Author’s note: Last week,
I wrote to my fellow insomniacs about Morpheus,
a (mostly) non-digital device that’s supposed to help people fall asleep more easily. This week, I’m reviewing the Sensate, another device that’s also supposed to attract zzz’s.
In my old life as a cat owner, I could always fall asleep whenever my cat would curl up on top of me and start purring.
Admittedly, Sebastian weighed 17 pounds, which could have collapsed the bird-shaped sternum of a more fragile woman.
But I have meaty German bones, so Sebastian’s sleep was always more like being stuck under a warm, gently snarling weighted blanket.
Luckily, there’s now a device called the Sensate that uses the same purring principles to help you relax and fall asleep – minus the cat hair, litter box or the prospect of being woken up at 4 a.m. to give his croquettes at Tater Tot.
The Sensate is a small black device – about the size of a computer mouse – that is placed on the sternum. You then sync it to its companion app, which plays soothing, multi-layered mixes of everything from birdsong and babbling brooks to meditative buzzes and hypnotic chants.
During this time, the device itself hums and vibrates, often at a completely different cadence than the music streaming through your headphones.
In the process, the developers of Sensate claim it can help relieve stress and anxiety while contributing to better, more restful sleep.
The first time I tried it, I was amazed at how quickly it lulled me into an almost hypnotic state. The vibrations of the device resonated through my sternum, lulling me into a sense of relaxation and mindfulness with surprising effectiveness.
The second time I tried the Sensate, I chose the 10 minute “Avian” track and fell asleep within minutes.
I especially liked the fact that I didn’t have to try so hard to clear my brain. Like many people, I find the process of “mindfulness” extremely frustrating: how do you stop the brain from overthinking and judging, when that is precisely what it was created to do?
Sometimes the art of staying in the moment seems like an impossible task – a luxury reserved for the very young or those who have spent decades meditating and training themselves to “just be”.
But the Sensate was like Cliff’s Notes to Mindfulness. I was so swept away by the sweet vibes and even the enjoyable soundtrack, which somehow managed to NOT just sound like Enya trapped on an island with an army of panpipes.
If the Sensate experience sounds a little too New Age and woo-woo for you, it might help to know that there’s some real science behind the development of this gadget.
Sensate works by stimulating the vagus nerve, a very influential nerve that has come to be known as the “second brain”. The vagus nerve is thought to play a role in everything from our inflammatory response to our feelings of hunger.
Research shows that the vagus nerve stimulates the parasympathetic system (PNS) – the system that prompts us to “rest or digest” instead of engaging us in a “fight or flight” response. This creates promising potential for people with post-traumatic stress disorder, whose bodies might even be stuck in a constant “fight or flight” state.
Our “vagal tone” indicates how well the vagus nerve is functioning. Healthy vagal tone helps increase our heart rate variability, which is an important indicator of health. A high HRV shows that your body is adaptable to a wide variety of changes and will tend to be happier and less stressed.
Long before we understood how the vagus nerve works, humans instinctively turned to activities that helped stimulate it. Some low-tech approaches, such as chanting “OM” or deep breathing exercises, can help activate her calming response.
Today, doctors use a variety of therapies — from electrodes to other vibration devices — to help harness the power of the vagus nerve for everything from migraines to depression.
Unlike some of these more sophisticated instruments, the Sensate does not claim to be a medical device. BioSelf, the company that makes the device, makes no claims that would require FDA approval. However, BioSelf has conducted a few small studies that show its effectiveness. Sensate is said to have improved heart rate variability in 86% of patients after 20 minutes of use.
The Sensate has a few downsides.
One is the price: a hefty $249. That’s quite a change for this little gadget, although insomniacs are so chronically exhausted that they have virtually no resistance to selling. They will buy a $5,000 bed if they think it will help them sleep through the night.
Another downside is that you have to download an app to use it. Lately, I’ve sworn never to download another app without deleting one first. So downloading the Sensate app forced me to get rid of my ultra-handy “Be a Virtual Foot Doctor!” app, thus losing my excuse to postpone the actual housekeeping because I was too busy processing virtual onions for virtual money so I could add to my virtual clinic.
The Sensate app also includes a “paid” option, where you can get all the REALLY good stuff by tasting even more cheddar cheese per month.
But honestly, I don’t think you need the upgrade, because the “basic cable” package seemed to do the trick for me.
Oh, and the company has a ‘try it worry-free for 40 days’ policy, if that helps.
My only advice would be to familiarize yourself with the Sensate. I enjoyed it so much that I tried it several times a day, which I think made me more anxious.
As for the Sensate, relax and trust that it will eventually do what it was designed to do.
Tammy has been a storyteller most of her life. Before learning the alphabet, she told stories by drawing pictures and then dictated the story to her ever-patient mother. A graduate of North Dakota State University, she worked as a Dickinson, ND reporter, desk reporter, Bismarck Tribune editor/columnist, Forum reporter, columnist and editor, Publishing Services editor for NDSU, Marketing/Social Media Specialist. , an education associate in public broadcasting and a communications specialist in a non-profit organization.
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