Who needs coffee anyway? Handheld device that zaps the NECK can boost focus and energy in sleep deprived people 


  • The vagus nerve connects the brain to the digestive system and other major organs.
  • Electrically stimulating it has been shown to improve both memory and learning
  • Experts led by US firm Infositex tested applied stimulation to 20 adults
  • They used Gamacor, which is approved in the UK for use on certain headaches
  • They found that it increased the alertness of sleepy subjects by up to 19 hours.

One study found that sleep-deprived people’s energy, focus and multitasking ability can be increased by a handheld device that delivers an electric current to the neck.

Researchers led by US-based firm Infositex conducted the trial on 20 sleep-deprived adults, a drug originally designed to treat headaches that stimulate the vagus nerve.

They found that the stimulation increased alertness overall by 19 hours compared to control subjects who were given only a placebo.

The vagus nerve—which is the longest in the autonomic nervous system—passes signals between the brain, digestive system, and other organs.

It is linked to both mood and well-being, and electrical stimulation of the nerve has previously been shown to improve both memory and learning ability.

According to device designer Gamacor, their vagus nerve stimulator delivers a mild shock, which is felt as a deep tremor and slight muscle contraction in the neck.

One study found that the energy, focus, and multitasking ability of sleep-deprived people could be increased by a handheld device (pictured) that delivers an electric current to the neck.

“Fatigue is a serious and unavoidable problem for many professions such as medicine, transportation and the military,” the team wrote in their paper (stock image).

According to device designer Gamacor, their vagus nerve stimulator delivers a mild shock, which is felt as a deep tremor and slight muscle contraction in the neck.

According to device designer Gamacor, their vagus nerve stimulator delivers a mild shock, which is felt as a deep tremor and slight muscle contraction in the neck.

The study was carried out by Lindsay McIntyre, a research psychologist at Infositex, a firm based in Dayton, Ohio, and her colleagues.

The team wrote in their paper, ‘Fatigue is a serious and unavoidable problem for many professions such as medicine, transportation and the military.

Inspired by constant wakefulness, he said, fatigue ‘can cause slow reaction times, decreased ability to multitask, and increased laps.’

In their study, the researchers tested a commercially available vagus nerve stimulation device – Gamacor – which was previously approved for use in the treatment of headaches and migraines and is available on the NHS.

The team recruited 40 active-duty personnel from the United States Air Force and kept them awake for 34 hours—nine points, during which time each participant was tested for their ability to both remain alert as well as multitask.

Twelve hours into the experiment, each volunteer was given a six-minute treatment via a Gamacor stimulator, either an electric current on the neck, or a placebo device that applied no current.

The shocks from the Gamacore device are very mild.

‘It feels like a tremor combined with small, mild muscle contractions in the neck and lower jaw,’ said paper author and biomedical engineer Richard McKinley of the Air Force Research Laboratory.

‘Muscle contractions are gentle and so small that they often cannot be recognized with the naked eye.’

The team tested a commercially available vagus nerve stimulator -- Gamacor, pictured -- that has been previously approved for use in the treatment of headaches and migraines.

The team tested a commercially available vagus nerve stimulator — Gamacor, pictured — that has been previously approved for use in the treatment of headaches and migraines.

The team recruited 40 active-duty personnel from the United States Air Force and kept them awake for 34 hours—nine points, during which time each participant was tested for their ability to both remain alert as well as multitask.  Twelve hours into the experiment, each volunteer was given a six-minute treatment for either an electric current to the neck via a Gamacor stimulator, or a placebo device that applied no current.

The team recruited 40 active-duty personnel from the United States Air Force and kept them awake for 34 hours—nine points, during which time each participant was tested for their ability to both remain alert as well as multitask. Twelve hours into the experiment, each volunteer was given a six-minute treatment for either an electric current to the neck via a Gamacor stimulator, or a placebo device that applied no current.

The Gamacor device is available on the NHS for the treatment of cluster headaches through electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve inside the neck, as shown

The Gamacor device is available on the NHS for the treatment of cluster headaches through electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve inside the neck, as shown

The team found that subjects who were given vagus nerve stimulation both reported less fatigue and higher energy levels than those on a placebo — and performed better in tests of focus and multi-tasking abilities.

The effects of stimulation peaked 12 hours after administration – the level of alternation with benefit to the recipients persisted for a total of 19 hours.

According to the researchers, the findings suggest that vagus nerve stimulation through devices such as Gamacor may be able to provide an easy-to-use and safe way to reduce the effects of sleep deprivation.

However, he cautioned, more trials would be needed before the approach could be recommended for widespread implementation.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal communication biology.

About tiredness and fatigue

Why am I tired all the time?

Feeling tired is so common that it has its own acronym TATT, which means ‘tired all the time’.

We all feel tired from time to time. The reasons are usually obvious and include:

  • very late night
  • long hours at work
  • a baby that keeps you awake at night

But long-lasting tiredness or exhaustion is not normal. It can affect your ability to carry on and enjoy your life.

Unexplained fatigue is one of the most common reasons for people to see their GP.

why can you be tired all the time

Before you see a GP, you’ll want to find out how tired you got in the first place.

It might be helpful to think about:

  • parts of your life, such as work and family, that can be especially tiring
  • any event that triggered your fatigue, such as bereavement or a breakup
  • How your lifestyle can make you tired

A GP will look for the following causes of fatigue:

  • psychological reasons
  • physical cause
  • lifestyle reasons

Psychologist…

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