Remember sleep? You know, that thing you used to do on Saturday mornings when you were a teenager? One nine-month-old baby later, and my memories of a good night’s sleep are fuzzy, at best.
For the past week, I’ve been turning to technology for help. Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking: Technology is the main reason that we sleep less. We work even when we’re not at work, wake in the night to reach over and peek at our phones, and never take the time to unplug. But stay with me here.
I’ve been testing the $179 Dreampad from Integrated Listening Systems, based in Denver, Colo. This relatively thin, rectangular pad slips into your pillowcase and plays ambient music using bone-conduction technology — meaning that sound is delivered through vibrations against your skull. The person sleeping next to you doesn’t hear it, and you don’t wear headphones.
In short, I’m a big fan of the Dreampad. It’s odd to be admitting this. I’m not someone who likes sleeping with music, because I recognize tunes and sing along in my head rather than sleeping. And I can’t stand white-noise machines. But the music that the Dreampad played made me feel like I was lying on a massage table at a luxury spa — except I didn’t have to fight to stay awake for the massage.
My brain seemed to get the message, too: Instead of it running through a dozen things I had to remember for the next day, it rested. I zoned out. I fell asleep significantly faster than usual.
The Dreampad’s ambient music plays from a free iOS or Android app, and can be set to turn off after a certain amount of time (the default is two hours). It can also play as an alarm to wake you, using classical music that also comes in the app. To work, it plugs into your iPhone or Android phone’s headphone port via a short cord on the Dreampad. Alternatively, you can use another device or even buy a Sony Walkman MP3 player that the company preloads with music and sells for $70, but these don’t use the app’s auto-off or alarm functions.
If you’re nervous about having your phone tucked under your head all night, the app works in Airplane mode, too. You can also buy a $30 Bluetooth accessory to communicate with the phone from across the room.
Integrated Listening Systems (iLs) was launched in 2007 by a movement-therapy specialist and a doctor trained in auditory therapy. They originally made a product called Total Focus — a headset with a vibrating piece on it that used different frequencies of classical music to help kids cope with things like autism and attention-deficit disorder. After finding that bone-conducting sound had a calming effect on kids, they created a pad that toddlers could rest their heads on, since they were too young to wear the headset. But parents of these toddlers said they were taking the pad from their kids’ rooms after the kids were asleep, because it helped them sleep, too.
Last November, a redesigned, consumer-friendly version of this technology was launched for all ages: The Dreampad.
The first time I plugged the Dreampad into my phone and pressed Play on its app, I didn’t think it was working. Its sound is barely audible unless your head is resting on it, but this is a good thing for sleep partners who want to drift off to dreamland using other methods. I heard the music — “Moonrise” was my favorite — while lying on my back looking at the ceiling, or lying on my back or stomach with my head turned to one side. When my ear was pressed against the Dreampad, I turned the volume down a little.
After a successful first night of falling asleep faster than normal, I adjusted the Dreampad app to play music for an hour as I fell asleep. I also turned on the app’s alarm, which woke me up using gentle classical music. I don’t really need an alarm (see nine-month-old baby reference above), but it worked well on a morning when my husband was on baby duty and I got to sleep in.
Before you put your sheep-counting days behind you, consider some of the Dreampad’s downsides. The biggest issue is that people are very picky about their pillows. I’m as guilty as the next person, taking hours to find the right fit by resting my head on down feathers, down alternative, memory foam and synthetic stuffing. When I found a favorite, I spent around $75, and bought the same pillow again when that one wore out.
The Dreampad slipped into my pillowcase with no problem, but when combined with my pillow, it felt a little too full to be comfortable for the long term. People who use contour pillows, which curve to support the neck, may have even more trouble with the Dreampad, though it can work when placed under a pillow.
Randall Redfield, CEO of iLs, said the company is developing new products that use bone-conduction technology for sleep, including complete pillows that would eliminate the need for an insert like the Dreampad.
Another downside is that the Dreampad isn’t intended to block out sounds that could prevent you from sleeping, like a snoring spouse or sounds from a neighbor’s party. It doesn’t take the place of earplugs or a white-noise machine.
Finally, the Dreampad’s method of plugging into a smartphone means keeping your phone not just beside your bed, but actually in your bed. Sleep specialists say that one way to get better sleep is to move your phone away from the bed, diminishing the temptation to check it during the night. Some people will find the temptation too great when the phone is in bed with them.
Also, most people charge their phones at night, so their phones will need to be plugged into the Dreampad as well as into a wall charger, which means putting a cord in the bed.
If your mind races when you lie down to sleep, the Dreampad may help you get the Zzzs of your dreams.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.