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Mobile devices cure sleep deprivation

By Brian S Hall / March 21, 2014


Can mobile devices cure sleep deprivation

Despite Arianna Huffington’s insistence that smartphones and other backlit devices should be banned from the bedroom, technology may actually hold the key to a good night’s sleep. A quick search of any app store will reveal dozens of programs dedicated to helping you rest your weary eyes at the end of the day. Add wearables—and maybe a little melatonin—to the mix, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for an undisturbed slumber.

The cost of insomnia

Many of us have a difficult time falling asleep, staying asleep, and, not waking up fully refreshed. Approximately one-third of American teens and adults suffer from insomnia (nearly 100 million people), a tenth which qualify as chronic insomnia—cases lasting at least three nights a week for a month or longer.

A Huffington Post review of insomnia reveals this malady costs the nation tens of billions of dollars every year in treatments and lost productivity and wages from an underslept workforce. Even more troubling, fatigue-related auto accidents cost $2 billion and countless lives each year.

Insomnia has been shown to contribute to depression, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and early death, in case you weren’t already incentivized to seek a solution. Given such staggering numbers, it’s not surprising there are so many apps out there that promise users a good night’s sleep.

Do they work? For some, yes, though the number and kind of apps clearly suggests that users may need to combine the right sleep app with other treatments and medications to maximize effectiveness.

Apps for better naps (and sleep)

There are literally, hundreds of apps that exist to help you get to sleep, stay asleep, track your sleep, focus your mind, drown out noise and numerous other functions that improve your REM cycle. Whether you’re an iPhone owner, Android user or even a Windows consumer, sleep assistance is one of the most covered territories in your respective app store. No doubt many of them offer some relief, though choosing the right apps can be tricky.

Healthline.com made life a little easier for us by ranking The 15 Best Sleep Apps of 2013. Taking top honors was Sleep Cycle, “a bio-alarm clock that analyzes your sleep patterns and wakes you when you are in the lightest sleep phase.” You set the app to wake you within a 90-minute window. For example, if you have to get up by 7am, Sleep Cycle will wake you sometime between 5:30 – 7am when you are in the lightest phase of your sleep cycle.

The “bio-alarm clock” description comes from its use of motion sensors in your iPhone to track your movements during sleep. It estimates what stage of sleep you’re in according to how much you’re moving around on your mattress. Thus, one morning it might wake you at 6:45, another at 6:10. It all depends on when you start to sleep twitch. Waking up during your light sleep cycle leads to feeling more refreshed and healthier. Sleep as Android is a similar solution with one significant difference, it’s free.

If Sleep Cycle doesn’t do the trick, you may also want to consider Sleep Genius, which combines a sleep cycle alarm clock function with “neurosensory algorithms,” which are essentially sound patterns based on scientific research that aid the brain’s sleep centers. The app’s developers claim the algorithms were designed in concert with NASA to help astronauts sleep better. Rather than monitoring your movements, Sleep Genius listens in on your noises. Whether you’re a snorer or a sleep talker, Sleep Genius knows when to wake you. It’s relatively pricey, running $8 for all the sound packs, but the 4.5 star rating on iTunes would suggest it’s worth the price.

While Sleep Genius gently wakes you up by listening for noises, apps like Binaural Sleep Beats ease users into hibernation with “scientifically proven frequencies.” These notes and tones help induce a better overall sleep, a refreshing power nap or just quiet down the voices in your head. For a less scientific approach, there are plenty of apps that offer ambient sounds like thunderstorms, a whirring fan or a tranquil waterfall across all app stores. Better yet, many of them are free.

Apps that teach mindful meditation or use hypnotherapies to promote better sleep habits are also plentiful. One such highly regarded app is Insomnia Cure – Sleep Now. The app includes several hours of breathing and meditative content by Max Kirsten, a clinical hypnotherapist. Insomnia Cure – Sleep Now also provides soothing sounds to help those struggling with extreme stress and insomnia. Deep Sleep with Andrew Johnson is another popular hypnosis app for Android that guides users to silence their minds and fall asleep.

The Sandman’s heavy artillery

With most sleep apps typically costing between zero and ten dollars, how would you feel about dropping $100 for one? That’s the current retail price for the SleepRate system. To be fair, SleepRate is a lot more than a mobile app. It’s a hardware/software combination including a Polar heart monitor and an in-home sleep program based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBTI), considered the “gold standard” for successful sleep therapy.

It works like this: sleep with the required Polar heart monitor strapped on your chest and the app running for five consecutive nights. Allow the smartphone mic to simultaneously record the sounds rumbling around your room. When you wake up, record your thoughts about your sleep, alertness and related issues using the self-guided CBTI therapies. All this information is used to create a personalized sleep plan. And if you’re losing sleep over the $100 price tag, the company promises a money-back guarantee.

The Withings Aura package is an equally thorough solution that combines an app, sleep sensor, and a standalone bedside lighting device. The sleep sensor is placed under your mattress and monitors your movements throughout the night. The app serves as a sleep cycle alarm as well as a repository of your sleeping habits.

But the real marquee component of the Aura package is the bedside device, which uses “scientifically validated light and sound” to ease you in and out of sleep each evening and morning through aural stimulation that reportedly enhances melatonin production. Unfortunately for restless sleepers, the Aura system is still a month or two from its bedside debut, but that’s just more time to save up for this $299 product.

Wearables for the restless

The Fitbit Flex, and similar wristband activity trackers, have already brought sleep monitoring to the mainstream. Their non-intrusive data-collection methods and visually appealing charts have shined a night light on the all-too-common problem of sleep deprivation. As more people try to quantify their sleeping patterns, more companies are experimenting with the technology.

The Pebble smartwatch, for example, includes a sleep cycle alarm that uses gentle vibrations to wake the wearer. If you’re on the market for something a little cheaper and more discreet, you may wish to consider the Jawbone UP. Much like the Pebble, the UP contains a sleep cycle alarm and the ability to “intelligently track” how many hours a person slept, their various waking moments and the depth of their slumber. This data can prove especially useful for those considering CBIT or other treatments.

The new Sony SmartBand offers similar features, plus a Lifelog app that tracks the wearer’s physical activity, length of time spent at various locations and time spent on specific tasks, like sleeping. Having this data readily available may provide the wearer with a fuller understanding of any triggers that might deter their rest.

Whether you spring for Withing’s $299 solution or you settle for a free white noise generator, insomniacs can breath a sigh of relief. A good night’s sleep is on its way, and it’s all thanks to technology.


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