Short version: This $310 vibrating bracelet dramatically improved my sleep and moderately improved my emotional regulation. The return policy is pretty liberal so if this seems at all appealing I recommend trying it, or one of the cheaper alternatives I haven’t investigated. Between now and Mothers’ Day they are $300. 

[note: the link I use here is an affiliate link that gives you a $40 discount and me a $40 Amazon gift card, but I think it won’t apply for either of us if you buy during the sale] 

Backstory

I have a pretty liberal threshold for trying shit Facebook advertises to me. Most of it is crap, but every once in a while there is something amazing that justifies all the work and return fees. Previous purchases include resistance band clips that measure force applied, sleep-safe headphones that claimed to measure your HRV, and an infrared heat massage. But when I first looked at the Apollo Neuro’s website, it was too dumb even for me. The explanation for how it worked was a mix of absent and stupid, and the rush to provide scientific evidence was somehow worse than nothing. I only tried it because a friend raved about it. He had also thought it sounded deeply stupid and only bought it because his friend raved about it, and I can only assume she also thought it was stupid until someone raved about it to her, in a great circle of life. Now it is your turn to be told it sounds stupid but it works.

[For some people. My sample size is only three people.]

Benefits to me

My sleep improved a lot. I don’t have precise metrics for this because fitbit is stupid, but 1-3 times a week I wake up feeling drugged (positive valence) because my muscles are so relaxed. This never happened before the neuro unless I took actual drugs*. I also estimate my number of remembered wake-ups has been ~halved. 

The Neuro has about 8 hours of battery. When I started using it I always woke up with the battery drained, meaning I’d activated it repeatedly. I now wake up with it at 70-90% charge, partially because I wake up less and thus am not turning it back on, and partially because I use less intense vibration.

[*TBF I regularly take supplements for sleep, so what I really mean here is “unless I took more drugs than baseline”]

My emotional regulation improved as well. There were a number of stressful things I handled better than my baseline. Some of this is subjective, but there are a few things with obvious before-pictures. Most notably:

I have pretty bad medical anxiety, due most notably to dental malpratice leaving me with painful nerve damage, but also some other stuff. Last fall I had a doctor’s appointment on Friday, followed by friend’s child’s medical emergency on Saturday that, due to their newness to the country, I needed to be in charge for. I did it, but I was wrecked for at least a day afterwards, possibly more, and my partner had to put in a lot of emotional energy helping me recover. ~4 weeks into using the Apollo Neuro I had a dentist appointment in the afternoon, followed 8 hours later by a friend’s medical emergency requiring my attention and eventually a 3AM field trip to the ER for which I was the only available driver. I did have a little freak out once I was home, but I recovered to normal faster than I did from the incident in the fall despite that having been a less intense day with more help. 

I also found myself more decisively liking and disliking things, and noticing when things shifted. At parties the transition from “I’m enjoying this” to “I’m done” is clearer, without a lot of “maybe I should hold out and it will get better”. 

Mechanics

The website is stupid, so let me tell you how it really works. The Neuro is shaped like a watch with a large rectangular face. You can wear it around your wrist or ankle with a band, or clip it to clothes. When activated, it vibrates with oscillating intensity. There are 7 programs with varying oscillation patterns and durations: the wake-up program lasts five minutes with a short peak and shifts between off and on quickly, sleep spends longer in both phases and shifts between them much more slowly. Sleep is the longest program but also lowers intensity over time. You can configure the peak intensity but not duration or pattern, which I feel very oppressed by. 

You can change intensity, and pause and restart the last program from the watch, but to choose a program you need the smartphone app. It is impossible to use the watch without a smartphone, which is a serious quality of life issue for those of us with insomniac older relatives. 

The website talks about cumulative effects a lot, and is clearly pushing you to try for several weeks before judging it. There’s even some gamification for the first N hours. This felt to me exactly as necessary as a punch card from a heroin dealer. I loved it from the moment I put it on and found the little badges cheapening of my relationship with my device. But the cumulative effects part was true: as previously mentioned I needed less and less work from the Neuro to sleep, and lowered the intensity setting over time. When I first started most of the programs besides sleep and wake-up ran together, but at 6 weeks in I started really distinguishing the other programs and having strong preferences about which program, which changed over time. 

The website also advertises the Apollo for concentration problems, but I don’t know anyone who’s really tested that.

One thing I want to give the Apollo is that there is no subscription fee. You give them money and they give you the whole product and app. That should be standard but very much isn’t in the as-seen-on-FB crowd.

Cheaper Alternatives?

The Neuro is very expensive and seems like it can’t possibly cost that much to manufacture. For me paying them for the R+D was worth it. It would even have been worth a second one at the same inflated price, had my sleep not improved to the point I didn’t need it. 

Back when I thought I would need a second one to cover a full night of sleep I looked around for cheaper alternatives. None of them quite worked and I gave up when I no longer personally needed it, but if you’re motivated some might be worth checking out. 

The Senate works on a similar principle, but is no cheaper. Its programs are only 10 minutes, which is much too short for me. 

I tried a few sexual vibrators but even those with intermittent patterns transition from on to off much too quickly, which is how I figured out the gentle transition is so important. Presumably there are some that transition gently but I have no idea how to search for them. 

There are apps to vibrate your phone but they are mostly ad-ridden messes I couldn’t deal with. The one I managed to test had the same problem as the sexual vibrators. 

Products aimed at babies: these mostly run on external batteries, but they can be pretty cheap and many don’t require a smart phone. If you try any of these let me know because the alternative is teaching my elderly aunt to use a smart phone and I am not looking forward to it.

Conclusion

This product is very much in “immensely valuable to some people, price and quality of life issues limit its market for now”. If you have anxiety or sleep issues I seriously recommend trying it; the return fee looks to be about $20, although they’re less forthcoming than one might hope. If money is an issue or you’re just feeling curious you could also try the vibrating baby soothers. Amazon sells several and returns are usually free. 

If you do try the Apollo or any other product in the category I’d love to hear from you so I can share the information (please decide in your heart if you want to share your results before you try it, to avoid biasing the data). You can report your experience here

Thanks to my Patreon patrons for supporting this write up, and J for suggesting the Apollo to me in the first place.

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28 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:55 AM

So it sounds like this is meant to regulate your sleep and attention via delivering vibrations to whatever part of the body it’s clipped to. Is that right? I’m having trouble picturing how that works to put people to sleep. Can you describe the subjective experience of how it seems to help?

See here for my guess on how it works.

The subjective experience before bed is the lessening of problems I usually encounter while trying to get to sleep, like being stressed or needing stimulation. But it's a matter of degree, not kind; I read less before bed but still some. The bigger difference is in (remembering) waking up less and waking up more rested, and I don't have subjective experience for those because I'm asleep.

There is a minor effect of "feeling time passing", which I like a lot and used try for with very simple music, but I don't think that's the bulk of it. 

For convenience, here's the link to an update post from almost 3 months later.

for people who want to test the cheaper alternative this baby sleep aid seems to have reviews that suggest it starts strong and then tapers off before auto shutting down in a way that seems practically useful. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B009UPUFCY/

tempted to test this myself but I already sleep pretty well so I'm not sure I could discern signal.

The Apollo Sleep setting tapers down but it's much too fast for my tastes, if I start at a reasonable intensity it's undetectable long before I'm asleep.

I'm sorry, what? a... wrist vibrator to help you fall asleep? is the idea that it punishes you for waking up or what?

Usually I find the phrase "it's relaxing and relaxation aids sleep" to be too vague to be meaningful but it's definitely closer than punishes you for waking up, which is an idea so terrifying I could only invent it as part of a horror story.  

huh. I really really can't imagine this, the entire idea seems to be missing from the things my brain can synthesize. it's relaxing to have your wrist vibrated while trying to sleep? like it's actually positive and not negative valence?

I imagine this to be similar to how adding white noise can make it easier to concentrate in an environment with distracting noise (in the sense that more signal can be calming).

Personal data point: I tried this last night, and had 4 vivid and intense nightmares.  This is not a usual experience for me.

oh no.

Can I ask you to fill out the form, so I get all the data in one place?

Thanks for filling it out, this inspired me to add an "actively harmful" option to the choices. 

To clarify: suppose I hold an electric toothbrush to my wrist. (I don't have one to hand right now to test with.) If it feels relaxing, does that suggest this thing is worth looking into more? And separately, if it doesn't feel like much of anything, does that suggest it's not? If that's not a good test, is there another I could do with an electric toothbrush?

Presumably there are some that transition gently but I have no idea how to search for them.

Sounds like "ability to create arbitrary vibration patterns with a high level of precision over vibration intensity" would be a sufficient feature here? Lovense vibrators offer that. And I do know people who use them to help sleep, though idk if it works though the same mechanism.

You can even load patterns on to the device itself and then you don't need the app to actually use it. But you still might not want to give one to your elderly aunt, for other reasons. I'm not sure if there's a time limit to loaded patterns.

Caveat: I'm not sure how battery life compares. I think they advertise less than 8 hours, but that probably assumes higher vibration intensity. I think I'd be surprised if they have smaller batteries than the Apollo.

Also caveat: it's possible their lowest vibration intensity is higher than you'd want? There's a setting to scale all vibrations down, but I could believe the actual vibrating components are too big to do sufficiently low intensity or something.

If there's tests you want performed with one feel free to ask, I guess.

it's been a while since I used an electric toothbrush. My guess is that the head is probably much more intense than the Apollo, but the body might be about right for the lower end (warning: I last used an electronic toothbrush 10 years ago, if they've shrunk this might be less true, but you could insulate it).  I think if you hate the toothbrush body vibration you'll probably hate the apollo. If you love it you might want to stick with the toothbrush, or the baby toys, which I've now tested and don't like because they maintain a constant intensity level. I would put the highest odds of success if you like the vibration at first but it gets overstimulating over time. 

If you feel meh I think it depends on how well you trust yourself to notice subtle improvements. The Apollo website clearly expects it to take several weeks to notice the benefits, I'm an outlier for loving it immediately. 

 

Re: Lovense.

This would be very cool if it worked, even if it solves neither my elderly aunt problem nor my outside-the-house usage. 

How much control does Lovense give you?  Low minimum intensity doesn't worry me that much, I could always insulate it, but the gradual transition is very important to me. I think the standard gap between power levels in vibrators would be too large, it needs to feel smooth. 

 

Nod. I just tried a toothbrush and it didn't really feel like anything, but indeed I don't trust myself to notice small effects.

Lovense offers a continuous slider control, but I just checked and it seems like it's actually 20 different power levels. Holding in my hand I could definitely tell the difference between them especially at the lower end. (As in I could tell when it changed from one to the next, not that you could give me one and I could say which it was.) That's a lot more than most vibes IME and might be fine, but I'm not confident. I wondered if that was a limitation of the app but a quick look at the protocol suggests not.

And what I thought was the scale-down feature doesn't seem to work with local control, so I can't easily test to check that it's actually a scale-down (rather than a simple maximum, or redistributing the lower levels without adding in-between levels, or something) and in any case it would make it a lot more of a hassle to use.

So this is less promising than I thought at first :(

Thanks for checking, this was really helpful.

I wonder if this is why the Apollo is so much more expensive than it seems like it should be? Maybe getting vibration smooth even at very low levels is hard and hasn't had the demand to justify optimization yet. 

So I have a vague theory as to why this might work. It's kind of nuts, but given that the product works for you at all is kind of nuts, so here we are.

During meditation many people will start to spontaneously rhythmically rock back and forth or side to side as they enter jhana states. This generally coincides with greater feelings of joy, contentment, and focus. I'm not sure why this happens, but I've seen lots of people do it and I do it myself. My best guess is this has something to do with brain wave harmonics.

My guess is that the vibrations of this device are causing the wearer's nervous system to create brain wave harmonies, which have a bunch of positive effects.

I don't have much evidence to support me here, just speculation, so please treat it as such.

My guess is that the vibrations of this device are causing the wearer's nervous system to create brain wave harmonies, which have a bunch of positive effects.

This is the theory behind a lot of entrainment tech, but the entrainment hypothesis always seems to disappear when subjected to more data. But for some reason it still feels intuitively like there should be something there.

My guess is that the alternation unsticks the nervous system to gently chill SNS activation, but am suspicious in my belief that it just happens to match a mechanism I already know about and like.

I'm suspicious of my theory for the same reason.

This is where my mind went first, too. I have no evidence either and haven't tried it myself, but I wouldn't be too surprised if there were simple ways rhythmic stimuli could induce brain states. The right kinds of music can help induce sleep or meditative states or hypnosis, so why not vibration?

Any concerns about long term side effects?

shrug anything with a real effect can do harm you but I can't say I'm worried.

Could you give more info about how and when you use this? Do you just use the sleep setting and the wakeup settings, or do you also use it during the day?

What intensity did you find worked well for you starting and what did that go down to now?

I want to try this out but I'm not sure how to replicate what you're doing

A possibly more useful answer:  I started out at maybe 70% of fitbit notification strength, but lowered it over time, and now often need to touch with a finger to check if it's running. 

 I use the Relax setting when I'm going to bed, and restart it if I wake up before I want to. There is a Sleep setting that theoretically lasts longer but weakens over time, and I find if I start at a reasonable intensity it gets too low too fast.

In the morning I'll usually start Rebuild, which is similar to Wake Up but last much longer.

During the day I'll use a few different settings. The names of the settings are guidelines but not 100% accurate. If I'm doing something stressful I'll often use Clear and Focused, because it makes me feel better able to handle potential threats. I use Social and Open at parties and it seems vaguely good. I also use Relax sometimes. 

I used to use it for 12+ hours a day, now it's more like 5-7. That's partially from waking up less at night (I used to wake up with the Apollo battery drained, and now it's typically at 90%), and partially craving it less during the day. 

If you're asking about intensity to know where to start, I think that's the wrong question, you have to figure out what's right for you and it will vary a lot. If you're asking about effect size, I didn't keep close track but I'd estimate I'm at less than half the intensity I was before. That's not all sensitization though, I also learned how to wear it to most feel the signal. 

Is it addictive? Can you still sleep (as well as before) without it?

I'm using it at lower settings and for less time, which makes me unafraid of building up a tolerance. But I haven't tried sleeping without it.