The device, which is also on trial for several other conditions, including anxiety and panic attacks, is said to help relax muscles and regulate the activity of the parasympathetic system, the part of the nervous system that slows the heart, dilates blood vessels and relaxes muscles.
‘By addressing the actual nerves that regulate stress, which extend from the brain stem throughout the body, we are able to affect many aspects of stress,’ says Michael Wood, chief science officer of the makers, Helicor.
…The device, about the size of a packet of cigarettes, has a pulse sensor and a display, and works by helping people to breathe deeply, which is a good way to relax. A similar approach has been used for lowering blood pressure as deep breathing may relax muscles surrounding small blood vessels.
The user puts a finger on the sensor and a wave-like image appears on the screen, which reflects the heartbeat detected by the sensor.
The display prompts the user when to breathe in and when to exhale during the 15-minute session, so encouraging longer, deeper breaths.
…’There is evidence that people with insomnia exhibit increased physical arousal and higher overall metabolic rate during sleep when they go to bed,’ say the researchers, who add that there is evidence that reducing arousal may have an impact on the length of time individuals are awake at night.
The study has its critics, however:
Professor Jim Horne, head of the sleep laboratory at Loughborough University and author of Sleepfaring, says: ‘In general terms, half the impact of anything you use to treat insomnia, whether it is over-the-counter preparations or drugs that make you go to sleep, is the placebo effect.
…’I think that the best treatment in the long run is cognitive behavioural therapy, which helps to resolve daytime conflicts and worries so they do not go to bed with you.’