Can technology help improve your sleep?

Thursday, April 02, 2020

We’re always hearing of the latest tech in fitness – from wearables monitoring your steps or heart rate to those that track your cycling and running routes, but what about sleep? How much is there in the technology market when it comes to your head hitting the pillow?

With April being Stress Awareness Month, we’re exploring just how important sleep is for your stress levels and overall health; and how the latest in sleep technology could potentially support this.

The importance of sleep

According to the NHS “One in three of us suffers from poor sleep, with stress, computers and taking work home often blamed”. The effects of sleep deprivation can be vast and can lead to poor physical health – more than just the bad mood and lack of motivation that’s commonly thought of when someone says they’re tired.

If you’re regularly failing to get the recommended 8 hours of sleep at night, then it puts you at risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes, and worryingly, shortens life expectancy.

Effects of lack of sleep

You know if you’ve not had enough sleep as the next day you feel it – fatigue, short-tempered, unable to focus, irritable and counting down the hours until you can go to bed. However, when it’s several nights that you’ve been unable to get some rest, the effects on your mental health can become more serious.

Your risk of injury increases at work and at home, you can’t concentrate and can start to feel like your mindset is suffering; leading to an overall low mood.

Web MD reinforces this, they say: “Chronic lack of sleep can also raise the chance of having a mood disorder. One large study showed that when you have insomnia, you're five times more likely to develop depression and your odds of anxiety or panic disorders are even greater.”

>>Read more on why sleep is bad for your health on the NHS’ website

What technology is available to help improve your sleep?

Global Market Insights predict that the sleep tech business is going to be a $27 billion industry by 2025; even though it’s an area said to be neglected in terms of people realising they need to be receiving treatment or help for it. But what devices are there on the market, said to assist us in getting some shut-eye?

Sleep trackers

Offering insights into your sleep stages and quality of sleep, sleep trackers can help provide clarity on what area needs to be improved in order to get a better night’s sleep. Some devices can go a step further and do all the analysing for you, crunching the numbers to provide a condensed reading (sleep score) which can then be explored.

Ranging from wearables on your wrist to a device that fits on your mattress or under your pillow, the results can provide a steer for doctors. The chair of the technology committee of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Dr. Khosla, advises that “while not clinically credible, [sleep scores] can be useful conversation starters” and will use the data as a way to dig deeper into the sleep habits of the patient.

Bedside monitors

Sitting on your bedside table, these monitors also provide you with a sleep score but calculate it by using sonar waves to monitor your chest movement and breathing patterns.

The results feed into your sleep score which is available via the device’s app. Also fed into this are stress levels, the amount of caffeine the user’s had that day and how much exercise has been done; amongst other factors.

Sound machines

The most common of sound machines are those that send out white noise. The idea is to block out any background noise by “creating a constant ambient sound to mask activity from inside and outside the house” says the Sleep Foundation.

If you’ve already got a smart speaker in your home then you don’t need to buy an additional device. Ask your smart speaker to “help me relax” then most will play white noise until you tell it to stop; you can also ask it to play a whale song or rainfall – whatever sounds soothe you into relaxation.

And, if you don’t have a smart speaker, then just use a streaming service to play your sound of choice or a white-noise playlist.

Oil diffusers

The National Sleep Foundation explains that “certain essential oils, or highly concentrated versions of natural oils found in plants, have been shown to help improve sleep quality.” Dropping these oils into an oil diffuser can help aid sleep for a relatively low cost, and with the added bonus of making your home smell like a relaxing spa.

Three essential oils are said to be best for inducing a calm sleep:

  • Lavender – associated with lowering blood pressure, heart rate and temperature; it also can help reduce anxiety levels.
  • Valerian – commonly used for insomnia, this can often be found in bedtime herbal teas and helps you fall into a restful sleep.
  • Bergamot – a citrus fruit, native to Italy, in an oil form it’s said to signal to your system that it’s time to sleep. It can lower your heart rate and blood pressure, as well as like lavender, reduce anxiety and stress.

If sleep is seriously affecting your health then always seek medical advice. What works for one person may not work for another but there’s a whole host of tech currently available for all budgets, with devices constantly evolving.

There are also plenty of top tips from Sleep Foundation to help you naturally get a good night’s sleep – from sticking to a schedule to winding down from all devices and work at least an hour before bed.

>>Read more topics to help your health and wellbeing

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