A Good report investigates the booming sleep industry and the products available on the marked that are designed to improve sleep.
Consumers have bought into this novel industry rapidly and greedily. A study released this year by the Consumer Electronics Association and the National Sleep Foundation reveals that 22 percent of adult respondents (largely but not overwhelmingly young and male) use some kind of sleep technology. Yet the study found that sleep-tech users weren’t, as a collective, getting more sleep than nonusers (they’re averaging 6.5 hours a night), that consistent usage of tech was infrequent, and that a quarter of all tech owners weren’t sure of how to use their devices or what these tools could actually do for their sleep. People, in short, desperately want to use sleep technologies, but it’s difficult to determine which tech, if any, can really help them and how. It’s hard to give advice on the matter, given how subjective and personal sleep is (genetics play a huge role in how sleep-prone we are and what sort of aids we might need). But it is possible, based on accepted sleep science doctrine and the initial findings of surveys like the one by the CEA and NSF, to suggest at least a few types of technologies and systems that will likely be more universally effective and useful than others.
Right off the bat, it’s safe to say that many of the most common and accessible sleep tech—cellphone-based apps often paired with multipurpose fitness-monitoring wristbands that promise to track the quality of your sleep—are probably not the best idea. Any sleep scientist will tell you that one of the biggest problems facing Americans today is our addiction to using gadgets right before bed. The blue light emitted by screens restrains the production of melatonin, the hormone behind our sleep cycle, and puts our mind into wakeful overdrive rather than a gradual slowdown, making it harder to fall and stay asleep. Over half of us use our phones just before falling asleep (more watch TV before bed). But even just sleeping with phones beside us, as the vast majority of young people do, can damage sleep by waking us with beeps and flashing lights, or even just inspiring us to check our devices when we wake up in the middle of the night. Add to this the fact that wristbands are notoriously unreliable (as I’ve argued before on this site), and the fact that most provide data with little contextualization or advice, and you’d probably be better off just removing all the electronics from your room at least 30 minutes before closing your eyes. The CEA/NSF study released this year backs this up, suggesting that technologies that just track your sleep (including but not limited to wristbands and apps), especially when used sporadically, are the lowest-impact, least useful sleep technologies on the market.