It is easy to say that technology is bad for your sleep. With their latest mobile software, Apple and Google both incorporate features which reduce the emission of sleep-preventing blue light, prevent you from using apps to excess, and even turn your phone to black-and-white when it's time to hit the hay.
But, while smartphones can offer little when it comes to improving your sleep, other devices can make a real difference — and some are even built for the job.
- How to sleep deeper and wake up brighter with smart home tech
- Let Google Home help you sleep with these soothing ambient sounds
In this article. GearBrain looks at tech products which can help you switch off at night and get a good night's sleep — then offer analysis the next day on how well you slept.
Amazon Echo and Google Home
Smart speakers by Google and Amazon can help you drift off by playing soothing sound effects (or white noise, if you prefer).
If you own a Google Home smart speaker, there are 15 effects to choose from, including running water, a crackling fireplace, rain, thunderstorms, and white noise. All you have to do is say: "Hey Google, help me relax" to hear a sound at random, or ask for a specific sound by saying: "Hey Google, play [name] sounds."
The full list of ambient sounds is:
- Relaxing sounds
- Nature sounds
- Water sounds
- Running water sounds
- Outdoor sounds
- Babbling brook sounds
- Oscillating fan sounds
- Fireplace sounds
- Forest sounds
- Country night sounds
- Ocean sounds
- Rain sounds
- River sounds
- Thunderstorm sounds
- White noise
Things are a little more complex with the Amazon Echo. Asking Alexa to play ambient sounds encourages her to offer up a range of 'skills', such as Ambient Noise by Invoked Apps LLC. This skill has a huge range of sounds to choose from, including rain, thunderstorm, airplane, city, rainforest, wind and shower - plus some unusual ones like hair dryer, washing machine and heartbeat.
All you have to do is ask Alexa to find the skill (or enable it here) and say: "Alexa, ask Ambient Noise to play [sound name]." You can also specify how long you want the sound to last.
Smart lighting from the likes of Philips Hue and LIFX can be set to dim gradually at night then switch back on slowly in the morning, simulating sunrise and sunset.
Providing you have blackout curtains, these lighting effects can work very well — especially when waking up. The Hue app includes a routines feature, where you can set your lights to dim gradually at a certain time each day and over whatever duration you like. This can then be selected from your phone, or by asking Alexa or the Google Assistant as part of their routines feature.
For those who like to sleep with a light on, smart lighting can be set to any one of 16 million colors, so there's bound to be one that's right for you.
Smart lighting can also be helpful at night when you need to visit the bathroom. Install a wireless motion sensor and, once set up through the Hue app, it can be set to switch a single light on in the hallway to a low brightness when it detects movement at night - handy for lighting the way for you but not disturbing anyone else.
Lumie specializes in lights designed to help you fall asleep and wake up. They gradually transition from bright white to a warm red/orange glow at night, then do the opposite to wake you up again in the morning. The duration of each can be set to your preferences, and there are audible alarms too if you need them.
We have lived with a Lumie for over a year now and have found it very good at waking us up, purely with light — especially useful on dark winter mornings. Other brands also sell lamps which simulate the sun, such as Philips, Verilux, Mosche, and Northern Light Technology.
Air quality monitor
Greater exposure to nitrogen dioxide and fine air particles known as PM 2.5 can lower your sleep efficiency, the measure of how long you are asleep compared to how long you spend in bed. The more polluted the air in your bedroom, the less time you will spend asleep.
To help understand the quality of air in your bedroom, devices like the Awair 2 and Foobot — both of which we have reviewed at GearBrain — can help. In particular, the Awair 2 measures PM2.5 and offers a score based on how conducive your air quality is to sleep. If things change, the smartphone app alerts you and offers suggestions — like to open or close a window, and switch on a fan. With IFTTT (If This, Then That) integration, you can have a fan or dehumidifier switch on automatically when your air quality changes.
Smartwatch or fitness tracker
A good way to improve your sleep is to get an understanding of why you aren't sleep well in the first place. This is where sleep monitors and fitness trackers come in to play.
Most smartwatches and fitness trackers offer sleep tracking, logged with their accelerometers and in some cases their heart rate monitors, too. For example, the Alta and Charge fitness trackers by Fitbit both provide 'sleep insights' by showing on their companion smartphone app when you were in the deep, light and REM stages of sleep through each night, and when you were awake.
Humans sleep in cycles, falling from awake, through REM, then into light and deep sleep, before coming back up through the stages to being awake again. This happens several times each night and is logged by the Fitbit app, along with your heart rate and the time you spent in each stage.
Smartwatches can also do this, but their limited battery life means they are not the ideal sleep tracker — unless you don't mind recharging them every couple of days.
Hybrid watches, which have a battery life measured in weeks or even months, track sleep too, but they often only use an accelerometer so can't provide as much detail as dedicated fitness trackers and devices with a heart rate monitor.
If the data shows you are struggling to get to sleep in the first place, try limiting your exposure to blue light before bed (in other words, put your phone away an hour before you plan to settle down). If you are waking up early in the summer months, consider investing in some black-out blinds.
Dedicated sleep monitor
Dedicated sleep monitors which fit under the mattress are also available, such as the $150 Beddit 3 Smart Sleep Monitor and the Nokia Sleep. However, while its monitor remains on sale, Beddit was acquired by Apple in May 2017, so we wonder if a new model (perhaps eve branded by Apple) is on the horizon.