Can you really improve your thinking and brain health with light?

Two months ago, I posted my initial thoughts on the Niraxx smart headband, which I’ve been using daily for the last 60 days. And in this article, I’ll be going through what it is, what it does, what it’s like to use, and my thoughts on whether you should buy one.

Now the Niraxx smart wearable device went through a crowdfunding campaign in 2019, and it’s now available to buy. It uses a technique called photobiomodulation to stimulate blood flow in certain areas of the brain. Now this technique is purported to have a wide variety of benefits, including reduced stress and anxiety, improve cognitive focus, and improve clarity of thought. And if you want to know more, and take a deep dive into photo bio modulation, then check out the link in the description for another of my videos. That goes into more detail on how it improves cognitive performance. 

Now, the Niraxx itself is not going to win any Fashion Awards, not in this century. Anyway, it’s a cross between a hippie headband and something from Star Wars, made even geekier by the fact that the power and processing on the side have a glowing button, and three LEDs on it that indicate battery level. This processing unit is the part that communicates with your smartphone app to select the programme and duration. Inside the headband, you’ll find little holes where the far infrared LED shine through, along with a sensor array that presumably checks whether the headband is properly located on your forehead. 

Once you’ve got it powered on and located properly, you can select one of the programmes available on the app. Now one of the reason that it’s taken so long for me to give you an in depth review of this device is I really wanted to experience all of the programmes and give you an honest view on the effect that they have. After all, this device is not cheap. So I wanted to be as straight as with you as possible. 

The programmes run from 10 to 40 minutes, with 14 minutes being the maximum recommended session in any 24 hour period. During the last two months, I’ve mostly used the 40 minute setting unless I’m using it between meetings. And I don’t want to draw odd looks on a zoom call. The way that I’ve used it is pretty much how I would expect most people to use it to provide some additional support to whatever situation I’m in from day to day. Whether that is to boost my mood helped me focus and be extra productive on a complex task to de stress after a busy day, or to get myself straight after I’ve had a bad night’s sleep for some reason. It’s also a boost libido mode. 

But I’d say don’t let your other half catching you wearing this half an hour before bed, because it’s highly likely to reduce your chances of getting anywhere. Now, whilst the website suggests you start with 10 minutes a day, there’s no explanation of why you need to ramp up the time is also suggested that you limit your time to 40 minutes a day. Again, I’m not sure why at this point. without reading all of the research papers, I can’t yet get into the detail of how these different programmes produce different results. I assume that the programmes run different pulse frequencies to stimulate different parts of the brain. But this is something that I will get to on my longer term review videos.

Once the device is running, you initially notice a warm feeling on your forehead. This itself is remarkably comforting. After a while this feeling goes away and you forget that you’re wearing the headband. So much so that it would be easy to walk off and leave your phone behind. And again, I’m not sure yet whether this causes an issue. So now I’ll go through the programmes and my response to them. Please bear in mind that my view of the programmes is subjective, it’s impossible to measure the effect on every one of the programmes other than to record how I felt beforehand An hour later. 

No HRV measurement here, and until Niraxx provide more data on how the programmes work. I’ll go with my perception, which could of course be affected by the placebo effect. 

So first up is the Lift Up Mood setting. I’ve used this quite a few times when I’ve had a busy day or I’m not quite feeling at my best. First off, the warm feeling on your forehead is itself very smooth. And I do notice that an hour later I’m more jolly and enthusiastic. It kind of feels like you’ve had a double espresso, but without the shakes that you can get with that sort of caffeine hit. So Thumbs up for this one. 

Next up is Find Focus. And I’ve used this often when I have a piece of content to write or where I need 90 minutes of solid concentrated effort, pop the headphones in put Niraxx on and just get on with it. And in this mode I found the new x to be particularly useful After five minutes of so I am completely in the zone. And that laser like focus lasts for a good hour or 90 minutes, by which time I need a cup of tea, I’ve really noticed a difference in this area. And nowadays, this is the mode that I’m most likely to use on the Niraxx. 

Now on the focus mode, this was one area where I was able to take some measurements by using the Muse headband to look at my ability to focus before and after using the device. And having used that for a week in that mode, I found an improvement in my ability of focus by about 30%. So although it was just a simple week’s test, I feel that there is a measurable difference in my ability to focus when I’ve used the Niraxx. 

Next up is the Increase Energy mode. And I found that this one to be much like the lift up mood mode. It’s like a shot of caffeine which has me bouncing around full of energy. a downside to this is I initially use this when I was flagging in the evening. And it took me a while to realise that this mode was causing me sleep issues, I was finding it difficult to get to sleep and indeed stay asleep after using it in the afternoon or evening. So now if I use it, I keep it to the mornings. 

Next up is Reduce Stress. Now I do a lot of things to manage my stress. So generally my stress is low. And I measure that using heart rate variability. So it’s rarely a problem. The main times I might have had higher than normal stress is if I’ve been training or if I’ve not slept well for some reason. Now on this one, I can’t say that I’ve noticed a particular change and certainly no improvement in my heart rate variability, maybe an improvement in mood, but nothing to write home about. So it could be that I’m not the best test subject for this programme. 

Next up is Restore Sleep which I have used. I found it to be effective and helping take away that grogginess you get when you found the slept. Again, it’s like a shot of espresso, your alertness improves. 

And finally, you have Boost Libido. And I’ll be honest with you, this isn’t an area that I feel the need for a boost when. And given that I’ve been testing this device during lockdown, I’m not sure that anyone especially my wife needs me stomping around like an in season lion. 

Now there was one other programme that was available for a while but seems to have disappeared from the app. And that is brain health. This one seemed different, because there was a lot less heat, and maybe it’s a lower power maintenance setting. Hopefully it will be reintroduced because I like the idea of having a general wellbeing setting, because sometimes I don’t feel like I need a particular boost in any one area, I only got to try it a few times before it dropped off my menu. So if it comes back, I’ll do another video on it in the future. 

So you can probably tell that I’m actually really impressed with the device. In my testing, it does what it claims to do. And it’s something that I will continue to use is easy to operate. It can be used whilst you’re doing other things. And I found it to be effective, even though I have no way of measuring its efficacy beyond the changing well being that I feel after using it.

I do have a few complaints though. Now first up, is the lack of explanation. Apart from the programme description, which is a one liner, there’s nothing in the app or on their website to tell you what’s going on. And I for one would like to know more about the different programmes, how they work and what’s going on.

Now this would have been particularly useful, those programmes that make you feel like you’ve been mainlining caffeine all afternoon. Some of these programmes are in my opinion, definitely not for afternoon consumption. And it took me a few nights of disturbed sleep to work out what was going on there. Although I did manage to binge watch Cobra Kai over a few sleepless nights, so it’s not all bad.

All it would take would for them to put an explanation in the app, maybe a few videos to help the user educate themselves and learn how to make the best use of the technology.

The next one is the battery life the battery lasts around 40 to 50 minutes, which means you do need to have it on charge to make sure that it’s ready when you’re ready to use it.

The next complaint is that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. On some of the programmes such as increased energy, I do find that I am more tired in the evening. And it feels as if I’m running on turbo with this headband, which means I burn up my brainpower earlier in the day. Now that’s fine if you’re just planning to watch footy in the evening are a bit of a reality TV, but maybe not so good if you’ve got a hot date or you’re speaking at a rocket science conference.

And finally, I have to say something about the price. At $349 I worried that the lack of supporting information for the layman means that most people won’t shell out the money on this excellent device. Now this is a real pity, because I feel that many people would benefit from some casual photobiomodulation, not a phrase that you say often until Niraxx, improve their communications or reduce the price a lot of people are going to miss out.

So there we go two months with Niraxx and I’m still using it regularly. If you found this article useful,  for more content on technology to improve your well being and performance, please subscribe to my Youtube Channel.

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