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8 Tech Tools Designed to Deepen Your Sleep

Devices and apps use sensors and more to help usher you to slumberland and monitor your z's

spinner image A woman is sleeping next to her smartphone
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This article may put you to sleep. That's on purpose.

Difficulty falling asleep is often blamed on our inability to rip ourselves away from computer screens and smartphones, and rightfully so. But sometimes the tech around us substitutes quite nicely for counting sheep, resulting in a restful night of sleep.

Sound sleep is vital to well-being, and it's especially relevant given the anxiety induced by the pandemic. Numerous apps and a wide range of tech gear, from pricey “smart beds” to sleep headphones that play soothing sounds, are designed to track your sleep or help you catch more z's — sometimes both.

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"The consumer sleep tech world is extremely dynamic and innovative right now,” says Jeff Mann, founder and editor of Sleep Gadgets, a website that covers and reviews sleep products.

Tech-savvy is not a barrier to entry, Mann adds. As long as someone “is comfortable with using a smartphone app, then most of the tech I'd describe as ‘age-agnostic,’" he says.

Some solutions suitable for older users address the environment — cooling temperatures or dimming lights at bedtime, for example. Others are about analyzing the length and quality of your slumber, sometimes boiled down to a “sleep score.”

Those scores may enlighten you about your sleep issues but can also be confusing, producing inconsistent or contradictory results, says Elaine Hanh Le, M.D., former chief medical officer for online publisher Healthline Media.

"I have multiple different apps. I've had many instances where I felt like I slept fine and then the data said, ‘disruptive sleep,'" says Le, who now works on health and wellness products on Amazon's Alexa Health team. She notes that a lot of tech-based sleep aids have not been validated in broad-based, peer-reviewed studies.

Still, the data you collect from monitoring your sleep can provide a beneficial starting point for talking to your doctor about insomnia, she says. Listed below are a few of the many sleep tech products out there, with the crucial disclaimer that not every solution is ideal for every insomniac.

Smart beds

Smart beds are equipped with sensors and other tech to capture data about how you sleep. They may also have features to help you sleep better, including automatic climate controls and mattresses that adjust firmness for each partner based on posture or how they toss and turn.

Sleep Number, one of the best-known brands, sends a “SleepIQ” score each morning to an app on your phone. The score factors in how long you were in bed, your movement, how many times you got up, and your heart and breathing rates. The more those signs indicate restful sleep the higher the score.

Don't sleep on this:

  • "You can buy technology that does all that stuff and put it in your own bed,” says Mann, who likens smart beds to luxury cars. “But if you like that kind of thing and you've got the money, hey!"

Price: $1,000 to $5,100

Measure your sleep on any mattress

Withings, a French firm that produces health- and fitness-related electronics, makes a WiFi-connected mat you slip under your mattress to track and analyze your sleep patterns. You don't have to wear anything: Sensors inside the 25-inch long, 7.5-inch wide, fabric-covered pad measure your respiratory rate, heartbeat, body movement, even snoring and breathing disturbances, and transmit the data to Withings’ Health Mate app.

You'll also see how long it took you to fall asleep, the duration of your time in la-la land and a breakdown of sleep stages (deep, REM-rapid eye movement, light). Via compatibility with services known as IFTTT (If This Then That), the mat also can wirelessly connect to other smart home devices to, say, automatically adjust the temperature or lower lights when you hit the hay.

Don't sleep on this:

  • If you share a bed, each sleeper needs a separate mat.
  • You have to plug the mat into an outlet, which means running a cord from under the mattress.

Price: $99.95

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Smart watch sleep aids

Versatile smart watches from Apple, Fitbit, Garmin, Samsung, Withings and other companies do more than track steps and provide other fitness metrics. Many models measure the total sleep you get, along with such variables as your heart rate and blood oxygen. Severely low levels of blood oxygen have been linked to sleep apnea.

Don't sleep on this:

  • Not everyone wants to wear something on their wrist all night.
  • You will have to find time when you're out of bed to charge the devices.

Price: $150 to more than $1,000

Soothing sounds at bedtime

Bose Sleepbuds II is a set of rechargeable, wireless in-ear headphones that promise to squelch snoring, footsteps and other low-frequency sounds that might keep you awake. Unlike other Bluetooth earbuds, these aren't meant for listening to music or podcasts. Instead, you can choose soothing sounds like rain or songbirds from a free content library with more than 50 selections.

Don't sleep on this:

  • Sleepbuds don't completely cancel out external noises.
  • Though they come with different tip sizes, not everyone will find them comfortable or want to keep them in their ears all night.

Price: $249.95

A silent metronome of light

Dodow is a battery-operated, hockey-puck-shaped machine that projects blue light vertically onto the ceiling above your bed. The idea is that by doing breathing exercises choregraphed to the light — inhaling when the beam expands, exhaling when it retracts — you'll doze off before Dodow turns itself off after a cycle you can set at 8 or 20 minutes.

Produced by a French company called Livlab, Dodow gradually reduces your breaths from 11 to 6 per minute. Research indicates that slow breathing can induce relaxation and improve slumber. And while blue light from screens has been shown to suppress melatonin secretion, which affects circadian rhythms and, thus, sleep, Livlab says Dodow's light signal is too weak to create this effect.

Don't sleep on this:

  • You'll have to sleep on your back.
  • Livlab says Dodow is appropriate for older people but it may take two or three sessions before folks with reduced respiratory capacity, which can come with aging, get used to the rhythm of slower breathing.

Price: $59.95

Contactless sleep and breathing monitor

Somnofy, from Norwegian startup VitalThings, is a Wi-Fi-connected sleep tracker that sits on your nightstand to analyze the quality of your sleep, respiratory rate and more. It relies on sensors to detect the way you move and measures the temperature, air pressure, noise and light in the room, communicating the data to a companion app.

Somnofy also offers guided breathing exercises and has a “smart” alarm clock to wake you in a light sleep stage within set limits rather than when you're in a deep slumber. Writing about Somnofy in a Sleep Gadgets article, Mann said it stands out among sleep trackers because it “has undergone rigorous clinical validation” of its effectiveness in measuring sleep stages.

Don't sleep on this:

  • Some Somnofy features, including the smart alarm, guided breathing, personalized sleep coaching and unlimited sleep-history data, come with its premium service. You get a 3-month trial with purchase of the device; after that you'll need to pay $11.99 a month for a premium subscription.

Price: $299

A sleep-sensing smart speaker

Google's second-generation Nest Hub smart speaker utilizes low-energy radar technology known as Soli that can detect subtle motion but not specific bodies or faces. With Soli, the Nest Hub can tell when you went to bed, analyze the quality of your slumber, and determine how often you snored, coughed or may have been awakened by changes in temperature or light. Come morning, you'll see a personalized sleep summary on the 7-inch Nest display.

Don't sleep on this:

  • If you sleep with a partner, each of you would need your own Nest Hub.
  • Google says sleep sensing is available now as a “free preview” but that it could start charging a subscription fee for the service next year.

Price: $99.99

An app to get you out of bed

Sleeping through an alarm each morning can mess up your sleep at night, Le says. Alarmy, available for Apple and Android devices, aims to wean you off using the snooze button as a crutch.

Alarmy sets up creative scenarios where you can only silence the alarm by completing a designated “mission.” For example, you might have to solve five math questions, take a photo of yourself washing your hands in the sink, or scan the QR code on your shampoo bottle before the alarm shuts off.

Don't sleep on it:

  • Alarmy is free to download, but a $4.99-a-month premium subscription adds features for heavy sleepers, including access to new and exclusive missions.

Edward C. Baig is a contributing writer who covers technology and other consumer topics. He previously worked for USA Today, BusinessWeek, U.S. News & World Report and Fortune and is author of Macs for Dummies and coauthor of iPhone for Dummies and iPad for Dummies.

How to put your smartphone to bed

If you find it difficult to say goodnight to your smartphone, iOS and Android devices include wind-down features that might make it a tad easier.

On Android phones, head to Settings | Digital Wellbeing & parental controls | Bedtime mode. You can schedule a Do Not Disturb period that restricts calls and notifications during set hours (but lets you identify important contacts you still want to be able to reach you, even at night). You can also have your screen automatically switch to black and white at bedtime, which makes it easier to resist. 

On an iPhone, you'll need to go through some set-up to use the bedtime scheduling features. Open the Health app and go to Set Up Sleep. Tap Get Started and then Next. Following onscreen prompts, you can do things like set a nightly Wind Down period (the default is 45 minutes) and enable Sleep Mode to turn on Do Not Disturb and curb interruptions. To adjust these settings, go to Health | Sleep | Full Schedule & Options.

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