Sleep better with smart technology

Lack of sleep is more than a minor annoyance for those who don’t get a full night’s rest. According to the Centers for Disease Control, it’s a public health problem.

Insufficient sleep can lead to industrial and vehicle accidents that injure others. It also increases the chance of diabetes, hypertension, cancer and other diseases.

“As a nation we are not getting enough sleep,” says Wayne Giles, M.D., director of the CDC’s Division of Population Health. “Lifestyle changes such as going to bed at the same time each night; rising at the same time each morning, and turning off or removing televisions, computers, mobile devices from the bedroom, can help people get the healthy sleep they need.”

Giles recommends turning off technology like phones and tablets for a reason. The blue light from these devices resembles daylight, triggering your body to stay awake or causing you to have a restless night’s sleep. And if you read a stressful email right before bed, this can add to the problem. The National Sleep Foundation recommends turning off devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime.

But not all technology is bad for your sleep cycle. There are positive steps — with the help of technology — that you can take to encourage restful sleep. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) offers several tips for developing healthier sleep habits, and technology has been keeping up with creative ways to help you improve these habits.

Establish, monitor sleep habits
For example, one recommended habit is to keep a set sleep schedule. This means going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time each morning. Establishing a routine can help your body learn to regulate your sleep patterns, but how do you know what your sleep cycles actually look like? Fitness trackers like the Garmin Vivofit Fitness Band monitor sleep patterns, distinguishing between light and heavy sleep. Data from the fitness band can help you recognize if you’re overstimulated and show how long it takes you to fall into a deep sleep.

Relaxing routine
Another healthy sleep habit is to practice a relaxing bedtime routine. This can include making a list of “to-do’s” to keep your mind from dwelling on them, taking deep breaths or tensing and relaxing your toes.

Another relaxation technique is to tune-in to your senses by focusing on sounds, smells or the feel of the sheets on your skin. Be advised, though, that your sleeping environment can determine whether “tuning-in to your senses” will help or hinder sleep. If noise, clutter or uncomfortable temperatures are an issue, you might want to avoid this step.

Sleeping environment
The NSF recommends keeping your bedroom dark and at a cool temperature of 60 to 67 degrees. While the room should be free of disturbing noises, devices like fans and humidifiers can provide background noise that aids sleep. Some people find the help of a white noise machine helps them tune out distractions and drift off to sleep. Homedics offers a Sound Spa Mini Portable Sound Machine that plays natural sounds for a pre-set time of 15, 30 or 45 minutes. The choice of a heartbeat, the ocean, rain or simple white noise allows users to find the right sound to aid their sleep.

Exercise
Although it might seem stimulating, regular exercise actually does help you achieve sounder sleep patterns. Exercise machines are a familiar technology that offer in-home convenience to make sure you can work out rain or shine. Treadmills, trainers and elliptical machines have come a long way, and these days they take up a small space for a big workout.

Bedding
Sleeping on a comfortable mattress and pillows is another recommended healthy sleep habit, and investing in high-quality bedding can make a difference in how rested you feel when you wake up. A number of smart beds have come on the market, and the technology for these mattresses is growing. Some allow for adjustments to accommodate back or shoulder pain, for example, while others integrate with your smartphone to track heart rate and adjust sleep/wake times based on your diet or appointments on your calendar. There’s an expectation that some day these smart mattresses will integrate with your home thermostat and adjust the temperature to better facilitate restful sleep.

According to the National Institutes of Health, adults need seven to eight hours of sleep a night, but about one-third of U.S. adults missed that mark in 2014. If you’re of them, consider how the use of technology might help. You can also learn more about sleep and sleep hygiene at the CDC’s Sleep and Sleep Disorders web page.