We live in an age where technology has made it tougher than ever to get enough sleep. And yet, the very thing that’s responsible for slashing our snooze time is also playing a role in helping us sleep better.
Whether it’s the blue light from your smartphone, nonstop social media notifications, or work emails flooding your inbox at 3 AM, there’s no denying that technology is at least partly responsible for why more and more of us are failing to get the recommended 8 hours of sleep.
But the relationship between sleep and tech goes way deeper. An ever-expanding arsenal of apps and devices are helping plenty of tech-minded folks fight for more quality sleep. And down the road, they could even reduce the amount of nightly sleep we need altogether.
Sleep tech 101.
If you want to try improving your sleep with technology, there are more inexpensive options out there than ever.
For starters? Apps. One’s like Proactive Sleep help you learn how to optimize your sleep habits by tracking your nightly sleep (or lack thereof) along with factors that affect your nightly snooze sessions, like exercise and caffeine consumption.
Next-level options—including wearable devices—actually monitor your body while you doze. Some, like Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock can even wake you during your lightest phase of sleep so you don’t start your day feeling groggy.
And both types can be helpful—as long as you’re not abusing tech in a way that ends up making sleep harder to come by. For instance, logging data in a sleep tracker app at 10:30 PM will only serve to expose you to the blue light that keeps your brain wide awake.
But now, that’s changing too. Apple iOS 9.3’s new Night Shift mode shifts your phone’s display to warmer colors in the evening, so you can use your phone before bed without wrecking your sleep. Apps like f.lux and Twilight can do the same thing for your laptop or tablet.
Advanced sleep tech.
But when it comes to snoozing smarter, apps are just the beginning.
Clothing designed with fabric electronics, like the Nyx Somnus Sleep Shirt, can actually monitor your breathing to track your sleep patterns. (The data is transmitted to a small wireless device.)
Responsive sleep-promoting fabrics can even be woven directly into your mattress. Using thermoreactive yarn, Celliant® transforms body heat into infrared light that can improve circulation and skin-oxygen levels—which can help you doze off up to 15 minute faster. Pretty futuristic, right?
Sleep tech of the future.
Today’s sleep tech is focused on helping us sleep smarter. But the sleep tech of tomorrow might be all about helping us sleep less.
Experts in emerging technology predict that within 20 years, we’ll be developing devices and chemicals that can actually help us function on less sleep. In other words, it will literally give us more hours in the day—something we’ve all wished for at some point.
What kinds of devices and chemicals? It’s hard to know for sure, but future sleep tools might be tiny chips that can be implanted in your brain. The chips, which will stimulate certain sections of the brain, might be used with drugs that speed up your metabolism and alter your brain and body chemistry.
But not everyone is waiting for technology to catch up with their desire to sleep more efficiently. Polyphasic sleepers train themselves to sleep for shorter intervals both during the day and at night. (For example, sleeping for four hours in the middle of the night, and taking a few short naps during the day.)
Devotees of polyphasic sleep say their snooze schedules actually help them feel more rested. And with more time awake, their productivity skyrockets.
Sounds cool—but are there any drawbacks?
While everyone’s sleep needs are different, almost all experts agree that getting fewer than six hours of sleep is unhealthy. (Though it might not be as bad as interrupted sleep.) Of course, that might not be the case with future technologies designed to allow us to function on less sleep.
While everyone’s sleep needs are different, almost all experts agree that getting fewer than six hours of sleep is unhealthy.
But for now, adopting a polyphasic sleep schedule probably isn’t a great idea. Too little sleep can up your risk for obesity, as well as chronic health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression.
And those problems can happen even if you feel great. At a point, your brain can become so sleep deprived that it stops trying to tell you that you need some rest. One study found that people who slept shorter for two weeks experienced declines in their cognitive function at first. But by the end of the experiment, they said they only felt a little tired.
In a way, it’s not unlike being drunk to the point where you don’t realize how trashed you actually are. Which, when you think of it that way, is really dangerous.
So even if you’re crazy busy and wish you could stay up all night every night, do yourself a favor and keep trying to get the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep for now. While you snooze, you can dream about getting that brain chip of the future.
Has technology helped you achieve better sleep? Share your experience with us over on Twitter.