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This Startup Says It Can Help You Sleep Better–By Piping Sound Waves Through Your Skull

Dreem, a headset designed by Yves Behar, promises to stimulate deeper sleep using EEG technology and sound waves.

There are dozens of sleep trackers out there, from smartphone apps to entire smart mattresses. While many of them measure your sleep cycles, it’s unclear how much they can really help you improve your sleep.

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The creators of the Dreem headband, a new device engineered by the startup Rythm and designed by Yves Behar, say it can actually encourage deep sleep. It does so by tracking the electrical activity of your brain using EEG technology that sits next to your skull on a headband, and then emitting sound waves that sync to your brain waves, “amplifying your slow waves at the right moment.”

According to the company, the headband stimulates a deeper, better sleep. Indeed, some independent research does show that sound can stimulate brain activity during sleep. The Dreem itself is undergoing testing, and the results of early studies have yet to be published; a whitepaper from Rythm says its preliminary testing shows an increase of 10% in the amplitude and duration of deep sleep.

[Photo: courtesy Rythm]
To design a headband that users would actually wear all night while it measured their brain waves and transmitted noise, Rythm called in industrial designer Yves Behar and his team at Fuseproject. Behar says he faced two major design challenges: first, on the hardware side, the sensors for both the EEG and the speaker, which conducts sound through your skull rather than the air, had to lie flat along the skull. Second, the device still had to be comfortable enough to sleep in all night, despite its various electronic parts.

[Photo: courtesy Fuseproject]
After about 100 different prototypes–including one uncanny version where finger-like protrusions gripped the side of the user’s head like a hand–Behar arrived at a solution: the majority of the hardware, including the buttons for controlling the device, are positioned on top of the head, while just a thin band sits across the forehead. Both bands are held in place by an elastic strap at the back, and everything is covered in foam and soft fabric to make it as cushy as possible.

After trying out prototypes and running wearability and comfort studies with people in the U.S. and Europe, Behar and his team took turns sleeping with the prototypes at night for up to seven days at a time. “We made some significant changes after we used it ourselves,” he says, including adding foam and fabric on the sides of the headband, which made it more comfortable.

[Photo: courtesy Rythm]
Still, making something softer doesn’t necessarily mean it’s enjoyable to wear to sleep, especially if it also includes hard plastic, sensors, and wiring. But Behar tried to minimize contact between the skull and any hard parts of the device. “The only visible, hard plastic pieces are really the control area on that’s on top of the head, so that’s easily accessible, and the sensors,” he says. “Overall, the personality of the product is much more a cross between loungewear and a good quality sleep mask.”

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Behar, who’s been tracking his sleep for five years, says he’d wear it himself. “When I travel or at times when I toss and turn at home, I would certainly wear it,” he says. “An hour of extra quality sleep is one of the most precious things in my everyday life.” The headband only comes in one size, but Behar says that the elastic means that it even fits his “really big” head.

The final product will launch this summer after a year of beta testing with 500 early users. It also comes at a hefty cost–the first model will be available online for $499. Will consumers pay nearly $500 to wear a contraption like Dreem at night? That will likely depend on if the product delivers on its promise to improve sleep–especially since what it claims to do hasn’t yet been examined with scientific rigor.

About the author

Katharine Schwab is a contributing writer at Co.Design based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture.

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