Waking up on Sunday morning to find that an hour of your day has vanished is no big deal. It’s the lost hour of sleep each morning for the rest of the week that hurts, at least until your body adjusts.
But guess what—there’s an app for that! Or rather, some cool gadgets that aim to give you the best night’s sleep ever.
Ironically, it’s often tech products keeping us from our much-needed rest, said sleep technologist Marietta Bibbs. From iPads to baby monitors, these devices make sure we’re constantly alert and connected. With 36 years in the sleep business, Bibbs said, she’s seen emphasis on a good night’s sleep dwindle as people increasingly work from wherever they are, emailing and texting from the pillow.
“We’re taking all these things to bed with us, and we aren’t taking sleep as seriously,” she said. But technology can work for us, too—by helping us understand our resting patterns and working with them.
They’re watching you sleep—but not in a creepy way
Wrist-worn health monitors have been all the rage of late. If you can get it to stay on all night, the Fitbit ($100–$250) can tell you how long you slept and how much of that time was spent tossing and turning. Bibb uses a similar device by Weight Watchers, ActiveLink, which sells for about $60. She’s a skeptic of their effectiveness in promoting efficient sleep, but said they do help in diagnosing sleep disorders.
Way cooler, though, is Sense, a futuristic-looking (and slightly eerie) sphere that sits on your bedside table and not only monitors your sleep patterns but also tracks everything that goes on around your slumber: light, temperature, even bumps in the night.
It’s wirelessly connected to the Sleep Pill, which attaches to your pillow. Together they track changes in ambient light, humidity, and room temperature; any sounds; and how much you move. The system also assesses particulate matter like pollen and dust in the air—vital to us allergy sufferers. If a mosquito kept you awake, you’d know what time it came in, how much noise it made, and when it bit you. All the collected data are displayed on your smartphone.
You can also check out your sleep environment, and make adjustments, before you get in bed—Sense turns green when conditions are ideal and red if the room is too light or warm.
The system’s Smart Alarm feature tracks your sleep cycle. Within a half-hour window of your chosen wake time, it finds the moment when you are likely in the lightest part of sleep, then plays one of 10 sounds. The system sells for $129.
And alarm clock designers said: Let there be light
In the old days, Bibbs said, we humans used to go to bed when the sun went down and wake with the dawn. Breaking that pattern was the first step on the road to bad sleep. Psychologist Shelby Harris, who runs the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at New York’s Montefiore Medical Center, said the only products she’s found to alter that dynamic are lights that allow for gentle waking.
“I have them buy a dawn simulator,” Harris said. “Some people find it very helpful.”
The Philips HF3500/60 Wake-Up Light is one such simulator. The yellow bedside lamp slowly starts to illuminate prior to your desired wake time, reaching peak brightness when it’s time to get out of bed. It also emits a soft beep—much more pleasant than drive-time radio snapping on at 6 a.m.! The device has 10 adjustable settings and rave reviews on Amazon, where it sells for about $70.
Another version of the light-up alarm clock comes from Withings Aura. This $300 system pairs a bedside lamp with an under-mattress motion-sensing pad to both monitor your sleep and actually help induce better sleep. The system monitors and reports ambient sound, light, and temperature. The pad tracks your heart rate and breathing cycles. Like the Sense, it has a smart-alarm system that wakes you at the best time within an adjustable window. The Withings Aura version uses blue spectrum light that inhibits your body’s output of melatonin (the chemical responsible for proper sleep patterns) to help you wake up (and employs its opposite, red spectrum light, at bedtime).
Mattress covers get smart, but the best sleep aid is low-tech
The 21st century hasn’t yet come through on its promise of flying cars, but we now have smart bedding. It’s a distant second, but we’ll take it.
The Luna mattress cover tracks breathing, heart rate, and sleep cycle, but rather than merely record the temperature, it adjusts it. The dual-zone control allows sleeping partners to individually set their side’s snuggle factor. It can be autoprogrammed, so you never have to climb into a cold bed again, and it features a smart alarm, too. The first Luna mattress covers (queen size, $199; king, about $220) are headed for the production line this spring and should be available by summer.
Somewhere, someone is almost certainly toiling over smart pajamas, but for now let’s say we’ve done all we can to transform our sad, sad bedroom of yesteryear into a proper ultramodern sleep space. Yet somehow that lost daylight saving time hour still haunts us. Science has the answer, but it’s sadly boring. Both Bibbs and Harris recommend simply going to bed an hour earlier.
The less interactive and thought-provoking your sleep aids are, the better, Harris said. “People start to obsess about, ‘Oh, I had this much deep sleep or this much light sleep,’ but it’s not really that accurate,” she said. “I actually recommend that people unplug.”