Smart technology for simply better sleep

Technology to help you sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep may seem like a pretty basic bodily process, but for many it’s just not that simple.

Research by the Australian Sleep Foundation has found that between 33% and 45% the population is not getting enough good quality sleep. This is a serious problem.

Besides waking up feeling a bit tired and irritable, lack of sleep has been shown to affect mood, memory, cognitive function and physical performance. It’s also linked to health issues such as depression, hypertension, obesity and diabetes.

Given these findings, it’s no surprise that the business of sleep aids is growing at a staggering rate. It is predicted that sleep technology will evolve to become an $80bn industry by 2020.

So, aside from obvious things like upgrading to a comfortable mattress and a good, breathable set of cotton sheets, what’s out there to help you get a better night’s rest?

Keeping it simple: mobile phone sleep apps

If you’re curious to find out a little more about your sleep patterns but don’t want to invest in a new gadget, you can test the waters with an inexpensive mobile phone app. These sleep tracking programs don’t need to be paired with an additional device. Rather, they work by using your smartphone’s existing in-built sensors. You place your phone on your mattress while you sleep and the app uses the phone’s microphone or accelerometer to analyse your movements and track your sleep phases.

Most sleep tracking apps offer an alarm that will wake you in your light sleep phase, so you feel more refreshed. Some also have relaxation sounds to help you get to sleep. There are many sleep tracking apps to choose from on Ap Store or Google Play. Examples include:

Sleepbot (iOS and Android)
Sleep Cycle alarm clock (iOS and Android)
Smart Alarm Clock (iOS)

A step up: wearable sleep trackers

Chances are you may already have a wearable activity tracker such as Fitbit or Garmin wristband. In addition to tracking your workout stats and daily physical activity, most newer model fitness trackers also offer sleep tracking as a standard function.

Worn while you sleep, the device records your movements and some also monitor your heart rate, providing information about the quality of your sleep cycles. The accompanying app then shows you this information from your smartphone or tablet and some programs also offer personalised sleep schedules, mobile phone reminders and tips for better sleep.

User reviews show that the accuracy of these wearable sleep trackers can be variable. But they do seem to provide a good general picture of your sleep quality. Two devices that you may like to check out are:

Garmin Vivosmart HR+
Fitbit Alta HR

Getting serious about sleep: non-wearable sleep trackers

If you don’t need the extra functionality of an activity tracker, or don’t like the thought of wearing a wristband all night, a non-wearable sleep tracker may be worth looking into.

A good example is the Emfit QS. This device was initially intended for use by athletes to optimise rest and recovery but is now more widely available as a sleep aid. It has a measuring strip with sensors that you place under your mattress. The sensors detect your movement, breathing rate and heart rate using ballistocardiography (BCG) to determine how much light, deep and REM sleep you get each night. The companion app presents this information in a range of graphs and allows you to track your sleep trends for up to 360 days, helping to identify lifestyle factors that may be impacting on the quality of your sleep.

The new generation: using tech to create an optimal sleep environment

The new generation of sleep technology takes sleep tracking to the next level by offering additional features that help to create the right conditions for falling and staying asleep.

A device that claims to get you to sleep faster and help you stay asleep is 2breathe. Based on established relaxation breathing exercises, it’s designed to counter stress and tension in your body that may be interfering with your sleep. It works by wearing a waistband sensor that’s paired with a smartphone app. The sensor detects your breathing rate and sends data, via Bluetooth, to your phone which plays soothing tones that synchronise with your breath, relaxing your mind and body.

If noise is an issue, the Nightingale Smart Home Sleep System ups the ante on traditional white noise machines. The system is managed from your smartphone and can integrate with many smart home set ups. It comprises one or two small units which intelligently analyse the sound in your bedroom and create a tailored noise cancelling effect using ‘sound blankets’. The sound blankets are acoustically tuned to the frequencies of common noises such as traffic, snoring, voices etc. masking these sound disruptions. Nightingale claims that a study conducted by Harvard Medical School showed their system helped participants fall asleep 38% faster.

The Nox Smart Sleep Light is another interesting sleep aid on the market. It produces a spectrum of coloured light which is claimed to enhance your body’s natural sleep cycle. It also plays soothing music and sounds to help you fall asleep while built in sensors monitor your bedroom’s temperature, humidity, light and noise so you can use this information to create ideal sleep conditions. The manufacturer also makes a sophisticated sleep tracker that can be paired with the Nox light, turning it off and on as needed during your sleep cycle and providing detailed information about your sleep patterns.

Definitely at the higher end of the sleep tech market is the Sleep Number 360 Smart Bed. The bed’s mattress has inbuilt sensors that track your sleep cycles. The bed uses this information to automatically adjust your sleeping position to improve your sleep comfort. It also detects snoring and will elevate your head, so you stop. Plus, it has foot warmers! Its companion app provides sophisticated sleep data and offers tips for better sleep. Each NFL player in the USA this year will receive one of these smart beds to optimise their rest and recovery.

But wait, there’s more! Coming soon…

For the second year running, CES – a leading technology conference held in the USA, has featured an entire section dedicated to advances in sleep technology. Some interesting products featured at the conference include the Kyro and Somnox.

While not yet in full commercial production, the Kryo Sleep Performance System is an app-controlled, cooling mattress topper that keeps your bed at the best temperature for a good nights sleep. Its settings are initially controlled manually via a smartphone app. You can program temperature changes for during the night while you’re asleep and set an alarm for the mattress to warm you as you wake in the morning. After you’ve used the mattress for a few weeks, the sleep tracking data that has been recorded by the mattress allows the in-built programmer to take over and it will automatically adjust the mattress temperature in response to your sleep cycles.

Currently in prototype stage, the Somnox Sleep Robot is a pillow that claims to soothe you to sleep while you spoon it. The shape of the pillow and its fabric has been designed to provide a comforting effect and it’s programmed with relaxing breathing patterns that cause the pillow to rise and fall. This rhythmic ‘breathing’ movement is said to help calm the central nervous system and induce sleep. It also plays sounds and lullabies and comes with an accompanying smartphone app so you can program your breathing pattern and sound preferences.

Somnox sleep robotSomnox Sleep Robot

The sleep technology market is huge! This is just a mere sample of the range of sleep aids that are available. If you’re having trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep you can rest assured, there’s probably a gadget out there to help. It’s just a matter of finding the right one…