My Worst and Best Nights of Sleep

My Worst and Best Nights of Sleep by Kelly BulkeleyIn the previous post I noted that my monthly average ZQ over the past 3+ years (August 6, 2009 to December 19, 2012) has regularly hovered around 90, with the highest monthly average being 96 and the lowest 86.  Now, looking more closely at the data, I can see that my worst and best nights of sleep varied quite dramatically from that median, in both directions.


The ZQ is the Zeo sleep monitor’s overall sleep quality score, a number that accounts for total amounts of REM sleep, deep sleep, and time awake during sleep.  Using this metric, I was able to identify the extreme ends of my overall range of sleep.  My lowest ZQ was 57, on November 9, 2009.  On that night I slept a total of 4 hours and 48 minutes, with 1 hour 10 minutes of REM sleep, 55 minutes of deep sleep, and 5 minutes in waking.  My highest ZQ was 127, on January 7, 2012, when I slept a total of 10 hours 59 minutes, with 3 hours 37 minutes of REM sleep, 1 hour 27 minutes of deep sleep, and 0 minutes in waking.

Here are the 16 lowest ZQ nights from the last three years:

57       November 9, 2o11

58       January 21, 2010; August 29, 2011

60       September 16, 2011; July 16, 2012

62       October 3, 2012

63       June 16, 2012; September 10, 2012

64       December 16, 2009; May 20, 2010

65       August 12, 2010; September 9, 2011; September 12, 2012

66       November 4, 2011

67       March 15, 2010; January 6, 2012

I still need to double-check to see that none of these low ZQ nights was the result of faulty technology.  But assuming they’re all valid records of a given night’s sleep, I immediately notice a few things.  First, there are no consecutive nights of very low ZQ.  The closest are September 10 and 12, 2012, when my children were in the midst of ending summer and starting the new school year.   Second, many of the lowest ZQ nights came in the late summer and fall of 2011, when my family was moving to a new city.  It makes sense that my sleep would be especially disrupted during that transitional time.  Third, the low ZQ on October 3, 2012 was very likely due to my anxious feelings the night after the first Presidential Debate of the 2012 campaign between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

I suspect that some of these low ZQ nights came before an early-morning departure for a trip, or following a late and stimulating social event.

Overall, it looks like nearly all the low ZQ nights have some direct connection to an unusual circumstance in my waking life.

Here are the 13 highest ZQ nights from the last three years:

127     January 7, 2012

125     November 21, 2010

123     November 22, 2009

120     November 23, 2011

119     January 8, 2012

117     November 16, 2011; January 9, 2012

116     November 22, 2010

115     November 23, 2010, November 24, 2010, July 15, 2011

114     October 21, 2010, January 21, 2012

My highest streaks are January 7-9, 2012, November 21-23, 2011, and November 21-24, 2010.  Not surprisingly, all of these nights of very high ZQ took place during vacations at the same quiet and beautiful oceanside resort.  No mystery there!  Late fall and early winter seem to be the prime times for high ZQ, though I’ll have to separately analyze nights on vacations vs. nights at home to see if the influence comes from the changing season (longer nights) or the fact of being on a holiday trip, or some combination of the two.

It looks like the biggest rebound from a low to a high ZQ night occurred on January 6-7, 2012, when I went from a 67 to a 127.  The first night was prior to an early-morning departure for a vacation, and the second night marked the beginning of that vacation.

Again, my overall impression is that the highest ZQ nights occured in direct relation to certain kinds of unusual waking life circumstances at that time.

Here, it seems, is another instance of deep consistency in my sleep patterns. My worst and best nights of sleep deviate by a comparable degree from my normal ZQ baseline of around 90.  My worst nights are 30+ lower than the baseline, and my best nights are 30+ higher than the baseline.

Next step is to look at possible connections with dreams….


1001 Zeo Nights

1001 Zeo Nights by Kelly BulkeleyLast night (December 19, 2012) I recorded my 1001st night of sleep data using the Zeo sleep monitoring system.  I first started using the Zeo on August 6, 2009, and have worn it 81.25% of the time since (1001 out of 1232 nights).  Most of the non-Zeo nights have been due to miscellaneous technical problems.  I was surprised at how quickly I acclimated to wearing the headband while sleeping, and I have worn it consistently throughout this period, even on the non-Zeo nights. I’m confident that my data, even though it excludes roughly 1 out of every 5 nights, fairly represents my sleep experiences during this time.


The stability of my sleep patterns jumped out at me when I first reviewed the data.  For more than three years the basic elements of my sleep–the amounts of REM, deep, and light sleep–have remained very consistent.  A typical night includes approximately 30% REM, 15% deep, and 55% light sleep.  These percentages vary to a degree, but I found the same fundamental proportions (something like 1/3 to 1/6 to 1/2) in nights of very short total sleep as well as nights of very long total sleep.

Using the Zeo’s aggregate sleep quality score, the ZQ, my monthly average has hovered around 90 for this entire period.  My highest monthly ZQ was 96, in November 2010 (a year of a particularly restful Thanksgiving vacation) and my lowest monthly ZQ was 86, in June 2010 (of time of moving houses).  My average ZQ was between 88 and 92 for 33 out of the 41 months for which I have data.

Over the next few weeks I’ll share more detailed analyses of this collection of data.  During this time I have also been keeping a dream journal (@500 reports), and naturally I’ll be looking at patterns of dreaming in relation to the Zeo sleep measurements.  Soon I should have all this material, Zeo + dream reports, available for anyone to study on the Sleep and Dream Database.

If you have any questions or hypotheses you think I should test with this data, let me know!


The Call of Cthulhu: A Pioneering Effort in Empirical Dream Research

The Call of Cthulhu: A Pioneering Effort in Empirical Dream Research by Kelly BulkeleyH.P. Lovecraft (pictured to the left) wrote the short story “The Call of Cthulhu” in 1926, and first published it in 1928 in the magazine Weird Tales.  The story centers on Professor George Angell, Semitic languages expert at Brown University, who dies under suspicious circumstances and leaves his papers to the care and disposition of his grand-nephew Thurston.  Among the papers is a peculiar file titled “CTHULHU CULT.”  As Thurston reads its contents he realizes that just before Prof. Angell died he discovered a horrifying, sanity-shattering truth–Beneath the ocean dwells a blasphemous creature of primordial evil, worshipped in bloody rituals by secret groups all around the world trying to hasten the day of its return. Professor Angell diligently gathered and analyzed several types of data to reach this shocking (and perhaps fatal) conclusion.  Foremost among his sources of evidence are first-hand reports of strange and unusually memorable dreams.


Was Professor Angell the first empirical dream researcher?


“The Call of Cthulhu” describes a process of studying dreams that is more scientific than anything found in the works of Freud and Jung, who were contemporaries of Lovecraft.  Nothing like it appears until the content analysis method of Hall and Van de Castle in the 1960’s.  Prof. Angell’s investigation thus predates by several decades a major shift in dream research from a reliance on clinical case studies toward more systematic analyses of large, demographically diverse collections of data.

The first section of the Cthulhu Cult file bears the title “1925–Dream and Dream Work of H.A. Wilcox.”  Young Wilcox was an art student at the Rhode Island School of Design who created a bas-relief sculpture of a strange monster that attracted Prof. Angell’s keen attention. The bas-relief was inspired by a bizarre series of dreams that Wilcox, always a sensitive and emotionally troubled soul, began having in late February of 1925.  He first visited Prof. Angell to show him the piece on March 1.  Asked its age, Wilcox oddly replied, “It is new, indeed, for I made it last night in a dream of strange cities; and dreams are older than brooding Tyre, or the contemplative Sphinx, or garden-girdled Babylon.” (49)

When Wilcox described hearing sounds in his dreams that might be rendered as “Cthulhu fhtagn,” Prof. Angell became intensely interested.  “He questioned the sculptor with scientific minuteness” (49), determining that Wilcox did not have any prior familiarity with secret societies or occult lore.  Whatever Wilcox was dreaming about did not arise from any specific experience or knowledge gained in his waking life.  The dreams clearly came from some place, or some thing, else.

Professor Angell then “besieged his visitor with demands for future reports of dreams” (49), which Wilcox provided in startling abundance.  On March 23 a fever seized Wilcox, completely unhinging his mind.  He raved about dreams of a “gigantic thing miles high which walked or lumbered about.” (50)

Then on April 2, the fever and delirium suddenly passed.  Wilcox recovered his senses, unaware of anything that had happened since March 23: ” “all traces of strange dreaming had vanished with his recovery, and my uncle kept no record of his night-thoughts after a week of pointless and irrelevant accounts of thoroughly usual visions.” (50)

So far, Prof. Angell’s investigation had used a method very similar to Freud’s and Jung’s, namely the close observation and interrogation of a mentally ill person.  But the professor widened his investigation to seek unusual dream reports from many other people.  The Cthulhu Cult file contained numerous notes and letters “descriptive of the dreams of various persons covering the same period as that in which young Wilcox had had his strange visitations. My uncle, it seems, had quickly instituted a prodigiously far-flung body of inquiries amongst nearly all the friends whom he could question without impertinence, asking for nightly reports of their dreams, and the dates for any notable visions for some time past.  The reception of his request seems to have been varied; but he must, at the very least, have received more responses than any ordinary man could have handled without a secretary. ” (51)

Professor Angell analyzed all of these dream reports in relation to each individual’s character, background, and occupation, and he identified a disturbing pattern that confirmed the awful hypothesis he had formulated while studying Wilcox’s dreams:

“Average people in society and business–New England’s traditional ‘salt of the earth’–gave an almost completely negative result, though scattered cases of uneasy but formless nocturnal impressions appear here and there, always between March 23 and April 2–the period of young Wilcox’s delirium.  Scientific men were little more affected, though four cases of vague description suggest fugitive glimpses of strange landscapes, and in one case there is mentioned a dread of something abnormal. It was from the artists and poets that the pertinent answers came, and I know that panic would have broken loose had they been able to compare notes…These responses from esthetes told a disturbing tale. From February 28 to April 2 a large proportion of them had dreamed very bizarre things, the intensity of the dreams being immeasurably the stronger during the period of the sculptor’s delirium. Over a fourth of those who reported anything, reported scenes and half-sounds not unlike those which Wilcox had described; and some of the dreamers confessed acute fear of the gigantic nameless thing visible toward the last.” (51)

The Cthulhu Cult file contained additional material from a 1908 police investigation of a voodoo cult in Louisiana, whose members performed sickening sacrifices while chanting strange words like Cthulhu, R’lyeh, and fhtagn.  This explains why Prof. Angell took such a desperate interest in Wilcox’s dreams–he had heard these words many years before, in a totally different but equally disturbing context.  The Louisiana police interrogated the cult members, who reluctantly explained the words they were chanting meant “In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.” Cthulhu is one of the Old Ones, cosmic monstrosities who came from the stars and reigned over earth for countless eons but then died and now lie buried beneath the earth and sea, waiting, dreaming, reaching out to influence our minds: “When, after infinities of chaos, the first men came, the Great Old Ones spoke to the sensitive among them by molding their dreams; for only thus could Their language reach the fleshy minds of mammals.” (60)  The Old Ones have a “mastery of dreams” (68, italics in original) that enables them to share their malignant secrets with humans of unusual receptivity and mental instability.

The remainder of the story involves Thurston’s own investigations into the death of several sailors on two ships in the South Pacific in late March of 1925, which he titles “The Madness from the Sea.”  The sailors had apparently found an uncharted island recently risen from the ocean depths, covered in slime and seaweed.  When they landed they discovered beneath the ooze an ancient city of vast, bizarrely shaped buildings.  They came to a massive portal, and when they opened it–

You can read the story yourself to learn the ultimate fate of the poor mariners.  Suffice it to say that their fantastic narrative, dismissed by local authorities as the ravings of lunatics, confirmed in every detail the story pieced together by Prof. Angell’s dream investigations.

Am I serious in suggesting that Professor Angell was the first empirical dream researcher?   Here’s a more precise version of my claim: Did any scientifically-minded person, either fictional or non-fictional, prior to 1926 engage in a study of dreams using these methodological principles:

1. Distinguish between extremely bizarre dreams and “thoroughly usual visions.”

2. Learn as much as possible about the dreamers’ background, character, and occupation.

3. Separate personal dream content from impersonal, seemingly alien content.

4. Look for analogies between dreams and art.

5. Gather reports from as wide a variety of reliable sources as possible.

6. Identify continuities between the frequencies of specific elements of dream content and the waking life concerns of the dreamers.

7. Concentrate the analysis on a specific period of time, seeking evidence of individual dream reactions to an objective external phenomenon.

8. Contextualize the findings in evolutionary history, using dream data to illuminate age-old truths only dimly perceived by the rational mind.

Is there any one else who studied dreams like this earlier than 1926? Carl Jung, maybe. A few other investigators in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were using one or another of these principles, but to my knowledge no one integrated them with the same systematic focus and scholarly sophistication as did the late Professor George Angell.


Note: Page references are to the story as published in The Colour Out of Space, Jove/HBJ Books (New York, 1963), pp. 45-75.


Note added 12/13/12: Thanks to Bob Van de Castle for pointing out that psychologist Lydiard Heneage Horton (1879-1945) of Columbia University was developing systematic methods for studying dream content as early as 1911, with his M.A. thesis on “The Flying Dream: Its Significance in Psychotherapy.”   His Ph.D. thesis, titled “The Dream Problem and Mechanism of Thought,” was published in 1925. It is certainly possible that Lovecraft knew of Horton’s work and used him as a model for Professor Angell.

As I look at Van de Castle’s “Our Dreaming Mind” for his comments on Horton, I should also note the importance of Mary Calkins, a psychologist from Wellesley College who in 1893 gathered 381 dream reports from 6 female students and analyzed them in terms of various aspects of content.