Wearable technology known as closed-loop acoustic stimulation can improve sleep quality and work performance

A new study shows that closed-loop acoustic stimulation can improve both sleep quality and work performance. Findings published in a journal Journal of Applied Psychologysheds light on some of the real-world effects of a wearable sleep-enhancing device.

Closed-loop acoustic stimulation is a technique used to enhance slow brain wave patterns during sleep. It uses an algorithm that takes electroencephalography (EEG) from a sleeping person and designs precisely timed auditory sounds. These sounds are then played back to the person through headphones in a feedback loop to induce deeper sleep.

“I have long been interested in the relationship between sleep and work,” said study author Christopher M. Barnes, professor of organizational behavior at the Michael G. Foster School of Business at the University of Washington.

“As this research progressed, my interest shifted from simply pointing out the problems of sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality to exploring these partial solutions. Of course, the best solution is to re-prioritize our lives to make sure we get the sleep we need. But if that solution doesn’t exist, on a smaller scale, more practical solutions may be useful.”

Researchers conducted a longitudinal, in-person field trial with 81 full-time employees from two organizations, a large university and a large data analytics company, to test the effectiveness of closed-loop acoustic stimulation in improving sleep quality and daytime work performance.

The sample consisted of full-time workers between the ages of 18 and 40 who would self-select into the study if they were aware of hearing loss. Researchers randomly assign participants to one of two conditions: treatment-first or control-first. The researchers turned on (treatment) or turned off (control) the headband’s acoustic stimulation function while keeping everything else in the study the same.

The study lasted 20 consecutive working days, 10 days in the treatment condition followed by 10 days in the control condition. Participants completed two daily surveys during data collection. The authors of the study sent the daily morning surveys at 6:00 am. They included items to check participants’ adherence to procedures and measures regarding sleep duration and quality. Daily afternoon surveys at 4 pm measured daily work engagement, task performance, organizational citizenship behavior, and harmful work behavior.

The researchers found that closed-loop acoustic stimulation improved slow-wave sleep and had a positive effect on engagement, performance, and civic behavior (such as helping a co-worker) the next day at work.

“There are wearable devices like these closed-loop acoustic stimulation headbands that can improve the quality of sleep for some people,” Barnes told PsyPost. “It can benefit not only their sleep quality, but also some important work outcomes. This is particularly useful in situations where it is not possible for people to extend their sleep duration.

Closed-loop acoustic stimulation generally worked better for younger workers, “but relatively ineffective for older workers.” This shows that age is an important factor to consider when trying to help people sleep better with this technology.

“The biggest caveat is that these headbands don’t work for older adults,” Barnes said. “The biggest question would be what can we do to improve the quality of sleep for these older adults. Hopefully, as technology continues to improve, future versions of these devices will eventually work for older adults as well.”

The study “Using Wearable Technology (Closed Loop Acoustic Stimulation) Improves Sleep Quality and Work Performance” was written by Chris M. Barnes, Cristiano Guarana, Jaewook Lee, and Ekonkar Kaur.

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