Using Technology to Sleep Better

A woman lying on her back in bed using a mobile phone in a dark room

A good night’s rest is a key ingredient in the recipe for a healthy and productive day, but consistently getting the right amount, and quality of sleep, can be difficult.  With it’s alerts, harsh light and constant connectedness, technology is often seen as one of the prime contributors to poor sleep. However, there are also technologies available that can help to reduce the effect of technology on your sleep rhythms, and give you a better night sleep.

In this article, we take a look at some of the best apps and devices you can use to get a good night’s sleep.

Blue light blues

You might have heard about ‘blue light’ and how it prevents us from sleeping, but do you know what it is? Wavelengths at the blue end of the light spectrum inhibit the production of melatonin, a hormone that anticipates the onset of darkness and helps us fall asleep. Constant, or even erratic, exposure to blue light can impact our ability to fall into natural sleep.

Steering clear of digital screens before dark can be difficult, in fact, for many of us it’s probably impossible. Instead, you can take action by reducing the amount of blue light that your screens emit through clever use of apps and settings changes on your devices. Here’s some of our favourites:

1. Twilight (Android)

Twilight is a great app for anyone who owns a Samsung smartphone or other Android powered device (HTC, Sony, LG and Google all use Android as well). With the ability to control both screen dim and intensity, and set up profiles for different times of the day, Twilight can not only reduce blue light, but change the way your phone or tablet screen behaves throughout the day.

With over 5 million downloads on the Play Store, plenty of people are already benefiting from better circadian rhythms in their sleep patterns. There’s also a Pro version with access to advanced features and multiple profiles.

Tip: Using Twilight but having the ‘Screen Overlay’ issue when changing settings in other apps? Just pause the app while you make the change and resume it when it’s done. Easy!

2. Night Shift (iOS)

Since iOS 9.3 there is a setting on Apple iPhones called Night Shift that gives users better control of the colour range and brightness on their phone. With an inbuilt scheduler, Night Shift lets you adjust the ‘warmth’ of your screen colour to limit eye strain and prevent blue light from affecting your melatonin.
To access Night Shift on your iOS device enter the Settings, then select Display & Brightness.

Health and wellness apps

Our sleep patterns are affected by more than just the blue light emitted from our phones. Anything from diet and medicine, to ambient lighting, and the time we go to bed can play a part in how restful or deep our sleep is. There are a number of apps that try and provide a holistic approach to sleep monitoring and overall wellness, we’ve recommended our favourites here:  

1. My Circadian Clock

Designed by a Professor and a Doctor (so it must be good!) My Circadian Clock is an app that asks users to log the time they do things like drink and eat, take medicine, exercise and sleep.

My Circadian Clock isn’t just a sleep app. It came about when Professor Satchidananda Panda, of the Salk Institute, discovered that mice who ate only during an eight hour window were far less likely to develop diseases and gain weight, regardless of their diet. If you are accepted into the study, My Circadian Clock can help you lead a more balanced life, including better sleep patterns.

2. Entrain

Created by researchers at the University of Michigan, Entrain uses maths to suggest optimal times for your body to be exposed to light and dark. Like My Circadian Clock, it helps users understand how circadian rhythms affect our body’s needs and desires when it comes to sleeping patterns. It’s also useful for travellers who move frequently across time zones and who must adapt to irregular cycles of light and dark. 

Sleep tracking: does it work?

There are a number of gadgets and apps out there that promise to help you understand your sleeping patterns better through sleep tracking. But can data actually help you sleep better? Let’s take a look at some of the options:

Sleep tracking apps

While there’s a few different sleep tracking apps out there, most work in a pretty similar fashion. Turn the app on, or set a timer, and place your smartphone under your pillow. Based on your movements (the apps takes advantage of the accelerometer in your phone), the app tracks your sleep phases and provides graphs on your habits over time. It also features alarms designed to fade in during a light phase of sleep, offering a less jarring wake up call than the standard fixed time alarm. Here are some of our favourites:

Sleep tracking devices

If you’re serious about monitoring your sleep patterns, there’s a handful of physical devices that you can wear for greater insight into how good (or bad) your nightly sleep is over time. In most cases, these devices either sync with your phone, or allow you to ‘wear’ your phone to bed. By being closer to your body (as opposed to under your pillow), these devices generally provided a higher degree of accuracy when monitoring your sleep patterns.

How to use sleep tracking data to improve your sleep

Tracking your sleep is one thing, but actually doing something meaningful with the data is another. There are 3 key factors to consider

1. Light

Changes in the ambient light around you, as well as the light outside, can affect how you sleep. For example, some people will be pulled from sleep by a phone screen turning on, while others can sleep through changes in light (provided they are gradual, like a rising sun). Some of us prefer a bit of low light during sleep, others crave the darkness. Experiment with different light levels and track how it impacts your sleeping over several nights. 

2. Environment

If you live in a smoggy inner city environment there’s a good chance it will impact your sleep because your breathing and airways are impeded. It can differ from person to person, but tracking your sleeping patterns when visiting family or friends outside the city might provide some interesting results.

Other environmental factors also come into play. Dampness in the foundations of your house, or living in noisy areas, can affect people differently. Similarly, sleeping on a poor quality, unsuited or old mattress can negatively affect your sleeping patterns. Trying a few different locations when tracking your sleep patterns will give you a clearer picture of what works for you.

3. Time

Some people exhibit similar sleeping patterns regardless of the time of day or night it is. Others require an almost military precision to their sleep time. When we go to bed and when we rise can adversely impact our sleeping patterns. Try going to bed at different times when tracking your sleeping patterns. Look at the data and see how it affects you. It might take a few months, even a year, to accumulate enough data to make it meaningful, but the results could be happier, healthier sleep.

Our verdict

Sleep tracking apps are cheap and easy to use, and do provide some valuable information. However they don’t provide as accurate or detailed data as dedicated devices.

The best way to ensure a good night’s sleep is to have the proper mattress for your needs. Contact the experts at Latex Mattress Australia today to discuss what type of mattress is best to help you get a good night sleep.

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