This post has been updated as of June 2022 to include several new devices on the market and provides information on other popular wearables claiming to improve mental health, emotional regulation, or brain function.
Years of research show that you can learn to control your brain waves to help improve your mood, focus, and performance. Neurofeedback, a kind of biofeedback that measures EEG (brain waves), is a non-invasive treatment that encourages the brain to develop healthier patterns of activity.
Once found only in clinical settings, a new crop of at-home neurofeedback devices for helping you achieve everything from a calmer, more focused mind, to peak brain performance, are now flooding the market.
But how do you pick the at-home device that’s best for you and your family? Read on for our recommendations for 2022 based on cost, effectiveness, and ease of use.
How it works: Narbis’s neurofeedback smart glasses analyze brain activity to detect whether the wearer is showing brainwave patterns indicative of paying attention or losing focus.
Sensors on top of the head and behind the ears detect when the wearer is paying attention, and the glasses remain clear. When the system detects that the wearer is getting distracted, the glasses gently change tint, nudging the wearer to pay attention.
With two or three 20-minute sessions a week, Narbis users can learn how it feels to pay attention during tasks that require focus. Whether it’s reading, doing homework, or replying to emails, regular use of Narbis can help teach focus and attention.
Benefits: Narbis’s system allows users to learn how to concentrate while doing the very tasks that necessitate focus; i.e. reading, doing homework, or focusing on a craft, rather than having to interrupt the day by having to set aside time to play video games or listen to pre-programmed sounds.
Narbis’s dry electrode system is revolutionary in that it does not require pastes or gels.
How it works: Muse is an EEG device that uses advanced signal processing to interpret your mental activity to help guide you. When your mind is calm and settled, you hear peaceful weather. Busy mind? As your focus drifts, you’ll hear stormy weather that cues you to bring your attention back to your breath.
Drawback: someone who needs to focus on a task with a sound component — say virtual learning or practicing a musical instrument — wouldn’t be able to use Muse to stay on task. (Narbis smart glasses, on the other hand, gently change tint depending on the wearer’s state of focus, meaning they can teach attention regardless of the task at hand.)
How it works: Sens.ai Programs are healthy mind states mapped to brain frequencies and locations. Sens.ai has over a dozen Programs that are experienced as ~20-minute Sessions with the Sens.ai headset and App. Sessions can be enjoyed a-la-carte or as part of a Mission. There are 16 Missions, each providing you guided progression over 4-8 weeks. You get quantified results using your biometrics after each Session and over time. The Sens.ai headset costs $1,195.
Drawback: Users are forced to interrupt the day by having to set aside time to use an app to complete a Sens.ai session.
How it works: The Mendi headband ($349) is fitted with sensors that measure your oxygenated blood flow and neural activity. You can see your brain activity visualized in Mendi’s training game. You control the game, make the ball rise and earn points, using only your brain, simply by focusing.
Drawback: Users are forced to interrupt the day by having to set aside time to play video games.
How it works: Although this device doesn’t use neurofeedback, we thought it worth including in this list given its claims to impact brain activity. The Hapbee wearable sends ultra-low radio frequency signals to the brain with the goal of achieving a given mental state such as sleep, peak performance, or socializing.
Drawback: Whereas decades of research underpins the effectiveness of neurofeedback — science based on users’ own brain activity — so that they can learn to focus and calm down throughout their day with the power of their own minds and retain those skills for life; less is known about the long-term effects of radio waves on your brain.
How it works: PlayAttention uses neurofeedback to teach users how to focus and pay attention.
Drawback: PlayAttention requires users to learn to pay attention by playing video games. For example, users might learn to focus by having to make characters move across a video screen. This requires users to take time out of their day to play a video game. Narbis allows you to learn how to pay attention while reading, studying, working at a computer, or otherwise getting through your to-do list. Moreover, PlayAttention comes at a much higher price point: the home version with a two-user license is $1,795; the end-user equipment model is $2,500.
How it works: NeurOptimal ($10,995.00) is an advanced neurotechnology designed to train the brain to function at peak performance levels. During a NeurOptimal session, you wear ear clips and two small sensors on the sides of your head which pick up the delicate electrical activity of your brain. While you relax and close your eyes and listen to music or watch a movie, NeurOptimal processes your brain signals very rapidly and when it detects them moving into an “instability”, the music or movie pauses very briefly.
Drawback: High price tag. Requires paste to apply the sensors to your head. Users are forced to interrupt the day by having to set aside time to listen to music or watch a movie.
How it works: NeuroSky’s MindWave Mobile 2 and Excellent Brain headsets have the user watching games and/or videos to learn how to focus.
Drawback: As with other video-game-based wearables, NeuroSky requires users to take time out of their day to play a game. In addition, NeuroSky’s sensor, which is placed on the forehead won’t result in optimum focus training. A sensor placed on top of the head (like Narbis, and which is s generally considered clinically efficacious among professionals) is the ideal placement when detecting EEG activity specific to a focused state.
How it works: The FocusCalm headband ($350) uses EEG technology to measure brain activity and a variety of games, exercises and meditations to help improve your ability to focus and relax your mind.
Drawback: Aside from very limited data (or none?) on efficacy, the limited training screens in this are a major drawback, with the simple child-like games likely becoming very mundane and de-motivating after a few uses.
How it works: Myneurva’s neurofeedback system consists of an electrode cap, which requires the application of gel to the scalp before use, which can be messy and uncomfortable — especially for people prone to sensory overload.
Drawback: Myneurva requires the purchase of package sessions for use, the cheapest of which is $3,599, all of which require at least one in-person meeting with a practitioner.
The following wearable devices are worth including in this round-up given their rising popularity and claims to enhance focus, reduce stress, and boost overall emotional regulation.
How it works: The Fisher Wallace device (worn as a headband) stimulates the brain to produce serotonin, endorphins, and melatonin while lowering cortisol. It claims to modulate brainwave activity and regulate the "fight-or-flight" sympathetic nervous system without the serious side effects of medication.
Drawback: The Fisher Wallace device is only approved for anxiety, depression, and insomnia, and works best for only certain subtypes of the listed disorders, for example, one of its studies only included Bipolar II Depression (BD II) patients and there are reports of serious side-effects.
Adverse reactions were reported during or following the use of a Fisher Wallace CES device, including disorientation, vestibular problems (balance, coordination, dizziness, vertigo), headaches, tinnitus, anxiety, depression, fatigue, brain hemorrhage, and death.
CES (cranial electrical stimulation) also has a long time history of producing headaches and muscle tension-related side effects after use.
CES is not recommended or approved for children.
Long-term effects are questionable; you may have to continue using the device in perpetuity to continue to experience the effects
How it works: Though technically not a neurofeedback device, Mightier still deserves mention in this list given its popularity and sound scientific backing and innovative use of biofeedback to help kids regulate stress. Mightier is the result of a decade of research and development done at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
Kids wear the Mightier Monitor ($40/month) and see their heart rate as they play. When their stress increases, the games become more challenging. Then, Mightier calming techniques help kids discover their emotional superpowers. Mightier rewards emotional strength as the games become manageable again. This is part of the science behind Mightier which elevates a child’s awareness of their emotions and provides them with the skills to lower their stress during play. The idea is that kids begin to realize that they have always had this ability and start using it in real-life situations.
What does emotional strength look like? Kids begin to respond with confidence in situations that used to cause eruptions.
Drawback: Users are forced to interrupt the day by having to set aside time to play video games.
How it works: Although it’s not a neurofeedback device per se, Omnipemf is based on PEMF, or Pulsed Electromagnetic Field, a school of therapy that relies on sending electromagnetic pulses to provide relief. As the maker of the tool says, the headset emits radio frequencies specific to the wearer’s desired state of mind, whether it’s focus, sleep, or relaxation. The line of thinking goes that the brain will sync with this frequency, resulting in, say, focus.
Drawback: Omnipemf doesn’t train the brain how to focus or reach peak performance. Rather than build skills on how to focus, the headband must be worn to get into that state.
How it works: Thync is not a neurofeedback tool. Rather, its FeelZing product is an “energy patch” that relies on non-invasive external neurostimulation as a way to coax the brain to pay attention or focus. Applied behind the ear for a seven-minute session, Thync claims wearing the patch will help the wearer gain focus and perk up for as long as four hours.
Drawback: The boost is only temporary. Moreover, the energy patches operate on external neurostimulation, rather than on neurofeedback, a field of neuroscience backed by decades of research.
The rise in popularity of neurofeedback devices that require brain training via video games on a tablet or phone is undeniable.
What sets top-pick Narbis apart is the fact that you can complete a neurofeedback training while going about your life — like reading, homework, eating, etc. Most other devices require you to block out 30 minutes of your day to devote to neurofeedback training. It becomes another “thing to do” like working out or grocery shopping. With Narbis, however, you can pop on its smart glasses while completing everyday tasks, like taking a Zoom meeting.
Additionally, no other systems employ sensors on top of the head which is where they need to be for optimum focus training (which many of them purport to target).
The wearable tech industry is growing at a rapid clip. Smart devices that can not only measure your biodata but simultaneously use that data to help you improve will undoubtedly shake up the pharmaceutical industry. As people seek non-drug options to treat everything from mental health to attention disorders, it’s worth noting which devices are incorporating the best sensors and algorithms to ensure users are actually benefiting from the power of neurofeedback technology.