External Organ Sleep Aid

This product serves as an "external organ." Before bed, you hold it in your hands.  The product inhales and exhales in your hands at the rate recommended to slow your heart rate for sleep.  Like with a partner or pet in bed, we empathetically sync our breath with others.  Once your breath is synced,  you can put the product aside and drift off to sleep.

This design came at the end of a long process of research and exploration.  I began by asking many people for the story of their sleep. As they described the story of how they typically get ready for bed, fall asleep, and wake up, I transcribed their words in the form of a storyboard. Often in response to the storyboard, people would think of something else to add.

From the storyboards, I learned about a wide range of problems people have with sleep.  There were problems with decision making, consistency, and falling asleep.  My first exploration in response to these findings centered around the problem of decision making.  People didn't seem to viscerally connect with how little sleep they were planning to get until they woke up and felt exhaustion in their body.  Could I make that decision more visceral as it was happening?
Eventually, I landed on the sandglass.  It is a habit-forming tool.  Before you set your alarm, you scoop an amount of sand into the sandglass that corresponds to the number of hours you plan on sleeping. By doing this regularly, you begin to associate more sand with restedness.  The action becomes  analogous to feeding yourself.
Following this experiment, I decided to look in a different direction, at the problem of falling asleep. I thought this may be a problem area deserving a more friendly design.  I began with some literature research on sleep problems that babies experience and advice on how to address them.  I then researched adult sleep problems and advice to compare.
Once I identified the factors instrumental in lulling both babies and adults to sleep, I began to sketch.  Some ideas combined the functionality of habit-forming with lulling, but I eventually decided to distill the latter in my design.  I wanted to identify an elegant way to specifically achieve lulling someone to sleep.  My mom had some input about how comforting it is to have a cat fall asleep on you, breathing and purring.  That became a big inspiration for the design.
Once I settled on the idea of having an 'external organ,' something tactile to sync your breath with, I began to experiment with materials. Though I wanted the final product to be self-contained, I decided to demonstrate the idea by directly controlling the inhale and exhale of the prototype.

Interaction Storyboard

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