Few things are sweeter than putting your head on a pillow after an exhausting day and going straight to sleep. However, life often gets in the way of a good night of rest. 'Urgent' text messages, YouTube videos, racing minds, loud neighbors, unavoidable bright lights -- these can all interrupt sleep habits. For many, a lack of sleep results in cranky attitudes and foggy brains the next morning.
Sleep masks offer a solution to bright lights and helping tune out the world. However, those silken sleep masks often slide off one's face during the night or do a poor job of blocking out the light.
Enter Philippe Genereux, a product developer, and his team at Sound Oasis. Genereux spent the last several years studying sleep and creating products to help people sleep better. They've developed several sleep masks that lull wearers to sleep using light technology.
"We have a lot of experience in helping people go to sleep and helping people wake up," Genereux said. "We channel our technology, from sound machines to sleep masks, into what features we'd want to use ourselves."
One of the most notable items is Sound Oasis's Illumy smart sleep mask. The easy-to-use device puts users to sleep with a dulling red light. It then gently wakes up users with a glowing blue light. Why red and blue lights? The Sound Oasis team collaborated with NASA sleep experts to replicate similar technology that the astronauts use to maintain their circadian rhythms. Other research likens the blue to a sunrise and red tones to a gradual sunset.
Rather than use Bluetooth connectivity, Illumy is programmed via audible tones from a device. Genereux noted that tones are more accessible than Bluetooth or other connections. Illumy has a small microprocessor, an audio amplifier and a microphone. (The company dedicated a full blog post explaining the logistics behind the sound tones and how they embedded a small hysteresis circuit into the headset.)
Genereux said he initially pursued aerospace engineering but he'd always had a passion for research development. So, he earned his Masters in Applied Research at Carleton University and got into the research field.
"It was largely medical and it wasn't truly my passion, but I took that kind of research and interest in basic science and put it into product development," Genereux told Interesting Engineering. Genereux teamed up with a colleague on a small startup that shared office space with Headwaters R&D. Eventually, Genereux found himself with the Headwaters team and Sound Oasis.
And yes, the Sound Oasis crew definitely tests out their own products.
"For every mask we make, we've had 15 or 20 we've passed around the office and everyone evaluates it. They'll tell us exactly what works and what doesn't, and that's how some of our best ideas have come out," Genereux said.
Putting the Mask to the Test
After talking with Genereux, I discovered I had an early version of the company's Glo to Sleep therapy mask -- the GTS 1000. I expected a bulky, VR-type headset. Genereux admitted that it's hard to make the masks look less bulky in pictures. However, when I opened the box, I pulled out a simple mask that was surprisingly lightweight. It was far from Holly Golightly's signature sleep mask. The foam is soft but not wilting; it hasn't lost its shape yet.
I knew the mask had a light element to it, but I didn't see any crazy buttons or hardware. The instructions for the GTS 1000 were simple. I simply held the interior to a light source for 60 seconds. Then, I popped on the mask and focused on the dull light.
As someone who frequently travels, I'm no stranger to sleep masks. This one effectively blocked out the light. I feared being distracted by dulling blue lights, but they really did help me focus my brain on something other than random thoughts.
And, according to Genereux, that's the best part of his research and engineering.
"We get messages from third shift workers all the time. They work long nights, and they try out the sleep masks and are so glad to finally have something that doesn't disturb their partners," he said. "It's neat to get that kind of feedback."
Check out the Sound Oasis website for more information regarding the sleep masks and other sleep-related products.