Cambridge Sleep Sciences

SleepHub review: Improving your sleep with sound

Cambridge Sleep Sciences uses patented sound technology to emulate brain waves and promote sleep

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From smartwatches and phones apps, to dedicated trackers and headbands, sleep technology is a hot topic. Almost every smartwatch and fitness wearable claims to offer some form of sleep tracking, while dedicated products like the Withings Sleep Analyzer dig deeper to paint a fuller picture of your nightly sleep cycles (or lack of).

Most of these devices work in a similar way, using accelerometers, pressure sensors and heart rate monitors to work out when you fall asleep and log the nightly journey you take through the various stages of sleep. They then give you a score and some advice on how you can improve.

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But the SleepHub by newly formed British firm Cambridge Sleep Sciences is different. This is a product that doesn't track your sleep, but instead produces a set of very specific sounds to help encourage you to fall into a deep, restorative sleep.

Priced at £599 locally (or $819 when bought from the U.S.) the SleepHub is considerably more expensive than other sleep gadgets – although a current black Friday sale has it priced at $656. But where Fitbits and Apple Watches merely present data about your sleep, the SleepHub claims to genuinely improve it.

I've been using the SleepHub nightly for the past few weeks, and here is how I've got on with the system.

Buy

SleepHub review: Hardware and setup

Available in black and white, the SleepHub system includes a pair of high-quality stereo speakers and a touchscreen control unit that runs a simple version of Android. The display is not particularly sharp or bright, but I'm willing to forgive it for that, given it only needs to be tapped once each evening, then can be ignored until the morning.

My first impression was of the quality of the speakers. Even before I turned the system on, the weight of each unit and the quality of their cables and connections to the display shone through. So while the price here is high, it's clear to see where that money is going (just not on the quality of the touchscreen itself). Cambridge Sleep Sciences say speakers capable of producing very low frequencies are the key to making this system work.

The ideal setup is to have the speakers equidistant from you when lying in bed, so using a pair of bedside tables would be perfect. I wasn't able to do this as my bed is positioned against a wall, but thankfully the headboard is sturdy enough to act as a shelf, so one speaker sat up there and the other, along with the control unit, sat on my nightstand.

The SleepHub by Cambridge Sleep Sciences The SleepHub by Cambridge Sleep SciencesGearBrain

They take up a fair amount of space, but Cambridge Sleep Sciences tells me the speakers can be located on the floor, which could be helpful for users short on table space. Only the control unit needs plugging into a wall outlet, so you only need to find one spare socket near the bed.

You do not need to calibrate the sound. Instead, just switch the system on, connecting it to your Wi-Fi network to download any available software updates, and activate the Bluetooth connection if you want to use the system for playing music from your smartphone or other device when not using it for sleep. I initially had an issue where my neighbor was accidentally connecting to the SleepHub via Bluetooth, causing it to make a loud noise each time the connection was established.

I raised this with Cambridge Sleep Sciences, who quickly rolled out a way to disable Bluetooth via a software update. I'm told this software on/off switch is now present on all new SleepHubs too.

I found my setup created a balanced stereo sound, which the SleepHub's makers tell me is important, as to work correctly you need to be able to hear sound at an equal volume from each speaker.

SleepHub review: Touchscreen and software

The touchscreen system is very easy to use, with four types of sleep to pick from. The most-used is one designed to guide you through a full eight hours of deep, restful sleep. With this setting, the system emits noise right through the night, which gradually adjusts to help you fall asleep, navigate through five sleep cycles in eight hours, then awake gradually.

Another mode is designed to help you fall asleep, then wake you up at your desired time (rather than after a strict eight hours), and another is only intended to help you fall asleep, before going quiet for the rest of the night. A fourth mode guides you through a power nap of 30, 45 or 60 minutes.

Because the SleepHub makes a range of humming noises during the night, designed to guide your brain through the cycles of sleep, a set of sounds are offered to help mask the humming. These include the sound of a train, rainfall and a flowing stream, plus the options of white, pink and brown noise. I chose the train sound, but after a couple of nights I turned this off as I found I could sleep comfortably with the humming of the SleepHub.

An alarm can be set if you like, but I preferred to stick with my usual combination of smart lights brightening gradually and the blare of my iPhone. That said, the SleepHub and lighting meant I was almost always awake before the normal alarm anyway.

I found it takes a little while to get the volume of the SleepHub just right. Too loud and it will be annoying, like a neighbor's washing machine on a constant spin cycle, and too quiet causes the humming to disappear behind the ambient sounds of street traffic and passing airplanes. Once set up, it's simply a case of tapping the play button at night, then swiping to dismiss a notification that appears at the end of your eight hours' sleep.

I wish the display would switch off a few seconds after the play button is pressed, as it illuminates my room for a couple of minutes right as I'm trying to go to sleep. Otherwise, all works well.

Options menu of the SleepHub Options menu of the SleepHubGearBrain

SleepHub review: Performance

I spoke with Dr. Chris Dickson from Cambridge Sleep Sciences, who explained to me how the technology behind the SleepHub works.

Most people, he said, go through the same five stages of sleep during any given night. The first three cycles include housekeeping tasks, where the brain clears out toxins and files the day's experiences as memories. The next two stages are when the brain gets more creative and when the majority of our dreaming takes place. Each of the five cycles starts with light sleep, then shifts to deep and REM sleep; the SleepHub's sound is designed to guide the brain through each stage during the eight hours.

Cambridge Sleep Science is keen to protect exactly how the SleepHub works, as there is nothing else like it on the market today. "They are very specific sounds that are delivered in a very specific way," he said. "Behind the hum there are subtle things happening that you can't really detect. They work with the brain's frequencies to encourage sleep."

My first night with the SleepHub was an interrupted one, but mostly because of my curiosity around what the humming would sound like, and how it would change during the night. I lay awake wondering if the humming was entirely the SleepHub, or if my neighbors had indeed started their washing machine at a highly unsocial time.

I then wondered if the train noise I'd selected would ever change speed or volume, or if it was on a very short loop.

But, once I had adjusted the volume of the humming and the train noise, then decided to remove the latter entirely, I got into a routine with the SleepHub. Picking the eight-hour setting and hitting play at around 11pm each night at first filled my room with the SleepHub's gentle, constant hum. But every time, without fail, I'd be asleep very soon after starting the system.

It's the sort of noise that is constant but not at all annoying. The lack of variation, at least in the early stages, means it is easy to ignore and sleep through — and, of course, it's a noise with the sole intention of encouraging you to sleep.

I am a fairly light sleeper and have often struggled to achieve deep sleep, so for the first week or so I'd still wake up in the night and hear the SleepHub. Often, several hours into the night, I'd notice how the humming had changed in tone and frequency, confirming to me it had progressed to another sleep stage, and wasn't simply the same old hum all night long.

Waking up during the night soon stopped, as my curiosity around what the SleepHub sounds at different sleep stages faded. Once I had got used to it, I'd wake up in the morning with no recollection of waking during the night. It certainly feels like the technology works, and I can confidently say I am sleeping better because of it, with no instances of waking up in the night, and more energy the next day.

SleepHub review: Price

The SleepHub is priced at £599 in its native UK, and $819 when ordered from the U.S., with shipping included. It comes with a 60-day money-back guarantee for customers who feel it hasn't improved their sleep.

Buy

SleepHub review: Verdict

I do not suffer from clinical insomnia, so am not the target market for the SleepHub, and I am unlikely to spend hundreds of dollars on such a product. But my time with it, and my conversation with Dr. Dickson, suggests the technology works, and for those who really do suffer from a lack of sleep I can see this being a must-have.

I'd like to see a smaller control unit, as it takes up a lot of space on the nightstand, and locating the speakers perfectly might be tricky in some bedroom configurations. A higher-quality display would also be welcome, but given how little the screen is used this isn't a deal-breaker for me.

Setup is easy, using the SleepHub is as simple as tapping a screen when you want to go to sleep, and from personal experience I feel the technology works as described, giving me a restful night and more energy the next day.

Pros:

  • Simple setup
  • High-quality design
  • Improved my sleep

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Fairly large
  • Touchscreen quality could be better
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