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 Psychologyshed some light on some of the real-world impacts of a wearable sleep-enhancing device.

Closed-loop acoustic stimulation is a technique 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 precisely schedules the 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, professor of organizational behavior at the Michael G. Foster School of Business at the University of Washington.

“As this research progressed, I shifted my focus from simply highlighting the problems of sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality to looking at partial solutions to these problems. Of course, the best solution is to reprioritize to make sure we get the sleep we need, but in the absence of that solution, smaller-scale, more practical solutions can help.

Researchers conducted a longitudinal, intra-individual 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 the improved sleep quality and work performance during the day.

The sample consisted of full-time employees between the ages of 18 and 40 who self-selected not to participate in the study if they were aware of hearing loss. Researchers randomly assigned participants to one of two conditions: treatment first or control first. The researchers turned on (process) or off (control) the acoustic stimulation feature in the headband while maintaining the same look of the study.

The study lasted 20 consecutive working days, with 10 days in the treatment condition followed by 10 days in the control condition. Participants completed two daily surveys during data collection. The study authors sent out the daily morning surveys at 6 a.m., which included items to check participants’ compliance with procedures and measures of sleep duration and quality. Daily afternoon surveys at 4:00 p.m. measured daily work engagement, task performance, organizational citizenship behavior, and counterproductive work behaviors.

Researchers found that closed-loop acoustic stimulation improved slow-wave sleep and positively impacted engagement, performance, and citizenship behaviors (such as helping a colleague) at work the next day.

“There are wearable devices, such as these closed-loop acoustic stimulation headbands, that can improve the quality of sleep for some people,” Barnes told PsyPost. “It can benefit not only the quality of their sleep, but also some important work outcomes. This is particularly useful in settings where people have no viable way to increase their sleep duration.

Closed-loop acoustic stimulation tended to work best 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 don’t work for older people,” Barnes said. “The bigger question would be what we can do to improve the sleep quality of these older people. Hopefully, as technology continues to advance, future versions of devices like these will also work on older people.

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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