From the curator: As a registered polysomnographic technologist, I understand well the science behind personal sleep technology. So much of it mirrors, replicates, or inspired by the clinical technology used in the laboratory environment.
It’s not only my job to know how to use the technology, but also to know the scientific principles that make it work, why it’s being used, and for what specific applications.
While I remain skeptical about much of the new personal use sleep technology on the market today, I absolutely do use different forms of sleep technology to either help me sleep better or keep me more alert during the day.
Some of it is among the high-tech variety, while other products are classic “low tech” helps. I endorse all of the following products designed to help improve sleep.
Tech I use
Gamma Ray Essentials Computer Glasses
I wear these during the day because I find that using a darker orange filter in the presence of natural light in my office a little distracting. The lenses resist glare, UV, and blue spectrum light.
Eyekepper Computer Glasses
These have a much darker filter on them, so I use them for computer work done after hours on those deadline nights when the work is not yet done (which I try to avoid as much as possible because… sleep hygiene!).
Plain ol’ earplugs
For when my husband snores (!) and for traveling, so I can tune out unfamiliar noise. I use whatever happens to be on sale at the drugstore.
These were a mainstay during my time as a sleep technologist because I slept from 830am to 430pm after every shift; during the summer, I sleep with the windows open, so that meant lots of external sounds I needed to blot out.
Ordinary eye mask
Again, nothing fancy or high tech here. I really only use mine for traveling, either on the plane or in a hotel where it’s hard to know what the ambient light situation is. Also comes in handy for the rare migraine.
This is a required item for the shift worker who must achieve Zzz during the light of day. I don’t have room darkening shades (I live in the woods), so I had to figure out some way to blot out the sun on those days after night shift.
This is a free downloadable Chrome extension which filters my laptop screen on a schedule that matches the light-dark patterns of my GPS location. The darker it is outside, the more filtered my screen becomes.
I’m protected against blue-spectrum light exposure on those dark Pacific Northwest afternoons when the sun goes down at 430pm but I’m still working until 6pm.
The extension gives you options for adjusting the density of the filter and even some of the tone (mine is more amber than orange or pink). It also gives you website-specific options.
Bedtime & Night Shift
These are options built into later models of the iPhone (I think mine is a 5s).
Bedtime is a simple app that you preset to mark the time you rise and the time you go to bed, and it includes tracking features and a bedtime reminder that uses a cute lullabye chime. I don’t use the tracking feature so much because I don’t have trouble sleeping, go to bed at an ordinary time and usually wake up without an alarm. However, I like the reminder because it keeps me aligned with my sleep schedule.
Night Shift does a couple of things. First, it filters the iPhone screen (per your preset instructions) to block blue-spectrum light. I update my filter schedule on a quarterly basis because there’s a huge difference in light where I live, from season to season.
It also incorporates a truly pleasant alarm using a gradual crescendo. I found that using some of my favorite songs as alarm ring tones ruined the songs for me (!) because they became associated with waking up during the late afternoon when I was a night shift worker.
Now I charge my phone in the adjacent bathroom and use Night Shift. Typically I rise before it actually sounds off, but when it does, it’s a sweet awakening that nudges me to get out of bed and turn it off.
This app offers a wide variety of music, sounds and sound wave frequencies you can listen to in blends or by themselves. I started out with the free version but quickly upgraded to the paid version, which is still inexpensive.
Aside from the music, sound effects, and voice overs, there are tone frequencies you can play with.
- The isochronic tones do not require that you listen with earbuds. When I meditate or
practice yoga, these are hands free options.
- The binaural beats require earbuds to be effective in their delivery (imagine each earbud as a separate stereo speaker).
I’ve used binaural sounds either on the plane for relaxation or to prompt sleep, or as a way to become alert or focused (especially during my return to school, doing so much reading and homework).
The frequencies delivered are intended to entrain your brainwaves to achieve different states of consciousness. Relax Melodies offers a spectrum of tones to choose from.
I cannot speak to the hard science behind these but, anecdotally, I have a neurological condition that hampers my focus; listening to these sound patterns has truly helped me to concentrate.
I have also found they work extraordinarily well for relaxing during flights, especially during takeoff.
I do not struggle to fall asleep at night, but if I did, I would try this app.
This free download is a simple sleep tracker from Sleeptember.org that’s also part of a major research study.
You share your basic sleep health data with scientists who then apply your information to a ever-growing database of sleep statistics.
You can participate as little or as much as you want, and your information is treated with confidentiality.
Because I don’t have many sleep problems, I don’t use this app to track my sleep as much as I use it to help the researchers.
GADGETRY & HOUSEWARES
Verilux Happy Light
Living in the Pacific Northwest, I struggle with short days and long nights in the winter.
I also have a neurological disorder with compelling fatigue as one of its key symptoms.
Suffice it to say, when I get into my office and look out my window to a field of black, it’s necessary for a little light therapy to kickstart the morning.
I’ve used my happy light for years now and even have a smaller travel one I take with me when I take my travel trailer on the road in the off season.
Just 20 minutes of exposure as needed keeps me alert for the rest of the day, no matter how dark and stormy it is outside.
It’s also good for those humdrum days when you’d rather just stay in bed but know you’ve got work to do!
Vicks Personal Steam Inhaler
While I don’t suffer from sleep apnea, I do have a problem with upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS) that is partially caused by narrow sinus passages and an ongoing problem with postnasal drip caused by allergies. My neurological condition may also be part of the problem.
It means I don’t experience complete obstructions of my airway like someone with sleep apnea. However, I have lots and lots of partial obstructions (called hypopneas) that can interfere with sound, uninterrupted sleep.
If I go to bed already congested, that’s a sure sign I’ll be up all night just trying to breathe. I already take two medications for my allergies, but they are of limited use sometimes.
I also use a saline nasal spray at bedtime, which often does the job, but there are nights when I need additional help clearing my passages. The only other way is to take a hot steamy shower, which is not a good idea right before bed.
This personal steamer does the job. It’s a simple reservoir that boils water into steam which then interacts with a menthol insertion to give off aromatic vapors. You breathe in as little or as much as is comfortable. The device steams up quickly and I can achieve a clear head in less than 10 minutes.
Beam and Read Hands-Free Travel and Reading Light
I love to read at bedtime, even if I only last about 15 minutes before I put the book down. It may take me a long time to read books in this way, but it’s relaxing and a pleasant way to end the day.
In case you haven’t noticed, most book lights meant for reading in the dark are illuminated by, you guessed it, superbright LED lights, which can emit blue-spectrum light—not exactly a sleep friendly solution!
I found this light option instead (I wrote about it recently here) and have been using it for years.
In fact, the first one I ever bought I purchased at a big box store for $3. They’ve gone up in price but I won’t buy anything else.
Definitely “soft” technology of the low-tech variety, but when I have a head cold or a problem with reflux, this has been a go-to solution for me. Gravity can be your friend when it comes to keeping heartburn at bay or helping drain your sinus passages.
I cannot identify the brand on my pillow, but I got it at one of the big box bath stores (covered purchased in addition) and it hangs out nearby, just in case.
What kinds of sleep technology do you use and would heartily recommend? Let us know here at the open thread.