January 19, 2012
Alarm Clocks Soon To Wirelessly Monitor And Control Brain Waves
Another health hazard may soon be in your local department store. Alarm clocks which monitor and even control brain activity are currently being perfected by biomedical engineers. The worst part is that they'll be marketed to unsuspecting consumers as the latest and greatest technology that will allow your alarm clock to wake you up based on your most arousable stage of sleep.
We all know how much control corporations love to impose on consumers, especially when those consumers feel a specific product will benefit them. They'll eventually be touted as the next big gadget in promoting a better sleep and dream state.
Writing in a forthcoming issue of the International Journal of Biomedical Engineering and Technology, the researchers describe an alarm clock that can monitor your brain activity and triggers its alarm within a time window you set in advance but only when your brain is in a more easily roused state rather than deep sleep. "By using such an alarm clock, the user will wake feeling much more refreshed than if they were awakened by a conventional alarm clock that rings at a set time," explains Jemina Asnoth Sylvia of Jerusalem College of Engineering in Tamil Nadu.
Neuroscientist and biomedical engineer Dr. Rami Singh says it's nothing new. "Different research groups have been developing this for over decade but the technology is more invasive than most consumers realize." Dr. Singh says the technology is being designed to not only monitor brain waves, but also control them by sending out signals from the device which can alter the user's sleep experience. "This will eventually all be done in a wireless format where the user will attach a very small and comfortable device to their ear that will act as the receiver...it will then transfer transmitting signals from the alarm clock to the user's brain, directly influencing brain activity." Singh further suggested that the technology can alter different sleep states and even stimulate learning and hypnotic suggestions depending out how it has been programmed.
Sleep is a behavioral state that is a natural part of every individual's life. We spend about one-third of our lives asleep. Although the precise functions of sleep remain a mystery, sleep is important for normal motor and cognitive functions as well as growth and rejuvenation of the immune, nervous, skeletal and muscular systems. After waking naturally, we recognize changes that have occurred, as we feel rested and more alert. The technology has the potential to influence our cognitive functions and behavior itself.
"It's no secret that scientists are working closing with government establishments to find ways to bring large groups of people under mental and emotional control," said Bashar Khayat from Free Thinkers Society. Many researchers such as Khayat believe that the intentions behind most sleep and memory-based treatments are very deceptive.
Many experts accept the view that memories are stored like individual files on a shelf; each time they are pulled down for viewing, they can be altered before being put back into storage. Altering a memory during the time it is off the shelf can create an updated memory that can be saved in place of the old one, scientists believe and sleep may be a critical period to influence memory.
The researchers point out that sleep usually involves 90-minute cycles of brain activity during which there are periods when the brain is most arousable. If a person is woken, from a night's sleep, during such an arousable period in the cycle, they will feel more refreshed than if they are woken during a deeper part of the sleep cycle. To take advantage of this requires putting EEG scalp electrodes on the head to monitor brain activity and to hook the output to a modified alarm clock. Once out of the experimental stage, the team envisages a head-band worn while sleeping that uses wireless electrodes.
In tests, the alarm time is set and the monitoring process is set to begin 90 seconds before the alarm time. An onboard computer determines what stage of their brain activity cycle the sleeper is in during the 90-second monitoring time. If they are in the 3rd or 4th stage of sleep, the alarm is "snoozed" automatically. However, if they are in stage 1 or 2 of sleep, the more arousable stages, the alarm is sounded to wake the sleeper.
"Think of it as the next tool in a consumer driven tailored society," said Jonathan Carroll, a Los Angeles based technology specialist. Carroll thinks if such devices are accepted into society, they could one day revolutionize the way we sleep. "Envision a device which will be hooked up to your home's network with full internet capabilities meaning it will be able to download and update itself with new programming depending on your browsing habits, likes and dislikes," Caroll suggests it could also be used as a tool to manipulate society and destroy privacy by making hypnotic suggestions according a user's habits rather than what he or she desires. "I know it's not a pretty picture, but Google and Facebook both track every single thing you do online and this would simply be an extension of those tracking technologies by your bedside, stimulating your brain while you sleep," he added.
The team adds that it is feasible to record brain activity during the night to obtain a so-called "hypnogram" to determine how well you are sleeping overall. This would allow you to adjust your alarm time so that the monitoring window coincided more often with stage 1 or 2. That might mean an earlier alarm call, up to 45 minutes earlier, but it would be a gentler more refreshed awakening. Of course, the converse would also be possible -- a "snooze" or 45 minutes and an even more rested and refreshed awakening.
Models may eventually be developed to stimulate learning while sleeping and even influence dream states.
If you choose to buy such a device in the future, don't be surprised if you begin to have thoughts that are not your own.
Marco Torres is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles. He holds degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and is a professional speaker on topics such as disease prevention, environmental toxins and health policy.