Trouble Sleeping? The Answer Could Be a Sleep Headband

Four high-tech devices offer the promise of better shut-eye, thanks to intelligent algorithms, cooling technology, and special sensors.

woman sleeping wearing a cooling headband

Gone are the days when a headband was just a fashion statement.

There’s a new breed of high-tech sleep headbands that can help overcome your specific sleep issue to help you fall asleep easier. Sound too good to be true? The research around these devices is still in development, but there are no proven negatives to using them — if you can afford the price tag. And let’s be honest: There’s something to be said for the placebo effect.

“If you think you’re going to sleep better by putting something on your forehead, you likely will sleep better,” says Jamie Zeitzer, Ph.D., an associate professor at the Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine at Stanford University. “You’re creating your own physiology to encourage sleep.”

If your brain needs a little hand-holding when it comes to entering dreamland, the technology behind these sleep headbands may be what you need to get there.

Cool down your brain

You know how experts recommend keeping your bedroom cool? That’s because lower temps prime your body for sleep. Your brain temperature dips naturally before bed, and a deviation from this natural pre-sleep cool-down has been linked to insomnia.

Racing thoughts can literally heat up your frontal cortex, according to research published in the journal Sleep. The study’s authors discovered that a cooling cap reduced frontal cortex activity and the amount of time it took to fall asleep while increasing total sleep time. “By cooling your head, you could potentially drop your brain temperature faster than your body might otherwise do, which could encourage sleep onset,” explains Zeitzer.

Try it: Ebb’s CoolDrift Versa Sleep System pumps fluid into a band cradling your forehead. Then, it uses an intelligent algorithm to fine-tune the temperature so that your brain’s overactivity drops and you drift off. While you’re wearing the device, it adjusts to your body’s natural temperature fluctuations, so you not only fall asleep easier but stay asleep.

Ebb® CoolDrift™ Versa. The sleep headband system sits on a wooden nightstand beside a lamp, next to a bed with white sheets.
Photo: Ebb

Enhance restorative sleep

If you wake up in the morning feeling fatigued and fuzzy even after eight hours of Zzz’s, you might not be getting enough deep sleep.

“Your deepest sleep is called slow-wave sleep, and it’s correlated with restorative sleep,” Stephanie Jones, Ph.D., assistant director of the Institute for Sleep and Consciousness at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health.

When you’re awake, your neurons are busy responding to external stimuli — firing quickly and at different rhythms as you interact with your environment. During deep sleep, your neurons fire simultaneously and much more slowly. As your brain wave activity slows down, your heart rate and temperature also drop — giving your body a chance to recoup.

Once you’re in deep sleep, you can actually increase the size of those slow waves by playing tones of a certain low frequency.  Those tones can encourage your neurons to keep humming together to improve sleep quality, says Jones.

Try it: Philips’s SmartSleep Deep Sleep headband uses two small electroencephalogram (EEG) sensors to track your brain activity all night and detect when you reach slow-wave sleep. Once you do, its algorithm triggers low frequency tones that boost slow waves, enhancing your body’s restorative state.

Lull your brain to sleep

Around 30% of people experience symptoms of insomnia, which include trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, reports the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “The biggest issue with sleep onset is getting out of your own way,” says Zeitzer. He adds that focusing on something introspective instead of the day’s anxieties — your breath, your heartbeat, or a growing and shrinking dot — can induce an almost hypnotic state that clears your mind.

Try it: The Muse-S headband creates soothing soundscapes that layer natural sounds (waves crashing), real-time biofeedback (the sound of your heartbeat and the sight of your brain’s activity rate), voice-guided meditation, and relaxing images (picture a lavender field or enchanted forest) to lull you into sleep.

Train your brain to sleep better

Just like you can train your body to be stronger and faster, you can train your brain to be more efficient by doing something over and over again. That’s called neurofeedback, says Jones. Training your brain to produce the brainwaves clinically associated with sleep during the day could potentially make it easier for you to fall asleep at night. At the very least, “working your brain harder during the day, should help it sleep harder at night,” she adds.

Try it: Once you complete a 20-minute series of brain exercises while wearing the URGOnight headband, it will give you positive visual and audio cues, or even rewards, when you’ve triggered brain waves associated with sleep. You’ll learn what techniques or thoughts work best for you so you can start generating those brain waves on your own at night.

Curious about other ways to improve or track your sleep? Explore more sleep tech ideas to help you get better Zzz’s.