The Philips Smart Sleep Headband with Electric Patches (photo by Biquan Luo)
The Dreem Smart Headband (photo by Biquan Luo)
Both products emit low pitch beats to supposedly boost the slow wave in the brain. As the effect of such boost, Philips Smart Sleep claims to allow more rested sleep from the same length of deep sleep, and Dreem claims such bone-conducted beats can optimize sleep by increasing the average range of Delta Waves by 40% and average frequency by 32%. The pictures are great, but the science is not there yet. As Dr. Jamie Zeitzer at Stanford University explained, even though sound and light are known to change brainwave, so far it hasn’t been proven that manipulating slow waves (the delta wave during deep sleep) improves sleep functionality. It’s still unclear whether the slow waves themselves are downstream of the functions of sleep or a pathway to change sleep function. Scientists tend to believe the former, in which case enhancing slow waves is not expected to improve sleep. In fact, changing delta brainwave could potentially be harmful for the brain. Dr. Zeitzer said, “I would very much worry about changing the frequency of a brainwave”, as “the frequency is likely key for the synchronization of distant brain regions.” That being said, manipulating brainwave to improve sleep is more of a promise than reality. Soothing melody before bed, however, could potentially help you calm down and get ready for bed.
Different from Philips Smart Sleep and Dreem, Somnuva’s brainwave-training program aims to shorten the sleep cycle so the users get the same restorative sleep in the shorter amount of time. Based on my literature search and communication with Dr. Zeitzer, neither of us is aware of any literature in which the length of the sleep cycle was changed. It’s still a question of whether it can be done, and whether the changes result in the same good quality sleep in a shorter time. Even if it doesn’t work, you can still buy it as a speaker. According to the Somnuva people, their $500 speaker pair is made with excellent audio quality.
The Somnuva Brainwave-Training Speakers (photo by Biquan Luo)
Besides the magical brainwave-training products, there are sleep training products at CES that do not involve manipulating brain waves. Shleep is one of them. The sleep coaching app and corporate sleep program offers a personalized sleep assistant based on behavior suggestions. It was developed by Dr. Els van der Helm, Ph.D. in Psychology and former consultant at Mckinsey. Cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia (CBT-i) is a well-established method for treating insomnia by doctors in the sleep clinic. The key to CBT-i success is understanding how sleep works, dissecting factors undermining sleep, following the regimen strictly, and be patient about the progress. Traditionally the interactions with sleep doctors is critical for the whole therapy. The challenge with internet-based CBT-i for insomnia is how to create effective interaction so that the users stick to the program. A number of scientific studies have shown that internet-based CBT-i is effective in improving sleep.
Besides classical CBT-based sleep coaching, nonstandard sleep coaching products were also seen at CES. One is a breathing hugging pillow from Somnox. The Somnox breathing pillow provides breathing program that induces the user to relax and fall asleep. Not sure how much a breathing robot can synchronize your breathing rhythm, but breathing exercise is a good pre-bed ritual to relax and clear the mind, although you probably don’t need a $500 robot to help you breathe. The Thim ring by Re-timer is another sleep training product. Put on before bed, the ring will gently wake up the users after 3-minutes of sleeping, and repeat the cycle for 1 hour until they completely fall asleep. This brutal regimen is supposed to condition the users to fall asleep faster. Based on my understanding of CBT, the disruptive 20 sleep-wake cycles in one hour is probably a form of sleep restriction which exhausts the users to shorten their sleep onset latency the next night. I can’t imagine myself using it, just because of how the annoying treatment sounds, but hey, no pain no gain.
Magical relaxation solution
While most products are targeting to have a good night sleep, Nu Calm offers a relaxation package that allows the users to “get the benefit of 2 hours of sleep in 20 minutes”. This promise seems too good to be true, my curiosity urged me to offer myself for a 20-minutes experiencing session. Make no mistake, it’s not intended for sleep or even napping. You are supposed to stay awake as in a meditation session while Nu Calm boosts your alpha brainwaves. To use the product, I was instructed first to apply some cream containing GABA (the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in the mammalian central nervous system) onto my neck around the carotid artery, the put two electric patches underneath my earlobes, and then put on a sleep mask and connect to the audio. During the experience session, I did observe dramatic muscle relaxation and heart rate reduction. Shortly after the experiencing course started, despite me being fully awake, Fitbit showed that my heart rate dropped to as low as the level when I am in deep sleep. The physiological changes happened so dramatically in such a short time, making me wonder if the forced relaxation came from the cream, and what the long-term effect would be with such product. I felt slightly soft and dizzy after finishing the 20-minute session, similar waking up from deep sleep or some mild muscle relaxant or anesthesia treatment. Strangely, I did have more energy than my friend at the end of the day, even though we were both sleep-deprived from a 6-hour sleep trying to accommodate the crazy schedules at CES. It’s also important to note that I tried many sleep products on the same day, so it’s tough to say which one contributed the most.
The electric patch by Nu Calm, GABA-containing cream already applied (photo by Biquan Luo)
At the end of my sleep-product treasure-hunting…
As the founder of a sleep technology company, I’m glad to see these many sleep products at CES. It means that people are becoming more aware of the role sleep plays in our health. As a consumer who’s searching for sleep solutions with a critical eye, I’m happy that my curiosity was satisfied and there are products out there that I wanted to buy (most of the products offer CES discount, too). Despite a lot of sleep products moving faster than the scientific research in the lab, most of the sleep products are not harmful to try (except possibly the brainwave-manipulating ones) if you are willing to take the financial risk. If you are looking for a sleep-improving product with a solid scientific base, we are launching our light-therapy sleep mask later this year.The sleep mask is based on research at the Stanford Sleep Center and improves sleep by optimizing the biological clock in the body. It’ll be your go-to sleep solution if you believe in solving the sleep problems by working with your body’s natural biology.