I have developed a bedtime habit of downloading all three hours of the Dan Patrick sports talk radio show, queuing it up on my iPad 2 and letting it play at low volume while I fall asleep. My husband, however, couldn't care less about why the Bears are having a crummy season or what the college football playoff picture looks like. I had tried headphones and earbuds, but as a shifting sleeper who ends up rotating from my shoulder to my back, this wasn't practical. That's why I was so curious about the DreamPad pillow from Integrated Listening Systems.
The DreamPad uses bone-conduction technology to transmit audio to the user while keeping the volume to a minimum for that person's bed buddy. It's aimed at both children and adults who have trouble falling asleep. You can pump sound in from any device that uses a regular audio mini jack. I hooked my test pillow up to my iPad 2 and queued up some classic Bruce Springsteen for an initial test drive.
Not surprisingly, my regular cache of MP3s sounded quite a bit different coming from the innards of a bone-conduction pillow. It's a bit like listening to music through a cave filled with cotton. You can hear it, but it's all a bit muffled. The same goes for my experiments with podcasts, though it worked well enough for delivering Dan Patrick to my ears, and not my husband's.
Fortunately, the DreamPad has a main purpose that doesn't hinge on delivering high-fidelity rock songs. The pillow works with an Android and iOS app. The app is super simple. It features five different music programs you can choose from that are optimized for the DreamPad and designed to guide you into a pleasant slumber. I tried out all five, which are very different from each other.
My favorite program ended up being "Moonrise," a synthy combination of harp, viola and acoustic guitar that made me feel like I was visiting "Twin Peaks" on a beautiful night in the woods. White-noise fans will enjoy "Harmonic Continuum," a low-frequency harmonic overlay. There is also a tune featuring twinkly chimes, one with ocean waves and one with classical flair and a bit of a Vivaldi feel. The sound programs repeat for two hours, though you can override the automatic shut-off if you want them to play longer.
There's something soothing about having a soundscape emanating from inside a pillow, sending subtle vibrations into your head and encouraging you to sleep. My husband reported that he could hear a vague humming sound, but it didn't bother him.
The DreamPad is a fluffy creature, though you can feel the electronics layer inside if you press your face down into the pillow. It seems geared for side-sleepers who can use the loft. Placing the side of your face on the pillow also delivers the best audio experience. It's much quieter if only the back of your head is in contact. I experimented with placing my hand between my face and the pillow and found no difference in volume.
People who suffer from insomnia and have trouble falling asleep will try just about anything to get a good night's rest. That's why a $179 (about £114, AU$208) bone-conduction pillow doesn't seem like a far-fetched concept. If you don't want to be tethered to your music-delivery device, you can add an optional Bluetooth receiver to the package. This could be a good choice for parents who want to maintain control of the gadget that's sending sound to their kid's pillow.
If you're really attached to your current pillow, then the DreamPad Mini is an option that works on its own or with another pillow. It's a flat pad for people who are particular about their cushions, or who want to take a DreamPad traveling.
As someone who has occasionally battled the insomnia demon, I'm enamored of the DreamPad and its subtle sound-based approach to soothing you to sleep. However, it's bound to be a very individual thing. Your comfort with it will depend on your personal sleeping style and tolerance for synth-based soundscapes. The pillow comes with a 30-day guarantee that lets you send it back for a refund if it doesn't work out for you. If you do try one out, let me know if that "Moonrise" soundscape also reminds you of "Twin Peaks," or if I'm just weird.