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How tech is revolutionising our sleep, for the better
personLee Bell eventAug 29, 2019

How tech is revolutionising our sleep, for the better

Technology companies are recognising the importance of sleep in a world where health is paramount.

Sleep has always been important, but only recently has it become recognised as one of the most important factors in wellbeing, with most health professionals recommending a good night’s rest as the remedy for many ongoing health problems.

Take the Mental Health Foundation, for example, who cites sleep as being “as important to our bodies as eating, drinking and breathing”, and vital for maintaining good mental and physical health as it “helps to repair and restore our brains, not just our bodies”. If that doesn’t sound critical enough, the NHS goes as far as stating that regular poor sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes, thus shortening life expectancy.

This is a widespread dilemma, especially in the United Kingdom. According to a study by sleep tech firm Simba, nearly half (44%) of Brits are getting just six hours of sleep or less each night, and only 17% get their recommended eight hours of rest, so sleep deprivation could be having a profound effect on the lives of people in the UK, especially those who are overworked and stressed.

Considering how important a solid night's sleep is in the quest for a long and healthy life, it’s hardly surprising that technology companies across the globe have been busy developing complex innovations aimed at helping us to achieve the recommended eight hours every night and improve our lives through natural recovery.

And it’s not just the standard high-tech alarm clocks that are changing how people drift off at night. There’s a whole raft of clever gadgets and accompanying software being employed - and in cunning ways. From aroma-inducing gadgets to get you out of bed to sleep-tracking helmets, here are some of the best sleep innovations changing up the bedroom.

Sensory sleep tech 

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in recent years, it’s the effect that blue light emitted from the screens of devices such as TVs, laptops and smartphones can have on our eyes and sleep. A report by screen protector firm InvisibleShield, states that 76% of people look at their digital devices in the hour before going to bed, which - according to the National Sleep Foundation - can delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin, increase alertness, and reset the body’s internal clock (or circadian rhythm) thanks to the emitted blue hues.

While some of the world’s biggest tech companies have been making progress in developing solutions to filter such light - take for instance Apple, who has given its iPhone users the option to turn blue light to warmer colours in the later hours - the majority of brands haven’t addressed this. Nevertheless, there are a few apps out there that can help, such as Blue Light Filter, sFilter and Twilight, all of which let you easily adjust the colour temperature, advising you if you've set it in a way that might disturb your sleep.

Source: Philips

Thankfully, technology companies are also using light and colour for benefit - to wake people up. Health tech aficionado, Philips, is among a raft of brands out there using lighting to help rouse us from a deep slumber even when it’s pitch black outside. The firm’s latest addition to their gadget line-up is the Sleep and Wake-Up Light, a smart alarm clock-cum-lamp that mimics nature to wake you up in a much better mood. Over the course of 30 minutes, the gadget will emit a soft morning red which gradually increases to orange, until your room is filled with bright yellow light, alongside authentic outdoor sound effects. This, Philips says, creates a natural stimulation to wake up to while your body is still asleep, so by the time light has filled the room, you’re ready to jump into the shower.

A sensory approach seems to be the most popular route that device makers are going down for sleep aid appliances. Another way in which to do this is through hearing. Take US sound expert Bose, who recently produced ergonomically-crafted earbuds that stay in your ears while in bed and mask sounds to keep you in the land of nod. They work in the same way as conventional Bluetooth buds but replace unwanted external noise from busy streets, noisy neighbours or a snoring partner, for example, by masking them with soothing sounds to keep you snoozing for longer. In the same vein is Kokoon, a company fresh off the Kickstarter boat whose new pair of headphones use the same tech seen in sleep labs to sense brain waves. These headphones feature three layers of noise-cancelling, including white noise, all alongside an app that tracks sleep cycles.

Source: Kokoon

And just when you thought the sleep tech industry had all senses had been covered, take a look at the Sensorwake Trio, a smell-based alarm clock which uses a silent, oil-free dry diffusion technology via scent capsules (such as coffee) to help arouse your senses and get you out of bed. 

Innovative data tracking and insights 

Another way in which the sleep industry is getting an upgrade is via tech giants such as Google, Apple and Samsung, who are helping to fuel the rise of the “Quantified Self”, a term which refers to the cultural phenomenon of self-tracking using software and devices, especially wearables. 

Most top tracking tech such as smartwatches and activity trackers, monitor sleepers’ movement and heart rate during sleep.  There’s also a growing range of non-contact options from the likes of sleep specialists Beddit, Emfit and ResMed, which sit above or below your mattress and even on your bedside table, tracking from a distance. Whichever type you opt for, these aim to track your breathing, snoring and temperature and allow you to follow those trends over time, giving you advice on where to improve. 

While sleep tracking apps and devices have become increasingly popular in recent years, is there a good reason? Phil Lawlor, Sleep Expert at Dormeo, believes so. “Everyone is different,” he says, “so sleep tracking provides a personal insight into your sleeping habits, allowing you to be more mindful of your routine and how much sleep you're getting.”

Finnish smartwatch maker Polar is a good example of a company putting sleep at the focus of its health tracking tools. When designing its latest device, the Ignite, the company embedded a bunch of fresh overnight recovery features. One such feature is Sleep Plus Stages, a unique bit of kit which not only offers insight into the amount and quality of sleep that users have had, but information on how they cycled through light, deep, and REM sleep stages. From this, it’s able to create a Sleep Score, which tells you how well you’ve slept. The Nightly Recharge tool then takes sleep measurement analysis further by combining your Sleep Score with daily recovery information from the body to tell you how well you’ve recovered from your activities during your sleep. It’s one of the few devices in this category that’s making positive use of tracked sleep data.

Source: Dreem

For those wanting something potentially more accurate, there’s the Dreem 2 wearable - a headband with an all-rounded approach that measures sleep with a precision that its makers claim have “never been seen outside of a lab”. The head wearable claims to monitor users’ sleep more meticulously by measuring brain activity; playing sounds to make both falling asleep and waking up easier. Dreem’s sleep restructuring programs are based on medically-recognised cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia and aim to give respite to those who have serious trouble getting some quality shut-eye. 

If a head wearable is a little too invasive for your liking, Withings’ Sleep Tracking Pad offers detailed sleep cycle analysis as well as heart rate tracking and snore detection as it sits under your mattress. This links up to an app and gives you a rundown of how well you have slept, alongside tips on what you can do to improve your sleep for the following night, all without you having to attach any kind of gadgets to yourself. It also features IFTTT integration for scenarios such as dimming lights when you go to bed, or turning up your thermostat when you get up, so facing the cold, fresh air of those winter mornings are made just that bit easier.

About the author
Lee Bell
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Lee Bell is a freelance writer and editor, specialising in health tech and fitness innovation and how the latest developments in technology can enhance wellbeing. Lee writes news, features and reviews for a host of national lifestyle and tech titles including Forbes, The Metro, Daily Mirror, The Times, The Sun, GQ, Stuff, and Wareable.

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