Michael Larson can put you to sleep.
Just don his Sleep Shepherd hat, which he debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. The hat will lull its wearer to sleep, obviating the need for prescription medications, the frequent go-to solution for people diagnosed with sleep disorders.
Larson, who received his Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in mechanical engineering, developed the hat.
Larson became motivated to immerse himself in learning about sleep disorders after his daughter was diagnosed with one. She had been prescribed a powerful medication, but did not want to take it.
Believing in a natural solution, Larson and his team at Mind Rocket LLC created the Sleep Shepherd, a knit cap worn at night that uses biofeedback to lull its wearer to slumber.
“We know two things: If you don’t sleep, you die,” said Larson. “We know this by trials with rodents. By just depriving them of sleep, they die.
“And second, when you’re in sleep, your brain wave activity slows down.”
Knowing this, the engineer felt that if he could develop a way to slow down people’s electrical brain waves, that would encourage them to experience deep sleep.
Hypnotism, flashing lights
Even though “it kind of creeps me out,” Larson began his research by looking at hypnotism. He found that when people focus their attention on an external stimulus, like the rhythmic back-and-forth motion of a pendulum, it can lull the brain to sleep.
He first attempted replicating the rhythm by placing LED lights in goggles and sleeping while wearing them.
He wore the goggles to sleep in at his own sleep lab at the company’s 1047 Elkton Drive headquarters off Garden of the Gods Road.
“It freaked me out,” Larson said, adding that repetitive lights flashing can cause hallucinations.
“It’s definitely not conducive to sleeping.”
Further researching brain waves, Larson discovered that auditory hypnosis is possible — and it works.
His team researched sound waves and how the brain processes sound.
“You can tailor tones to make it move back and forth like a pendulum, to create this hypnotic effect,” Larson said. Knowing this, the team devised a hat with a tiny speaker for each ear.
Listening to one speaker at a time, one hears a singular tone. However, once donned and listening to both speakers at the same time, the hat emits a rhythmic, pulsing sound.
“If you don’t sleep, you die.”
– Michael Larson
[/pullquote]The person focuses on the pulsing sound, like he would focus on a pendulum.
“The hat knows when your brain slows down. Once the hat knows you’re sleeping, the tones go away until you wake up. It goes completely silent,” Larson said.
The technology features a biofeedback loop that senses the wearer’s brain wave activity and moderates the tones based on the brain waves.
During REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, brain activity returns to normal, as if the person wearing the hat is awake.
“But you don’t want this to wake you up,” he said. “It’s a technical challenge we had to work out.”
As for Larson’s daughter, the Sleep Hat cleared the problem.
Others as well have given positive reviews.
“The feedback we’re getting from people is good. The people who aren’t sleeping well will put up with wearing a hat if they’re not sleeping well,” Larson said.
Shark Tank funding?
The company kicked off sales at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. The sleep-deprived may purchase the device both on amazon.com and sleephat.com for $99.99.
To further distribute the hat, the company is in discussion with The Vitamin Shoppe, Brookstone and others, Larson said.
The Sleep Shepherd has sold 500 hats so far, and “Right now we’re in a position where we’re looking for partners to help us gear up on inventory.”
To a direct question about Shark Tank funding, Larson said he applied, but “they don’t like you to talk about it.” Shark Tank is a popular ABC television show in which wealthy businesspeople invest in budding or struggling businesses.
EPIIC at UCCS
Larson had been teaching engineering at MIT. He moved to Colorado Springs in 2006 to teach engineering at UCCS and launch the El Pomar Institute for Innovation and Commercialization (EPIIC) program.
EPIIC offered local inventors access to technical and development services at a lower cost by using students at the university.
One of Larson’s colleagues at MIT, Jesse McClure, was lured to Colorado Springs to help with EPIIC.
“At the university, we developed Mind Studios, where we were actively using students to support local inventors. We had contracts with more than 200 local entities,” including Spectranetics and CEP Technologies.
While at EPIIC and using grants through the college, Larson and McClure invented the LaSept, a laser device that fuses biological tissue as an alternative to sutures or staples to repair a deviated septum in the nasal canal.
“We wanted to take research and ideas and actually apply them so they can benefit the general public,” McClure said. “That’s why we picked a nasal application first, because it’s a fairly controlled environment, and everybody’s septum is fairly uniform.”
McClure, Larson and UCCS formed Tissue Fusion LLC to develop the LaSept.
With the help of UCCS graduates and twins Ryan and Matthew Pedersen, who also graduated from Mitchell High School in the Springs, Mind Rocket also developed the i2i pin. The lapel pin is a button people can wear to conventions. It alerts the wearer when in close proximity to another person who has the same interests.
For example, a medical convention can lure millions of physicians who specialize in many areas of medicine. Doctors who input their specialty into their i2i pin will be alerted if they’re near another like physician who is also wearing the i2i.