Scientists Discover Device that May Help Sleeping Problems

Category: Health


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. insomnia / ɪnˈsɒm ni ə / (n) – a disorder in which a person has difficulty sleeping

    I couldn’t sleep last night because of my insomnia.

  2. drowsiness / ˈdraʊ zi nəs / (n) – the state of being very sleepy

    Some allergy medications can cause drowsiness, so people taking them are advised not to drive.

  3. wakefulness / ˈweɪk fəl nɪs / (n) – the state of being alert and awake

    A lot of people rely on caffeine to increase their wakefulness.

  4. lethargic / ləˈθɑr dʒɪk / (adj) – lacking energy

    I’ve been feeling lethargic because I haven’t been getting enough rest these days.

  5. withdrawal / wɪðˈdrɔ əl / (n) – health problems or symptoms a person experiences after stopping the long-term use of a medication or drug

    You should follow your doctor’s advice on how to stop using the medication slowly to prevent withdrawal.


Read the text below.

Scientists have discovered that using a pair of ear clips called “ear zappers” may help treat insomnia.

A study suggested that using the ear zappers before going to bed can improve sleep quality and lessen drowsiness in the daytime. The scientists believe that they can stimulate the production of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone.

The ear zappers are connected to a power supply that is about the size of a cellphone. When switched on, an electric current passes through the clips and goes into the ears, stimulating the vagus nerve, which controls sleep and wakefulness.

The scientists tested the device on 63 respondents with insomnia. Half of the volunteers were asked to attach the clips to the outer edge of their ears, where the vagus nerve cannot be stimulated. The remaining half were instructed to attach the clips to the middle of their ears, where the vagus nerve can be stimulated. The volunteers used the device for 30 minutes before sleeping for one month and recorded their nightly sleep patterns.

Results showed that the volunteers who underwent vagus nerve stimulation had improved sleep and were much less lethargic during the day.

According to the scientists, the device could become a drug-free alternative to treat insomnia. Some individuals with sleeping difficulties resort to using medication to fall and stay asleep, but prolonged use of sleep medications may cause side effects including aggressive behavior, excessive drowsiness, and memory loss. Patients may also experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking them.

Sleep expert Dr. Neil Stanley said that the researchers should conduct the study on more people to increase its reliability before the device can be endorsed and used widely as a treatment.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• Do you think many people in your country would be willing to try this device? Why or why not?
• In your opinion, is it better to treat insomnia with medications or with the ear zappers? Discuss.

Discussion B

• Why do you think some people rely on medications? Discuss.
• Do you think medical experts should focus on developing medications (e.g. pills, lotions) or procedures (e.g. surgery)? Explain.