Update: Oct 2018 – After hearing numerous reports of customer complaints, lack of contact, and product quality issues, we can no longer support or condone Neuroon products.
Looking like a sci-fi movie prop, Neuroon offers a bewildering array of features and specifications and is currently the only viable consumer product on that lets consumers monitor their brain activity whilst asleep.
But the cutting-edge technology is sometimes let down by a lack of attention to detail in design and manufacturing. The user experience is far from perfect, but if you can live with its quirks, Neuroon boasts a range of advanced features like no other sleep gadget on the market.
Sensors and algorithms measure a wide range of bio-signals
Can help with jet-lag, shift-work and lucid dreaming
Compact and light – good for travelling
API coming in the future
Not so good:
Technology is let down by sub-optimal product design
No ‘smart’ alarm feature to wake you in light sleep
No data sharing or IoT integration at present
Battery life is disappointing
Our Rating: 0.5/5
[toc]Neuroon is the brain-child of two Polish entrepreneurs, Kamil Adamczyk and Janusz Frączek who met each other as students on an inter-university science project. The topic of their research was non-invasive brain monitoring, which incorporated sleep science.
Their fruitful collaboration turned into a business idea. They wanted to create a small, comfortable device that could challenge the dominance of the polysomnography (ie a clinical sleep testing).
The outcome of their partnership was Neuroon, the world’s first ‘intelligent’ sleep mask, sporting a range of sophisticated bio-sensors to monitor your body metrics at night.
Launched on Kickstarter, in 2013, Neuroon generated a lot of excitement in the ‘bio-hacking’ and tech community, raising nearly ½ million dollars in crowdfunding pledges, and scooping up a series of technical innovation awards.
Neuroon was originally a product focussed on aiding polyphasic sleep (breaking your sleep up into a series of timed naps) but after consulting with the medical and business community, the founders decided to pivot their idea to benefit a wider audience, transforming their device into a ‘universal sleep companion’ and ‘personal energy manager’.
What does Neuroon do?
So, what does an ‘intelligent’ sleep mask actually do? Unfortunately it can’t make you more intelligent, but Neuroon does have quite a few tricks up it sleeves. Apart from its sleep tracking capabilities, Neuroon promises to help you with:
Lucid dreaming (available as an additional add-on)
The mask uses a technique called bright light therapy, a technique for treating people with circadian rhythm (body clock) issues, mood disorders and sleep problems.
Light therapy, which has serious research behind it, ‘resets’ your internal body clock because timed exposure to bright light cause bio-chemical changes in the body and brain, influencing, among among other things, the release of melatonin, the ‘darkness’ hormone, which is necessary for healthy sleep.
Typically, bright light therapy patients would use a ‘light box’ a standalone bright light source that you sit in front of. Neuroon, by contrast uses two LEDs built into the mask itself, meaning you can enjoy the benefits of light therapy anywhere.
Biometric sleep sensors
Part of the buzz that’s built up around Neuroon over the last couple of years is its array of sophisticated bio-sensors.
Most sleep apps and activity/sleep trackers still rely on a single metric (ie movement) to gather sleep data. But whilst measuring body movement (aka actigraphy) is an appropriate metric for determining fitness and activity, in terms of measuring sleep architecture, it’s a blunt tool.
This is where Neuroon has the edge over other sleep tracking devices. At the time of writing, Neuroon is the only sleep tracker on the market to offer some of the metrics that you’d normally only encounter in a clinical sleep laboratory.
So as well as featuring a 3-axis accelerometer to track body movement, Neuroon also incorporates a pulse oximeter to measure, temperature sensors and uniquely for a sleep tracking device, electrodes to measure electrical activity in the brain, muscles and eyes.
Out of the box, Neuroon’s aesthetics live up to its hi-tech promises. The well-designed minimalist packaging houses the two main components; the fabric mask itself, and a removable ‘smart pack’ – the brain of the device which contains all of the sensors and electronics.
The whole thing is indeed quite futuristic looking, sharing a similarity in appearance with some of the virtual reality headsets starting to appear on the market.
In terms of materials, Neuroon has chosen to use memory foam as the basis for its mask. One of the reasons is because this allows the mask to feature a cutaway section for the smart pack to conveniently be inserted.
It’s a simple, effective solution, however I feel the designers might have missed a trick because there’s no way to secure the smart pack into the mask – if not kept upright it just keeps falling out. A simple Velcro fastener would have been sufficient in this case.
Apart from this gripe, the memory foam option seems a good choice. Although Neuroon is quite a bit thicker (around ¾ inch) than your average sleep mask, it has just the right combination of softness, firmness and breathability to be comfortable enough to sleep with.
Needless to say, all of the materials used in Neuroon have been selected because of their hypo-allergenenic properties.
Attached to the front of the memory foam is the fabric exterior with a cool geometric design. There’s also an adjustable elasticated strap, but on first inspection it’s not apparent that you can adjust it.
Luckily my head seemed to be just the right size but if you do need to change the strap length you have to peel back the fabric exterior via a Velcro fastener and move the strap accordingly. This arrangement seems a little clunky to me. It’s certainly not intuitive and feels a little ‘cheap’ for a premium product like Neuroon.
The smart pack is where all the electronics are housed. The designers have obviously put a lot of thought into the ergonomics, and how to cram such a sophisticated combination of sensors and circuitry into such a tight space.
What they came up with is a circuit board that’s split over 3 finger-width sections, joined by a flexible ribbon cable. This neat solution gives the electronic ‘brain’ a certain amount of flex when it’s strapped to your head, providing both comfort and protection.
Neuroon’s electronic ‘smart pack’ showing the gold-plated EEG electrodes
The electronics are encased in a squidgy, soft-to-the-touch, translucent silicon housing. This provides further protection, and also means that there are no jagged edges or hard surfaces anywhere. The silicon material gives the smart pack a skin-like, almost ‘organic’ feel.
With all the electronics encased, the only components that are exposed to touch are the 3 gold-plated electrodes. These electrodes make contact with the forehead, just above the eyebrows, and measure the electrical activity in the brain whilst you’re asleep.
Confusingly, the Neuroon product manual calls these EEG sensors, but it turns out that the gold electrodes are actually measuring EEG, EOG (electrooculography or eye movement) and EMG (electromyography or muscle movement).
We reached out to Neuroon support for more clarity on this and we received this response from Inteliclinc’s Dagna Frydrych;
“Our electrodes are placed in the points: FP1 and FP2. [They allow us] to get the signal from the craniofacial [skull and face region] : brain waves [EEG], muscles (EMG) and eye muscles (EOG).
Because of the fact that we do not have electrodes placed in typical .. polysomnograph spots, .. our electrodes are not [strictly] EOG, [however] the signal is still strong enough to easily read EOG signal from the available electrodes.
If we are not 100% sure what sleep stage there is based on EEG we use EOG to confirm it.”
Neuroon’s sensors are known as ‘dry’ electrodes, a technology that is becoming increasingly popular in smart wearable technology. Dry electrodes are so-called because they do not require the conductive gel used in clinical grade equipment. Although dry electrodes do not have the same accuracy and reliability of ‘wet’ electrodes, they offer much more convenience and portability.
At the bottom of the smart pack are a total of 6 LEDs which double up as both status lights and bright light therapy light sources. There are 2 RGB LEDs, two pulsed white LEDs, one red LED, and one Infrared LED for the pulse oximeter. When placed in the mask, the LEDs are visible via two small cut-outs in the memory foam.
Neuroon has only a single button, placed in the centre of the smart pack, which serves as the on/off switch.
Finally, to charge the device, there’s a single USB socket at the top of the smart pack.
First, a word about ergonomics. All in all, although it’s quite bulky and takes some getting used to, Neuroon is actually relatively comfortable and didn’t prove difficult to fall asleep with. That said, I’m mainly a side/back sleeper, so if you sleep on your stomach, you might have a different experience.
Needless to say, Neuroon is a bit of a passion killer. Bed partners beware, wearing Neuroon is a solitary experience. Unless your loved one has a thing for cyborgs, strapping on this intelligent sleep mask is not exactly conducive to bedtime kisses and cuddles.
But a more serious gripe about the mask is its ability to block out external light. The whole point of a sleep mask is to function as a personal blackout blind. This, in my opinion should be the minimum functional requirement – regardless of whether your sleep mask is an airline freebie, or a $300 model that reads your brainwaves.
But unfortunately Neuroon didn’t perform a 100% blackout – I still experienced some light leaking into the lower portion of the mask. It’s possible that shortening the elasticated strap may have made the memory foam hug my face a little closer, reducing the ‘light-gap’, but the mask felt tight enough, any more would have been too claustrophobic for me. In my opinion, for a premium product such as Neuroon, this is a bit of an avoidable flaw.
Setting up the Neuroon
Getting started with the Neuroon is pretty straightforward and easy. The first thing to do is connect the USB cable and give it a full charge. A single LED indicates the charging status. When the light changes from red to green, you’re good to go and you can disconnect the cable.
Installing the app
Next, if you haven’t done so already, it’s time to download and install the Neuroon app. The app is both iOS and Android compatible. I had no problems with my Samsung S5, but you if you’ve got a slightly older phone you may struggle as the mask requires a phone with Bluetooth Smart (BLE/ Bluetooth Low Energy) to transfer data. iPhone users should be fine, as long as you are using iOS 7 or above.
After you’ve setup an account in the Neuroon customer portal and switched your Bluetooth on, you’re ready to link the mask with your phone.
Pairing your mask
Pressing the mask’s on/off button once enables standby mode, indicated by two solid blue lights. The app will then prompt you to pair with your mask. When successful, the blue LEDs should start flashing. This indicates you’re ready to select one of the Neuroon’s many sleep programs.
That’s about it for the set-up. Now, how did the Neuroon perform in a real world test?
What I didn’t test
There’s such a long feature list that I didn’t get the opportunity to try out every aspect of the mask’s functionality. In the absence of any long-distance air travel, I wasn’t able to test the Jet Lag Blocker function which is based on new research on bright light therapy from Stanford University
Nor did I get to try out the Biorhythm Adjuster, which was “specially designed for shift workers whose changing schedules do not allow for regular sleep patterns.” Likewise, Neuroon’s Lucid Dreaming App was released after I finished my review so I’ll leave others to evaluate this aspect.
Sleep tracking with Neuroon
To begin sleep tracking, it’s a simple matter of setting an alarm time in the Sleep Analytics section of the app. Once you’ve done this, the two LEDs will glow green, indicating the mask is ready to begin tracking your sleep. Then it’s simply a case of putting on the mask; when the gold electrodes have made good contact with your skin, the LEDs will switch off indicating that you’re ready to hit the hay.
The method that Neuroon goes about collecting your sleep data is quite unique. Instead of using the phone’s hardware and processing power to collect and measure your sleep data, with Neuroon, all of the action takes place in the mask’s smart pack.
What this means in practice is that once you’ve set the mask to sleep tracking mode, there’s very little communication between your phone and Neuroon. It achieves this by temporarily storing your sleep data in the mask’s onboard built-in memory chip.
Then, in the morning, when you’ve woken up, your sleep data is synced by Bluetooth to the smart phone. This takes around 2 minutes so you have to wait until the transfer is completed before you can view your sleep data, or indeed use your phone.
If you forget to sync the mask, or have to rush out the house quickly, Neuroon can store up to 7 night’s sleep data, although this increases the transferred time to your phone. I didn’t really like the idea of wait up to 6 minutes or longer for the sync to complete, but as there’s no real-time communication with your phone at night, this is the only way to get hold of your sleep metrics.
Regarding the battery in Neuroon, the manual suggests you’ll get 2-3 days between charges. In my experience however I probably got nearer to about 1.5 days before the battery needed topping up in order to last a whole night.
Waking up with Neuroon
One surprising omission from the Neuroon is any kind of ‘smart alarm’ feature. Virtually every advanced sleep monitor such as the Beddit Smart and the Withings Aura, can detect your sleep stage in real time so that your alarm will only wake you when you’re in light sleep.
This is because waking up when you’re in a slow wave (deep) sleep can cause what’s known as sleep inertia – the sense of grogginess and disorientation when your body and brain isn’t yet fully ready to start the day.
Instead Neuroon is only able to wake you at the time at which you set your alarm. It accomplishes this with a ‘3-step awakening’ mode.
The first of these steps is the ‘Neuroon Sunrise’ program. This is supposed to emulate waking up to a natural sunrise, with the two LEDs gradually illuminating to full brightness at your set alarm time. In use, the effect is quite pleasant, although not as ‘natural’ as waking up to a standalone dawn simulator like the Withings Aura, or the Lumie Zest.
However, disappointingly, the Neuroon Sunrise program is just a simple ‘on/off’ feature. You can’t adjust the length or timing of the illumination, it’s based solely on your alarm time. Nor does the ‘sunrise’ take advantage of any real-time sleep metrics.
Arguably this feature is misleading as the Neuroon website claims “While you are sleeping, the mask will read your biorhythmic information and wake you up at the perfect moment”
The second stage of awakening is the vibration alert. This feature I had even more problems with. It is supposed to add ‘gentle vibrations’ when it’s near your wake up time. But in practice, experiencing such vibrations directly on your forehead in the morning had the opposite effect – I found them almost violently disturbing.
In more than one instance, it made a pneumatic drill-like appearance into my morning dream world, causing me to instantly sit up and rip the mask of my face. Maybe a softer vibrating alert would have worked as intended, but there’s no way to control the force of the vibrations. After checking with the support team, it seems there’s no way to turn the vibration feature off.
Lastly, if these two steps somehow fail to wake you up, your smartphone will play an audible alarm. Suffice it to say, I never got as far as hearing the phone alarm!
Napping with Neuroon
Neuroon calls its napping feature ‘Personal Pause’ and is accessed by clicking the Energy+ tab in the app. It features four different nap programs, a 20-minute Power Nap, a 30 minute Body Nap, a 1 hour REM Nap, and the full 90-minute Ultimate Nap.
But whilst on the surface these programs seem well thought out, the lack of any real-time monitoring of your sleep metrics means that essentially each of these programs is little more than a count-down timer, culminating in the 3-step wake process. Much more useful in my mind, especially for the 60 and 90 minutes programs would be the ability to adjust the length of the nap according to how much REM or deep sleep you actually had.
One other function on the Energy+ tab is the ‘Light Boost’ feature. This is designed for when you feel tired but don’t have the time for a nap. Essentially, when you activate Light Boost, the mask shines bright white light into your eyes for 20 minutes. Whilst this may prove useful to people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), this feature seems a little superfluous and not actually that beneficial for most users.
The Neuroon app (still in Beta at this stage) has an interesting aesthetic, eschewing the trend for flat, minimalistic design and opting for a more ‘spiky’, geometric feel. The design is a little quirky but the layout is good and you can find your way round reasonably intuitively.
The main screen is dominated by your latest ‘Sleep Score’ – a proprietary measurement of how Neuroon considers the overall quality of your sleep. At the bottom of the screen you have 3 tabs to access the Jet Lag, Sleep Analytics and Energy+ functions.
Underneath your sleep score there are three icons indicated your night’s sleep duration, average heart rate, and the percentage of REM sleep.
Clicking of each of these icons enables you to drill down into more detail into your sleep metrics.
Accessing the sleep duration page, you can find out the following information:
Sleep time span (start/end of your sleep)
Time to fall asleep
Number of awakenings
As well as the text you get a visual display of the your sleep/awake periods.
Moving on to the heart rate page you can view:
Average awake time heart rate
Average sleep time heart rate
Highest heart rate
Lowest heart rate
Time of lowest/highest heart rate
Plus, again there’s a nice visual timeline display of your heart-rate throughout the night.
Finally on the sleep stage section we get a visual timeline of how Neuroon interpreted your sleep stages during the night. The stages are divided into:
You also get a percentage of these stages and a ‘signal’ indicator which shows the quality of the electrical signal from the 3 electrodes throughout the night – useful for gauging how accurate the readings may be.
Because the app is still officially in Beta status, currently there’s no way to view your sleep data, other than in the app. This is a limitation for anyone that’s serious about crunching the numbers and doing more detailed analysis.
According to Neuroon support however, this is planned in the pipeline, and future upgrades will see users able to export data in CSV format as well as EDF (European Data Format) , a standardised file format for archival and exchange of sleep and EEG data.
As with all consumer sleep trackers, there are no standardised methods of determining the acurracy of your sleep data – other than comparing your device with the ‘gold standard’ ie a professional sleep test, or polysomnograph.
For obvious reasons, you’re not going to get the same results from a device like Neuroon, (costing a few hundred dollars) and clinical sleep laboratory equipment (costing tens of $1000s ). But in the absence of scientific comparative data, we can still make an assessment, based on ordinary observations and comparisons with other advanced consumer sleep trackers.
Using the Beddit Smart as my reference device, the Neuroon matched pretty favourably in many of the main sleep metrics. Using 1 night’s concurrent sleep data in April (ie sleeping with both devices), the following measurements were recorded:
Overall sleep duration
6 min 47s
Resting heart rate
Time to fall asleep
Sleep vs awake time
Other measurements from the Neuroon however seemed a little off. For instance, on the same night it recorded 37 instances of awakening and a peak heart rate of 80 bpm, which both seem a little high (although of course I have no objective way of determining this).
Measuring sleep stages is even more difficult. Even in clinical conditions, accurately measuring electrical activity in the brain is notoriously tricky, so for a consumer device like Neuroon the challenge is considerable.
However in term of the shape of the sleep cycle, Neuroon’s ability to detect REM sleep seems to doing the right thing in that the graph shows my periods of REM increasing as the night progresses. This is what you should expect in a normal course of a night’s sleep.
After spending considerable time with the device, I have very mixed feelings about Neuroon. On one hand, it’s an incredible piece of innovative sleep technology, cramming in an unprecedented amount of features and functionality in such a small and compact device.
In particular, the addition of custom-designed EEG sensors that can read electrical activity from your brain whilst you sleep makes the product unique in the market – and fills a gap left by the 2013 demise of the Zeo Sleepmate, the first personal sleep tracker able to measure your brainwaves.
But on the flipside to all this innovation, Neuroon feels like an unfinished product. The product design, whilst adequate, doesn’t reflect the sophistication of the technical wizardry behind the product. Neuroon should be a premium, luxury product but instead it feels like a Ferrari engine in a Ford chassis.
In my opinion, the makers have also tried to over-reach in adding more and more features in order to appeal to a wider market. Sadly instead of making the product more attractive, it has the effect of diluting the appeal, and becoming a gadget for geeks, instead of product with a clear vision.
But aside from my criticisms, Neuroon is an amazing piece of tech, and I take my hat off to the inventors. It has a clear headstart over the competition in this niche, and with continued product development, improvements to the software, and better data-sharing and IoT integration, Neuroon has the potential to become a benchmark in advanced wearable sleep technology.