New Technology May Help Insomniacs Sleep

I don’t often write about technology developed to improve sleep. I’m frankly skeptical that most products could help me any more than the daily exercise I do and the habits I changed after going through CBT for insomnia.

But a few items have caught my attention recently because they sound like they have genuine potential to help—two I’ve blogged about before and one brand new. See if you agree.

Trouble sleeping alleviated with new devices and an appI don’t often write about technology developed to improve sleep. I’m frankly skeptical that most products (e.g., sleep trackers) could help me any more than the daily exercise I do and the habits I changed after going through CBT for insomnia.

But a few items have caught my attention recently because they sound like they have genuine potential to help—two I’ve blogged about before and one brand new. See if you agree.

High-Tech Earplugs

QuietOn Sleep earplugs were designed specifically to block out noises such as snoring and the droning of plane engines.

Earplugs—these or any others—may not interest you if you’re a homebody and/or you share a bed with a quiet sleeper. But if your sleep is often disturbed by a snoring partner or unpleasant, droning noises, these earplugs could be a real boon.

How They Work

QuietOn earplugs contain a microphone that continually samples sound in the environment. They then create a phase-shifted sound that’s played through a speaker, cancelling the exterior noise out. The earplugs are battery powered and come with a carrying case that functions as a charger.

You might not imagine all this technology could fit inside a gadget so small. Apparently, it does. Twenty-one of these earplugs can fit on a single credit card. Encased in soft material, they fit inside the ear canal, neither big enough to hurt you nor small enough to pop out.

The one downside is the price. While limited numbers are available via an Indiegogo campaign at $149 a pair (2 pairs for $199), the full price after product launch will be $239.

A Brain-Calming Headband

At last Ebb Therapeutics has come out with its novel insomnia therapy device, a headband that cools—and so calms—busy brains at night. Here’s why it might improve your sleep.

The brains of normal sleepers are quiet during sleep but insomniac brains are not. In neuroimaging studies, scientists have found evidence of excessive metabolic activity occurring in our brains at night. Some of it occurs in the frontal cortex, located behind the forehead. By cooling the forehead, Ebb Insomnia Therapy reduces activity in the front part of the brain and in turn makes it easier to fall asleep.

How It Works

The headband has a special pad that rests against the forehead. This pad is continuously supplied with cooling fluid via a tube connecting the headband to a temperature regulator that sits on your bedside table.

The circulating fluid eventually evaporates and, after about three months, the temperature regulator alerts you to the fact that the fluid cartridge needs to be replaced. The replacement kit contains a forehead pad and a fluid cartridge.

How and Where to Get One

You need a prescription to get one; they’re not sold over the counter. However, Ebb Therapeutics, planning to market the devices widely, says they’re now available at sleep centers in these cities:

  • Atlanta, GA
  • Clayton, NC
  • Fargo, ND
  • Newark, DE
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Raleigh, NC
  • Rehobeth Beach, DE
  • St. Louis, MO
  • St. Petersburg, FL
  • Wilmington, DE
  • Wilson, NC

For a review of how this device may improve sleep and the tests that went into its development, see my earlier post on Ebb Insomnia Therapy. Contact the company directly to find out how much the device (and replacement kit) costs.

A Sleep Training Smartphone App

You might not think sleep could improve with training. Michael Schwartz thinks otherwise, based on years of work as a sleep technologist and sleep educator. He’s developed an inexpensive smartphone app called Sleep On Cue that can help people fall asleep and fall back to sleep more quickly.

The idea behind the app is this: Chronic insomnia often gives rise to anxiety about sleep, lack of confidence in sleep ability, negative beliefs about sleep, and increased brain activity at night. So it’s easy to lose touch with the feeling of falling asleep. The app essentially retrains you to recognize what falling asleep feels like, alleviating anxiety about sleep and restoring your confidence in your sleep ability.

How the App Works

You conduct your sleep training sessions late in the afternoon or early in the evening after a poor night’s sleep. Lie in bed holding your smartphone. Via a simple call-and-response procedure involving soft tones and movement, the app detects when you’re falling asleep (although you may not).

To the question “Do you think you fell asleep?” you press “yes” or “no.” Then, you leave the bed a few minutes, awaiting the next sleep trial. When you decide to end your session, your phone displays a graph with feedback about your sleep ability and your awareness of your sleep. Gradually you get better at recognizing the feeling of falling asleep.

For details about the procedure and the testing behind it, see my earlier post about Sleep On Cue or go directly to the product website.

Tips for Better Sleep on the Road

My husband and I are going on a road trip this summer and we won’t be staying at the Marriott. Not just because 4-star hotels are too expensive. Where we’re headed, we’ll be lucky to find a Super 8. More likely we’ll end up in budget motels with names like Willow the Wisp and All Tucked Inn.

Being the finicky sleeper that I am, I carry the potential for insomniac nights wherever I go. At least a dozen possible hazards can throw my sleep off track. Here’s what I do to boost my chances of getting better sleep on the road.

Travel with insomnia can be challenging if you're sleeping in budget motelsMy husband and I are going on a road trip this summer and we won’t be staying at the Marriott. Not just because 4-star hotels are too expensive. Where we’re headed, we’ll be lucky to find a Super 8. More likely we’ll end up in budget motels with names like Willow the Wisp and All Tucked Inn.

Being the finicky sleeper that I am, I carry the potential for insomniac nights wherever I go. (But hey, a new study found that even good sleepers tend to sleep less soundly the first night they’re sleeping in an unfamiliar place. This is called “first-night effect.”) At least a dozen possible hazards can throw my sleep off track. Here’s what I do to boost my chances of getting better sleep on the road.

Noise Control

Noise is my No. 1 enemy when I’m staying overnight in budget motels. So, I

(1) Pack earplugs. Not just one set but two, in case one gets lost or left behind. I use silicone earplugs that mold to the shape of the ear and form an airtight seal. Some people prefer to mask noise at night. My sister uses a white noise machine. A friend of mine packs along a small fan.

(2) Open the conversation in the office by saying I’m looking for a room that’s QUIET. Then I choose the room strategically. I take one facing away from the road when possible. If plenty of rooms are available, I ask for one far away from others currently occupied. I don’t care if they think I’m a misanthrope. I can’t be nice to my fellow human beings after a night of rowdy partying in the room next door.

(3) Check the appliances for potential noise. Does the refrigerator sound like a Mack truck? I’m out of there in a red-hot second. Does the A/C shut off with a loud judder? Same thing. And neighbors whose TV is blaring when I inspect the room are not necessarily going to want to turn it down.

Light Control

Budget motel rooms rarely come with lighting favorable to the sleep challenged. So, I

(4) Pack along an eye mask. My eye mask is lightweight and molds to my face so it blocks out light but isn’t too hot to wear.

(5) Pack a mini-flashlight. A middle-of-the-night trip to a bathroom with bright fluorescent lighting can sabotage my sleep for the rest of the night. A flashlight is the answer here. A night light can work, too—if you remember to pack it up in the morning.

Temperature Control

I’m sure to have insomnia if I feel too hot to sleep. So, I

(6) Check out the A/C to make sure it works and that I can control the thermostat. A/C whose only setting keeps the room in a deep freeze is just not good enough.

(7) Pack along a lightweight blanket. Bed linen at motels these days consists of sheets and a comforter or a quilted bedspread—which means I either freeze or boil. Yes, my body cools down at night. But to stay comfortable what I need is a lightweight blanket, not a so-called comforter.

Beyond insomnia, when traveling I have to think about my back. I’m sure to wake up with back pain if I sleep on a too-soft mattress. When I check out a room, I flop down on the bed to make sure the mattress is hard enough so I won’t wake up with back pain. (I pack along a knee pillow, too, so my spine stays straight when I’m sleeping and a basketball that serves as a prop for my back exercises.)

I guess I’m high maintenance traveler. Aren’t you glad you’re not coming on the trip?

Do Insomnia and Noise Sensitivity Go Hand in Hand?

Is there an association between noise sensitivity and insomnia? I think there might be, and the interviews I conducted for my book reinforced the idea. Apartment dwellers and city people often complained that noise at night—whether from inside or outside their buildings—made their insomnia worse.

Here’s some research showing that people with insomnia have a harder time with noise than others.

Noise sensitivity and insomnia may go hand in handThis week I came across the results of a survey on traffic noise and its effects on people’s lives. The subjects were 2,612 residents of a small Swedish city whose homes were exposed to air, rail, and/or road traffic noise around the clock.

Overall, people whose bedroom windows faced a yard, garden, water, or green space reported having better sleep and concentration, and less annoyance at the noise, than people without a view of green space.

No way! I said to myself. Noise is noise. I don’t care if my bedroom window faces a Zen garden: if my Mack’s earplugs can’t block out the noise entirely, my sleep is toast. I’m no more tolerant of noise during the day, lumping leaf blowers, dirt bikes, and ATVs in the same category: obnoxious. There’s got to be something wrong with this survey.

Then I read further.

Compared with people who said they were not sensitive to noise, people who reported being very and extremely noise sensitive were 9 times more bothered by the traffic noise in their neighborhoods. It didn’t matter whether they had a window facing green space or not.

Noise Sensitivity and Insomnia

“Extremely noise sensitive” describes me to a T. And noise sensitivity is a liability when you’re prone to insomnia. If a conversation in the next room doesn’t keep you awake, clanking pipes surprise you just at the moment you’re ready to drift off. The water softener wakes you up when it comes on at 3. A diesel engine running outside your window can awaken you from the dead.

Is there an association between noise sensitivity and insomnia? I think there might be. As I was conducting interviews for my book, apartment dwellers and city people often complained that noise at night—whether from inside or outside their buildings—made their insomnia worse.

Anxiety and Vigilance

A cognitive model of insomnia suggests that the heightened sensitivity to noise that some insomniacs experience at night is in large part learned. People with chronic insomnia are often anxious about sleep. In turn, we become hyper-focused on everything we perceive as threatening to our sleep, whether internal, such as a jittery feeling, or external, like noise. Detection of noise or an irregular heartbeat jacks up our anxiety further, in turn making us more vigilant. We’re caught up in a vicious cycle of worry and vigilance that hinders our sleep ability.

As reasonable as this theory may sound, I’ve never been convinced that it explains my sensitivity to noise at night. I believe noise sensitivity is something I either inherited from my parents (musicians with keen ears) or developed early on as a result of their demand for absolute quiet at night.

More Than Learning May Be Involved

Some evidence suggests that the noise sensitivity associated with insomnia could be more like a stable trait. For instance, neuroimaging scans have detected wake-like activity in the brains of insomniacs even as we sleep. While we’re asleep, low-level information processing may be occurring in some areas of the brain. This would jibe with a susceptibility to being awakened by noise at night. It also calls into question the idea that noise sensitivity in insomniacs is wholly learned.

Studies involving evoked response potentials, or ERPs, show that people with insomnia may simply respond more forcefully to noise than normal sleepers. Our brains may register more excitement when auditory information goes in.

On the other hand, the sensitivity may have to do with how hard our brains are able to work to block noise out–something brains generally do in the sleep onset period and during sleep. As normal sleepers doze off, their brains have the ability readily to block out noise and disengage. Some ERP studies show that insomniacs’ brains have trouble inhibiting noise. Research also suggests that while good sleepers’ brains easily tune out repetitive noises such as the ticking of a clock, insomniacs “may have difficulties closing channels to non-pertinent stimulation.”

Whether noise sensitivity is learned or inborn, you want to do everything possible to minimize exposure to noise at night. A pair of earplugs is a good place to start.

What kinds of noise are you bothered by at night? How do you manage it?

 

A Good Night’s Sleep on the Road

If I could afford to stay at the Hyatt, I could probably sleep like a queen. But prudence steers me away from luxury and into the arms of the poor relations: Econo Lodge, Motel 6 and Red Roof Inn.

An overnight bag with the right supplies can make a difference between a good night’s sleep and a bad one.

Pack an overnight bag with the right supplies and you'll sleep wellIf I could afford to stay at the Hyatt, I could probably sleep like a queen. But prudence steers me away from luxury and into the arms of the poor relations: Econo Lodge, Motel 6 and Red Roof Inn.

Now, I’m not knocking motels of the budget variety. They DO make travel affordable, and the wall art and continental breakfasts are to die for. But if you’re an insomnia sufferer like me, an overnight bag with the right supplies can make a difference between a good night’s sleep and a bad one.

Noise Protection

Noise always sets me up for insomnia. Highway and air traffic, clanking pipes, blaring TVs, newlyweds or a party in the room next door: any of these can put the kibosh on sleep.

So I always pack my earplugs. And not just any earplugs will do: I go for the silicone type that mold to your ears and form an airtight seal. Foam earplugs? More power to insomniacs for whom they work. For serious noise protection, silicone gets my vote.

You can also deal with noise by trying to mask it. There are travel-size white noise machines and I-pods and MP3 players for those who prefer more melodious sound tracks of their own.

My brother swears by a product called SleepPhones (check it out at www.sleepphones.com). It’s a soft headband containing a pair of very thin speakers covering your ears. A tiny cable at the back of the headband connects to the sound device of your choice.

Light Protection

Why is it that budget motels are so keen on 100-watt bulbs? It doesn’t make sense. But solving the problem is easy with an eye mask.

Eye masks are a fashion accessory these days, available in myriad colors, patterns and thicknesses. But if your aim is a comfortable night’s sleep, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Choose your eye mask carefully. Plush feels good to the touch, but it may wind up making your face too hot.
  • Make sure your eye mask conforms to your face so that no sliver of light is able to get through. Colorful masks are nice to look at, but if you buy a thin one, make sure the inside fabric is dark.
  • Get a mask with an adjustable strap. Elastic straps tend to stretch out.

Protection from Inner Disturbances

If you’re digestively challenged, you’ll want to pack pink bismuth tablets (a.k.a. Pepto Bismol). It’s maddening when you end up with a comfy bed in a quiet, dark room … and the spicy saag paneer you ate for dinner decides it’s time to stage a comeback.

If your bed is right next to the heater, cough drops can alleviate the tickle in your throat.

The last two items in my overnight bag are sleeping pills (for use when all else fails) and a Brookstone alarm clock, which shows the time only when pressed on top. (For more on why I avoid looking at clocks at night, read Clocking the Hours at Night.) If clocks at night make you anxious, you may want to try one like this.

Packing these items can set you up for better nights on the road. There’s more of a chance that your sleep at La Quinta will end up feeling like sleep at the Ritz.