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High Tech Approaches to Sleep

Getting your mind to stop racing so that you can settle down and fall asleep is a problem that has probably existed for as long as man has walked on two feet – in fact, it has probably been around since the very first parent found themselves worrying about their child’s errant behavior or their relationship with their spouse.

Whatever it is that is keeping you awake, you are not alone. According to a study done by IMS Health, a company based in Parsippany, New Jersey, your fellow Americans spent over $32 billion dollars during the year 2012 exclusively on sleep aids, and that’s just items like white noise machines to bedding that claims to help you get to sleep. That doesn’t even touch the amount spent by nearly 9 million people who took sleeping medicine (both prescription and over the counter).

So sleep is a big problem, and it is big business. The Wall Street Journal recently conducted its own test of several different products available on the market to help people get past their racing brains and on their way to a good night’s sleep. Each of the products that the iconic newspaper tested was chosen because they purportedly teach those suffering from insomnia how to relax and calm down enough to get the sleep they need without the benefit of medication.  The four methods that were tested included:

  • An iPhone app
  • A CD set
  • An MP3 download
  • A relaxation coach

 The iPhone App

There are a number of different iPhone and Android apps that are being marketed as effective sleep aids. The one that the Wall Street Journal tested was called “ABC of Better Sleep.” Available for either iPhone or iPad, it is the brainchild of Max Kirsten, a hypnotherapist from the United Kingdom who provides both advice for getting a better night’s sleep and a hypnosis session. The ABCs of the program are part of his practice, with “A” asking, “Are my eyelids so relaxed that I couldn’t open them if I tried,” and “C” inducing you to imagine yourself floating in seawater.  According to the Wall Street Journal’s tester, the 23-minute audio hypnosis session was so effective that by the end of it they had fallen asleep, and after several successive nights of using it she was able to fall asleep without any help. As a side note, the tester was not entirely comfortable with Max Kirsten’s voice.

 The CD Set

The CD set that the Wall Street Journal’s tester tried was called the Brainwave Music System. Though the reviewer found the CDs a little clunky and low-tech as compared to some of the other options, they reviewed them as surprisingly effective. The CDs were developed by the director of the Center for NeuroAcoustic Research, a California operation, and they are the product of research into what sounds and tones are most relaxing to the brain. The CDs include a selection of relaxation tracks that are supposed to be played in the background prior to going to sleep, and sleep tracks that are supposed to be played at bedtime. Both were found to work well.

 The MP3 Download

The SleepEasily MP3 download that was chosen for testing was a bit of a bust for the Wall Street Journal’s tester. The program was designed by a behavioral sleep consultant out of Denver, Colorado named Dr. Richard Shane. After first experiencing a number of problems with actually being able to download and receive the program, the reviewer finally received the download, a 38-page PDF of instructions, a set of special earplugs designed to allow the user to hear their “inner sleep breath”, and an additional instruction card. The enormous amount of information and instruction that was provided was decidedly overwhelming, and the MP3 itself was a 21-minute long recording of Shane instructing the listener to focus on their jaw muscle and expanding their throat to allow for more calming breathing. Shane’s instructions include visualizations meant to relax the listener and teach them to recognize and embrace the body’s signs that it is time to sleep – the reviewer found the instructions, as well as Dr. Shane’s voice, disruptive.

The Relaxation Coach

Stacy Kamala Waltman hails from Buckingham, Virginia and is the relaxation coach that the reviewer selected for her evaluation of the service. Relaxation coaching is becoming more popular, and those who offer the services are generally specialists in stress management Ms. Waltman teaches meditation and yoga and offers her services in corporate workshop settings as well. Her service is highly personalized, and started with a live phone conversation that lasted for an hour. During the conversation she interviewed the reviewer about her level of stress and how she spent the hours prior to bedtime each night, including whether and how much she watched television. She also asked about what sounds the reviewer found the most relaxing from a selection of different options.  Part of the conversation involved advice about pre-sleep routines and how to wind down and relax, including discontinuing anything work-related and adding calming nighttime rituals.  She followed the conversation by sending a customized MP3 track along with additional information and instruction on such items as meditation, stretching and drinking warm milk before bed.

The MP3 itself was a 27-minute long track that included the sounds that the reviewer had expressed a preference for, as well as a series of relaxation exercises designed to be done in bed. The Wall Street Journal’s reviewer found the MP3 highly effective if a bit generic, and reportedly nodded off within fifteen minutes.

The takeaway from the article seemed to be that there are a number of truly effective options available on the market. All of the methods tested were reasonably priced and therefore seemed worthwhile for someone who is having a tough time falling asleep to try.

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