GREY INDIA, Mumbai / MTV / 2019
Nightmares are associated with emotions we experience while awake*. A blind person’s nightmares are composed of potentially distressing events such as getting lost, being hit by a car, losing their guide dog etc. Without the vital sense of sight, the blind experience more threatening situations in their everyday life than those with normal sight*. This increased uncertainty in their everyday life results in more nightmares, leading to poor sleep quality and high anxiety levels.
Therefore, there is a need for a solution that improves their sleep quality. However, since in the case of people born blind, their nightmares are constituted of sound and no visual content whatsoever, only a unique aural experience can effectively counter them.
According to studies, the blind have four times more nightmares than the sighted. Since these nightmares are uniquely aural, we proposed a unique aural solution. The idea was to make the walking cane a smart device that helps counter sleep anxiety. In collaboration with musicians and sound therapists, we created 3 soundtracks with specific tones, rhythms and bass lines. Each was specially designed to induce relaxation, slow the heart rate and reduce levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.
To target the precise moment of discomfort, we turned to one of the most fundamental elements of their life – the walking stick. We outfitted the walking stick with a motion sensor, a Bluetooth transmitter and a set of pre-loaded tracks. When it noticed violent movements during sleep, the stick would play the soothing music, to ease the blind person back to sleep.
There were two elements to the strategy:
1. Understanding the power of music to induce relaxation. For this, we put together a team of sound design and music experts, including a blind music composer, who relied on sound therapy research and produced special soundtracks that could reduce anxiety and bring down sleep stress.
2. To enable this music to reach the blind at the right time, we used the device they rely on all the time – their walking stick. We converted it into a smart device that could detect unique nightmare motions and automatically activate the music into earphones through a bluetooth transmitter. Their walking stick became the essential platform that brought music and technology together, to improve the sleep quality of the blind.
The walking stick which so far just helped with facilitating movement was made to play a much bigger role. It was fitted with motion sensor, pre-loaded specially designed sound tracks and a Bluetooth transmitter. The blind could place this collapsible stick by their side and wear Bluetooth earphones when they went to sleep. When the blind experience nightmares resulting in violent jerks in their body, the motion sensor in the stick detects it and streams the specially composed music into the Bluetooth earphones. This soothes the person back to sleep.
Therefore, using the power of music and science, we designed a simple yet effective solution that helps in improving the sleep quality of the blind.
MTV is partnering with Snehadeep Trust, an NGO driven to enhance the quality of life of the visually challenged, to study the potential impact this device could have.
MTV distributed 20 specially-designed walking sticks through Snehadeep Trust to volunteers that had regularly complained of suffering from disturbed sleep.
While a lot of statistical justification has been taken into account, data from more individuals along with pattern recognition techniques may help calibrate the coefficients and thresholds better with greater sensitivity, helping eliminate false positives.