It’s touted as “groundbreaking” and “revolutionary,” but what exactly is wearable consumer sleep technology?
Here’s a look inside this burgeoning field of consumer products.
Please note: As a matter of policy, SleepyHeadCENTRAL does not endorse any products mentioned in this curation. SHC also encourages consumers to be skeptical of claims made by any consumer technology product manufacturer and to fully understand how a product works and whether the purpose of the product has any real practical application to their lives.
The brave new world of wearables
The recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas showcased a brand-new “sleep technology” wing featuring a multitude of new products meant to help people sleep better by various means.
One of the most popular facets of consumer sleep technology is the wearable device, which is meant to give the user information that can help them to better identify any problems they might be having with sleep (or to confirm they are getting enough sleep).
You might be more familiar with other kinds of wearable devices, such as the hearing aid. Writer Abhishek Budholiya, in an article for Tech Guru Daily (February 1, 2017) carves out the history of wearable medical equipment and how new developments in sleep tracking are part of the larger trend shaped by connective medical IoT (the Internet of Things).
These can include wristbands, watches, rings, forehead pads, headbands, earbuds, earphones, eyewear, eye masks, helmets, sleeves, fingertip probes, sleepwear, and waist belts. Literally anything you can attach to your body that serves to measure some particular metric is considered a wearable.
How do they work?
It depends entirely upon the wearable, how it is worn, and the end goal. To answer this question is far beyond the scope of this blog as these gadgets all claim various kinds of technology to perform various kinds of tasks.
- Appcessories attempts to answer the question, “How to smartwatches track sleep?” in this September 8, 2016 article.
- Wareable also discusses one of the ways in which wearable technology can help not just with sleep, but with more effectives means for waking up, in this December 25, 2016 post.
- Some wearables may not actually be tracking your sleep at all, writes Beth Skwarecki in Lifehacker (October 13, 2016): Instead, what it can do is “help you spot patterns when something in your life changes: if you start a new job or exercise routine, the sleep tracker can help you make sure you’re still getting enough sleep,” she writes. “Similarly, some medications can make your sleep more restless, and your app will report more awakenings or movements during the night, so you can see if there’s a problem. If you end up feeling sleepy during the day, this data can help you track down the cause.”
Suffice it to say, by whatever means, these devices purport to measure certain kinds of data (such as pulse, body temperature, respiratory patterns, brain waves, or muscle movements). Goals can include measuring quantity of sleep, quality of sleep, snoring, and/or REM patterns.
But do wearables work?
Maybe the question is not “do they work?” but “how do they help?” or “what is the point?”
- In this November 22, 2016 article in Advance Healthcare Network for Respiratory Care and Sleep Medicine, the author questions whether there are tangible benefits to using these devices.
- An article in The Conversation (August 16, 2016) talks a bit about how wearable design matters; if you don’t find the gadget comfortable to wear, it doesn’t really matter what it’s doing to help you sleep better.
- Fast Company was even less optimistic about the value of sleep-tracking wearables in this June 10, 2016 article, in which the author describes living with an undiagnosed sleep disorder: “At first, like any good American, I thought I’d tackle the problem myself. There’s no shortage of sleep tracking apps and trackers available. They told me much of what I already surmised: my sleep is restless and too short. But they couldn’t satisfy the answer of why.”
- Finally, sometimes the brightest flames can burn out the quickest. Might this already be the case? Sleep tracking is often a second-hand add-on for fitness trackers, which have been around for quite a few years now. Long enough to have lost their novelty: Forbes reports on wearable fatigue in an article from last June, far in advance of the recent trade show hawking these futuristic wares.
Reasons for optimism
As with any brand-new technology, there will be gimmicks, lack of precision, hardware and software bugs, and lots of questions about why people would need to use these devices.
What usually happens with new technology is that the best of the crop emerges because it can stand up to consumer use over time and provide inherent value by filling an unmet need. This will happen with sleep tracking wearables, as well.
- Apple made a move toward demanding better accuracy among all health apps (not just sleep wearables) last fall (Huffington Post Sleep+Wellness, September 22, 2016) in hopes that this would clear the field of products that simply weren’t doing what they claimed.
- For instance, military personnel might hope for a sleep tracking wearable to help them with their sleep while on duty so that they stand a better chance of preventing PTSD, according to this article (News-Medical.net, August 17, 2016).
- Ultimately, any individual interested in tracking their own health will choose a wearable device because they are being proactive about fixing whatever problem ails them. With so many people suffering from insomnia and sleep deprivation in the US, it’s a move in the right direction. Currently, nearly a quarter of all consumers who are already diagnosed with sleep disorders want to learn more about connected health devices like wearables so they can manage their conditions, according to data unveiled at the Sleep Technology Summit last fall (HomeToys, September 23, 2016).
Even if you don’t have a sleep disorder, a sleep wearable may still be useful to you if it can provide you with a generalized data analysis about your sleep habits that could help you improve upon your own bedtime best practices.