When life starts to get stressful, we often turn to things like a soothing cup of tea, deep breathing and meditation, or a dose of Xanax to help bring calm. One company we’ve covered in the past, Thync, based in Los Gatos, California, hopes to position itself as a smart, drug-free wearable device that can calm you down. It works through a process called neurosignaling: tiny, specially-tuned electrical waveforms are transmitted to your brain and alter your neural pathways, eventually gently bringing on a feeling of calmness. When we last met with Thync in 2015, we were given a 15-minute demo session in a Las Vegas hotel suite in the midst of the events of CES. We came away feeling slightly more relaxed, but definitely needed more testing to see if it would really work consistently for us.
Thync was kind enough to send us the latest version of their device, the Thync Relax Pro, for an extended trial so we can test it in a variety of contexts. Note that this wasn’t a scientific study, but rather our impression of the device.
The Thync Relax Pro is a small, asymmetrical upside-down triangle-shaped plastic device (called the “pod”). While the original version (known as “Edition One”) was placed on the side of your forehead, the Thync Relax Pro is adhered to the back of your neck. It has a thin light slit on the front that acts as a status indicator, a small power button along the bottom left edge, and a micro-USB port along the bottom right edge. On the back are two button snap connectors that attach to a thin strip of plastic (called the “connector”) with spots on the top and bottom that the two adhesive, conductive skin electrodes (called the “pads”) stick on. It seems like somewhat of a complicated setup, but we realized that the company essentially recycled much of the original version. The Relax Pro pod is actually externally identical to the Edition One pod; it’s only the connector itself that was changed to adhere completely to the back of your neck.
While we certainly respect Thync for simplifying things by using the same housing as the Edition One, the decision came with some critical trade-offs. Most notably, the shape of the device does not work at all for the back of the neck. While it had worked fine with the original version that was placed on the fairly hard and bony contours of the forehead, we could never seem to get a secure fit on the softer, more pliable skin of the neck. It made it a little tricky to reach around and power on as well. Even once we managed to stick the Thync onto our neck in different locations, it would always feel like it was coming loose as we moved our head. We were puzzled by the design decision to have the pod adhere to the pliable part of the base of the neck while having the second electrode adhere to the more stationary part of the neck farther down from the head. This meant that when the pod would come loose, the entire unit would fall completely off from the weight of the pod. While the unchanged shape of the pod is probably to blame, we didn’t think too highly of the adhesive pads either. Thync claims that they can be reused about five times, but between repositioning them for a better fit or putting the Thync back on our neck after it had come loose, we never got the pads to last more than a couple uses. If you plan on using the device every day as recommended, you may be going through a lot of pads, which are bundled in sets of 3.
Overall, we learned rather quickly that trying to keep your head still and always being watchful for the device coming loose unfortunately was pretty much counter-productive to any sense of calm we were seeking to achieve with the Thync.
Upon launching the ThyncRelax app, you have your choice of three sessions: deep sleep, relax, and alternative deep relax. To the user, these sessions pretty much all feel the same; we’re guessing the emitted electrical signal frequencies and sequences are specially tuned for each program. The app will also create a customized schedule with notifications depending on how stressed or anxious you feel. This is determined by means of a brief questionnaire that is displayed during a session. The app also contains a help section that explains how Thync works and how to apply the pod to the back of the neck. Finally, the app allows you to view and manage your account and subscription type, as well as adjust some basic pod settings.
The app is also the means by which you control the pod. Once the pod is powered on and placed on the back of your neck, you use to app to start and stop a session, as well as adjust the intensity. A timer will tell you how long you’ve been in a session, and you’ll also see in-session tips on how to reduce your stress. The app is also the way you find out if something has gone wrong, such as if the pod is disconnected from the phone, or if the pads become detached from your skin. With the various issues we had using the device, these alerts became all too familiar to us.
Our biggest criticism is that the pod must always be connected to the app to work; for example, if you stepped away from your desk while wearing the Thync but had left your phone at your desk, the pod will stop functioning and your phone will receive an alert that it was disconnected. If the tingling sensation is mild enough, you may never even realize that the device stopped functioning. So if sunset walks help calm you down, and you want to wear the Thync for extra effect, make sure you bring your phone with you.
So Does It Work?
While no therapeutic device will have 100% efficacy, we actually feel like Thync helped calm us down. We tried Thync in the evenings during several somewhat stressful situations, such as writing Medgadget articles, studying for graduate school exams, and watching the World Series. During the times where we managed to keep the Thync stuck to the back of our neck, we did find ourselves able to fall asleep easier.
We brought the Thync to work one day to see if our hardworking co-workers also felt any benefit. One coworker who used it toward the end of the work day claimed he felt strangely, but pleasantly relaxed, almost to the point of mild drowsiness driving home (although thankfully not dangerously drowsy). Another coworker used Thync during a coding session and shared that he felt more relaxed, although he wasn’t sure if it was actually the neurosignaling or the massage-like tingling sensation he was feeling.
So while your mileage may vary, we were surprised that just about everyone in our unscientifically small sample size claimed to feel a little more calm.
While the Thync Relax Pro might have shown a glimmer of hope in actually calming us down, its frustrating design quirks ultimately made us feel anything but relaxed. Thync will need to go back to the drawing board and redesign the device if it hopes to make its bioelectronic therapy successful with consumers.
More information and a link to purchase a Thync Relax Pro: Thync website…