Follow up on the Valkee device that shines light in your ears.

This post is a follow up to something one of our researchers wrote two years ago about a device called the “Valkee” that shines light into your ears using a device that looks a lot like an iPod. The device supposedly cures seasonal affective disorder and is now being marketed in the USA. I felt the need to post an update to alert consumers to this device that uses slick marketing, but which does not appear to have produced any direct evidence to show that is more than a placebo in the treatment of seasonal affective disorder.  Here’s what we said about it two years ago:

It’s not available in the U.S. yet, but a Finnish company is marketing a new device called “Valkee.” It looks like an iPod, except instead of digital music, the headphones shine light into your ear. Yes, that’s right, the Valkee has small ear buds that shine light into your ear.

Why would shining bright light in your ear help with seasonal depression? Here’s where things turn a little fuzzy.

In the two years since we originally posted about this device and in the seven years since it was first created, the company has yet to generate any data showing that the device works better than a placebo for seasonal affective disorder. Placebo controlled trials are not that hard to do and the lack of such research is very concerning. Placebo effects can be quite strong and because of this effect, it can sometimes be hard to know whether a device works because it actually works, or just because people think it will work. In the case of the Valkee, the existing evidence points to the idea that the device works only because people expect it to work. 

Thus, my recommendation is, if you are suffering from seasonal affective disorder, save the money you would have spent on the Valkee and use it instead to buy a more affordable and much more proven light therapy device. We review some of them here. If you want to read more about the controversy around this device, you can read more herehere, and here

BTW, whenever I see a device or treatment that I’ve never heard of before, I always Google the name of that treatment and the word “scam” in Google. This applies whenever I see something new, in the service of being an informed consumer. If you google the item plus the word scam, you may find a range of relevant articles that can help you better evaluate whatever it is. Don’t believe us about the Valkee, do your own research before you make a purchase. Google “Valkee scam” and read what comes up.

Update 11/4/14: A Valkee-related team appears to have published their first trial designed to compare the Valkee to a placebo for seasonal affective disorder. The results showed that the Valkee was no better than what was identified as the placebo condition during trial registration. See the published study here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4207317/ and here: http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01293409)?

I also found a new page where different people are discussing the Valkee device, in case you want to read more: http://tech.eu/features/215/valkee-conundrum-ive-shining-bright-light-brain-weeks-now-dont-know/

How to Read Your Emotions Part II: Put on Your Spec’s

Reading your emotions is all about perspective. Perspective is just a place from which you are looking at something – it’s a point of view from which you observe things as they happen. Your experience of an event can be dramatically different depending on how you view that experience.

If you’re watching a movie but sitting behind someone with an enormous hat that blocks your view, you’re likely to experience frustration because you’re missing out on the movie. You might politely ask this individual to remove his or her hat, and sometimes that works. But if they refuse, the situation can become even more upsetting and you might be tempted to start an argument. After all, people “shouldn’t” wear big hats in movie theaters! While you might feel you are justified in arguing, making a scene usually isn’t actually much fun for anyone (no, your date will not be impressed). If the point of your evening is to have fun enjoying a movie, then the simplest solution is to change seats.

But notice that whether or not your view is blocked by a hat, the movie itself is exactly the same. For that matter, changing seats doesn’t mean the person with the hat suddenly stops existing. The important difference is in where you’re sitting – it all depends on your perspective. The same is true of your emotions: don’t try to change them, get a better view.

The ability to take perspective on one’s emotions isn’t a matter of understanding – it’s a matter of repetition and practice. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. One of the best ways to develop your emotional perspective-taking skills is through practicing mindfulness meditation.  Mindfulness is the practice of taking perspective on your feelings, thoughts, and sensations. It can also help you learn to take other people’s perspectives, develop a stronger sense of self, and become more accepting of your psychological experience (see my earlier blog post on the perils of judging emotions).

Just like it’s hard to read a book that is an inch away from your face, it’s hard to read your emotions without creating a little space. How and from where you look at your emotions can be much more important than what emotions you are looking at. By “stepping back” from your emotions you create a new vantage point that will help you see more clearly. As you’ll see, that perspective gives you an advantage.

How to Read Your Emotions Part I: Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

Sometimes when you first start having a feeling, your brain will very quickly make up its mind that the emotion is somehow dangerous or bad. Then it tries to escape from the emotion or control the emotion by turning your attention elsewhere and getting you to do something that makes the emotion go away. Because our brains are trying to protect us from harm, this well-intentioned judgment about our feelings comes from a good place. However, somewhere along the way our brains got a little confused about what is actually harmful. Emotions themselves are not harmful, our brain just says they are. 

Doing something that makes fear go away can work to keep you safe, but it’s only a stand-in for the real solution, which is to get away from the actual danger. Put another way, fear isn’t ever harmful, but masked figures holding knives often are. It’s much more important to get away from any danger in the world than to get away from any fear you are experiencing. In fact, when you are attuned to your environment, fear is just awareness of danger. In that sense, fear is probably a handy thing to experience – if you aren’t aware of real danger, you are less likely to respond and more likely to get hurt. The lesson is — don’t be so quick to judge fear. It may be your friend.

The same goes for other emotions: Sadness isn’t bad, it’s just awareness of loss, and loss is bad. Anger isn’t bad, it’s just awareness of conflict, and conflict isn’t great for relationships. Anxiety isn’t bad, it’s just awareness that something is important to you, and caring about things is good. For that matter, joy isn’t good, it’s just awareness that something wonderful is happening, and wonderful things are good. Emotions are there to be felt because they say something about the world in which you are living. Don’t leave your emotions on the shelf – check them out!

You can’t really blame your brain too harshly for making snap judgments – that’s what it evolved to do. Go ahead and thank your brain for its noble intentions of keeping you safe. But when it comes to your emotions, remember that they’re meant to be an open book.
For more on how to observe emotions without getting caught up in judgments, see How to Read Your Emotions Part II: Put on Your Spec’s.

What Exactly is Insomnia? (and what you can do about it)

People can experience many difficulties with sleep throughout their lives.  Some people are often told by their parents that even as small children they were never “good sleepers.” Some people experience issues with sleep following a stressful or traumatic event in their life.  Sometimes issues with sleep just seem to come out of nowhere. 

However people with insomnia all have the same thing in common – they are not sleeping well and things don’t seem to be getting any better anytime quick.

There are three main types of insomnia

  1. Difficulty falling asleep
  2. Difficulty staying asleep
  3. Waking up too early

The criteria for an official diagnosis of insomnia are as follows:

  1. Difficulty getting to sleep, difficulty staying sleep, or waking up too early.  Also if sleep is chronically non-restorative or poor in quality.
  2. These problems with sleep happen even when all the right circumstances are present (i.e. a dark, quiet room & no need to be anywhere for a period of time).
  3. The issues with sleep cause problems for the person during the day, including at least one of the following:
  • Fatigue
  • Problems with attention, concentration or memory
  • Social problems / work-related problems / poor school performance
  • Mood disturbance or irritability
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Reduced motivation, energy, or initiative
  • Proneness for errors
  • Accidents at work or while driving
  • Tension, headaches, or gastrointestinal symptoms in response to sleep loss
  • Concerns or worries about sleep

American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2005). The International Classification of Sleep Disorders (2nd Edition)

What is NOT Insomnia

It’s important to also know what sleep issues are not considered insomnia.  Here is a list of other common sleep disorders:

Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder caused by the brain’s inability to regulate sleep-wake cycles normally, which causes an abnormal daytime sleep pattern and also sudden muscular weakness often brought on by strong emotions.

Sleep Terrors are characterized by a sudden arousal from sleep along with intense fear.

Sleep Walking is when people engage in activities that are normally associated with wakefulness (such as walking, eating, or dressing) while unconscious of their behaviors.

Sleep Disordered Breathing is a category of problems such as sleep apnea or snoring.

Restless Legs Syndrome is experienced as an irresistible urge to move one’s body to stop uncomfortable or odd sensations.

Circadian Rhythm Disorders are types of sleep disorders that affect the timing of sleep (often caused by shift work or jet lag). For example, a person’s body may not want to go to sleep until 5am, even though they need to get to sleep around 11pm.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder is a sleep disorder that involves acting out violent or dramatic dreams during sleep. 

Hypersomnia is a disorder characterized primarily by severe excessive daytime sleepiness which is not better explained by a medical illness or other sleep issue.

Good News for Insomnia Sufferers

If you believe you suffer from insomnia and not one of the other, related disorders then there is good news for you – there is an effective, natural treatment available.  The science of sleep medicine has developed many tools over time.  One of these tools is a medication-free approach to treating insomnia called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBTI).

If you would are interested in learning more about how CBTI can help you can read more here or contact me using the form below for a FREE telephone consult.

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