Getting enough and better sleep seems to be a hot topic. After my last blog post 'How To Turn Your Bedroom Into A Sleep Sanctuary' I received some emails with requests for more tips about gadgets and apps that could help improve sleep. This is an area I’m really interested in so I couldn’t resist to share more.
The sleep-aid market is growing and is expected to reach USD 76 bn in 2019 (BCC Research, July 2014). According to this Time Out article, Hong Kongers on average only get 6.46 hours sleep a day and 2.8 million of us suffer from insomnia. In America, the Center for Disease Control called their sleep problems a public health epidemic: Billions of dollars lost in economic productivity, fatal accidents caused by sleep deprivation, links to the obesity crisis and the rise in sleep apnea. Sleep is crucial for your memory, learning performance, recovery and overall health. We spend more time sleeping than we do eating and exercising combined.
So apart from turning your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary, what else can you do to improve your sleep? A lot of companies are rushing to innovate, creating gadgets and apps to gain a share of the lucrative sleep aid market. So now there are more choices than ever for sleep tools, gadgets and apps. Below are some of my favorites.
I am a bit of a geek when it comes to tracking my own medical data. I think everybody should take this area of their life much more seriously and be responsible for the control of their health data. If you have trouble falling asleep or suffer from sleep apnea it's worth trying to get to the bottom of what's the cause for this. Careful self-experimentation can be more successful than running from doctor to doctor with limited information. The problem is that unlike tracking steps and exercise, measuring sleep is a bit trickier. And while collecting sleep data sounds amazing, figuring out what it all means can still be quite difficult.
A good sleep tracker should track your REM sleep cycle, which is vital in determining your sleep quality. REM sleep is the stage in which you dream and sleep deepest. To do this, you need an EEG (electroencephalogram – a test that detects electrical activity in your brain) but the only company that offered this went out of business, the Zeo Sleep Manager. Your next best option is to measure your heart rate. So sleep tracking with just your phone is not accurate.
Until there is a new home sleep monitoring device on the market, your only choice to get a high level of accuracy is measuring your sleep at a sleep centre. Laboratory based clinical sleep tracking is still the gold standard. It's known as a polysomnography (PSG). In a great piece for the Huffington Post Dr. Christopher Winter, a sleep and neurology specialist, underwent a PSG while testing 5 different sleep trackers worn at the same time. From a limited test, he was unable to select a winning device, but did highlight the effectiveness and trustworthiness of each of the options.
1. Basis, this watch measures sleep duration and REM sleep. It tracks tosses and turns and provides you with a sleep score to help you understand your sleep patterns over time. It also tracks calories burned, steps, heart rate, perspiration, skin temperature. The Basis helps you stay connected by displaying text, emails, and phone calls. According to Dr. Winter's test it was more accurate than other trackers. The Basis Peak costs USD 299.99.
2. Misfit Shine, probably the most stylish wearable fitness tracker. It's a small metal waterproof disc which detects deep and light sleep and has a four month battery life. Like the other devices it also tracks steps, calories and distance. The Misfit Shine costs USD 69.99.
3. Fitbit & Jawbone: The leaders in fitness tracking developed a software platform which allows 3rd party hardware integration. Currently their most advanced and accurate models are the Jawbone UP3 and the Fitbit ChargeHR. You can find a great review of the company's two top models here and in Hong Kong they are available at Broadway. The UP3 costs HKD 1,699 and the Fitbit Charge HR is HKD 1,398.
4. Sense, a sleep monitoring device that not only tracks your sleep but also monitors the environment in your bedroom. It takes this data to help you get a better night's sleep. So if you sleep poorly at 3 a.m., it can tell you that this was because of outside noise or light. Sense also offers a smart alarm that wakes you up in a light sleep phase so that you feel less groggy. It's not a wearable but a beautiful sphere that you place on your night desk. It’s available for USD 129.
5. ResMed S+ is a contactless sleep sensor that measures in-bed movement at your bedside. It tracks your breathing, ambient light, noise and temperature like the Sense. It can also play soothing sounds that are synchronized to your breathing to help you sleep quicker. It gives you advice on what to fix for a better night's sleep. It currently costs USD 99.99.
6. neuro:on, the sleep coach smart eye mask. It's only for pre-order (USD 299) at the moment but will become available by the end of the year. The mask will be more accurate than other trackers. It measures sleep waves, eye movement, muscle tension, heart rate and blood saturation. It also offers a sleep phase-correlated alarm and even offers jet lag therapy, telling you when to seek and avoid light.
Other Tools & gadgets
7. Sleepio, is an online Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy program clinically proven to help you sleep well. It helps you build a sleep improvement program and works with Jawbone's UP and Fitbit. After testing your sleep a virtual sleep expert helps you develop and maintain proven sleep improvement techniques. There are weekly, quarterly and yearly plans starting at GBP 7.99 per week.
8. For your Nose: Breathing properly can help you sleep. A nasal strip for example allows air to move through your nasal passages slower. Fast-moving air is more likely to produce snoring. Neti pots for saltwater rinsing are also a great way to open nasal passages - it's especially good after long flights. Rather than the traditional ones I prefer the Nasopure version. Also check out the universal breathing (Pranayama) app. It's a simple guide to slow, meditative breathing based on the principles of yoga.
9. Travel humidifier: A great travel humidification system is the Boneco Travel Ultrasonic Humidifier. In HK we use dehumidifiers but have you ever been to a hotel room in Beijing? In winter the air in the room is so dry that every time you touch something you get an electric shock. Not fun. A great way to help you sleep better and moisten the air is the Travel Ultrasonic. It works with any standard water bottle and emits a micro-fine cool mist. It retails at USD 49.99.
10. Clocky might not be for everyone. The alarm clock actually runs away and forces you to get up to turn it off. Available for USD 39.99.
11. Wake by Lucera Labs is another new alarm clock that uses a focused beam of light and sound to wake up each person in bed individually. It also simulates the sunrise, and you can control it by your mobile. It's currently only available for pre-order (USD 249).
12. Mediation: Headspace or Calm are the two leading guided meditation apps. Meditation can help you unwind and relax before going to bed. It slows down your brain activity. Mindfulness-based sleep meditation has been proven to help people go to sleep more quickly and experience longer REM sleep.
13. Sleep Tracking: If you do not want to splurge any money on sleep trackers and don't mind a bit of inaccuracy, you should go for the free app Sleepbot. It tracks your sleep by movement and sound and also offers a smart alarm.
14. Sleep Genius, is a popular app that will help you fall asleep faster. It's proven to work and offers relaxation, power nap programs and personalized sleep reporting. It goes against the premise that you should ban all electronic devices from your bedroom though. Unless you use flux you should ideally not look at a screen before bedtime to mess up your body's Melatonin levels.
15. White Noise: In my previous blog post I mentioned white noise machines. There are also white noise apps. The most popular one is by TMSOFT. Or you can also make your own using your mobile phone and mix a custom sleep sound track. You can find lots of nature sounds here and this website features a large open-source sound library with over one million downloadable clips.
The go-to natural sleep supplements have fewer side effects and less residual drowsiness.
- Melatonin: The sleep hormone that builds up in the body when it's getting dark. From August on there will even be a sprayable version by the guys that brought us the world's first topical energy spray.
- Chamomile: Apparently has active sedative properties although there is not enough human clinical trial data to yet proof this claim.
- Lemon balm tea: As part of the mint family it also has a sedative effect.
- Valerian Root: Has proven sedative effects.
As you can tell, I love my gadgets, but don't forget that before you go on a buying spree for sleep trackers you should follow the tips outlined in my previous blog post. Creating a healthy sleep environment is by far the most important step you can take for your health.
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