Rythm Dreem claims to be the first active wearable to improve sleep quality. Can it work?

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Every night I go to bed with a mini Darth Vader mask on my face. It's a CPAP machine for sleep apnea. I do it because I hope it'll make me sleep better.

There's a company that wants to make a headband that can help you sleep better. And that headband can double as a brainwave-reading machine. It's called the Dreem. The Dreem has nothing to do with CPAP machines, and it isn't even meant to do anything with apnea. It's not an approved medical device, either. But it does claim to improve your sleep...by interrupting your brainwaves, just a bit.

Sound weird? Yeah, to me too. I haven't had a chance to test it yet, but I did get to wear one on my head briefly during a demo in New York. I remain skeptical, as any sane person would. But Rythm's CEO and co-founder Hugo Mercier confidently claims it works.

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What the final Dreem hardware will look like.

Ariel Nunez/CNET

A metronome for your deep sleep

According to Mercier, who I met with at CNET's office in New York, Dreem is an "active" neurological wearable. This means it not only monitors and measures, but can take action based on what it perceives.

The Dreem is a compact EEG-measuring device. When I got my CPAP machine outfitted, I first had to undergo a sleep study using a complicated, multi-wired full-body system that measures breathing, oxygen levels, brain activity with wires pasted to my head and body movement. The Dreem just measures brain activity. According to Mercier, it can see whether you're in deep sleep, REM or light sleep -- each phase is different (deep sleep can be the most body-restful; REM sleep involves dreams). And it can do more than that: it senses eye movement, and potentially a whole lot more.

The Dreem pairs with an iOS or Android device to sync sleep data, but it operates on its own at night. It measures brain activity, and then sends optimally timed noises via bone conduction that are meant to trigger deep sleep cycles, and keep the sleeper in deep sleep for longer. The goal is faster entry into deep sleep, and more rest in less time.

Sounds like magic to me. I had no way of actually vetting whether the Dreem could do this in my office demo. Instead, I wore a delicate prototype device and saw it was measuring activity via the phone's paired display, which showed changes in brain waves when I looked around, or blinked.

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Trying on the prototype model.

Ariel Nunez/CNET

Occasionally, I'd hear a soft hiss. That, Mercier told me, is the bone conduction sound the Dreem sets off: a "pink noise" that's meant to impact brain waves. The little hiss is odd. Would I get used to this as I slept?

The Dreem costs $349, and is available for pre-order now on Rythm's website (UK and Australian prices are yet to be announced but that converts to about £250 or AU$475). I still have no idea what the Dreem actually does versus what Rythm claims it can do, so I certainly wouldn't get one yet. We'll get a review unit sometime this spring, hopefully, and I'll get to sleep with one. That's the only way I'll know if this works.

My bulky Philips DreamStation CPAP machine is already something I use each night, and helps me get some rest by opening my air passages. The Dreem isn't a medically approved device yet, so it can't be a true replacement for anything. But I want to see if it can do what it promises, as I had no way of vetting Dreem's claims during my demo.

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My brain waves are...being read?

Ariel Nunez/CNET

A future AR/VR mind controller?

Rythm isn't just setting its sights on sleep quality. I was reminded of other brainwave-controlled toys and wearables, and demos I've seen of brain-controlled games. I asked Mercier about this and he smiled. AR/VR interfaces are definitely a future goal of Rythm. Whether that manifests in the Dreem or in another device isn't exactly clear. But if the Dreem is a very good EEG monitor (something I also can't vet yet), maybe it could be very good at a lot of other things, too.

Neurological wearables are coming (maybe)

This should prepare us for the inevitable: brain-monitoring wearables are probably going to be a popular pitch of the near future, especially if EEG-sensing technology is feasible and somewhat I don't think I'd want to wear a crazy band on my head all the time, but a new category of brain devices might be the next wave of wearable tech beyond the stuff of basic things like wristbands. Rythm imagines devices that could measure mood and other states. It reminds me a bit of what the Muse headband promised a couple of years ago.

I wouldn't necessarily want a brain-sensing band on my head, and I don't think my wife would be a fan. But what if this could be built into a pair of headphones, or a VR headset? Mind-controlled virtual reality...I'd go for that.

In the meantime, though, I'd settle for a decent night's sleep.

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