When I'm not hitting the town and dancing the night away, I'm setting my alarm to wake up for an early morning run and sunrise yoga. In a perfect world, I would be a responsible adult alternating my nights out and early mornings, but sadly I fail on both counts. What is a girl to do? Should I sacrifice my sleep, should I sleep in all day, or should I attempt to balance everything and hope for the best? One thing is true, I need to sleep!
The perpetual need to have a healthy eight hours of sleep falls second to my constant balancing between work and social life. Thankfully we live in a time where there are so many options to help us get a restful night; without the risk of oversleeping or undersleeping. This past month I dove in headfirst to explore some new tech, accessories, and bedding that aim to better the quality of my sleep. Follow along my sleep journey; let's find out if we can learn how to sleep more efficiently!
Before braving the waters of sleep tech, let us talk about bedding and setting. What you sleep on and how you sleep determines the quality of your rest, more than some people realize. Uhm, hello? Would you want to sleep on itchy wool all night, or would you rather sleep on luxurious cotton or bamboo sheets in total bliss? So if you are like 99.9999% of the population, building your perfect bedding set can make a world of difference. I have spent countless days searching for the best bedding to optimize my sleep. During this build-a-bed adventure, I have created the optimal bedding marking the beginning of my sleep transformation.
While we may not need an app to tell us when to stop the party and hit the hay, the latest sleep tracking tech can offer so much more. We have come a long way from the first sleep tracking apps in the early 2010s. The new arsenal of apps and technology not only helps us track our sleep patterns, but helps us relax before bed, keeps us sleeping for longer, and even helps identify potentially serious medical problems.
With the plethora of tech wearables available to the public, many already own a sleep tracker without knowing. Not all trackers are made equal; some clearly stand out over the others. It is also worth noting that not everyone wants to wear something tech in bed; I have you covered with some alternatives to track your sleep without having that clingy tech on you like a crush that won't leave you alone.
What features are "desirable" in a sleep tracker?
Less sophisticated fitness trackers tend to track your movements as you sleep; talk about the bare basics. Now the vast majority use heart rate monitoring to calculate when you are resting, fall asleep, what stage of sleep, and how long you stay asleep. Kinda giving me an Edward Cullen vibe watching me sleep so intensely. Unlike our vampiric stalker boyfriend, these heart rate sensors are a key feature in tracking your sleep cycles.
How long you sleep does not always determine the quality of rest. This is why more sophisticated devices tend to use many other factors to ensure your body is getting the needed recharge. Brands like Apple, Fitbit, and Whoop, are also using blood oxygen data to help identify major issues like sleep apnea. Talk about a suffocating situation! These reasons are why I advocate for wearables to help you get a deeper understanding.
How this data is then used makes a big difference, with some apps offering deep-dive analytics as well as a Sleep Score that, like hitting your 10,000 steps, helps to gamify good sleep. But let me tell you about my favorite feature, sleep-based alarms! Sleep-based alarms are this almost magical algorithm that wakes the wearer up at the optimum time of their sleep cycle, helping you hit the ground running each day. Trust, I was so skeptical about this, but now, I am a born-again believer, and can never go back to a traditional alarm clock.
The best sleep trackers on the market can also offer help if you struggle to fall asleep, with headphones available to block out distractions and relax a chaotic mind, while smart mattresses can even adjust your body temperature based on your sleep history to give you the best chance of a good night's rest. Uhmm, sign me up, please; I'll get a one-way ticket to the best sleep of my life!
What does a good night's sleep really look like?
Excuse me while I put on a lab coat and some glasses as I type up this smarty-pants section. Your time asleep can be broken down into a cycle consisting of light, deep and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. For you to fully feel rested, you should cycle through these stages at least a few times per night. Your sleep tracking app will break these stages down for you and make it easy to identify problem areas.
During a typical night, you cycle through these stages of sleep:
- Stage 1:Hopefully only lasting a few minutes, the first stage of sleep is light and easy to wake from.
- Stage 2:Your brain waves, eye movement and heart rate begin to slow.
- Stages 3 and 4:You move into deeper sleep that’s harder to wake from. This is the time when your body grows and repairs itself and boosts immune function. For healthy adults, 15-20 per cent of your sleep should be a deep sleep.
- REM:The final stage is when dreams occur, as your brain processes and stores long term memories. Our eyes are closed but dart rapidly from side to side, and our limbs can become paralysed to stop us acting out our dreams. 20-25 per cent of our sleep should be REM sleep.
The sleep cycle repeats every 90 to 110 minutes and as sleep progresses, REM cycles increase in length.
Is sleep really all that important?
Uhm, if you have ever met me without a good night's sleep you would say, absolutely. I am a danger to others without at least a solid night's sleep. Joking aside, insufficient sleep increases your risk of Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, depression, diabetes, stroke, and a host of other health problems. So many studies have been conducted around sleep; their findings are astonishing, but nothing more astonishing than the fact that a lack of sleep can interfere with hunger signals, making you feel hungry, which can lead to weight gain. This is an absolute no for me!
So what have we learned? How amazing sleep really is? While yes, it is amazing, the quality of your sleep will always triumph over quantity. Sleeping is second nature to us, but with a little help from technology, we can become true sleeping masters! Below I have listed some of my favorite products I have tested to help my sleep game be on point.
The world’s thinnest Bluetooth earbuds have been designed specifically for side sleepers, and offer unrivaled comfort compared to the competition, plus, the clever neckband design can track sleep and automatically help you stay asleep in real-time.
How? As you nod off to a favorite podcast or song, disturbance protection – in the form of intelligent white/background noise – kicks in, helping to smooth out the peaks of sound that might disturb sleep. These super-slim buds won’t cause any major irritation if worn all night, and unlike many true-wireless designs, you won’t lose them if you’re prone to tossing and turning in the night. But impressively, and as you snooze, they also continuously monitor sleep quality using PPG heart rate monitor and accelerometers to help you build up a better understanding of your sleep patterns via the Kokoon app.
The world’s most popular smartwatch finally introduced its own sleep tracking with watchOS 7 on the Series 6 (which remains a brilliant, affordable choice). The Sleep app is sleek, simple, and great at helping you identify trends over time, while also managing bedtime routines and wake-up alarms. You can set sleep goals, look back over 14 days of data, and diagnose why, for instance, you didn’t sleep well. With the release of watchOS 8, your Apple Watch can now also track your breathing rate as you sleep, which can give you even greater insight into your overall health.
Powerful, discrete, and the perfect wearable for those of us who like to wear a proper watch. The third generation Oura has all-improved sleep tracking algorithms that can accurately detect whether you're in light, deep, or REM sleep, and can tell when you’re falling asleep, rather than just in bed. The continuous heart rate monitoring, SpO2 sensor, and seven temperature sensors all work together to provide you a sleep score, and flag possible issues including illness, stress, or menstrual cycle.
Removing the potential for lost earbuds, annoying headbands, and uncomfortable watches, the Withings Sleep Analyzer is a thin pad packed with sensors that hide under your mattress, discreetly tracking your sleep through heart rate, breathing, and movement. It also records changes in pressure and noise during the night, and after a quick calibration via the Health Mate app, you can simply ignore it and go to bed.
In the morning the app will display a whole pile of slumber-based statistics, but the most important one is the ‘sleep score,’ which is a single figure based on the length of sleep, the time it took you to fall asleep, how much REM sleep you enjoyed, etc. Since it can also track sound; it can detect signs of sleep apnea, which can be a sign of cardiovascular issues.