When it comes to quality sleep, it's not just the hours we spend in bed that count. It's about the time we spend in the stages of sleep that actually restore and energize our bodies.
The most critical stage, deep sleep, is the one that leaves us feeling refreshed when we wake up. It also helps rebuilds muscle, improves mental reaction time and makes workouts more effective. But for insomniacs, this essential sleep can be elusive.
That's what the makers of a new sleep gadget, the Sleep Shepherd Blue, hope to address. While other sleep trackers record how much you slept or wake you up at a specific stage of your sleep cycle, they don't directly intervene to support better sleep. But the Sleep Shepherd Blue uses brain-training sounds to help people get an extremely deep night's sleep.
Michael Larson, an entrepreneur and mechanical engineer, began working on the Sleep Shepherd after his 17-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a sleep disorder. When the only recommendations for treatment she was given involved pharmaceuticals, he decided to develop an effective tool that was drug-free. First came a Sleep Shepherd hat, and now the sleeker, smaller headband version called Sleep Shepherd Blue.
The Sleep Shepherd Blue plays sounds called binaural beats. These subtle humming noises -- one playing in each ear of the headband -- are said to lull the brain into a meditative sort of state and lower it slowly, slooowly into deep sleep.
"(The beats) are like a hammock for your brain," Larson told The Huffington Post. "They help your brain slow down, which is the very definition of sleeping."
A number of apps and online streaming systems also play binaural beats to help you sleep, though unlike the Sleep Shepherd Blue, they don't necessarily play the beats directly into your ears. Studies suggest these beats improve perceived sleep quality, though more research is needed to see if they actually cause you to fall asleep.
The Sleep Shepherd headband measures your brain waves as well. If it senses them speeding up toward wakefulness, it will play beats designed to guide you back to sleep for the night.
It's an all-natural route for anyone who wants to avoid sleep medicines, Larson said. The headband connects to an app that tracks your hours of sleep each night and shows you how long you spent in each stage, kind of like a revved-up FitBit.
The Sleep Shepherd Blue is currently only available on Kickstarter for introductory prices of $119 to $199, depending on when you get in on the deal. Headbands will be ship out next month, Larson told HuffPost.
We're encouraged to see a drug-free sleep aid for those who can't or prefer not to take medication. Now THAT'S a win all around.
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