Sleep is fundamental to our overall health and wellbeing but it’s something often taken for granted until faced with regular sleepless nights, obsessively counting the few hours remaining until you have to “wake up” for work. Sleep disorders are currently rife, with a perennial feeling of being switched on all the time, a consequence no doubt of all the screen time we subject ourselves to.
According to the NHS, 1 in 3 people in the UK are affected by insomnia – myself included – and so various apps, products and relaxation programmes have sprung up to put our minds to rest. In a bid to improve my sleep, I checked out a new product on the shelves (or sheets): the Kokoon Relax headphones.
Kokoon was founded by mechanical engineer Tim Antos in 2013, who suffers from insomnia. Following a successful stint with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) at a London sleep clinic, Antos worked with staff at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital to build a set of ergonomic headphones fitted with CBT audio guides, designed to help you relax and sleep better.
So how does it work? To begin with, charge up the headphones using the provided USB cable and download the Kokoon app on your phone. Once fully charged, sync the headphones with your phone via Bluetooth, and answer a few questions on the app about your sleep.
The headphones arrive in a sleek protective case with an eye mask (though most frequent flyers will have amassed a collection of these from their regular travels) and a USB cable for charging. The ear cups are easily foldable and can be flattened for packing. There is also an optional 3.5mm audio cable which can be plugged into airline IFE systems.
The headphones are wireless, which makes them easier to sleep with and free from safety hazards. They are pretty comfortable, with soft cushioning on the ears, and don’t apply much pressure to your head. The cushions can be removed and washed to be kept clean. While the manual says that you can sleep on your side, it’s doable but not comfortable as you are propped up by the headphone. You could sleep on your back quite easily, however.
The app provides a set of audio guides for sleep and relaxation, which range from white noise (and pink and brown – who knew?), a compilation of soothing soundscapes such as rainfall (though I had the real deal with Storm Ciara outside), and guided programmes which include the eight-part “good sleep foundations”.
These are helpful, with a softly-spoken narrator talking you through various breathing exercises, distracting you from any stresses or anxieties you might have. The volume is good but can’t be adjusted on the headphones, only on the connected device.
The problem with the guides, however, is that they aren’t long enough to send me to sleep. Most are around ten minutes long, and it’s unheard of for me to drift off within this time – it’s a shame there’s no autoplay to continue onto the next track.
A button on the right hand side of the headphone allows you to play and pause with one click, skip forward with two clicks, and skip backward with three. While the audio didn’t accompany me to sleep, it put in the prep work, calming me down and helping me to switch off.
Supposedly, the headphones detect when you’re nodding off and gradually fade out the narrator’s voice, replacing it with white noise – I can’t vouch for this as I didn’t fall asleep. The headphones stay powered on throughout the night, provided that they have enough battery power – it has over 13 hours of battery life. If you take them off before falling asleep like I did, they should turn off within 15 minutes but I found that my phone alarm played through the headphones in the morning.
Kokoon differs from normal headphones in that the earcups are fitted with EEG sensors to monitor your brainwaves, motion, and heart rate. These are designed to discover how you respond to the app’s audio guides, using the data to create personalised recommendations of the sounds that fit you best. This technology will also be used to create detailed sleep tracking once updated in early June.
I found the app a bit misleading, however, as it suggests that you can check your sleep data in the “my history” tab but is permanently stuck on “syncing sleep data” and you never get to learn about your awake/deep/light and REM cycle.
You can also use the headphones to listen to other content on the likes of Spotify, Apple Music and so on. The three layers of noise cancelling would be beneficial to users who have noisy neighbours, need total silence to sleep, or want to block out noise on a flight.
The headphones are comfortable and I enjoyed the generous variety of relaxation techniques on the app.
While they didn’t send me to sleep, they did help me to wind down and disconnect after a day’s work. The price of the headphones seems too steep, however, as other headphones will provide better sound while there are plenty of apps offering guided audio programmes on the App Store.
To make it worth the cost, and to differentiate it from all the other products on the market, the company needs to improve the sleep tracking service. The silver lining is that Kokoon provides a 30 day trial, with a free return and refund if you’re not happy with the product, so there’s no harm in giving it a go.
It will be interesting to see the product once the updates have taken place. Planned improvements include a built-in smart alarm which will wake users at the lightest stage of the sleep cycle (within half an hour of your set alarm time), functionality with external audio sources such as Spotify, and intelligent recommendations based on how you’ve responded to other content.