Sensate - A Valid Meditation Product?

The snapshot

Report of the Evidence, An Independent Academic Viewpoint

By Dr David Broome

Sensate

      The full picture

      SENSATE is a wearable device that uses patent pending technology to reproduce the beneficial and relaxing effects of meditation in ten minutes. Manufactured by Bioself technology, having reviewed the website (www.bioself.technology) and promotional material, it is claimed the SENSATE is a world-first wearable device which decelerates stress in real-time. The following is a review of the science that supports the claims which has been informed by the examination of a prototype.

      A recent review by McCraty and Shaffer (2015) highlights that vagus nerve stimulation increases Heart Rate Variability (HRV). HRV is the variation in time between each heartbeat which is controlled by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is subdivided into the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), commonly known as the fight-or-flight mechanism and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) commonly known as the relaxation response. When the SNS is overly stimulated due to increased stress, poor sleep, unhealthy diet or lack of exercise, the variation between subsequent heartbeats is low, reducing HRV.

      Research has shown a relationship between low HRV and increased risk of all-cause mortality (dying from any cause) and an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease because it is the strongest independent predictor of the progression of coronary atherosclerosis (Buccelletti et al, 2009). HRV also has an impact on psychological resiliency and behavioral flexibility, which can reflect capacity to self-regulate and thus adapt to changing social or environmental demands. Carney et al (2001) have highlighted links between low HRV and increased risk of depression and anxiety. Recent evidence by Lampert et al (2016) found total cumulative stress, and its components of adverse life events and chronic stress were associated with decreased cardiac autonomic function as measured by HRV. 

      Vagal nerve function has a strong relationship to the PNS and in a more relaxed state, the variation between beats is high increasing HRV countering an overstimulated SNS. Because of the pathway of the vagus nerve, long deep breathing is one way to activate it. However, it is notoriously difficult to consciously control the vagus nerve without years of meditation or yoga training. The SENSATE can achieve this from first use and claims to provide the highly desirable benefits of meditation to those who have limited time. Various testimonial videos are provided on the website and individuals highlight the benefits and effectiveness of the SENSATE by commenting on ‘feeling better’. This is plausible based on the aforementioned science.

      The SENSATE pebble is small, light and portable so accessible in times of need. The product has several features including being able to adjust the volume of the audio and intensity of the vibrations using the app. From a scientific perspective it would be pertinent to examine how changes to these settings influence HRV.

      The SENSATE application is located on the iTunes App store (Europe only) and can be accessed through Google Play (worldwide). When using the SENSATE consumers must be fully supine (lying down with the head rested) in a place that is comfortable and quiet. Once placed on the chest, initiating a command on the app produces sub-audible, engineered tones that are felt rather than heard, providing a  sensation that stimulates the vagus nerve in the brainstem. 

      Whilst the instructions are generally clear and concise, more information about breathing technique would be useful. Clarity is also needed as to whether continually pressing the pebble down on the chest is required because allowing both arms to be rested either side of the body would be more comfortable. Finally, it should be made explicit if the SENSATE pebble should be in contact with the skin to avoid concerns that one layer of clothing would decrease its effectiveness.

      Stress is an epidemic with a recent survey reporting 37% of British residents feel stressed for at least one full day per week with an average of 9 days per month (see - www.forthwithlife.co.uk/blog/great-britain-and-stress/). Stress is difficult to avoid so interventions are needed to combat it. To the authors knowledge, there has been no specific product testing of the SENSATE to directly measure its effectiveness. However, with the scientific prowess of the literature examining the benefits of vagus nerve stimulation and meditation, combined with the experience of personal use and a good dose of common sense, SENSATE will have a positive impact on users.

      References

      Buccelletti, E. et al. (2009). Heart rate variability and myocardial infarction: systematic literature review and meta-analysis. European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, 3(4), 299-307.

      Carney, R.M. et al. (2001). Depression, heart rate variability, and acute myocardial infarction. Circulation,104(17), 2024–2028.

      Lampert, R. et al. (2016). Cumulative stress and autonomic dysregulation in a community sample. Stress, 19(3), 269-279.

      McCraty, R. and Shaffer, F. (2015). Heart Rate Variability: New Perspectives on Physiological Mechanisms, Assessment of Self-regulatory Capacity, and Health Risk. Global Advances in Health and Medicine, 4(1), 46-61.

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        Sheffield Hallam University

        Review completed and approved for use by Sheffield Hallam University

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