Thanks to stress, device overload and other factors, the world is getting less sleep and, as a result, the gadget market is becoming increasingly populated with sleep devices that promise better rest. One of the latest concepts comes from Xuan Yao, a Chinese designer and entrepreneur whose company FitSleep is trying to break into the market with a new device called the FitSleep α1 that uses alpha waves to beam us into better sleep.

In many ways, the FitSleep α1 is similar to other options already out there. Like Juvo, it features sensors to pick up user's biodata such as heart rate and breathing patterns so it can customize a remedy (which in Juvo's case is white noise and adjusted ambient lighting). Another one called Misfit also monitors sleeping performance with data and timeline visualizations. FitSleep α1 is also similar to Samsung's SleepSense, which measures sleep quality markers, produces a timeline report and sends out soothing sounds.

What sets FitSleep apart is the use of alpha waves to allegedly fast-track the user to the deep stage of sleep. Alpha waves are brain oscillations that have functions in the wake-sleep cycle.

To support its claims, FitSleep has carried out research in conjunction with the Sleep Research Center of Peking University in China. They monitored the sleep of a group of 800 people aged 15-80 for 60 days.

The results of the research show that for the first 10 days, those people with an active and inactive FitSleep α1 took, on average, the same time to fall asleep. They also got a similar proportion of deep sleep and deep-sleep quality score.

But that was before the alpha waves were turned on. After that, FitSleep says, participants using alpha-wave-activated devices exhibited a gradual decrease in time to fall asleep, an increase in deep sleep, and an increase in their sleep-quality score. In comparison, participants using devices with an inactivated alpha-wave function showed no noticeable difference in those parameters.

The folks at FitSleep claim this is evidence alpha waves could be effective in improving sleep. However, experts say this should be taken with a grain of salt, as the paper comes from the company itself and is not peer-reviewed.

"I am not aware of any research that supports the use of emitting alpha waves to help someone fall asleep," Mark Boulos, a neurology researcher at the University of Toronto, tells Gizmag. Boulos is echoed by Neil Kline, of the American Sleep Association, who says he is "not familiar with with data that shows that the premise to their technology will work."

Yao says this may be the case because FitSleep is pioneering the use of alpha waves in sleep trackers.

In any case, this is how the device is supposed to work: After the user's head hits the pillow, FitSleep α1 begins to emit a range of electromagnetic waves from 0-13 Hz, and scans how the body reacts. As the FitSleep α1 picks up changes in heart rate and breathing patterns, it will tune to the most effective frequency and send out alpha waves meant to lull users into deep sleep.

The device itself is small and includes vibration, pressure and infrared sensors used to gather information on the user. A filter module and amplifier circuits help produce a reading of vital signs that are logged into the gadget. After that, the data is stored and can be transferred to a mobile phone via Bluetooth. From there, the data is sent to a server to run through FitSleep's sleep algorithm so a sleep report can be generated.

With all this information, FitSleep will build customized tips for users, so they can improve their sleeping patterns. FitSleep says it has worked with specialized professionals and scholars to provide sleep advice.

The FitSleep α1 will also have an alarm that avoids deep sleep phases to only wake users when they are in the lighter phases of sleep. The app also allows pairing a mobile device with a loved one's gadget (family member, partner, etc) so their biodata can also be monitored and any abnormalities detected and acted upon.

To bring FitSleep α1 to market, the team has launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. Early bird devices are still available for US$129 and delivery is estimated for September 2016 if all goes according to plan. FitSleep α1 will ship worldwide.

The video below illustrates how FitSleep α1 works.

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