Sleep gadgets add complexity when we really should relax
Ah sleep. The one time of day you can escape all your worldly burdens, close your eyes and vividly dream of spiders, or being best friends with the moon, or something. It’s vital, and natural.
But in the same way that tech and shoe companies keep making running — the least complicated sport in the world — more complex and expensive, tech and device companies are finding new ways to quantify and sell you stuff for sleep.
Bose is back on the bandwagon again after the many tech failures of its first attempt to make earbuds that help you sleep. I have to admit that I used my original Sleepbuds a lot on planes until they eventually stopped charging, and I do find that I get to sleep sooner and more soundly when I wear the $380 second-generation buds now that I’m trying to get used to the noise of the city again (lockdown was so quiet).
But even these new Sleepbuds can’t play anything other than the included sounds, my right bud keeps randomly cutting out, they’re uncomfortable if you sleep on your side, and I find that I wake up groggier when I wear them. I still plan on wearing them on planes eventually, but a pair of 50 cent ear plugs might serve most people better.
Then we get to the Fitbits and other bands that supposedly track your sleep and give you a score, even though there’s no way of knowing which sleep cycle you’re in without the equipment from a sleep lab, and getting the wrong information can make users anxious. Admittedly, I do still wear my Apple Watch to bed and enjoy the unscientific data I occasionally remember to look at.
Going further up the scale of technological advancement there’s Withings’ new “clinically validated” Sleep Analyzer. It’s a $200 piece of fabric that goes under your mattress and analyses your movements overnight to detect your sleep cycles, snoring, heart rate and potential sleep apnoea, which is extremely impressive.
According to that device, I may have mild sleep apnoea and don’t snore. My wife disagrees with that second assessment.
What’s interesting about the Sleep Analyzer is that it mostly tracks fairly accurately with my Apple Watch sleep recordings, except it missed that time I inexplicably woke at 6.15am to take my watch off, put it on the charger and go back to sleep: it thinks I was in a deep sleep then. Even if it is accurate, I still don’t really know what to do with the information it gives me.
Sleep itself is an amazingly complicated process. We still don’t know why people need to do it, or what it does exactly; just that it’s very important and we’ll die without it.
For some people, having a way to quantify their sleep might make it easier for them, but most will benefit far more from just having regular bed and getting up times and not trying to score their rest out of 100. Those worried about sleep issues would be far better off seeing their doctor and spending a night in a sleep lab to diagnose what ails them. In the meantime, maybe save your tech money for a more comfortable mattress and a nice doona.
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