A new wearable sleep-improvement system—which could improve the duration and quality of sleep, especially for people with conditions like dementia—has earned a Carle Illinois College of Medicine student team recognition from the US National Academy of Medicine.

The team’s innovation is an at-home device that pairs a wearable electroencephalogram (EEG) monitoring system and auditory stimulation to improve the user’s crucial, restorative stage of sleep. 

Sound Asleep’s design will use EEG to monitor users’ brain waves and transmit sounds at frequencies that enhance sleep.
Photo credit: Carle Illinois College of Medicine

“There is a growing body of literature supporting the idea that providing auditory stimulation during sleep increases the slow wave sleep that an individual experiences, leading to better physical and mental health outcomes,” says team leader Maggie Li in a release. 

Insufficient sleep is associated with health conditions including obesity, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, immune suppression, impaired cognitive functioning, and dementia. The team’s research inspired the creation of Sound Asleep, a new non-invasive solution to increase sleep quality and quantity and improve overall health and well-being.

“We propose a wearable home-use device that measures brainwaves via a closed-loop EEG system and delivers noise during slow-wave sleep to enhance restorative rest in a personalized manner,” Li says in the release. 

The Sound Asleep team won the 2023 Catalyst Award in the US National Academy of Medicine’s Healthy Longevity Global Grand Challenge. The competition is open to health care workers, scientists, researchers, social scientists, and industry professionals and is meant to foster the development of transformative, scalable solutions that extend life and improve human health as we age. 

The team is one of 20 Catalyst Prize winners across the US that qualified to enter the competition’s accelerator phase, which offers prizes up to $1 million for ideas that show the most progress and reach the proof-of-concept phase. A worldwide grand prize of $5 million will be awarded in 2026.

The Sound Asleep team will use its $50,000 in winnings to prototype their system. It will include a microcomputer that calculates the ideal timing to send out short bursts of pink noise to amplify the user’s brainwaves. The pink noise, which is a particular combination of frequencies that to some resembles the sound of flowing water, will be delivered via speakers that sit outside the ear to maintain comfort. Because the sound bursts are short and delivered during slow wave sleep, users won’t consciously hear the sounds. 

The device can be paired with an app that tracks sleep metrics, such as time to fall asleep, sleep duration, and time in each sleep stage. 

As a Catalyst Award winner, the Sound Asleep team will be invited to attend the annual, virtual Innovator Summit to share the work with policymakers, researchers, potential investors, and fellow innovators from around the world. 

Illustration 290068520 © Volodymyr Konko | Dreamstime.com