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Sleep Tech: The Cutting-Edge Electronics That Do Not Keep You Awake

Posted April 12, 2017

More than one third of American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis and undermine their health as a result. Much of the blame these days is placed on our near incessant connectedness and its facilitator: technology.

“As a nation we are not getting enough sleep,” said Wayne Giles, director of CDC’s Division of Population Health. “Lifestyle changes such as going to bed at the same time each night; rising at the same time each morning; and turning off or removing televisions, computers, mobile devices from the bedroom, can help people get the healthy sleep they need.”

In addition to technology intruding on our sleep rhythms, which tends to affect people under 60, a factor that leads to the increased demand for sleep aids is the growth of the older adult population. As a group, older adults tend to suffer more from secondary insomnia—trouble sleeping caused by other older age-correlated diseases and ailments, as well as from the side effects caused by the medications to treat them.

Spending the night in an unfamiliar bed? Chances are, you won’t be sleeping nearly as well as the woman pictured above. It’s our ancient brains’ tendency to remain half-alert in a strange setting during the night we have to thank for this delightful phenomenon. Image credit: Aweisenfels via, CC BY-SA 4.0.

The good news is, as inventors and manufacturers keep increasingly demonstrating, turning on some electronic devices can also lead to restful slumber. According to a 2015 market report by Persistence Market Research, the global sleep market is projected to be worth $80.8 billion by the year 2020. The researchers note that in addition to rising demand for sleep apnea (CPAP) machines, comfortable mattresses, prescription sleep aids, and home sleep test kits, the sales of wearable monitors and passive off-body sensors also spiked.

Nothing serves as a more useful catalogue of the skyrocketing interest in the rest-promoting side of tech than this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, the largest gathering of tech innovation in the world that is put on annually by the Consumer Technology Association in Las Vegas. This year’s show, attended by a city’s worth number of people (over 184 thousand), for the first time featured an exhibit devoted entirely to sleep technology.

The innovations that vie for the share of the fast-growing market range from sleep tracking apps, through smart mattresses and pillows that purport to stop people from snoring, to wearable rings that do not just track sleep but also help improve it, to an alarm clock that releases the scent of freshly baked buttered croissants.

Here are some highlights from the world of sleep tech:

• Sleep 360 by Select Comfort. The product integrates sleep trackers with their signature air bed. Sensing how you are sleeping, the mattress automatically adjusts firmness. Savvy to a key issue when it comes to falling asleep and waking up—thermoregulation—the bed pre-warms each side in the feet area. It hears your partner’s snoring—ideally before you do—and gently elevates his pillow in order to disrupt it before it disrupts your sleep. It provides you with the pertinent sleep biometrics in the morning. Cost: Starts at $2,500.

• 2breathe. Sleep trackers have been on the market for several years now, at the very least in smart phone app form, and there is limited but encouraging data indicating that they help people get more sleep. The latest trend is that they are getting smarter: they no longer merely monitor various sleep markers—they also analyze the data and use it in real time to help you reach deep slumber. 2breathe is a much-praised example of this trend. The device straps around the waist in order to closely monitor your sleep and send that information to an Apple app. Depending on your breathing, it can play certain tones via the app to help you fall asleep. Upon sensing that you’ve fallen asleep, it shuts off the sound feed. In the morning, you get a report on how you did. Cost: $180.

• ZEEQ. The sleep pillow is “an active participant in your sleep,” according to its creators who successfully funded it through Kickstarter, Warrick Bell and Miguel Marrero. There is a good reason why the pillow has been called “the Swiss Army knife of bedding:” in addition to comfort, it plays the music to which you like to fall asleep, monitors snoring, sounds the “snore alarm” if you do snore, analyzes your sleep, and wakes you up at an optimal moment in your sleep cycle. Cost: The eventual retail price will be set at $299.

• Sensorwake. We’ve gotten used to alarm clocks that play our favorite tunes or progressively brighten the room with colored sunrise simulation. Sensorwake introduces a new sensation, perceivable by a different sense, to the waking process: the smell. The olfactory alarm clock works by releasing fresh scents that some of us associate with the morning. The scent palette includes freshly baked croissants, espresso, vanilla toast, chocolate, the seaside, peppermint, and grass. The scent is released progressively over two minutes. Each recyclable scent capsule lasts for 30 awakenings. If allergies are an issue, you can rest assured that the device complies with the highest air quality standards (REACH-, CARB-, and IRFA-certified). Cost: $99.

• Mindfulness meditation apps. There is increasing scientific reason to not underestimate the power of meditation when it comes to sleep. The deceptively simple calming practice has been demonstrated to help induce slumber and help people stay asleep—along with rewiring brains, diminishing fatigue, anxiety, and even repairing people’s genes. Mindfulness is so powerful because, at its most basic level, is about the practice of detachment from disturbing thoughts or emotions, which are the enemies of sleep. A 2015 clinical trial showed that mindfulness meditation sessions were more effective at helping people get to sleep than classes in how to fight insomnia. There’s an app for that, of course—many apps, popping up constantly. Check out the free audio and apps at MIT Medical and UC Berkeley Greater Good in Action as well as the free (with in-app purchase options) Digipill: Sleep, Meditation, and Mindfulness and Relax & Sleep Well by Glenn Harrold: Relaxation, Self-Hypnosis, Mindfulness, Meditation: Cost: Mostly free, some in-app purchases.

Written by Agnes Green, a researcher for the sleep science hub

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