GET­TING BET­TER SLEEP THROUGH TECH­NOL­OGY

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Hayley Tsukayama

James Proud is a man on a mis­sion to fix our sleep. This one-time re­cip­i­ent of Peter Thiel’s “skip-col­lege-and-build-things-in­stead” fel­low­ship is con­vinced that build­ing gad­gets for the home is the best way to im­prove our lives through tech. And im­prov­ing sleep, he’s sure, is the place to start.

His com­pany, Hello, makes the Sense, a glow­ing orb that pairs with a clip that you at­tach to your pil­low and con­nects with a phone app. The sys­tem mon­i­tors the con­di­tions in your bed­room and charts them so that, over time, you get a bet­ter han­dle on what helps you im­prove your sleep.

Proud’s sleep tracker is one of the lat­est de­vices to tackle what the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion has de­clared a “public health prob­lem”: in­suf­fi­cient sleep. Oth­ers have got­ten into the act, in­clud­ing Fit­bit, Ap­ple and its “bed­time” fea­ture, and many other apps. The de­sire for us to get bet­ter sleep is so great that sleep tech even has its own sec­tion at the tech in­dus­try’s CES trade show this year, for the first time in the show’s 25-year his­tory.

But Proud en­vi­sions some­thing dif­fer­ent for Hello.

“When look­ing at all of the wear­ables, we saw that peo­ple were fas­ci­nated with their sleep. But for all of these wear­able de­vices, it was tacked on,” he said. “So we said, let’s fo­cus on that foun­da­tion. We have to go fur­ther than what you would do with a wear­able de­vice, and find out what’s go­ing on in the room.”

Sense gives you more in­for­ma­tion than just the num­ber of hours you spend in bed. Be­sides track­ing your room’s con­di­tions, the orb half of the sys­tem dou­bles as a white noise ma­chine and glow­ing alarm clock. The lat­est model can even take voice com­mands that will let you con­trol the smart lights in your bed­room or lower the ther­mo­stat.

I de­cided to try out Proud’s tracker, with the hopes of fi­nally wav­ing good­bye to the bags un­der my eyes.

It’s been work­ing for me, to vary­ing de­grees. I’ve used sleep­ing apps be­fore, which re­quire you to have your smart­phone on or near your bed as you sleep — di­rectly con­tra­dict­ing the con­ven­tional wis­dom that you shouldn’t have screens in bed. With Sense, I like that I can set up my alarms and white noise from the app on my phone be­fore I sleep, and then leave my phone out­side the bed­room. Plus, hav­ing a sen­sor clipped to my pil­low means I don’t have to wear a wrist­band or head­band to bed, which keeps sleep-track­ing from be­ing un­com­fort­able.

Sense also helped me fig­ure out the tem­per­a­ture that helps me drift off in peace. Our bed­room was al­ways a lit­tle too hot. But Sense ex­plained that open­ing my win­dows wasn’t help­ing be­cause it raised the room’s hu­mid­ity and wors­ened its air qual­ity. Through trial and er­ror, I found that switch­ing on a fan in the room at least a half hour be­fore I hit the hay is a bet­ter al­ter­na­tive.

The sen­sor doesn’t al­ways pick up ev­ery­thing ac­cu­rately, how­ever, though it has im­proved over time — pos­si­bly in part be­cause Sense lets you cor­rect data you think is wrong. Still, just see­ing the in­for­ma­tion about my bed­time habits helped me change for the bet­ter. For ex­am­ple, I didn’t re­al­ize how of­ten I was ly­ing awake in bed — or lin­ger­ing in the morn­ing — un­til I started look­ing at the Sense data. While I thought I was only loi­ter­ing in bed a day or two a week, it was ac­tu­ally much more of a habit than I thought it was.

Sim­i­larly, I of­ten thought I was only cheat­ing on my un­of­fi­cial bed­time a night or two a week, but it was four nights a week, a.k.a. most days. Now I’ve moved my tar­get for bed­time back a half hour and the over­all qual­ity of my sleep has gone up. I also found I went to bed later on Sun­days, which al­ways made Mon­day morn­ing hit me like a ton of bricks.

Other changes have been a lit­tle more sub­tle. Sense tells you, for ex­am­ple, when you move around a lot in your sleep. Armed with that in­for­ma­tion, I started try­ing to fig­ure out what made me rest­less, and man­aged to draw some con­clu­sions by ob­serv­ing my own be­hav­ior. Eat­ing too close to bed­time makes me more rest­less, as does not giv­ing my­self at least a half hour to spin down from the day. Sense tries to help make those finer con­clu­sions as well, for ex­am­ple, sug­gest­ing about what time I should stop drink­ing caf­feine at night.

Sense also pro­vides what it calls a rel­a­tive met­ric — telling in­di­vid­u­als how they rank among their peers — to en­cour­age peo­ple to change their habits, said Matt Walker, a sleep re­searcher and Hello’s chief sci­ence of­fi­cer. I per­son­ally didn’t find know­ing, for ex­am­ple, that I woke up at a more con­sis­tent time than 68 per­cent of other peo­ple that mo­ti­vat­ing. But Walker said that telling users how they’re sleep­ing as com­pared with other (anonymized) users is the best way to change habits. Maybe if I were less con­sis­tent than 68 per­cent of peo­ple, I would feel dif­fer­ently.

Of the “in­ter­net of things” I’ve tried to fold into my daily life so far, Sense has done the best job of con­vinc­ing me of its worth. It hasn’t com­pletely fixed my sleep, and I won’t credit Sense alone for chang­ing my habits. It pro­vides good in­for­ma­tion, but, like every other sleep tracker I’ve tried, I had to act on the in­for­ma­tion for my­self — even with Sense’s lit­tle nudges.

A clip on a pil­low and orb on a night­stand can help mon­i­tor sleep.

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