in a supposed “dream,” so this wouldn’t be good data for a scientific study.  But as an entertaining mirror of the kaleidoscopic world of human dreaming, REMcloud is worth checking out.

Proud to Be a Primate

Proud to Be a Primate by Kelly Bulkeley“Our goodness is as deep as our darkness”—that was Kimberley Patton’s gloss on the findings of Franz de Waal, a primatologist who spoke on Saturday at the American Academy of Religion conference in Atlanta.  De Waal’s new book, Age of Empathy (2010), shows that cooperation, reciprocity, and conflict-resolution are just as natural in primates as are aggression and competition.  Contrary to the Social Darwinist assumption that nature is bloody “red in tooth and claw,” de Waal’s research proves that non-human animals have all the basic building blocks of morality.  This means that human morality is not just a matter of controlling our violent, selfish instincts, but rather enhancing and refining our other instincts for empathy, compassion, and sociability.

 Also commenting on de Waal’s research was Armin Geertz, who highlighted the core idea of evolutionary biology that “all life is continuous.”  What seems unique about humans is actually an extension of abilities and behaviors we find in other animals.  Looking ahead to the future of primate research, de Waal said, “the trend is toward the continuity of humans and animals.”

 Is this true of religion? When elephants mourn their dead, chimpanzees dance in rainstorms, and wolves howl at the moon, are we seeing the building blocks of spirituality? Can animals have mystical experiences?   De Waal said it was difficult as a biologist to address such questions, but he did not rule out the possibility of affirmative answers. 

 Score a point for scientific open-mindedness.  

 What about dreaming? Both Patton and Geertz, professors of religious studies, mentioned dreaming as a universal human experience that factors into all religious traditions.  De Waal did not talk about dreams directly, but the cognitive abilities he has identified in non-human primates (empathy, imagination, pretend play, etc.), combined with the similarities in brain functioning across all primate species, strongly suggest that humans are not the only dreamers in nature.

 In his earlier book Chimpanzee Politics (1998) de Waal talked about the dreams of people who study primates:

 “That chimpanzees are experienced in the first place as personalities is evident from the dreams of those of us who work with them.  We dream about these apes as individuals, in the same way that other people dream about their fellow human beings as individuals.  If a student were to say that he or she had dreamed of an ape I would be no less surprised than if someone claimed to have dreamed of a human.

 “I clearly remember the first dream I had about the chimpanzees.  In it my preoccupation with the distance between them and me was apparent.  During this dream the large door to their quarters was opened for me from the inside.  The apes were pushing each other aside in order to get a good look at me.  Yeroen, the oldest male, stepped forward and shook my hand.  Rather impatiently he listened to my request to come in.  He refused point blank.  That was out of the question, he said, and besides, their society would not suit me: it was much too harsh for a human being.” (41)