New technologies try to solve age-old sleep problems
Do you track your sleep with a wristband or a bedroom sleep monitor? Are you working with a sleep app for guidance on how to relieve insomnia or some other sleep problem? If so, you are part of a growing number of people using technology to improve their nightly sleep.
The National Sleep Foundation and the Consumer Electronics Association collaborated on a study of sleep technology use, and have recently released their findings. The results provide insight into the inroads that these new sleep technologies have made into people's lives--and the challenges they face in working to change sleep patterns and sleep behaviors.
In part one of my look at this inquiry into sleep technology, I discussed what the study has to tell us about who is using sleep tech, and why. Now, let's take a closer look at the impact that sleep tech is having on sleep quality and sleep behavior.
Falling short on nightly sleep
How much nightly rest are sleep tech users getting? About as much as people who don't use sleep tech, according to the survey results. The average nightly sleep reported by sleep tech users is virtually the same as non-users--both groups report averaging around 6.5 hours a night. Members of both groups also say they are running up about an hour of sleep debt per night. Respondents in both the sleep tech user and non-user groups say they need about 7.5 hours of sleep a night to feel rested.
These numbers align with other research about real-world sleep amounts. Research indicates that adults in the U.S. average about 6.8 hours of sleep a night, with a significant percentage receiving less than 6 hours of nightly sleep. Most sleep experts, including the National Sleep Foundation, and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, recommend somewhere in the range of 7-9 hours of nightly sleep to maintain health and full function.
Overall, respondents believe sleep has a significant impact on their physical and emotional health. Among all respondents, those sleeping less than 6 hours nightly were most likely to report dealing with challenges to their health:
• 54 percent reported trying to lose weight
• 46 percent had frequent mood swings
• 37 percent were managing a chronic illness
• 41 percent reported not feeling physically healthy
People sleeping 9 or more hours a night were the most likely to report feeling they received enough sleep on a nightly basis.
Bedtime routines -- tough to change?
Nighttime routines among sleep tech users and nonusers are strikingly similar, according to this study. The pre-sleep habits of respondents illustrate several of the common challenges to healthy, abundant rest in today's society:
• The majority of people -- 72 percent overall -- say they watch television before bed
• 39 percent say they use their cellphone or smartphone before bed
Interestingly, smartphone use before bed is highest among people who report sleeping 6 or fewer hours a night -- 47 percent of these people report using smartphones or cellphones before bed.
Among sleep tech users, this study indicates they still largely favor these typical evening routines over new routines that involve consistent use of their sleep technology.
• 68 percent of sleep tech users watch TV before bed
• 53 percent use their cellphones or smartphones before bed
• 23 percent of sleep tech users with wearable devices say they use their devices frequently for sleep
• 18 percent of sleep tech users with smartphone apps say they are frequently using the apps to help with sleep
• 11 percent of sleep tech users are frequently using guided meditation apps to help sleep
These results highlight what is perhaps the most significant challenge of any sleep program, technological or otherwise -- the challenge of adopting and integrating new, sleep-promoting behaviors, and shedding old, sleep-depriving ones.
Sleep tech helps
Still, more than half of sleep tech users say their technology has improved their nightly sleep. The lowest positive impact of sleep technology to sleep quality is reported among people who use tracking-only devices. The highest positive impact is reported by people who use "active" sleep tech, which includes features and guidance geared directly toward changing sleep and its related behaviors.
The use of sleep technology also appears to be having a significant effect on raising awareness about sleep issues among its users. Sixty percent of sleep tech users say that using the technology has made them more aware of their sleep patterns. And 51 percent say they are sleeping better because they are using sleep technology. Awareness was raised the most by wearable sleep device users, while active sleep tech users reported the greatest impact to their sleep.
The picture we see here in these results is likely to change, and change swiftly, as new technologies for sleep are developed -- and as more people become comfortable with and inclined to use technology to assist their sleep. While the delivery system may be different than earlier forms of sleep treatment, the goals and challenges of sleep technology are not fundamentally different. Like all effective sleep remedies, these new technologies must work to get beneath the symptoms of poor, insufficient sleep to help people address the root causes of their sleep problems, and make concrete, meaningful changes to their sleep-related behaviors.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™