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

New research provides evidence that closed loop acoustic stimulation can improve both sleep quality and work outcomes. The findings, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, shed light on some of the real-world impacts of a wearable sleep-improvement device.

Closed loop acoustic stimulation is a technique that is used to enhance slow brain wave patterns during sleep. It involves the use of an algorithm that takes electroencephalography (EEG) data from a sleeping person and plans precisely timed auditory tones. These tones are then played back to the person through headphones in a feedback loop to deepen sleep.

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

“As this research has progressed, I shifted my interest from simply pointing out the problems of sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality to examining partial solutions to these issues. Of course, the best solution is to reprioritize our lives to make sure we get the sleep we need. But in the absence of that solution, smaller scale, more practical solutions can be helpful.”

The researchers conducted a longitudinal, within-person field experiment 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 on improving sleep quality and daytime job performance.

The sample consisted of full-time employees between 18 and 40 years old who self-selected out of the study if they were aware of any hearing loss. The researchers randomly assigned participants to one of two conditions: treatment-first or control-first condition. Researchers turned on (treatment) or turned off (control) the acoustic stimulation function in the headband while keeping everything else about the study the same.

The study lasted for 20 consecutive workdays, with 10 days in the treatment condition followed by 10 days in the control condition. Participants completed two daily surveys during the data collection. The study authors sent the daily morning surveys at 6 a.m., which included items to check participants’ compliance with the procedures and measures of sleep duration and quality. The daily afternoon surveys at 4 p.m. measured daily work engagement, task performance, organizational citizenship behavior, and counterproductive work behaviors.

The researchers found that closed loop acoustic stimulation improved slow-wave sleep and had a positive impact on engagement, performance, and citizenship behaviors (such as helping a coworker) at work the following day.

“There are wearable devices, such as these closed loop acoustic stimulation headbands, which may be able to improve the sleep quality of some people,” Barnes told PsyPost. “That can benefit not only their sleep quality, but also some important work outcomes as well. This is especially useful in contexts in which people have no viable path to increasing their sleep duration.

Closed loop acoustic stimulation tended to work better for younger employees ” but relatively ineffective for older employees.” This indicates that age is an important factor to consider when trying to help people sleep better using this technique.

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

The study, “Using Wearable Technology (Closed Loop Acoustic Stimulation) to Improve Sleep Quality and Work Outcomes“, was authored by Chris M. Barnes, Cristiano Guarana, Jaewook Lee, and Ekonkar Kaur.

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