Does ex­pen­sive tech help you sleep bet­ter?

Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - Contents - BY KEVIN DUPZ YK

If one more per­son brags to me about how lit­tle sleep he got, I’m gonna pour Red Bull in his eye sock­ets. There is some­thing so Amer­i­can – not in a good way – about go­ing on about how you only get four hours of sleep and you’re to­tally fine. Un­der-sleep­ing is stupid. Can­cer, di­a­betes, Alzheimer’s, obe­sity they say sleep de­pri­va­tion can lead to all of th­ese things, and if they’re right about even one of them, stay in bed.

Me? I think I’m pretty nor­mal, as sleep goes. I never seem to bag eight hours on work­days, and I don’t feel that bad. Give me a hot shower and a hot cof­fee and I’m good. I’ll catch up on the week­end.

That’s why the new tech­nol­ogy com­ing out of the sleep-bet­ter in­dus­try – which is a R500 bil­lion in­dus­try – fills me with fear. In my mind, some­thing like a sleep tracker is the be­gin­ning of a slide into WEBMDlaced hypochon­dri­a­cal doom. And the more you read about the many nu­ances of sleep, the more you won­der how a Fit­bit could pos­si­bly of­fer mean­ing­ful in­for­ma­tion about it. So I started talk­ing to sci­en­tists.

Sleep is still a neb­u­lous con­cept, they told me. There’s not even a hard def­i­ni­tion of what sleep is. The best you can do, if you want to fig­ure out if some­one is sleep­ing, is mea­sure as many vari­ables as pos­si­ble how much they move, how much they breathe, brain waves, and make an ed­u­cated guess. If you see a doc­tor for a se­ri­ous sleep prob­lem, you’ll prob­a­bly be put through an ex­pen­sive test called polysomnog­ra­phy that mea­sures all that, which ex­plains why my panel of ex­perts was as skep­ti­cal of bracelet sleep track­ers as I am. But they did tell me about the lat­est gen­er­a­tion of sleep tech­nolo­gies, which are more so­phis­ti­cated and which they con­vinced me to try. Sleep Track­ers Bed­side track­ers sit on your night­stand and use radar to track move­ments as fine as in­di­vid­ual breaths. I asked Haw­ley Mont­gomeryDowns, a pro­fes­sor at West Vir­ginia Univer­sity who tests sleep track­ers (and who has a fan­tas­tic name), if that ac­tu­ally works. She said one con­sumer de­vice, the Resmed S+, has shown prom­ise in clin­i­cal tests. The new Sleep­score Max uses S+ tech­nol­ogy and adds soft­ware from a sleep ex­pert for­merly of Ap­ple’s Health team. It’s beau­ti­fully sim­ple: Rather than con­fus­ing charts, it of­fers a nu­mer­i­cal rat­ing of over­all sleep qual­ity and coach­ing to help raise it.

I wanted to get close to polysomnog­ra­phy at home. That led me to Ever­sleep, a bracelet that mea­sures move­ment cou­pled with a fin­ger clip that tracks pulse and blood oxy­gen. Add a smart­phone’s mi­cro­phone to lis­ten for snor­ing, and Ever­sleep can spot signs of sleep ap­nea, which is as­so­ci­ated with ag­i­ta­tion, gasp­ing, and low blood oxy­gen. I tested Ever­sleep in beta and it was a lit­tle buggy, plus it took a while to get used to the clip. But if I were wor­ried about ap­nea, it seemed a good way to get closer to a clin­i­cal test.

Sleep Aids

After I talked to Dou­glas Kirsch, pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Academy of Sleep Medicine, I also wanted to see if tech­nolo­gies could make my time in bed more rest­ful. He told me the most in­ter­est­ing new con­sumer de­vices for in­duc­ing or im­prov­ing sleep are more at­tuned to how the body works than older de­vices.

I tried two. The first, Nightin­gale, is a highly ca­pa­ble white-noise gen­er­a­tor. It cre­ates “sound blan­kets” tuned for the sen­si­tiv­i­ties of the ear, mask­ing fre­quen­cies com­mon in dis­rup­tive noises (talk­ing, wa­ter run­ning, traf­fic, etc.). It can be ad­justed for reflective and ab­sorp­tive rooms hard­wood ver­sus car­pet, say of dif­fer­ent sizes. Or it can just play whale sounds.

The sec­ond, 2breathe, is a sleep-in­duc­ing med­i­ta­tion de­vice. Its app plays new-agey mu­sic and cues breath­ing. The gad­get, a sensor the size of a head­lamp, clips around the waist to track when your breath­ing is synced, and ad­justs as nec­es­sary. There’s ac­tu­ally a sci­en­tific an­gle to this: Over the course of a ses­sion, 2breathe de­cel­er­ates your rate of breath­ing to match the way res­pi­ra­tion slows dur­ing sleep. I was ready to mock it, but it worked.


All in all, I tested R13 000 worth of sleep tech­nol­ogy. At Mont­gomery-downs’s sug­ges­tion, I also took a sim­ple, free, on­line re­ac­tion-time test each morn­ing when I awoke. (I used the one at healthysleep.med. har­vard.edu/need-sleep, a driv­ing game that has you change lanes to avoid ob­sta­cles that sud­denly ap­pear in the road.) A dip in re­ac­tion times after a rest­less night or im­prove­ment after a few nights of un­usu­ally good sleep might sug­gest your reg­u­lar sleep habits are lack­ing. My score never sig­nif­i­cantly rose or fell not with the sound blan­kets or the med­i­ta­tion or the track­er­coach­ing. Which I think means sleep tech­nol­ogy is as per­sonal as ad­vice like “get com­fort­able,” which Kirsch told me is the best ad­vice, along with other stand­bys like “make the room dark” and “avoid screens.” So if you love your Fit­bit, the Sleep­score Max will prob­a­bly yield re­turns. If the neigh­bor’s rooster wakes you at the crack of dawn, try Nightin­gale. Me, I make it just fine with the sleep I get. My delu­sion per­sists.

Sleep­score Max ( sleep­score.com) Rates sleep on a scale of 0 to 100. Some­how.


2breathe (2breathe. com) An around-the-waist med­i­ta­tion de­vice. Ever­sleep (getev­er­sleep.com) A tracker that aims to mimic polysomnog­ra­phy. Nightin­gale (meet­nightin­gale.com) A souped-up, science-based, white-noise ma­chine.

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