ThinkGeek, pricey but slick purveyors of gadgets, T-shirts and caffeinated candy to the nerdly masses, are now selling the Dreamate Sleep Inducer.

Said Inducer is alleged to use acupressure principles to make you sleep better. It does this by massaging three points on the inside of your left wrist.

So far as I can determine, there is not the slightest reason to suppose that this will do any good at all.

Acupuncture and acupressure "points" have no physical reality - they cannot be told from other nearby locations on the skin in any way. Many equally-successful practitioners have completely different ideas about what points should be needled, pressed, heated or lit up with laser pointers (seriously!) to achieve the numerous amazing outcomes they allege are common, but strangely cannot demonstrate in controlled circumstances.

As far as wrist stimulation to achieve some beneficial goal goes, there's weak evidence that wrist zappers or buzzers can help some people sometimes with some kinds of nausea. See this study, for instance; it concluded that some wristband gadgets were of some use against seasickness, sometimes. But there are also plenty like this study, which concluded such gadgets were no use at all for nausea after cardiac surgery.

(I explored the plausibility of the actual commercial "nausea-fighting" electrical wristbands back in this letters column.)

I don't know where the claims about better sleep came from, though. Those claims have been around for a while, as part of a fuzzy constellation that includes other claims about how wrist acupressure also prevents snoring. And there are, of course, tons of people selling wristbands to treat all sorts of conditions, not that that means anything.

As far as evidence goes, though, there is amazingly little.

If you do a PubMed search of the vast Medline database for any crazy thing, you're pretty much guaranteed to get a few lousy studies from crooked journals, and a scattering of letters-to-the-editor from cranks. As I write this, "astrology" gets 245 Medline hits.

Search for "wrist acupressure sleep", though, and you get nothing.

There are only twelve hits for "acupressure sleep", and the ones that actually talk about acupressure treatment for sleep are unanimous in concluding that you need to rub (or puncture) the patient's ears, not their wrists, to get any effect.

So congratulations, ThinkGeek. You're selling something so ridiculous that even the loonies don't think it works.

8 Responses to “ThinkQuack”

  1. Stark Says:

    Just give the loonies a few minutes Dan - they'll start believing as soon as it occurs to them. They are nothing if not flexible in their belief of nonsense!

    I did a little experiment a couple of years back for the benefit of my mother in law - who firmly believed in one of the various wrist bands for relieving her back pain. I bought as many of the darned things as I could find - 17 as I recall - that were marketed for various ailments from headaches, to nausea, foot pain, back pain, tooth aches, tinnitus, and a dozen more I can't recall (no sleep remedies though!).

    Funny thing was 11 of them were the same exact wristband in varying colors. 3 of the other 6 were identical to each other as well and none of them were what you'd call hugely different from one another. When you looked up what each band was supposed to treat you got wildly varying conditions for the 11 identical bands. The demonstration actually worked too, she stopped using the bands. Of course then she went to a chiroquackter and I had a whole new battle to fight... I eventually convinced her of the folly of that course of action as well but it was a much tougher job.

  2. Wyntar Says:

    My wife is a firm believer of Acupressure to prevent snoring, she says that the firm application of pressure to my face via the use of a pillow(any pillow will do) is 100% effective. While I must admit she may be correct about it's efficiency I am dubious about the alledgations of snoring in the first place :-)

  3. Joe Bloggs Says:

    Stark: not having anything to believe in for relieving her back pain must be painful for your mother-in-law--if you haven't got a better idea on how to treat her back pain, why not let her keep using those wrist bands--placebo effect is better than nothing, and those wrist bands are probably cheaper than the chiro--no?

  4. Gareth Pye Says:

    There are many good reasons for dispelling peoples beliefs in Quakery:

    * once people realise that their being fooled they tend to feel annoyed at how much they were ripped off. At least you can reduce how much they were ripped off.

    * Many religions require you to be faithful to the religion, using things that are at best described as religions (acupuncture, magnetic therapy, etc) would probably be violating that instruction

    * Being forced to accept that you are in pain is better for you than ignoring it. Pain will make you avoid doing things that cause futher damage and make you look harder for a true solution. If no such solution exists you might consider putting your money towards research which will lead to a cure. This would be money much better spent, and gives you a true feeling of hope for the future.

  5. Austenite Says:

    Have you seen the WiTricity nonsense doing the rounds today?

    The Australian and The Age sigh.

  6. Stark Says:


    No, it is most decidedly not better to allow her to fool herself into feeling a little better. Pain is a signal from the body that something is wrong. In this case it turns out she had 3 ruptured discs that would have led to more serious degenerative conditions ultimately resulting in permanent disability and a lifetime of severe pain.

    I did have a treatment lined up for her... a doctor of medicine. She had decided that doctors didn't know any better than the quacks that push the wristbands... which is quite simply wrong. When she did go to the doctor - after almost 9 months of pain and 5 pain increasing visits to a chiropractor - he was able to send her for proper diagnostic work which determined the problem quickly. She was then sent to a specialist who outlined the serious nature of her condition, where it would lead without proper care (a wheelchair eventually), several courses of action to address the issue and further resources to learn about what was happening to her. This took less than 1 week. Her months of placebo and quack care gave her a net result of worsened pain, a bill, and no information as to what was actually wrong with her at all.

    She had surgery to correct (well, alleviate is a better word here) her back issues and is now able to do 95% of what she used to do. Without pain.

    Placebo effects are all well and good - especially useful in the %80 of medical issues where things will spontaneously get better on their own. Think colds here. For that other 20%, things like major back injury, heart disease, major lacerations, head trauma, etc.. they can be very dangerous.

    All of this is beside the point though. The real issue here is the mode of thought she was engaging in - lending credence where it was not due. The people who dream up the crap that is (far too kindly) referred to as "Alt-Med" are not as informed and knowledgeable as a modern physician. Period. Physicians rely on an ever expanding base of knowledge derived from observable, reproducible, falsifiable results. The alt-med folks rely on vibrations, intuition, dreams, wishful thinking and other methods... none of which hold up under scrutiny. Holding them in the same regard as physicians is a dangerous thing to do... as dangerous as crossing the street without checking the traffic. Sure, you may get by doing that for awhile, but eventually you'll step out in front of a bus.

    Science, it just plain works.

  7. RichVR Says:

    While I'm rather surprised at ThinkGeek for this foray into the Dark Side, I just found out that I'm getting this as a Father's Day gift. So I'll just let them go with a stern warning this time.

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