New sleep masks and head bands are using light patterns, brain wave monitoring and artificial intelligence improve our waking lives by enhancing our sleep.
How did you sleep last night?
Tech-infused sleep masks and head bands are providing new answers to this age-old question. These devices, many of which were launched on Kickstarter, enable users to cognitively influence their dreams, optimize their sleep with precise scientific data or take naps of the perfect length to maximize their performance at work. Using LED light patterns combined with technology such as EEG (brainwave monitoring), accelerometers and artificial intelligence, these gadgets go way beyond just blocking out the light. They have the potential to revolutionize the way we sleep.
If you’ve seen Inception, you may remember that Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Dom Cobb, uses a spinning top to check whether he’s dreaming. If it continues to spin without stopping, it alerts him to the fact that he’s in a dream.
This may sound like something that just happens in the movies, but it’s actually based on a real phenomenon called lucid dreaming. This is when you become aware that you’re dreaming and control what happens next in the dream just by thinking about it.
Lucid dreaming is the ability to be consciously aware while in a dream. It starts with that suddenly realization of “Holy Crap! I’m dreaming right now!” The self-awareness you have at this moment can be applied to the dream world and because this is the dream world, and the normal rules don’t apply. The possibilities are limitless.
Just like Inception’s Dom Cobb, lucid dreamers perform reality checks, known as dream signs, to see if they’re asleep. While a dream world may seem uncannily similar to the real world, but there are a few glitches that can give you clues that you’re dreaming. These include seeing too many fingers on your hands or text appearing jumbled.
Everyone has unique dream signs, clues that show up in their dreams to show them they’re asleep. They could be weird and wonderful things, but as most of us don’t recall our dreams in detail, if at all, we’re not aware of them.
What if you could design your own dream sign while you’re awake, and program it to appear in your dreams while you sleep? That’s what new sleep masks and headbands such as the Remee, the Neurodreamer and the Aurora offer. They play music and show light patterns while you’re in REM, the deepest stage of sleep, which your brain will recognize as a sign that you’re dreaming. With practice and dedication, these companies claim that their devices will help you to achieve lucid dreaming.
The Remee looks like a standard sleep mask but inside it features a micro-controller and six LEDS that are positioned in front of your eyes while you sleep. These can be programmed to create light patterns that you can faintly see while your eyes are closed. If these appear at the right time during your sleep cycle, you will become aware you’re inside a dream and be able to take control.
Duncan Frazier co-founder of Bitbanger Labs told PSFK:
We always considered one of our main objectives to be wider understanding and acceptance of lucid dreaming. It’s this amazing, compelling, entertaining practice that was relatively unknown by most for many years and considered junk science by many who were familiar with it.
Created by Brooklyn-based maker group Bitbanger Labs, the Remee achieved tremendous success when it was launched on Kickstarter in 2012, starting with a goal of $35,000 it raised over $500,000. This took place during what the company describes as a “massive surge in interest” in lucid dreaming.
With the rise of the internet, many people and especially younger generations have developed a strong curiosity for the unknown and a desire for new adventures. Upon discovering lucid dreaming, they have found a perfect platform to take on these new experiences. Since the nature of lucid dreaming doesn’t require any religious or spiritual dogma or fancy degree, it’s something people have been able to gravitate toward with ease.
The Remee’s light patterns begin after 4.5 hours of sleep on the default setting, to correspond with REM sleep.
Frazier explains that lucid dreaming isn’t just about entertainment; it can also bring benefits to the dreamer’s waking life.
“There are numerous advantages to lucid dreaming. People have used it to overcome recurring nightmares, expand their creative output, and simply to have fun. Flying is only the beginning!” he said.
The Neurodreamer by Cornfield Electronics raised over $60,000 on Kickstarter in 2012 and is designed to encourage lucid dreaming, as well as to aid sleep and meditation, through ambient lights and sound.
“Exploring one’s inner world is beneficial in many ways. For instance: It is very healing. It is fun. It reduces stress. It is really awesome to be able to make choices in your dreams. You can take all you learn and apply it to your waking life”, Mitch Altman, the renowned hacker and inventor who created the Neurodreamer, told PSFK.
Using music and soft lighting, the NeuroDreamer aims to generate a sequence of brainwave frequencies that correspond to the natural brainwave activity of a person who is falling asleep. The music includes binaural beats, the frequency you hear when two tones that are close together in pitch are played in each ear, which are designed to encourage sleep.
“You don’t need a device to learn to lucid dream. But, it can help make it easier. And we now live in a time where making devices has never been easier. This is a nice time for the availability of technology we can all use to make better choices for our lives”, Altman explained.
In keeping with the ethos of the Hackerspace Movement, Altman has made the plans for building NeuroDreamer available to everyone.
“NeuroDreamer is open source, with all plans online, so anyone can make their own” he told us.
The Aurora is a headband that is also designed to encourage lucid dreaming. It uses EEG (electro-encephalography) to monitor the user’s brainwaves. By tracking the frequency of the brain’s activity, it’s possible to measure a person’s consciousness and to pinpoint exactly when he or she is in their deepest stage of sleep.
Launched on Kickstarter earlier this year, the device had a target of $90,000 and raised over $200,000. It was created by iWinks, a company founded by Daniel Schoonover and Andrew Smiley, graduates of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Florida.
“There are no other wearable devices for lucid dreaming that use EEG, and also track the sleep stages”, Schoonover told us.
There are three electrodes inside the Aurora headband, which is worn around the forehead. When the user reaches the REM state, the headband uses programmable LEDs and sounds to alert them to the fact that they’re dreaming. It beams gentle light to the eyes, plays soft music, or does both, to trigger the lucid dreaming stage.
Schoonover believes that we’ll see the medical community adopt sleep tracking devices like the Aurora in the future.
“As sleep tracking technology becomes more cost effective, connected and refined, we will see the health and medical communities adopt consumer technologies and as part of their treatment protocol”, Schoonover explained.
The Aurora also contains an accelerometer which can track your body movements, such as heart rate and sleep patterns. You can connect the device to a Bluetooth enabled app that monitors your sleep data and that can also act as an alarm clock, waking you at the time you’ll feel most rested.
Speaking of being well-rested, have you ever considered having a nap, only to be put off by the groggy feeling that you get afterwards?
Designed by a team of engineers at MIT, Stanford, and Harvard Medical School, the Napwell is a mask designed to reduce this feeling.
“Sleep Inertia is the decline in motor dexterity immediately following an abrupt awakening in the middle of a sleep cycle. This grogginess is something that everyone experiences and it cripples productivity”, Neil Joglekar, co-founder of Napwell, told us.
The Napwell gently wakes you up with an interior LED lighting system that gradually brightens to simulate a sunrise. This is operated by a timer on the front of the mask. It launched on Kickstarter late last year with a goal of $30,000 and ended up raising over $50,000.
You’ve probably heard of other devices that mimic a sunrise, but with the Napwell the lighting system is positioned directly in front of your eyes rather than in a separate device. That gives an immersive feeling of gradually brightening sunlight.
“The Napwell has interior lights that slowly become brighter so you wake up naturally, like a perfect morning”, Joglekar told us.
Aside from being deterred by the possibility of sleep inertia, many of us simply can’t take a nap during the day without the risk of losing our jobs. Napwell is campaigning for US companies to permit napping in the workplace to raise productivity and benefit employee health.
Joglekar told PSFK:
Napping is one of the most undervalued and overlooked sources of that advantage and will be seen as a productivity tool instead of a way to catch up on sleep. Major corporations like Nike, Google and the Huffington Post have embraced napping as a productivity booster and we want to share that with the rest of the corporate world.
We’ve heard about devices that encourage lucid dreaming and a mask that promises that you’ll never awake from a nap feeling groggy again. But what about a sleep mask that combines a huge amount of scientific data on your sleep patterns in a way that has previously only been possible in a polysomnography (a study of sleep)?
The NeuroOn by Polish company Intelclinic promises to do just that and the fact that it raised nearly half a million dollars on Kickstarter, four times its original goal, shows the level of excitement that this concept generates.
“We want to create the ultimate sleeping companion. It will be a system that lets you maintain and conserve energy and maximises your sleep”, Maciek Gdula, CCO of Intelclinic, told us.
The NeuroOn is a sleep mask that monitors EEG (electroencephalography or brainwaves), muscle tension (EMG – electromyography) and eye movements (EOG – electrooculography). This is combined with AI (artificial intelligence) and light therapy to improve sleep quality. The analysis of this data is used to track the user’s sleep patterns, alert them to any health issues and offer personalized advice.
“Say you have a very important engagement on Monday. The NeuroOn will tell you the best times to sleep and the durations of sleep you should have in the week beforehand so that you’ll be at peak energy for the event”, Gdula explained.
The information analyzed is managed by a smartphone Android and iOS app that lets the user have control over your sleep cycles. While the company takes a scientific approach to sleep, it wants to provide people with information that has a practical benefit.
A lot of devices these days give people data they don’t know how to use. Like nice graphs or cool infographics. We want to break away from that, we can give people the raw data if they’re interested, but we know that most people just want to know how to sleep better. The NeuroOn will give you a personalised sleep quality score using very precise data and show you how to raise that score.
Intelclinc is taking pre-orders for the first iteration of the NeuroOn this week and has plans to create more iterations over time. Possibilities include helping to diagnose sleep disorders and collaborating with an airline on a product that reduces jetlag.
The Future of Sleep
These devices are part of the huge trend of wearable tech that is enabling people to track their mental and physical activity to improve their health, mood and daily lives.
What makes these gadgets stand out from other wearables is that, instead of just tracking our behavior while we sleep, they’re designed to influence our unconscious minds. All of them use LED light patterns or bright light therapy to either improve sleep quality, create dream signals or to ensure that we wake up feeling energized.
We’re excited to see how devices such as these will change the nature of sleep. The power of data combined with new technology could lead to a future in which nightmares will no longer exist, the idea of oversleeping will become out-dated and we’ll feel revitalized after long haul flights.
Annoying alarm tones could be wiped off the face of the earth and afternoon coffees will be replaced by productive naps. Instead of planning where to travel on holiday this summer, we might spend time planning where to travel in our dreams that night. However, unlike earthly vacations, in our dreams we won’t be bound by the laws of physics, logic or consequence.
Most importantly, the latest advances in wearables could mean that we will all be able to enjoy a good night’s sleep, every night.