Time-lapse Sleep

Watching time-lapse videos of people sleeping reminds me of the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. If you haven’t seen the movie, you should. I don’t think I’m giving away too much when I say that it involves erasing memories while the subject sleeps. As with any Charlie Kaufman film, there’s some love-triangley, melancholy disquiet, and it edges into the surreal and symbolic (another common quality of his work) very much like a dream.

If you search around YouTube for “time lapse sleep” you will find numerous personal videos. Many of them aren’t terribly useful, because they don’t include a timestamp or a description of the actual time elapsed in the video. This is important to actual study, because it gives clues as to the person’s normal sleep cycle. Research has shown an average cycle of 90 minutes, though in my own study, I found my cycle only lasted 70 minutes.

I would shift a little bit in the beginning, then about 45 minutes in, my breathing would become heavy. At about an hour and ten minutes after falling asleep, I would wake up and turn over, then repeat the same process. I was only able to capture 2 cycles before I actually woke up and stopped recording. It turned out to be very awkward sleeping with my grow light on.

Before I started the video, I wasn’t sure what I would see. I love scary movies and part of me expected I would find something creepy standing over me. It was nothing like that. I was also a little afraid since my doctor suspected I have sleep apnea. I thought I might see myself stop breathing, but obviously if I was able to watch the video it meant I’d been able to start breathing again, so that wasn’t a particular concern. Instead, when I played the video back, I saw a pretty mundane little nap.

I’m still looking for good software to use my webcam for still capture. For the first video, I used Flix (demo version with the watermark). It’s $10 to register and have the watermark removed, but I didn’t trust the program. It came with a bunch of adware and was pretty unstable. I uninstalled and rolled back my computer the next day. I’m not opposed to spending money on a good program, but my funds are limited at the moment, so cheap is better. I’ve heard of Gawker, but it’s a Mac program. All I, or you, need for time-lapse sleep videos is something that you can set to take photos with your webcam at intervals of your choosing. I think I set mine to take a picture every 15 seconds.

Give it a try, if you’re curious. The only slightly disturbing thing about it is that you get to see yourself totally vulnerable and completely natural. You’re not even self-aware enough to present your “good side” when you’re sleeping, or to suppress embarrassing gestures/expressions.