In this blue-lit, always on era, a lot of (very sound) sleep advice is about finding ways to avoid technology around bedtime to ensure a better night’s sleep. And it’s true that sleep is increasingly impacted by most things digital. But what about technologies, inventions and innovations that can actually help us improve our sleep?
There are now apps, wearable tech such as fitness trackers, smart beds, and machines to optimise our sleep spaces by regulating sound, light, temperature and humidity. With a rise in conditions that disrupt sleep, like anxiety, obesity, sleep apnoea and shift work, we see greater uptake of CPAP machines and pharmaceuticals.
So which of these show real life promise for better sleep in our technology age? We started by asking our team about the apps or devices helping them take the nightly journey to the land of nod.
Lauren's pick: Headspace app:
I really like Headspace because it helps me sleep and put my mind to rest, particularly if I've had a stressful or busy day at work. It's not just about breathing, it's also about managing thoughts and it's really relaxing. Plus it has nice voices!
One of its best features is the sheer range of meditation options. You can choose to focus on sleep, stress, creativity, productivity etc. And you can also pick how long you want to do it for e.g. 5 mins, 10 mins, or longer. It starts out quite basic and builds over time in a sequence.
It supports me to get better sleep by relaxing my mind. It takes my mind off things when I overthink, and relaxes me through breathing and connecting the mind to the body. The FREE version is great too. Or you can subscribe to get more meditations.
Anna loves: Sleep Cycle
Sleep Cycle has a lovely interface and design (very important to me as a designer!). Its journal feature lets you compare nights and rates each night’s sleep on time asleep and time in deep sleep. You can set a wake-up phase, which will choose when to wake you, within a range of the time you’d like to wake up. This eliminates wake-up shock – the worst way to be woken up.
The best feature is a Sleep Aid with meditation guides, sound landscapes like babbling brooks, ocean, rain on a car roof (obscure!) and white noise, which is a bonus feature when you're putting a baby to sleep and there’s a bit of background noise or a new location. I have used this feature MANY times.
I use it to support healthy habits, by keeping track of sleep hours I am reminded that good sleep isn’t just time in bed, it’s time in sleep. It synchronises with Philips Hue lights which create ambient lighting such as a sun rising or setting to further support your circadian rhythm. And did I mention it’s FREE?
Gareth says: Smiling Mind
The only one I’ve ever tried is Smiling Mind, which is a not-for-profit Australian-based mindfulness app. I actually only downloaded it for my 13-year-old when his Japanese teacher recommended he’d benefit from using Calm (another meditation app), which she uses in class.
Developed by psychologists and educators, Smiling Mind has daily meditation and mindfulness exercises you can access from a mobile of computer. And it offers specific programmes for adults, kids, schools and workplaces. The app suggests starting with just 10 minutes a day – which is doable. The best thing is it’s free since they are a non-profit.
Kate's must-have: Fitbit Charge 4
I’d never worn a smartwatch or Fitbit until recently – when I bought this for walking the Milford Track. But I’m now getting to know its sleep related functions too. The first one I started using is a very basic relaxation breathing exercise. You simply match your breathing to expanding and contracting rings on the screen. It’s a good quick unwind.
My Fitbit device automatically tracks my sleep across the stages (light, deep, and REM) as well as monitoring my sleep patterns (time spent sleeping, restless and awake). I’ve used it to set sleep goals. The only problem is, because I’m often a side sleeper, it can be uncomfortable to wear it at night. Another good reason to build my back sleeping habit with the Back Sleep Pillow I guess.
Honourable mentions go to the Calm app – mainly because you can have Stephen Fry or Matthew McConaughey read you a Sleep Story – and the ‘Sleep with Me’ podcast, which tells bedtime stories that get progressively more monotone till you drift off.
But Steph prefers: to go tech-free at bedtime
I don’t use a sleep app or wearable tech to help me sleep. Instead, I prefer to consistently follow a supportive sleep ritual that helps me wind down and cues my body and mind that it’s time to sleep.
Instead of technology, I’ve invested in making my bedroom a sleep sanctuary, with a great, supportive mattress, natural bedding and my Hyoumankind pillow with a pure silk pillowcase.
Dear reader, do you have a piece of technology that supports your sleep? We’d love to hear about it.