A Potential Breakthrough for Those Lacking Deep Sleep

Dreem
Dreem. Rythm 

The idea of merging advanced neuroscience with digital technology is one with huge potential and is one of the final frontiers of consumer digital health. Rythm, a neurotechnology company based in Paris and San Francisco, is attempting to pioneer this front. The team’s aim is to enhance the understanding of the human brain and build products that can optimize brain function and improve the quality of life for users of its products.

Rythm’s first product, Dreem, focuses on sleep—an activity that takes up a third of our lives. Sleep tracking devices are usually limited to detecting and analyzing different stages of sleep. Dreem is attempting to take sleep monitoring a step further. This wearable headband purports the ability to not only monitor sleep, but to stimulate it as well. It actively, but noninvasively, intervenes when the user is in a state of deep sleep to prolong and enhance the quality of this sleep cycle. Five EEG (electroencephalogram) sensors monitor brain waves, and careful sound stimulation is used to improve deep sleep. If the device proves effective, it could result in a positive effect on the user’s cognitive potential, as well as lead to better physical performance and preserved health.

“The brain is an intricate and fascinating system and we’re only just beginning to understand its capabilities,” said Hugo Mercier, CEO and co-founder of Rythm. “Thanks to the significant advances in technology, we’re able to harness our own brain and improve our lives in a way we haven’t been able to before.”

The beta version of Dreem was launched in 2016. It was used in a clinical trial that showed it can accurately identify and measure different sleep phases. The trial also gave some initial evidence that the user’s brain doesn’t get accustomed to repeated stimulations provided over consecutive nights. After 10 days of use, the effect on the quality of sleep remained positive. As of early 2018, a new version of the headband is on the market. Currently priced at $499, it is available for order.

The Importance of Deep Sleep

Deep sleep, which is homeostatically regulated, involves a special brain activity signature. It is important for various physiological mechanisms that get triggered when a person is in deep sleep. These involve brain energy restoration, memory consolidation and hormone release, to name a few.

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, found that lack of deep sleep could contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. People with sleep disorders have a buildup of beta-amyloid—a protein known to attack the brain’s long-term memory and trigger Alzheimer’s. Another study from UC Berkeley, published in the journal Neuron, also showed that lack of sleep, which is often associated with old age, is the cause of various physical and mental conditions. Researchers also argue that we do not reduce our need for sleep as we age, a common misconception. Novel technology that uses brain stimulation could therefore help prevent the occurrence of sleep disorders and mitigate their grave consequences across our lifespan.

Dreem’s Unique Personal Neurotechnology

Rythm’s achievements include inventing some of the smallest and most accurate sleep sensors available today. State-of-the-art sensors, embedded in a lightweight headband, are Dreem’s backbone. These sensors monitor brainwaves in real time and bring the consumer an opportunity to access data generally only available in a sleep lab. When sensors detect that the user is in a state of deep sleep—also known as slow-wave activity (SWA)—the device starts producing a non-invasive sound using bone conduction (this means the device does not require the user to wear headphones). In the inner ear, sounds are transformed into electrical impulses that get picked up by the brain.

Dreem builds on previous scientific findings from independent laboratories on the efficacy of audio stimulation during deep sleep. It has been shown, for example, that acoustic stimulation enhances sleep’s slow waves. It appears to be particularly beneficial to play intermittent sounds in blocks of 15 seconds, followed by stimulation-free intervals. A study from the University of Tübingen and University of Lübeck in Germany also showed that auditory stimulation during sleep can help with memory consolidation, as long as it is provided in the right phase of sleep.

The World’s Best Alarm Clock

Dreem purportedly distinguishes itself from other commercial sleep trackers by actively influencing the course of sleep. This makes it one of the first active wearable devices that employs advanced personal neurotechnology.

Early testing indicates a 10 percent increase of deep sleep amplitude and duration for users of the device. One exciting feature of this digital tracker is its ability to wake the user up at a time that is optimal for him or her. When the user sets an alarm, Dreem ensures he or she is woken up during an appropriate stage of their sleep, avoiding the grogginess and tiredness that can be provoked when suddenly aroused during a deep sleep cycle. Dreem achieves this with real data and not just based on predictions, which is what distinguishes it from many other sleep devices. In 2016, Dreem was tested on a selected group of 500 individuals. Following the test’s success of this, Rythm offered the device to the rest of the world in June 2017. Rythm’s current focus is on sleep applications. However, they are also looking to expand into other areas of human experience and may produce other devices in the future.

Using Tech to Enhance Your Dreams

Another innovative company that builds on smart technology to improve sleep is iWinks. By using the latest in neurotechnologies, their Aurora dreamband goes beyond sleep tracking. Like Dreem, this device, too, can wake you up at the time that is most compatible with your sleep cycle. However, the focus of iWinks is not just improving your sleep quality, but also enhancing your dreams.

This unique product purportedly helps you access the transformative power of dreams and achieve personal insights. The iWinks team is experimenting with lucid dream induction technology, and some of their users report experiencing lucid dreams, a phenomenon in which dreamers can be aware of their dreaming. In doing so, some research suggests people may be able to enhance their ability to solve creative and cognitive problems. The iWinks sleep-tracker and dream enhancer is already available for pre-order.

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