Zleepy is an interaction design project I worked on that focuses on creating a new sleep solution for people struggling with sleep anxiety. It is a smart pillow with built in speakers to help people fall asleep faster by using ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response). This all encompassing pillow also includes a vibration alarm, temperature controls and a connected app that displays sleep tracking data and a sleep journal.
Having difficulty with sleeping is very common, and it was found that “1 in 4 people experience sleep difficulties,” (Anxiety Canada). It is an important issue because getting inadequate sleep can lead to health problems and a worse performance in day to day life.
Create a product that encompasses all aspects of sleep solutions. Rather than just a sleep tracking system, it can also work as an alarm, self monitoring device and speaker to play calming sounds. It must be engaging and motivate users. I want to design a product that helps users fall asleep quicker and develop better sleeping habits.
“Recently, technology used to manage anxiety have become increasingly prevalent, with the majority of the market being occupied by mobile apps”
Users between the ages 14 to 25. They are in high school, post-secondary education, or have just begun working. I chose this age group because they are the most open to using self regulated technology. An older age range might be more wary of a device that tracks their sleep and personal information. Furthermore, school can have very negative effects on sleep, with students often staying up late to finish projects or study.
Tone and Manner
Simple, clean and trustworthy. I decided to create a smart pillow because it is an already integrated part of the sleeping process. Using phones before bed can also make it harder to fall asleep and distract the user. Therefore, I wanted to create a device that can work independently from a phone.
I presented my physical prototype along with my Arduino interactions at a design exhibition to other students, professors and experts in the field. I explained the purpose of the device, the problems it would solve and the interactions the user would use.
The Arduino is a basic look at how those interactions would work. The first is a button that makes the motor turn, mimicking the vibration of the alarm. The second is a button that makes a buzzer sound, which represents the sound from the speakers when audio is chosen. The final demonstrated interaction is the flex sensor being bent, like how a pillow bends when it is laid on, and the small buzzer sound output for when the pillow is turned on.
I began the research process in a team with Liqi Zhong. We looked at anxiety and the existing technology in the field that addresses the problem. We found that the majority of the technology revolved around mobile apps. The reason why they are useful for treatment is because they are easy to turn into habits and they are low effort. However, problems that apps encounter include poor regulation of quality, poor engagement and narrow focuses.
Therefore, new technology should have high user engagement to keep them returning, a simple user interface (especially for users experiencing anxiety because their working memory is often impaired), self monitoring and non-intrusive.
You can view the full research report here
After looking at anxiety broadly, I decided to focus on sleep anxiety because it was an issue that I faced as well. I had to decide on what medium I wanted to use. At first, I wanted to use an app and smartwatch because it was the easiest way to track sleep. However, I realized that the market already had products like that. Therefore, I decided to take a different approach.
Something that I use to help me fall asleep is ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response). ASMR is a popular trend on YouTube, where “ASMR-tists” create content for people to listen to before or while sleeping to calm them down. It is a powerful tool that distracts the user from their daily stresses and helps them focus on sleeping. However, there are a few key problems with using ASMR to fall asleep. I story boarded a usual interaction and identified the interventions I needed to take.
Going to Sleep
I found that a common problem with both of these interactions was using social media and the phone before bed.
Going to Sleep Using ASMR
From the storyboards, I found out the key problems that I needed to tackle. How could I use a different medium that did not involve the phone? I eventually decided to use a smart pillow. Built in speakers in the pillow would allow for the user to have a more immersive ASMR experience because the sound is near the ears. It also removes the video aspect of ASMR so it is less distracting.
I started to brainstorm what key features I would need for my pillow. The main feature would be the built in speakers and ASMR. The user would be able to pick from a library of audio. Next, it was important that the pillow could track sleep. This is so that the device knows when you’re sleeping so it can automatically stop the sound. It also provides useful information that the user might want to know. An alarm clock that uses vibration to wake the user up would be useful as well because it is less intrusive. Secondary tasks would be changing the temperature of the pillow to be more comfortable for sleeping and a sleep journal that promotes self monitoring and increases emotional awareness.
I had one more question: How would the user control the pillow?
I found that the answer was a remote. It would connect to the back of the pillow through a magnetic sleeve. It has an electronic paper display, which meant there is no blue light that might disturb the sleep process. It would have thin edges and be made out of a soft material so the user can’t feel it under the pillow. Finally, I decided to use a click wheel controller to mimic the feeling of the iPod Nano method of picking music.
I needed to design quality interactions for the user to have with the smart pillow. Each action has a response that will come from the pillow. For example, turning the pillow on would be done by simply lying down, which is a natural act in sleeping. The response would be a small sound which doesn’t interfere with sleep like a status light would. I worked with an Arduino for this project as well, so the sensor and output relates to what I would use in my prototype to mimic the interactions.
I created a digital prototype of what I wanted Zleepy to look like. The mechanics would be inside the pillow and the case can be removed and washed. The remote is wireless and attaches to the back of the pillow. There are two main functions of the remote: Zleep and Rise. Zleep is where the user can choose the audio they want to listen to by category and Rise is the alarm function where the use can change the intensity of the alarm and how to turn it off. There is also a temperature slider and volume buttons on the side of the remote.
What I learned
Create meaningful interactions
There are a lot of ways to design interactions, but it is important to explain why you chose certain interactions. I found that the best interactions were memorable, non-disruptive and easily learnable.
Prototyping and collaboration is important
The final presentation that I did allowed me to gain feedback from many people from different backgrounds and gave me insight I hadn’t thought about before. For example, one person thought that my device would be useful for people with Tinnitus (constant ringing in the ears). By showing a physical prototype, even a crude one, I could easily display what I wanted to create.
Research is the base
Without my research, I would not have discovered the current technology available and what there is a lack of. I also learned what people with anxiety find important in technology. I used many aspects from my research to inform the decisions I made in my final product.