The Technology Fighting for a Good Night’s Sleep

From Sleep Aids to Ambient Sounds, HealthTech is Placing More Emphasis on Our Bedtime Habits

16.04.2018 | by Kezia Parkins
Photo by Stat
Photo by Stat

Throughout history, sleep has been recognised as one of the most complicated bodily processes. Whilst many consider sleep to be the simple task of drifting into unconsciousness, the greater implications and features of sleep are bedded in academia, with terms such as “sleep cycles,” “circadian rhythms,” and “rapid eye movement” meaning little to the average person.

Indeed, we can’t watch ourselves sleep – a fact which fundamentally limits our ability to understand the function. However, thanks to advancements in technology, a wave of products have arrived in the market including apps, watches, and mattresses that promise to better our understanding of how our bodies behave at night.

Polysomnography is the medical science dedicated to the understanding and diagnosis of sleep disorders. Doctors within this field have reacted these “sleep technologies” with suspicion: Researchers at the University of Washington have questioned the efficacy of such products, stating that, “These technologies have the potential to both improve and impair collective and individual sleep health depending on the method of implementation.” Indeed, current analysis of such technologies questions whether simple smartphone apps can really rival the advice of a trained specialist.

Despite the lack of support from the field of medicine, many smartphone and tablet users are steadfast in their belief that the right tech can positively affect their sleeping patterns – especially when that tech is applied in a thoughtful, methodical way.

Amongst the most popular products on the “sleep market” include sleep apps, which attract popularity due to their downloadability and lack of hardware. By using the accelerometer built into our smartphones and tablets, these apps detect movement when placed close to our bodies in bed. The apps detect when we toss and turn, effectively gauging at which point in the sleep cycle we are in. This neat feature is achievable by the digital compass within most smartphones.

The success behind sleep apps can be attributed to their alarm clock functions: The apps can often determine when we have entered our “lightest” phase of sleep, waking us out of our dreams more effortlessly. Indeed, soft and gentle alarm tones help in the process!

Soundscape apps have also been demonstrated as helpful technologies to those suffering from insomnia. Such apps offer a range of ambient sounds or “meditation sessions” designed to put their users in a restful mood, encouraging sleep.

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Sleep Applications

Sleep trackers, however, use actigraphy technology to document your physical movements during the night, providing their users with feedback on their sleeping habits. Trackers record their users’ heart rates and movements, providing clearer reports on what affects a healthy night’s sleep.

2017 was a landmark year for SleepTech. For the first time, CES, the world’s biggest consumer electronics show, hosted the Sleep Tech Marketplace, dedicated exclusively to consumer sleep technology.

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"True silence is the rest of the mind; it is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment." - William Penn, English Religious Leader and Colonist

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