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    The Remee Sleep Mask: “We’ll go dreeeeeeam-innnnnnnn”

    2013 - 02.07

    In January I finally pulled the trigger and bought myself a Remee sleep mask. Unlike a typical sleep mask, it contains a set of LEDs which blink at you in your sleep. The idea behind this being that the light travels through your eyelids and if you’re in the middle of a dream, you see this flashing pattern and realize that you’re dreaming. Then you can get down to business of playing around in the dream. Lucid Dreaming baby, it’s an awesome, awesome thing.

    This mask is inspired by a product called the Novadreamer which came out a long time ago and cost $300, which was a harsh entry fee. The Remee costs $95, much more accessible but still not cheap. The main difference between the Novadreamer and the Remee is that the Novadreamer used an infrared LED and photodectector to monitor for fast movements of your eyelid/eyeball and thereby know when REM sleep is occurring. The Remee simply waits 4.5hrs after you turn it on, and then begins flashing every 20 minutes (these times are user-programmable). At first I was disappointed by this revelation that it works on a simple timer mechanism. But the more I thought about it, maybe that’s a good thing; like the saying goes, “keep it simple, stupid.”

    A great case-study in the pitfalls of needless complexity is the Wakemate, the other sleep gadget I previously wrote about. When it worked, it was extremely cool. But at least once a week it would lose your data for the night, and then in October of 2011 their website stopped functioning, which bricked everything. I thought perhaps it was my phone at fault, but since getting the Note II, I retried using the Wakemate with the new phone; exact same problem. In my opinion, the device should have connected to your PC and had standalone software. No bluetooth, no iOS or android phone needed, no website controlling your access to the data, no internet connectivity issues blocking you from uploading your sleep data… All this is needless complexity that can break the system. I would still be using it today, had their website not gone unresponsive (you can still access your old data, but you can’t login to upload new nights, or at least I can’t).

    So that in mind, I think it’s good that the Remee is a very simplistic circuit which runs on a watch battery. Low complexity, no connectivity to anything required. You can reprogram it to have different timing settings, different flashing patterns, and different LED brightnesses using the Bitbanger Labs website. We’ll see how long that remains functional, but even if it went down tomorrow, the default settings are pretty good. I hope to use this baby for many years to come.

    I’m not used to sleeping with a mask on, so for the last few weeks, the toughest challenge has been simply keeping the mask on all night. I tend to just yank it off my head in the middle of the night. Then when the ideal time for dreaming rolls around (maybe 1-2 hours before the alarm clock), it’s just chilling on my pillow. Rats!

    The box for this thing is inspiring and badass. First words you read on the back are “Shrink to the size of an atom. Travel to Mars. Fly.” I mean seriously, what product in your life have you ever bought that had those kind of claims on the box!?!?! The text goes on to clarify that Lucid Dreaming is actually pretty hard to acheieve, and is going to require a lot of discipline. Understatement! BUT–those acts are achievable for dreamers willing to be persistent, and devote some waking-time-hours into reality checking (simply asking, ‘am I dreaming?’). I want to try doing all three, as a challenge to myself. But in the reverse order they are listed: Flying should be easy. I’ve done that in several dreams before. Travel to Mars should be achieveable by summoning a spacecraft or a door (which I’ve done once). Shrinking to the size of an atom, now that might be a hard one. What would that even look like? I don’t know! It a long-term goal to shoot for!

    I have a little bit of experience with LED sleep masks, which can also be called LDID or Lucid Dreaming Induction Devices. In college I constructed one that connected to a PC using the serial port, and included a circuit that would check for eyelid movement just like the Novadreamer. In a way, it did the same thing as the WakeMate in tracking your sleep cycles too: the eyelid movement data was written to a spreadsheet using a Visual BASIC program. Viewing a graph of that data would show you how long you dreamed for, and at what times during the night. I was able to use it successfully to lucid dream a handful of times, but it was uhh, a beast to wear. Wearing a mask is hard enough, but wearing a mask with a bunch of cables coming out the top, which just makes it that much easier to fall off if you toss around (at all) during the night… it was a tall order to sustain. Eventually something went wrong with the circuit and I never took the time to troubleshoot the issue. The cables made it awfully tough to use on a regular basis, as a comfort issue. So that was that.

    I’m feeling hopeful that the Remee is more of a long-term, sustainable setup. Lying on my side with the mask on is plenty comfy, although I’m still figuring out the optimum positioning on my face so the LEDs line up at eye-height, and then maintaining that at night through different sleeping positions. I have had a couple dreams where the Remee was with me and I was observing the flashing, but didn’t cross that bridge of remembering that, hey, this means you’re dreaming! This will probably be a reoccuring theme over the next few months!

    At the most basic level, I’m happy to have this thing because it’s a daily reminder to put effort into dreaming, and a reminder in the morning to ask that all-important, time-critical question, “What Did You Dream??” It’ll take some practice, trial and error, and simple luck before I get a lucid dream out of it. For now, I’m satisfied that going to bed now has a new mindfulness to it, a new mantra of “It’s Time To Dream.”

    Wakemate: know your z’s like your ABC’s.

    2011 - 03.19

    Alright here comes one I’ve been holding out on for a few weeks now: The Wakemate!

    What the heck is it? : It’s a wristband you wear to bed. Inside there is an accelerometer, which measures when and how much your wrist is moving during the night. This is a method of sleep analysis called Actigraphy. There are many smartphone apps that use the built-in accelerometers in your phone to measure the same thing when placed on the mattress next to you. The downside of this is that you’ll need to put the phone quite close to your body to get accurate results, and even then it’s not going to be as sensitive to small movements that a wristband like this will pick up.

    I’ve been using it for about two weeks now and I have to say, it’s pretty awesome. It connects to the phone (either Android, iOS, or Blackberry) via bluetooth, communicating once when you go to sleep and then again in the moring when it’s time to wake up. You set an alarm for the latest time you want to wake up, then the wakemate will watch your sleep patterns and wake you, up to 20 minutes before your designated alarm time. The idea is that if you are awakened during a period of light sleep, you won’t feel as groggy as you would if you were in deep sleep and jolted awake.

    While the alarm aspect is certainly a cool idea, and I’m sure some people will be all about it, myself, I’m much more interested in simply looking at the data of how well I slept last night and how much deep sleep I got. Deep sleep, where your brain switches over to delta waves, is the restful kind of sleep that will make you feel more well rested in the morning. 

    Corresponding to how much deep sleep you get, the wakemate website gives you a “sleep score” which you can view on their website, along with all the other data on how well you’ve been sleeping. Just last night I got my highest sleep score yet, an 89. Interestingly, last night I slept 5:02, where the previous night, where I slept for 7:14 and got a score of 69. The difference? Last night I got much more deep sleep, and I never woke up during the night, which is something else that can lower your sleep score.

    They don’t give much explanation on exactly how the sleep score is derived, but as you get more data on yourself and the variables start to rearrange themselves, you can make an educated guess as to how they tally it. One other really helpful thing is that they allow you to tag your nights with different labels. Some of mine are “vino,” “late supper,” or “swam”. Tracking these variables over time might allow me to see what effect they have on my alertness the next day.

    Their website also shows you a plot of the raw movement data taken from the wristband for each night. To me, this is the coolest thing to look at, because that’s really the data behind all their calculations.

    Why would you want all this data? Probably the same reason a lot of people enjoy having bike computers. It’s just cool to know stats about yourself and try to measure ways that you could be improving things, or figure out what you’re doing wrong.

    I’m guessing some of you already knew the basic facts, so onto some detailed impressions: the wristband itself is a little snug. It’s make of elastic on one side and what feels like flannel for about 3/4ths of the rest. I figured out that you need to insert the electronics so that the flat side faces your arm, and the curved side faces out. That frees up a small but important amount of stretching so that the wristband isn’t quite so tight. It also helps to insert it on the side that is under the “wake” instead of the “mate” and wear the band so that the elastic area is closer to your body. Hard to describe, so see the picture:

    Knowing these facts, the wristband is very wearable. I don’t wake up dying to take it off, nor does it distract me at all going to sleep or in the night. I suspect for some people with large wrists though, you might be finding or making your own wristband to stick the electronics inside of.

    The app (I have a Motorola Droid X, so these comments pertain to the Android version) is, how should I put it… finicky. Given, this is the first version, and it says on their website that improvements are soon to come. But I have had it crash on me at least 4 times now, and sadly if the app crashes, you can kiss that nights data goodbye. There is no way to restart the app and tell it, “hey I just woke up and there is data you need to get!” Nor is there a way to take your wristband to the computer and plug it in to upload. If the app crashes (and it does!) you’ll lose that night. That’s definitely a bummer. But I expect this will be remedied with future updates.

    On the whole, the app could use a lot of improvement, with a persistent volume setting for the alarm, a built-in viewer for your stats, a bigger ‘stop the alarm button’ (it’s tiny!), more features, and less crashing! I’d say the current implementation is spartan, but functional >70% of the time. Suffice it to say, really looking forward to the updates!!

    But all criticisms aside, this puppy is awesome. It was worth the $60. I don’t know how long the battery lifespan is supposed to be, but I intend to use the wakemate every night until I’ve run it straight into the ground. Seeing a graph the next morning of how well you slept last night is just fascinating. I can tell you that, but until you see it yourself, based on your own actual sleep last night, you won’t quite appreciate how cool it truly is.  (It is very cool.)

    I’ll update this review after I’ve had a month or two more with it, and I also might blog about using the wakemate and dreaming, which is something I’ve been looking forward to since I signed up for the preorder, over a year ago!