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Using tech to get a good night’s rest

Most of us know about “circadian rhythms” and the “sleep cycle.” We have a basic idea of REM, and know it’s best not to wake up during a “deep sleep.” But all of this was academic. It’s not like you can watch yourself sleep. Alarm clocks have always been set for a certain time, and that time has nothing to do with how deeply you’re snoozing.

A wave of technology is helping everyday people understand their unconscious lives. Thanks to sophisticated apps, watches, and even mattresses, you can independently adjust the way your body behaves at night.

There is an entire branch of medical science called polysomnography, which helps diagnose sleep disorders, and it’s hard to say whether a free app can rival a specialist’s advice. As researchers at the University of Washington’s report entitled, “Consumer Sleep Technologies: A Review of the Landscape” put it: “These technologies have the potential to both improve and impair collective and individual sleep health depending on the method of implementation.” In other words, the jury is still out.

Nevertheless, many people believe that the right technology can positively affect sleep patterns, especially when used in a thoughtful and methodical way. Here’s some tech including apps, trackers, gadgets, and special smart mattresses that may help you catch more Z’s.

Sleep apps

Sleep apps are handy because you can download a sleep app onto your smartphone. No need for extra hardware. Sleep apps use your phone’s “accelerometer” to figure out what your body is doing. You place the phone near your body in bed. The phone will detect when you toss and turn, and it will make an educated guess about what sleep stage you’re in.

How does it work? The accelerometer is a device inside your phone that detects which way it’s oriented. Ever wonder how your phone knows which way is up? Or how that digital compass can point west? That’s all your accelerometer, and it can also determine whether your body is moving around. The app gathers data based on your movements and gives you a report at the end of each cycle.

Perhaps the most helpful feature is the alarm clock. Just set a window of time that you want to wake up, and the app will determine when you’ve entered your “lightest” sleep. Unlike an old radio clock, the alarm tones are gentle and soothing, drawing you effortlessly from your dreams.

A popular option is the Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock, because of its sensitive movement detection, its range of low-key alarms, and its easy-to-read sleep reports. Click here for more details and links to it in the Apple App or Google Play store.

Another is the Sleep Time app, which uses a similar cycle-based alarm. Sleep Time also has a catalog of “soundscapes,” which replicate the noise of a natural environment, like a beach or a rainforest, helping you to fall asleep as well as wake up. For direct links to Sleep Time in the Apple and Google store, click here for both.

Soundscapes can be helpful for people with insomnia. Some people live in noisy buildings or neighborhoods, and they need an auditory alternative to all those honking horns and slamming doors. The Relax Melodies app offers a range of subtle sounds, such as music, ambient noise, or “meditation sessions.” All of these soundscapes are designed to put the listener in a restful mood and even encourage sleep. Click here to check it out.

Next page: Fitness watches, Sleep trackers and more

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