Can This Alarm Clock App Unlock The Mysteries Of The World’s Dreams?

Now you can add your dreams to the list of “quantified self” data being collected by mobile phone apps.


A new dream-tracking app called Shadow launched a Kickstarter project on Tuesday with much pomp and circumstance. Its video includes space shots, cliff jumping, rocket ships, and a good dose of contemplative-stare B-roll. Its advisory board includes four PhDs. And its promise is to pick up where “Freud and Jung left off.”


Given that the app’s founder, Hunter Lee Soik, once worked as a consultant for a Kanye West and Jay-Z music tour, a good dose of drama is to be expected. But the truth is, as Soik told me earlier this month at the Fast Company office:

“The app is essentially an alarm clock.”

Here’s how it works: You set the alarm, and it records how much time you sleep before it wakes you up. Then you use the app to record whatever you were dreaming about. If you speak, it will transcribe the dream and pull out keywords. You can also type and create tags manually. As you do this day after day, you’ll build a personal database of dreams and sleep patterns.

Moving dream journaling from paper to the mobile phone makes sense. “Dreams are only encoded in short-term memory as we wake up and are a very fragile memory, “ says Deirdre Barrett, a Harvard professor who studies dreams and advises Shadow. Putting the dream journal on a phone removes the step of grabbing paper when you wake up, which could mean the difference between recalling a dream or forgetting it.


Shadow also worked with Barrett and other advisers to make sure the alarm was conducive to remembering dreams. That means that it wakes you up quickly–but no so quickly that you feel, well, alarmed.

Building a better sleep journal is great. But if anything makes Shadow warrant all of those space shots and contemplative stares in its promotional video, it’s the potential of the database it will create. Soik hopes to add dreams to the many facets of “quantified self” data being created by tracking apps for fitness, eating habits, and everything else.

He also wants to identify dream trends among the population.

“We’re not saying that dreams mean anything, or dreams mean nothing,” he says. “We just don’t know. The data that is there is being lost every night. But we want to find out.”

Could this data actually be useful to dream researchers? For studies that require subjects to be in a particular stage of sleep or are concerned with what happens in the brain during a dream, probably not. “But many, many dreams studies are done off of home dream journals where the instructions are simply to write your dreams down first thing when you wake up every morning,” Barrett points out. Shadow’s process is similar. And the potential size of its data set could make up for some error created by people who aren’t using the app seriously or not coding their dreams accurately.


That could be interesting for researchers and helpful for dream journalers. But how could such a thing hope to make any money?

Soik hands me a tiny 3-D-printed model of audio waves that he says correspond to the phrase, “Remember your dreams.” He suggests that maybe someone would one day have a dream about their mother, for instance, and print it out for a Mother’s Day gift.

And if that doesn’t work?

“Nobody owns the conceptual territory for sleep,” he says. “If every time anyone thinks about sleep, they think about Shadow, that’s pretty cool.”

About the author

Sarah Kessler is a senior writer at Fast Company, where she writes about the on-demand/gig/sharing "economies" and the future of work.