Monday, October 2, 2023 -
Print Edition

Tackling chronic insomnia with high-tech devices — not pills

By Brian Blum

I have suffered from chronic insomnia since the start of the second intifada in Israel, in the fall of 2000.

The NYX headband (courtesy)

As military helicopters flew over my home in southern Jerusalem, night after night, my anxiety grew each time I heard the propellers whir. Racked with dread, I became completely unable to fall asleep and my doctor recommended a short course of sleeping pills.

That short course lasted more than 20 years.

During that time, as I’ve developed tolerance to the sleeping meds, I’ve repeatedly searched for non-pharmacological alternatives to help me get to sleep and stay snoozing the whole night.

I’m hardly alone: The Sleep Foundation estimates that between 10 and 30% of American adults struggle with chronic insomnia. For older adults, the rate jumps to as high as 48%.

Two Israeli startups, IntoSleep and NYX, are working on solutions that could change sleep medicine and provide much-needed relief to insomniacs like me.

Haifa-based NYX is further along, having already raised close to $4 million for its EEG-studded, sleep-promoting headband incubated at Joy Ventures.

IntoSleep hasn’t raised any cash yet but has some big names in Israeli sleep-tech as cofounders and advisers for its biofeedback-based approach.

NYX (named after the Greek goddess of the night) developed a headband that you just have to put on, and that’s it.

The headband uses tACS (transcranial alternating current stimulation, a form of neuromodulation to treat disease or enhance brain function).

When you first don the headband, it checks your brain’s theta waves via the EEG connection. To fall asleep, you need theta waves that are about 60% higher than normal.

NYX’s goal is to use tACS “to get you to N1, the gateway to falling asleep,” CEO Eyal Lewin says.

“You’re training your brain in how to create more theta waves to fall asleep. From time to time, you’ll need to train again. But you won’t need us every day.”

A short “threshold test” asks you to indicate when you feel a tickle. “Once you say you feel it, it’s taken down so that the currents used by the device will always be below the level that can be sensed by human beings,” Lewin explains.

After a night of normal sleep, the headband downloads all the information from the night into the NYX mobile app. The data is then uploaded to the cloud, so that it can be compared with other insomniacs “to set the right program for your next night,” Lewin says.

The headband’s stimulation is personalized to the user.

The idea is not to use the headband forever. You don’t even need to wear it the entire night, although you probably will since you’ll be asleep before you realize it.

The company tested the headband in 300 sessions on people with insomnia due to Parkinson’s disease.

These tests showed lasting results, Lewin says. Currently, NYX is running a double-blind clinical trial with 100 insomniacs at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center.

Lewin hopes that a commercial product will be out by 2025.

IntoSleep’s approach also involves a wearable, although not on your head but on your finger. The company’s techno “thimble” monitors respiration rate, blood pressure, heart rate, sweat gland activity and skin temperature to put together a program tailored for you based on biofeedback.

Biofeedback is a technique that bypasses the thinking mind to address the autonomic nervous system.

According to Harvard Medical School, biofeedback teaches you “to control automatic body functions [in order to] relieve chronic pain, reduce stress, or improve your physical or mental performance.”

In traditional biofeedback, sensors detect changes in your pulse, brain waves and other physiological functions. These changes trigger a visual or auditory signal. Over time, you can learn to alter the signal by taking conscious control of your automatic body functions.

IntoSleep’s idea is to useaudio tones that guide users, with the help of the thimble, toward increased relaxation.

IntoSleep CEO Carmit Lev-Solash hopes that once one has used IntoSleep for a while, one will achieve the same calming just from the thimble’s tactile biofeedback vibrations.

Biofeedback and sleep training have long gone together, but it’s always required the insomniac to visit the therapist’s office during the day and be hooked up to electrodes.

“It’s not done at night, which is when you want to go to sleep!” Lev-Solash points out.

“We convert it to in-bed use, with no electrodes required, just an app and a finger sensor.”

The next step is clinical trials, if funds are raised.

Neither IntoSleep’s Lev-Solash nor NYX’s Lewin suffer from insomnia, by the way. As for me, I’m already losing sleep waiting for the next generation of Israeli-made sleep-soothing wearables to come to market.

Leave a Reply