Archive for 'Sleep'

Sleep and Relaxation

This is the first of a reader’s request series. Email me at with suggestions for future articles.

Like most things relating to a complex creature, sleep and relaxation are not isolated things, but spreads on a spectrum. Quality of information on the matter is also on a spectrum – the following is my take on what’s good at the moment. No warranty expressed or implied.

The spectrum in terms of brain rhythms ranges from 0Hz (dead) through delta (sleep/coma/baby) to 4Hz, on through theta (dreamy, hypnogogic, inspired half-sleep) to 8Hz, alpha (relaxed aware) to 12Hz, SMR/beta (motion and mundane thought) to about 18Hz, and into creative consciousness, currently recognised to about 100Hz.

In a naturally ordered life, with activity, rest, feeding and sleep correctly aligned to the solar day, the needs of our animal are properly met. Sleep/depression problems increase with distance from the equator – the latitude at which our animal was optimised.

Since then we’ve not only moved to latitudes where the solar cycles are sub-optimal for our animal’s genetics, we’ve further confused our natural rhythms, and prevented proper acclimatisation to a changing environment, by operating 24/7 with artificial lighting, climate control and on-demand feeding. The body is deprived of triggers for the neurochemical processes that cause the body to go into relax and sleep modes.

One innate requirement for sleep or relaxation is a sense of security. This is where stress and anxiety come into the picture. If things aren’t right in your world, then your desire for sleep is conflicting with fight-or-flight chemistry – guess which wins!

So, what to do about it?

First, make sure everything else is right. Nutrition, exercise, life schedule and substance use all affect sleep. Unattended problems will persist. Obviously there’s some choices.

If you are not exposed to natural light for a reasonable part of most days, bright light is an excellent way to re-sync that part of the clock. A wake-up session with Audiostrobe at high brightness is a great way to start the day – open eye white or blue being best. A wake-up session accompanied by a natural dawn chorus and the rays of a rising sun is the ultimate.

Sleep corresponds with serotonin/melatonin conversion, which, in the wild, was a response to the reddening light of evening and the security of a fire after an exhausting day of outside work. Closed-eye red is correct for sleep session Audiostrobe. Settling of SMR (sensorimotor region) also happens best as night falls – the SMR region is responsible for keeping the body still during sleep (loosely referred to as “sleep paralysis”). 14Hz SMR an hour or two before the desired sleep time can help simulate dusk (Insomnia Help protocols).

Once down, you want to encourage delta activity as quickly as possible. Stepping down from alpha to delta in 3-4 minute steps works superbly. Ramps sound nicer, but steps tend to be followed. Sine shaped isochronic beats are suitable across the range. Binaurals can be good from low theta down, but their action is quite different to the direct stimulus of isochronic – my impression is that binaural is better suited to theta/delta meditation than sleep induction, the asymmetric structure stimulating higher consciousness is not desirable for sleep (a good robust delta meditation will always be accompanied by gamma activity). Monaural beats (a particular build of isochronic) are a good compromise between the bluntness of standard isochronic beats and the subtlety of binaurals. Some great effects can be created by building monaurals from tracks with different pitch waveforms (MWS).

What to do after first arriving at somewhere in the 1-2Hz range (low end introduces pain relief and healing/growth features – the high end is more psychologically recuperative) depends on whether you typically get there on the first pass. Repeated ramps down to delta from ever lower starting frequencies can be very helpful. Knowing that there’s a plan for any initial restlessness helps alleviate insomnia anxiety – maybe start with 10Hz alpha to delta in 2Hz steps of 2 minutes each, followed by 3 minute 1Hz steps from theta to delta, finally 4 minute 0.5Hz steps from high delta to the sleep target. Adapt the frequencies and timing to match your wake/sleep behaviours. Don’t forget to use the automatic step calculation in MWS! Stepping or ramping slowly up and down 0.25Hz each side of the sleep target frequency allows for individual variation. Random periods of 1-3 minutes at random beats in the target +-0.25Hz range also work well. If you don’t like the sound of steps, short ramps between steps are fine. Sleep induction sessions can be played while settling for sleep – if you’re a pre-sleep book reader or TV watcher you can have the session in the background to help you along. TV or computer use too close to bed time is not recommended if you have sleep problems – very stimulating and lots of blue light – yellow tinted glasses in the evening can reduce negative effects of artificial lighting on serotonin/melatonin conversion. A computer monitor illuminating the bedroom with NP3 or MWS Screen Flashing, screen out of direct sight, is a great way to enjoy the benefits of sleep-time Audiostrobe without glasses-tangle.

Relaxation begins when you close your eyes. At that moment there is a burst of 10Hz alpha, a release of serotonin, and the present frame of visual perception is flushed creating something of a “wait state”. Any beat in the theta/alpha range will be conventionally relaxing – the lower the frequency, the greater the likelihood of slipping into sleep and the greater the psychological benefit if awake. 10Hz is a natural for quick breaks and the perfect place to start from for relaxation/sleep sessions, as the process begins with that moment of closing eyes. The 7.8Hz Schumann Resonance, has an excellent reputation for deep relaxation. Alpha is the range of choice for alleviating stress and anxiety, so alpha relaxation is invaluable for stress induced insomnia.

If plain sleep or relaxation is the objective, the simplest session that sounds relaxing to you will be the most effective. Isochronic noise (noise with modulation or entrainment) is excellent and can be woven into natural noise sounds – modulated synthetic noise is more compelling than a modulated wind, water or rain track, but a well balanced blend can be almost as effective. Pure sleep/relaxation sessions are the hardest to improve. You’re not supposed to be engaged with sessions such as these – your consciousness is meant to be elsewhere. If you’re engaged in aesthetic critique, or being challenged by complex structures, you are using faculties that require beta – and that’s the end of sleep, and your relaxation has become a contemplation. The best way to improve a simple session is to fine tune the frequencies to your brain’s responses. GSR biofeedback uses skin conductivity as the indicator of stress/relaxation. EEG can provide specific numbers for personal optimisation, or provide automatic optimisations with MWS Bio-Optimization. Your own experience will tell you if you relaxed or slept better – however clever the session may be, if it doesn’t work, then something different needs to be tried. In deciding what’s working, be persistent but not stubborn – if a therapeutic-type session isn’t delivering after half a dozen fair attempts, it’s probably not going to without changes. Bio-Optimization with NP3 or MWS is an excellent tool for mapping your personal responses. The preset sessions included with NP3/MWS can be considered “reference designs” – with very few frills or aesthetic compromises, these sessions appropriately apply the most verified research. They’re a great basis for new sessions – delete every track other than the essential beats and then add your own extras – that way you will always have the scientific basis in place. The bare-beat versions are very convincing on an EEG.

Once “in the zone” other things can be introduced to the session to encourage other aspects of a state. For example, the addition of theta and gamma to a sleep session increases the likelihood of dreaming. Triggers, ranging from direct stimulus to verbal and psychological prompts can be used to encourage more specific modes of sleep, dreaming or contemplation/meditation.

Clearly there are many factors influencing an individual’s ability to relax or sleep. AVS/entrainment helps in three specific ways; it directly supports natural processes, it provides a habit that means “stop”, and it alleviates some of the hopelessness that comes with powerlessness over well-being.


New study on Brainwave Entrainment (By Dr. Huang)

I’m pleased to announce the publication of “A Comprehensive Review of the Psychological Effects of Brainwave Entrainment” in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine this month. This paper is the most comprehensive review of peer reviewed research in the subject, and was written in order to inform those within and the beyond the field of brainwave entrainment (BWE), and to provide sufficient background for future research.

Most of the research known to date has been summarized by David Siever in two unpublished manuscripts that he sells and distributes. They contain much valuable information about the history of BWE, both published and unpublished studies and proposed mechanisms of action. However, despite their length, they do not provide a complete listing of the peer reviewed literature, nor have his manuscripts faced the scientific scrutiny that comes with publishing in a peer reviewed journal. In fact, in our comprehensive search, we found articles that have never before been mentioned by those in the brainwave entrainment development and scientific community. Why? Believe it or not, the problem is in the inconsistency in terminology used to describe BWE. The term, BWE, until today, cannot be found in the scientific literature. Instead it is referred to as audiovisual stimulation, photic stimulation, photic driving, auditory entrainment, etc, etc. In all I did a search using 31 different terms to look for articles on brainwave entrainment, which returned 27,830 articles using Ovid (1 out of the 4 databases I used to do the search). Only a very small handful of these turned out to be articles on BWE. Thus much of the credit needs to go to my bosses at Transparent Corporation, who gave me the time to do this exhaustive, time consuming, and yet important work.

I looked for papers with psychological terms that described outcomes that I’d seen associated with BWE on the web, in conferences and in the published and unpublished literature. After combining the two searches, and screening for those that were indeed articles addressing psychological outcomes of BWE, and those that passed some basic scientific criteria, we ended up with just 20 articles.

The psychological effects that had been examined in relation to BWE included cognitive functioning (we divided it into verbal, non-verbal, memory, attention and overall intelligence), stress (long and short-term), pain, headache/migraines, mood, behavior and pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS). When two or more studies had examined similar outcomes, we placed them into tables for greater comparability. Thus we had five tables divided by cognitive functioning, stress, pain, headaches/migraines and mood. Studies used a variety of different frequency protocols and stimulation methods which are outlined in the tables.

Out of the 20 studies, 17 were actually developed to support or confirm a hypothesis, and of these, all found a positive effect in at least one outcome. And in each outcome mentioned, at least one study had a positive finding. What was remarkable was that for some outcomes, only one of several protocols had a positive effect, while others were improved by a variety of different protocols. The most consistent positive findings were found in attention (4/4 studies), pain (3/3 studies) and headache/migraines (3/3). While positive effects were found in all other outcomes examined except for mood, either fewer studies had been conducted or a smaller percentage of the protocols examined were effective. Mood was examined in the 3 studies where the effects of theta were examined on a variety of outcomes. So we believe that the ability of brainwave entrainment to positively effect mood has not been properly tested in the peer reviewed literature.

Overall, we conclude that brainwave entrainment shows real potential to positively affect psychological outcomes. However, more and bigger studies need to be done, using additional outcomes and outcomes already examined. We hope that we’ve provided the necessary background to inspire future research and collaboration, so that the field of brainwave entrainment can gain recognition and momentum in the scientific literature.

To view a copy of this article, visit:

Tina L. Huang, Ph.D.
Director of Research
Transparent Corporation

Sleep learning in the 1920′s

Here is an interesting news blurb from a 1923 Time Magazine about radio operators who accidentally stumbled upon the idea of sleep learning:

The accidental falling asleep, with the phones on his head, of a student in training for a job as radio operator in the U. S. Navy led to a discovery which will vastly shorten the process of manufacturing experts in wireless telegraphy. While the code and its translation were coming through the ether, the brain cells of the sleeping man, in a state of plastic receptivity, were absorbing the meaning of the dots and dashes and forming new associations. On waking, he was able to repeat accurately everything he had received in sleep. Psychologists say that such results are feasible because of the automatic, repetitive nature of the material conveyed to the dormant brain.

Navy officials immediately instituted tests of the method at Pensacola, Fla. Twelve students who were making unsatisfactory progress were tried out. After two nights, during which the code was sent to those students in sleep, ten had learned the lesson, and the other two had left the class before completion of the experiment. The instructors now report that ” the experimental stage is past, and the method may now be termed a standard one.”

Today the concept of sleep learning actually focuses less on unconscious sleep and more on the “twilight state” between alpha and theta. This highly receptive state is useful not only for memorizing rote facts, but for conceptualizing them, and forming new ideas. This is the state we focus on in one of the learning tools in NP2

Thanks to Mind Hacks for this.

Slow wave magentic pulses simulate deep sleep and prune synapses

TMS - Transcranial Magnetic StimulationEarlier this month an interesting study surfaced from the Psychiatry department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Professor Giulio Tononi, who directed the research, analyzed the use of slow, rhythmic magnetic pulses to induce brain activity similar to that seen in deep, restorative sleep.

It is being touted as a possible cure for insomnia, and a clue into why all animals need so much sleep.

“We have reasons to think the slow waves are not just something that happens, but that they may be important” in sleep’s restorative powers. For example, a sleep-deprived person has larger and more numerous slow waves once asleep. And as sleep proceeds, Tononi adds, the slow waves weaken, which may signal that the need for sleep is partially satisfied.  

While awake, we “observe and learn much more than you think,” he observes. “Tons of things are leaving traces, changing the synapses, mainly by making them stronger. It is wonderful that you can have all these synaptic traces in the brain, but they come at a price. Synapses require proteins, fats, space and energy. At the end of a waking day, you have all these traces of memories left behind.

“During the slow waves, all the connections, step by step, are becoming a little weaker,” Tononi adds. “By morning, the total connection strength is back to the way it was the morning before. The trick is to downscale all the connections by the same percentage, so the ones that were stronger are still stronger. That way you don’t lose the memory.” 

Although the explanation is still a hypothesis, Tononi hopes that the ability to artificially stimulate slow waves will allow him and other researchers to test the notion that sleep restores the brain by damping connectivity between neurons.

Slow waves, he suspects, “Clear out the noise to make sure your brain does not become too much of an energy hog, a space hog. By morning, you have a brain that is energy efficient, space efficient and ready to learn again.”

So, according to Tononi’s hypothesis, slow-wave activity during sleep acts as a kind of mental pruning, or the brain’s version of emptying the recycling bin. 


The technology used in this experiment is called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, or TMS. The interesting part is that they found a particular place on the skull to position the TMS device that resulted in more effective stimulation.

“We don’t know why, but this is a very good place to evoke big waves that clearly travel through every part of the brain,” Professor Tononi said.

“With a single pulse, we were able to induce a wave that looks identical to the waves the brain makes normally during sleep.”

I wish the article had gone a bit more in depth as to how TMS was applied in this case – I couldn’t find any specifics on where the TMS device was positioned, or any further information on its use in this research. The technical aspects of this are what I’m really interested in. But then, I’m a big geek with this stuff.


Some are also claiming this type of stimulation could be used to reduce sleep hours from 8 to 2, though I haven’t heard anything from Tononi on this particular point.


Here’s the Science Daily article on it:

Also, here is an interesting take on sleep in general by Tononi:


The Mystery of Sleep and the lucky few who don’t need it

All animals need sleep, even insects. But as ubiquitous as sleep is, it is still very mysterious. Why we sleep, and why humans need an average of 8 hours specifically, is still a subject under much debate. One of the dominant theories is that sleep is a time when the body repairs itself. We know that growth hormones are released during sleep, and that sleep depravation has many negative effects on the immune system.

Another theory is that long term memory is consolidated during sleep. Sleep researcher Matthew Wilson, of MIT, recently did some fascinating work into dreaming in particular. He recorded the brains of rats as they ran through a maze, noting the mental activity produced. Later, as the rats were sleeping, he saw the same activity, only more rapid and played in reverse, as if the rat’s mind was rewinding a VHS recording of the run through the maze! Dreaming, Wilson asserts, is a form of “mental cleaning”, where the brain determines what memories it should keep and what to throw out.

Another theory may help us understand why all animals sleep, even those without long term memory. Bruce O’Hara, a professor of biology, explains:

“If we accept the premise that all animals sleep, then it looks like there’s something special about neurons, about basic energy requirements. Neurons are among the cells that have highest energy requirements. Our brain, 1 or 2% of our total bodily weight, uses up 20% of our energy; so the brain is the most energy-demanding organ we have,” O’Hara explains. He concludes that energy usage is one very possible function of sleep. Neurons require this loss of consciousness to slow down just enough so they can replenish themselves for normal functioning. “It’s hard to get solid data to support that, but no data I know of refutes the idea.”

So, it seems sleep is a necessary side effect of owning and maintaining a brain.


Needing less sleep, or none at all!

Even so, the mystery of sleep deepens when you find out that some people need much less sleep, and in rare cases people hardly require any sleep at all!

The longest recorded period without sleep is an astounding 33 years, performed by 64 year old Vietnamese man named Thai Ngoc, who claims to have lost his need for sleep after a sickness in the 70′s. Surprisingly, he experiences no ill negative effects from this condition, not even the normal sleep deprivation effects such as fatigue, loss of concentration, and so on. Under normal circumstances, people who lose even a few days of sleep start exhibiting cognitive symptoms usually only present in senior citizens.

Scientists have found a gene that could be responsible for needing less sleep, which they call “Period 3″ or the “Clock Gene”. While most humans need an average of 8 hours of sleep, people with specific variants of the Period 3 gene seem need to much less – sometimes as little as 4 hours of sleep a night. Many notable people through history have claimed to  need less sleep – Michelangelo, Napoleon, Thomas Edison all claim to have only needed 4 hours of sleep a night. In modern days, Madonna, Jay Leno, Margaret Thatcher and many others say the same thing. It seems to be more prevalent in highly ambitious, driven individuals.

I saw a documentary on sleep years ago that followed an even more amazing case of a father and daughter who only needed 1-2 hours of sleep a night. They both held 2 jobs and experienced no negative symptoms. I tried to find this documentary for our weekly brain video, but couldn’t locate it online.

Other genetic variants can play a role in sleep as well. Michel Jouvet, famous neuroscientist and sleep researcher, once studied a 27 year old man with Morvan’s fibrillary chorea, a genetic disorder that kept him from sleeping. He went months without sleep, yet did not suffer any negative consequences associated with sleep depravation. However, instead of sleep, his nights were full of dream-like hallucinations. Perhaps he did not reach a state of sleep as we know it, but his body found a way to compensate somehow, and work around his genetic differences.

Also interesting is how we perceive the amount of sleep we’ve gotten. A study by Dr. Allison Harvey, of Berkley, measured how much sleep a group of insomniacs actually got compared to their perception of it. It turns out that they only received 35 minute less than those who had no trouble sleeping, yet when asked how long they had slept, the insomniacs reported only 2-3 hours of actual sleep. Amazingly, when they were told that they had gotten a good night of sleep, many of the symptoms of sleep depravation disappeared!

So, in many ways, our perception of how rested we are affects how we feel during the day.

Many users of Brainwave entrainment also report a reduction in sleep needs, particularly in the first few months of use. Deep relaxation sessions like those targeting Theta waves, are said by many to replace up to 4 hours of sleep. In a way, this makes sense since Theta is close to the mental state of sleep, and when Theta acts as a kind of “cat nap”, it could naturally reduce your need for sleep. However, what is more interesting is that even people who never use Theta sessions often report the same effect! We even have users of Beta sessions (basically the opposite of sleep) reporting that they need less sleep yet feel more energetic during the day. Though this effect is often temporary, it still raises many intriguing questions.

Not surprisingly, drug companies are working fervently to come up with a way to reduce sleep needs, beyond the jittery effects of Red Bull and coffee. The drug Modafinil seems to help the brain mimic the effects of the “Clock Gene” variant, allowing users to only sleep 4-5 hours a night and still feel as refreshed as ever. A new drug being tested called CX717 promises to allow someone to remain awake for 36 hours or more without the negative effects of caffeine.

I do wonder if there are any long term problems with sleeping less, even if we are genetically gifted to do so. I read one study that indicated it could be a problem for women more so than men. It seems to me that if there wasn’t a major biological disadvantage to sleeping only a few hours a night, everyone would be doing it by now.

Still, I can’t help but envy those lucky few who can survive on 4 hours of sleep. I am decidedly average, needing almost exactly 8 hours to feel normal, barring any cat naps or theta sessions I’ve used. Any more than 8, and I feel dazed – any less, and I feel sleepy. Who knows what wonders people could produce with an extra 4 hours of time each day!

Lack of sleep prevents brain cell production, and midday napping strengthens the heart

Recent research reported by the BBC suggests that missing sleep causes the brain to stop producing new cells:

This research focused on a region of the brain called the hippocampus, which is involved in memories. I’ve spoken with many insomniacs who also suffer from memory loss, along with depression and a host of other problems. A short relaxation session can work absolute wonders for these people, and if a normal sleep pattern can be restored many (if not most) other issues simply evaporate. I often wonder how often sleep deprivation is the root cause for many psychological issues people grapple with. Insomniacs aside, most people I know do not get enough sleep.

There was also some recent buzz about a study at the University of Athens Medical School which indicates that a short midday nap may reduce risk of heart problems by up to 64%!

Some employers have started installing special recliners in the office, specifically designed for cat napping. Now all they need is a brainwave entrainment session for that unlucky majority that can’t nap on command. ;)