Sleep is something that is either taken for granted or something of a struggle. While many people complain about their sleep, they still have the advantage of being able to lay down and go to sleep without having to calm their brains first. For others our brains are wrought with anxiety, madness and neural activity that no matter how tired the body is, the brain refuses to shut down. Silence at night is the enemy. We need white noise machines or music in the room. Or with the Dreampad from Integrated Listening Systems (iLs), music in our head.
Originally conceived to be a therapeutic tool to calm children with autism, the Dreampad was created to be a sleep aid for those with complex sleep difficulties. As someone who cannot shut down the spongy central processing facility in my skull, the Dreampad seems like a solid replacement for my white noise machine or the speakers across the room. The Dreampad is not a pillow with speakers in it, as I may have implied. Rather, it is a system of transducers that deliver music straight into your head through vibration.
Unlike headphones or posting speakers next to your bed, the Dreampad transducers pump the music right into your nervous system through vibrations to the inner ear. You can hear the music — it is not a sense of the music or a distant construct of music — it’s whatever music you are playing, just delivered a bit differently. This method triggers a response that kicks your brain into relaxation mode and helps calm the mind. That’s the intent at least.
There is a pocket with a 3.5mm jack in the pillow to jam your phone into, or you can order the optional Bluetooth receiver. Or plug in an extension cord to your tablet on the nightstand like I did. The Dreampad app has a selection of music, but there was no way I wasn’t going to play my own music. I’ve been taking naps to the dulcet tunes of Metallica’s Black Album since I was 14, and I routinely fall asleep to Pineapple Thief or The Flower Kings.
It takes a lot to relax me. At night I pace and toss a baseball around while trying to focus my thoughts on not all the things. If you know me, you know that I may seem like the zen master on the outside, but can easily switch to a hyper focused madman. At night — alone — this is amplified by silence. I take meds to help me fall asleep but still need music or white noise to focus my brain on something other than the billion or so anxieties slapping my neurons around like they just pissed off Tommy DeVito.
Using the Dreampad was an adjustment. Usually I plug my tablet into some speakers on a nightstand, but have trouble finding the right volume. The Dreampad just flows that music into my head without worrying about volume. When I want to get lost in white noise instead, there are apps for that. At first it was a little strange, as I was used to music filling the room instead of in my head, but like Green Day becoming a political pop-punk band, I got used to it. The Dreampad was surprisingly calming; vibrational music snuck directly into your head is a comfort that I’ve been waiting for just as long as bath towel warmers. The Dreampad is like a bath towel warmer for your tired, anxiety ridden brain.
So did the Dreampad succeed in shutting my brain down for the night? Sure. It was definitely better than my white noise machine, which can often cause my brain to create auditory inferences with the ambient sound, making achieving sleep more difficult. The Dreampad certainly beats fussing with the volume on my speakers. The Dreampad delivery system for music was certainly better than the other two sources. Did I feel that it calmed me more than the others, or erased anxieties? Not entirely. I doubt it overrules or would replace the meds, for me at least, but I can see how it would be a great supplemental product for those faced with difficulty calming their brains at night.
While I was a bit skeptical of the Dreampad being more than a gimmick for listening to music while you sleep, there is some research from iLs that shows the company is at least not focused on the gimmick part.
Integrated Learning Systems is no newbie to neurotechnology. The Denver-based company trains therapists and educators to combine iLs sound and movement therapy techniques with other interventions. It has trained over eight thousand professionals, some in service at pediatric hospitals of Stanford, Harvard, Duke and other outpatient clinics. The Dreampad is a consolidation of a lot of this research and a product that can reach a larger part of the population without the need for direct sleep therapy.