Audio for sleep: An introduction with Dr. Simon Merritt
Today we’re sitting down with Dr. Simon Merritt to talk about how audio can help you switch off and relax. We’re pleased to be welcoming Simon to the advisory team here at Kokoon where he’ll be helping advance the development of our platform.
Simon is a consultant in Sleep and Respiratory Medicine, based in East Sussex in the UK with over 13 years of experience in the field of sleep. He runs a dedicated Insomnia clinic and carries out innovative research around sleep apnea. He is a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the British Sleep Society and the European Sleep Research Society as well as being on the organizing committee for two national sleep conferences (Edinburgh Sleep 2013 and Newcastle Sleep 2015).
Welcome to Kokoon Simon! Glad to have you on board. Let’s start off by talking about audio and how it can be used to help people sleep and relax.
Audio has been used to help people sleep for generations, think back to the time your parents used to sing you lullabies as a baby.
Recent scientific literature says audio has a direct effect on the part of your body called the parasympathetic nervous system – sometimes called the “rest and digest” system. This means listening to audio slows your heart rate and breathing, lowers your blood pressure and encourages your muscles to relax – the perfect state to help you get to sleep. (1,2) Listening to audio just before sleep also reduces the time spent in the N1 transition phase of your sleep cycle which means you are less likely to wake up during your sleep. (3)
Using music or sounds to aid sleep is particularly useful in people who struggle to switch off, and for those very sensitive to external noises. Having said that who doesn’t like to fall asleep to relaxing sounds? The challenge can often be how to listen to audio in bed comfortably without disturbing a partner, and that’s hopefully something Kokoon can help with.
And what about audio incorporating techniques from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective treatments for Insomnia and sleeping difficulties. We’ve seen how effective these sorts of techniques can be when delivered in audio form to help people at home.
There are several decades of research showing that CBT techniques can help people fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer and therefore feel better during the day. It is now the front-line treatment for primary insomnia and is recommended for long term sleep problems. (4)
Can you tell us more about your thoughts on Kokoon, how it can help, and why you got involved with the team here?
Poor sleep is such a big problem now, and it can impact so much on peoples’ quality of life, so I’m excited about what you’re doing at Kokoon. it’s great to see technology trying to help improve sleep when so often it can be a disruptor to our sleep and relaxation.
A number of my patients have tried listening to audio while sleeping, but find most head and earphones cause discomfort in the ears or around the ears, once they have worn a set of headphones for longer than a few hours or during side sleeping.
I really like that the Kokoon design has prioritized comfort and combined this with various noise-blocking technologies. I must say when I wear them it really feels like an escape! Disturbances are problematic when it comes to sleep, and you really want to try and avoid them. Even if you’re not actually woken up, any noise during the night can still affect the depth of your sleep and therefore how restorative it is.
What works to help people sleep can be quite personal, and I’m looking forward to helping evolve the learning side of Kokoon and develop new audio techniques.
We’ve really seen from our customers’ feedback and the data we collect that different things help different people. Customers seem to have their preferences in audio and CBT sessions. Is it true to say that one size certainly does not fit all when it comes to dealing with poor sleep?
Of course, we see similar things in the sleep clinic too. Particularly when delivering CBT programmes, we find that people respond best to certain exercises and it can take a bit of time to find out what works best for an individual. CBT for Insomnia has many components so unless someone’s sleep problems are transient, I would encourage customers to work through all the sessions, and then they will be in a good place to see what works best for them for future use.
I think Kokoon’s approach of including EEG sensors which are what sleep clinics use in the more complex sleep studies, really helps with that personalisation process. I am really looking forward to working with the data sets that have been collected so far, so we can continuously improve the effectiveness of the audio and present the effectiveness of Kokoon to the scientific community.
How do you think customers can get the best out of Kokoon headphones and the Relax app?
I think it’s just worth remembering that sleep and relaxation are habits formed over a lifetime and making changes can take a bit of time. I hope that by working with the team at Kokoon we can keep improving the product, making it accessible and help people improve their habits and get better rest.
Thanks Simon. Finally, do you have any top tips for us around sleep hygiene and how we could start improving our own habits?
There are many things you can do but taking your time to switch off and unwind for 20 minutes before bed can be very effective. This means no TV or phone. Also, setting up your bedroom, thinking about the right temperature (a bit colder than normal is better), reducing any noise and making sure light is blocked can all help you get a great rest. Bright light exposure first thing in the morning is also helpful. Always have a notebook by the side of your bed so you can jot down any worries, concerns or indeed anything you need to remember for the morning, this can help the brain to relax and switch off.
I’ll finish off with a quote that I once heard from a Professor of mine: “Sleep is like a bird that comes to rest by your hand, all the while you pay it no attention it will stay within grasp, as soon as you turn to it and pay attention it will fly out of grasp”. This means that sleep is a passive process, we don’t have to try to fall asleep nor indeed spend any time thinking about our sleep, if we start doing these things then sleep becomes much harder.
Wonderful quote, thanks for your time Simon, we look forward to catching up again soon.