Portable Sensory Deprivation System: for Writers and People with CFS

Writers and people with CFS (PWCs) have two things in common: they often need to control their environment – just to be able to think and work. Since I am both, I need it double.

I’m so noise sensitive that I can’t view the internet for very long – because the excessive number of moving bits on pages makes the graphics card in the Macbook come on – which leads to the Macbook turning on the fans – which leads to me staring at the wall, while the neuron assigned to thinking (I have two functional neurons – the other is reserved for breathing) takes on the task of blocking out the noise instead (we call this brain fog – you may have similar choice words for it).

So, for this and other purposes I shall identify later in the post, I have created for myself the Portable Sensory Deprivation System (PSDS) for Writers and People with CFS (PWCs).

It is adjustable: there is the version which blocks both most sound input AND all visual input – the TOTAL version; and the version which only blocks sound input – the NOISE version (so I can see to type).

As you might expect, the versions switch easily from one to the other. No need to disassemble. The well-cushioned Visual Input Blocker (eye mask) on the TOTAL version can be placed behind or above the head.

The basis for the Portable Sensory Deprivation Tank consists of the Industrial-Strength Noise Protector (my component is labeled AO Safety SELECT, and PELTOR – I probably bought it through Amazon), with an eye mask purchased from REI (Recreational Equipment Incorporated?) in Seattle, WA. The eye mask has a long slim pillow on the bottom side, with a cutout for the nose, which blocks light coming in from below. Mine also has a little pocket for storing ear plugs.

They can be used in all safe circumstances with little damage to the wearer. Except for one caveat: do NOT wear the version which blocks visual input if YOU are the DRIVER (not worth it, really, although the temptation may be exceedingly high).

The TOTAL version is comfortable enough for me to use in bed: the neighbor (a good man otherwise), with the industrial-model gas-operated leaf blower, can be almost complete blocked out of the sound input channel – so I can actually get a restful nap. He does, eventually, get tired and go inside. By then I usually do not care – and am safely either rested or asleep.

The NOISE version has an additional feature which can remove the last niggly bits of sound that get through the Sound Barrier: it is composed of two ear plugs (preferably installed one per ear, but this is up to the user). Without the additional feature, the exterior sound removal is not complete (brings sound levels down about two decibels (est.)). WITH the feature, the sound is brought down three decibels (powers of ten), with only one source of noise left – the sound of my own heart beating slowly and surely. As this final sound is a throwback to the womb and total comfort and safety, the sound is not usually objectionable.

User’s choice: two decibels worth of noise removal – but you can still hear the gas blower; or three decibels (all measurements are estimates), but the heart sounds are now loud enough to be heard.

It is also possible to use only the eye mask, only the earplugs, and the Industrial-Strength Noise Protectors alone – or in other combinations, but total blockage will not be obtained. These are suitable for many situations (excluding the neighbor’s leaf blower).

I have used my little system to block out the noise in rest stops on major Interstate Highways – even the ones with the big tractor-trailer trucks which leave their motors on all night because they want to (it keeps them warm) or because they are carrying refrigerator containers with perishables. I understand these are forbidden to keep their engines on all night in some places now, but enforcement varies – and new semis are coming in and out of the parking lots all the time.

And has anybody noticed how noisy PEOPLE are? Picture me zonked out flat in the back of the minvan – darkened glass – I can’t hear or see all my noisy fellow travelers and their children and dogs. I’m enjoying a restorative rest so I can drive the next segment safely.

Has anyone noticed how noisy HOTELS are? In the last one, the whole floor reverberated when someone ran on the treadmill in the gym. Reach for PSDS – no more problems. Want to sleep while the staff is vacuuming the room next to yours? You got it – no problem.

Total cost for the PSDS components? Less than $50-$100 – depending on the Industrial Ear Protection you start your System with. Get the very best – YOU’RE WORTH IT.



13 thoughts on “Portable Sensory Deprivation System: for Writers and People with CFS

  1. Bun Karyudo

    I have definitely noticed how noisy other people are, particularly the other people in my family. I have a coworker who swears by noise reduction headphones. He uses them a lot on airplane flights since he finds the noise of the plane incredibly irritating. It might be a way to go for me too.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      But aren’t the noise-reduction headphones to be used for LISTENING to something?

      Even ‘white noise’ and tapes of the ocean are too much noise for me.

      The nice thing about my setup is that I first focus on the sound of my own heart (useful for counting the calming breaths), and then the familiar sound of my own heartbeat fades, and there’s nothing bothering me left.

      Works for me – but I’d think everyone (especially introverts) needs to find a way to quiet the world when necessary – and it can’t be developed in a crisis.

      I’ve been doing this for so many years the process is automatic. I can’t get most people interested in trying, but that time goes by whether you do anything useful with it or not, and the crises will come.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Bun Karyudo

        Well, the way my coworker explained the noise reduction headphones to me (and it’s quite possible I misunderstood what he was saying), although it is possible to listen to music through them, they can also be used simply as a way of eliminating background noise. They monitor the noise in the environment and then play a noise that is precisely opposite to it, which has the effect of canceling out the original sound.

        I completely agree with you about white noise, incidentally. I’ve turned to it in desperation from time to time, but I find it very noisy and intrusive.


        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          If they actually reduce total noise by feedback, that would be great. I’ll ask my son the computer guru, and my husband, the great user of tech stuff – I don’t want something which just switches what I have to listen to.

          I have to turn off a very quiet external drive attached to my Mac for backups – I CAN HEAR YOU!

          Then I have to remember to turn it back on temporarily, and do backups. Sheesh.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Angela

    Hi, Love your post. I finally bought an eye mask on Amazon that I like. Did a ton of research before purchasing. The name of it is: Dream Zone.

    Now I’m in the market for noise cancelling or isolating earbuds because I listen to binuaral music to calm my mind and for pain reduction. If anyone is interested in these I think the best bet is MEElectronics A151BK for around $23.00. People complain about them cancelling out too much noise so that all you hear is your heartbeat.

    And now I’ve just convinced myself to give them a try. Because everyone’s ears are sized differently they won’t work for everyone but I figure nothing ventured nothing gained. And they can always be worn when not listening to music. They are good for side sleepers, I couldn’t sleep on my back in my life depended on it, that’s the only problem with your gear, at least for me.

    Just my 2 cents..


    1. ABE Post author

      Glad you liked the post – I HAD to do something! I can’t think with noise. Can’t write if I can’t think.

      The sound of my own heart is quite soothing. If it is too fast, it’s time to lie down, too.

      I’ll check on the noise canceling headphones, but for now, the problem is solved.

      My ears are an odd size, too – and my head is too big. 😦 I wish the headgear were bigger – and I have the men’s version.

      I sleep on my side all the time – you get used to the headgear if you need it. The earpieces are quite nicely padded. Consider the alternative.


  3. pr31ov

    Hi Alicia,

    Just wanted to say that of course I empathize with your struggles. My husband and I both have CPAP machines, so it gives me a little bit of white noise. But I have to wear earplugs, or I will not sleep at all, when I can sleep. I use the MAC’S earplugs, they seem to be the only ones that work for me. I had to stop going to church altogether because of the sensory overload, so that means anything else like an art show (we have some pretty large ones here, usually outside) I can just forget about going. I’m pretty much housebound. How long have you been ill with ME/CFS?



    1. ABE Post author

      I’m glad you found earplugs that work for you – each of us has to decide what works, even for common problems. Ear plugs CAN be worn to events – if I ever go to a concert, I wear them the whole time. Mine are hidden by my hair – but they turn those amplifiers up so high!

      Sorry you don’t get out much – three times a week is a good limit for me, and lately I’ve been out more – and I feel it. Trying to cut back – or the writing vanishes.

      It’s been 24 years – my poor kids never knew me as a healthy person, except the first two, as babies. I feel it more for them than for me. You?


  4. Circe

    Thank you for specific information. I feel less alone in the ADD/IBS, and it now seems, CFS, world in which silence is generally golden, A leaf blower can fill my heart with venom & duodenum with bile. Yet, when not writing or resting, I do love music of all sorts–even Southern Funk Blues–loud sporting events, and cheek by jowl bars & restaurants.
    But when it is quiet, it must be very, very quiet. And when sleeping it must be quiet, *completely dark*, & warm. Out of desperation & frustration, I sleep with a sweatshirt tied around my head. REI, I will give you a try.
    Hotels are usually hell. Even when I ask for an east-facing room not near the elevator or icemaker, it turns out to be near the rooftop compressor or kitchen vent. Or a noisy blower blasts cold air at me all night. $200 not well spent. If only I could pitch a tent!
    Imagine being a person who can just lie down & go to sleep….


    1. ABE Post author

      Without my little headgear, it is just too much trouble to shut the world out for a while – ironically, it takes energy to block the energy-suckers.

      With it, if I don’t get rest, I know I didn’t do my ‘process’: turn on the heated mattress pad (another godsend), block the world, do yoga ‘surrender breaths’ until the tension drains out, let a half-hour go sweetly by,

      I have a quote from Carrie Tennis that I love: “The most heroic thing a creative person can do is to live an orderly life so that the work can get done.” I’m learning.


  5. Monica Deitell

    Also good for people with migraines. I have CFS and migraines…and would love to be able to call myself a writer. We have talked in the past of packaging a “kit” for migraneurs. He is a neurologist who now sees patients with complicated headaches. I used to practice psychiatry.

    So, since I am tired! Do you just show a picture? Is there a certain type of eye mask you used? Did you sew it on by hand? I currently use silicone earplugs a mask and a pillow over my head, but it’s getting pretty hot!! I just stayed in a hotel and it was rough going. Also, I have the neighborhood “blowers” and my husband snores. I can either go to sleep when he wakes up, which often just occurs because of our sleep cycles, or “plug up”.

    Great gadget. I’m sure you would rather write, but it’s probably a marketable idea. Thanks for the post. Your blog looks intriguing as well!



    1. ABE Post author

      Thanks for stopping by to comment. I feel your pain – I used to be a functioning physicist, and went to school probably as long as you did. Sigh.

      As I said, my eyemask comes from REI – but many others have the feature of an adjustable headband and a light-blocking pillow on the bottom. I like the little pocket for storing the earplugs – my old eyemask even has velcro so you don’t lose your earplugs, but I couldn’t find one. If I ever get around to it, I’ll put a little patch of velcro on the pocket. Cheap eyemasks don’t block enough light – I hope your silicone ones work well. That would be nice, too, if they can be cooled in the fridge prior to use.

      The headband holds the eyemask on to the noise-protection gear, so it forms a unit. Or you can just use the eyemask around your head the normal way.

      I have trouble finding earplugs that work – so I’m extremely careful not to lose the ones I have that fit. I bought some more at CVS – and they had changed to a new type of plastic foam – and they don’t work for me as well. The best ones can be squeezed on one end (to make that end small enough to fit in the beginning of the ear canal for just long enough to get them in), and then they expand in place, blocking more of the sound. I trimmed some of the new ones with nail scissors so they would work almost as well.

      There is nothing really marketable there – my post was tongue-in-cheek. I am hoping to make you chuckle – and then go put your own version together.

      BUT it really, really works for me to have an instant way to block out the world – because the world is crowded, too bright, and way too noisy. So what if I look like a bug-eyed monster?



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