Over the last year, I have acquired some new gadgets that help me improving my sleep, meditation, relaxation and wellbeing. In this article, I want to share my experience with you what has worked well and for which purpose I am using the specific product.
There are some passive devices in the list that only measure data so you can do better decisions based on that. On the other side, there are tools that actively influence your body and mind. For each gadget, I am explaining its functionality, giving my personal opinion and showcase possible alternatives:
What can I do with it? The Muse is a brain-sensing headband that uses real-time biofeedback based on EEG technology to improve meditation and sleep. I bought the Muse S around a year ago and use it daily for a 30-60 minutes meditation session. Of course you can meditate without such a device and there are a lot of great apps that enable guided meditations, but this headband is special in a specific sense: It allows you to receive instant feedback about the state of your meditation efforts via audio. By doing so, it gives you the possibility to get into deeper states of the mind that are hard to reach without proper training. At the end of each session, you receive a score about the time spent in active, neutral or calm state.
Is it worth it? The newest Gen2 Muse S costs a lot of money (379.99€), I would only buy this one if you are also interested in the sleep tracking and digital sleeping pills feature. For me, the Muse does one thing very good and that is to improve your meditation skills. For this purpose, even the older generation Muse 1 or 2 headbands do the job very well. I bought the Muse S Gen1 because it is slightly easier to setup before each session and more comfortable to wear than Gen1/2, but this can be considered as nice-to-have. So if you want to save some bucks but still bring your meditation skills to the next level, consider buying an older model from Ebay or other resellers.
What are the alternatives? FocusCalm and mendi both incorporate a similar concept, but have a slightly different focus. They are primary targeted towards games as feedback mechanism for Neurofeedback. Both products promise to improve focus and wellbeing, although their main focus is not meditation like for the Muse. If you want to have the best hardware currently available, Neurosity Crown is an EEG headband with 8 sensors and is geared towards concentration skills and getting users into flow. It helps developers to increase productivity by measuring brain waves and playing music that increases focus. It also tracks performance via a dashboard and the app.
What can I do with it? The Neorhythm stimulates your brain using Pulsed Electro Magnetic Stimulation, commonly known as PEMF technology. There’s a lot to unpack here so let’s start with the very basics. Your brain is made of billions of nerve cells, or neurons, that both gather and transmit electrochemical signals throughout the body. It’s a very cliche analogy, but if you think of the brain like a computer, all of the neurons function like the gates and wires in a computer. And adding in a touch of physics, we know that a magnetic field can cause an electric current. So tying all of this together, the theory is that electromagnetic stimulation at certain frequencies can actually impact your brainwaves, like theta, delta, and alpha. And this can be especially felt when it comes to certain activities like relaxation and sleep. There is an app that lets you choose different programs for Energy, Sleep, Meditation, Relaxation and Pain.
Is it worth it? It is a very special and unique product and I use it daily together with the Muse for improving my meditation skills. The Neorhythm can be put on the back of the head into one of the many meditation modes and does not influence the signal quality of the Muse at the front of the head. You can definitely experience the difference over the audio biofeedback of the Muse. Other modes I use regularly are "Deep Relaxation" at the end of the day and "Improve Sleep" half an hour before going to sleep. The device is highly integrated into my daily routine now and therefore I can recommend it if you want to make own experiments with brain stimulation and assess whether this technology is something for you.
What are the alternatives? There are some other PEMF devices on the market like the Micro-Pulse, but they mostly focus on pain therapy and are not meant to be used on the brain. I suspect there will be a lot of innovation going on the field of non-invasive brain stimulation soon, but we are really at the starting point here.
What can I do with it? The Oura Ring Gen3 was released recently and is the newest addition to my fleet of devices. Even though many features that have been prepared for generation three have not been rolled out yet like SpO2 measurements and advances sleep tracking, I am still happy with the quality and features of the device. I wear the ring all day and night and let it recharge every week. The oura app gives me different scores and recommendations how to improve me lifestyle. It never leaves you alone with raw data, but makes the insights practical so you know what to take out of them at any time.
Is it worth it? With a price point starting from 314€, the ring is definitely not cheap. But it has a very good quality and I see this as a long time investment, also in regards to the yet unreleased software features. The insights from the data are well made and don't overload you with too much information, but come at the right time and intensity. I use the sleep tracking feature together with an app called RISE, that calculates my sleep dept and circadian rhythm out of it. I did never wear a ring before so I had to get used to the feeling, but the sizing kit that comes before the actual device makes it easy to find the right ring size.
What are the alternatives? There is nothing similar in the form factor of a ring. That being said, when it comes to wristbands, the Biostrap is in a similar price range and also focuses heavily on sleep and wellness. There is also the WHOOP 4.0, but for me the monthly subscription is too expensive. However, if you are really into sports and want to analyze your trainings, this could be worth the investment.
What can I do with it? Apollo Neuro is a band that you can wear basically 24/7 on your arm or leg. It uses the feeling of touch to influence the nervous system. As it strengthens and rebalances your autonomic nervous system, your heart rate variability (HRV) improves – which means you’re building your resilience to stress. So ideally, you spend less time in fight-or-flight mode and get more time to rest and digest. The app has seven different modes, from "Energy and Wake Up" to "Sleep and Renew". You can also create a schedule to automatically run the different programs during the day or night. I usually wear the band all the time except for charging and activate the specific mode when I need it most.
Is it worth it? It's hard to quantify the effects of the Apollo Neuro, because you don't know how you would feel without it. I got used to the sensation pretty quickly and miss the band whenever it has to charge. By tracking my HRV long-term, I can definitely see a positive trend, although this can not be attributed to the Apollo Neuro alone. In general, if you have issues to relax or experience anxiety or heavy stress, this could be something for your as well.
What are the alternatives? There are other products that are similar, but I would prefer the Apollo Neuro because it is backed by more scientific findings. In case you want to check out alternatives, consider doppel or touchpoint.
What can I do with it? The Sensate II is a palm-sized, pebble-like device that sits on the chest and syncs with a mobile app. Sensate is designed to use low-frequency infrasound to regulate the nervous system and tone the vagus nerve which is responsible for calming the body after periods of stress and anxiety. It can relax our “fight, flight, freeze” emergency response, bringing our body back into balance. A combination of meticulously composed sounds synchronized with the near-infrasonic rhythmic pulses of the Sensate wearable are tuned to promote immediate relaxation. You put your headphones on and the Sensate on your chest, then choose one of the soundscapes in the app that range from 10-30 minutes.
Is it worth it? I am really happy with the device and use it on daily basis to relax from work and counter stress. The programs are perfect for a short relaxation during lunch break or a slightly longer one in the evening. The feeling of the vibration on your chest is really positive and so are the effects on HRV and wellbeing. If you are looking for a device that helps you to switch of your mind and refuel your batteries, I can highly recommend the Sensate.
What are the alternatives? Neuvana Xen has a very similar principle. There are some products that stimulate the Vagus Nerve directly over the ear, like the Parasym. I would only invest in those class of devices if you have a serious medical application for it, like depression or long-covid. And even then it is seen as experimental, whereas the positive effects on wellbeing have been proven in many scientific studies.
What can I do with it? Lief improves your heart rate variability (HRV), a scientifically-proven biomarker of stress. It is a patch that you can put on your chest during work. It continuously measures your HRV and sends out a vibration alerts, whenever this value is too low. It then proposes breathing patterns over the vibration that you can easily follow and therefore boost your HRV back to normal levels. Like the Muse, this is a biofeedback device that helps you to better self-regulate your stress and anxiety over time, as your body learns the patterns and how to deal with it naturally.
Is it worth it? Unfortunately the subscription is not cheap and costs 49$ per month. For this price tag, the device does not offer a lot of functionality except for the mentioned HRV monitoring and the vibration alerts together with the breathing patterns. I used it for 8 weeks but returned it afterwards, as the monthly costs are too high in my oppinion. Also the device can not be shipped to Europe at the moment, so you have to use an US address and then forward it to your European address.
What are the alternatives? As far as I know, there is no similar product on the market. The HearthMath EmWave2 is probably the closest fit, but the software is really crappy and does not provide similar vibration feedback or breathing patterns like the Lief. In general, I see a lot of potential on the usage of Realtime HRV biofeedback for preventing stress, especially in combination with breathing exercises. Actually, I thought about the idea before I have ever heard of Lief Therapeutics and were happy to see it actually works in a real product.
What can I do with it? I think everyone knows the Apple Watch, so I only talk about the way I use it for tracking and improving my general wellbeing. There is an app called Gyroscope that receives data from the watch and can be paired to other data sources as well. It generates a unique health score that goes up and down over time and gives you recommendations and goals to keep your body and mind in optimal health. It's basically like a digital health coach. Apart from Gyroscope, I use HRV Tracker to see the latest readings on my Watch and Cardiogram to monitor different heart parameters.
Is it worth it? If you already have an iPhone, the big advantage of the Apple Watch is that it seamlessly integrates into many other apps and of course sends data directly to Apple Health, which is for example used by other apps like Gyroscope. I own the Apple Watch SE that is significantly cheaper than the flagship version 7, but provides all the features I need. In combination with the Oura Ring, it tracks a lot of meaningful data and is a good addition to the ring for HRV measurements during day or recording sports activities.
What are the alternatives? There are many other smartwatches available on the market, so I am not trying to give recommendations here. If you are on Android you might have a look at the Fitbit products, especially the Fitbit Sense has a lot of nice sensors integrated.
I hope you found something interesting in this article. In case you want to learn more about the newest devices for improving health and happiness, check out the Youtube channel from Katie Type A. If you are more into neuroscience and hacking / improving your brain, the Youtube channel from Cody Rall has you covered.
Don't forget to check out my other articles here and have a great and healthy start into 2022!