Sleep Technology: Gadgets and Products Designed to Enhance Sleep

A woman sleeps better due to the beneficial effects of sleep technology and various gadgets and products that enhance the sleep environment conditions
Credit: Astronaut Images / Getty Images

Sleep is increasingly impacted by the world of technology—and as a business, it is booming. It is an exciting time of innovation with numerous products available that are designed to enhance sleep.

The list of products continues to grow. There are apps, wearable technology like fitness trackers, smart beds and external monitors that make the bedroom part of the internet of things (IoT), and devices meant to optimize the sleep environment by regulating light, noise, temperature, and humidity. There are interventions that treat snoring, sleep apnea, circadian disorders, and insomnia. Which products show promise and what is the future of sleep in the technology age?

Natural Sleep: Can It Be Enhanced?

Sleep is a natural physiological process experienced by all animals on the planet. However, humans seem to be the only ones interested in using technology to attempt to enhance it.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. We have used our rational intellect for millennia to accomplish things that would not have seemed possible. Without the aid of technology, we could never travel with great speed and ease, fly through the air, journey into outer space, or even read this article. Technology has its place, and it may even have a role in sleep enhancement.

Current Technology to Treat Sleep Disorders

Technology has already had a dramatic impact on the treatment of sleep disorders. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) was invented more than 35 years ago. It revolutionized the treatment of snoring and sleep apnea— a condition that previously required extreme surgical measures to resolve.

CPAP therapy continues to evolve, becoming quieter and easier to use. AutoCPAP now self-adjusts based on an algorithm that responds to breathing disturbances in real time. It is networked to providers via a cloud-based system that allows data collection as well as therapy adjustments.

Over the past decade, the hypoglossal nerve stimulator has become an effective surgical treatment for severe sleep apnea. This pacemaker for the tongue activates the muscles of the airway during sleep. It can relieve the condition among those who do not tolerate CPAP.

Circadian rhythm disorders and insomnia may improve with the use of light box technology. Whether delivered via a lamp or with newer light glasses worn on the face, this phototherapy can transform difficulty sleeping.

New Sleep Technology

Newer technology may begin to transform how we sleep. With unique perspectives and differing approaches, scientists and researchers are revolutionizing the bed, bedroom, and the person who sleeps. 

Sleep Apps

It is impossible to count how many sleep-related apps exist for smartphones. Many use movement to track sleep and wakefulness. This information may be used to synchronize a morning alarm. There are apps to teach relaxation techniques and to play soothing sounds. Some give sleep advice. Many coordinate with wearable technology and other devices.

Wearables and Fitness Trackers

Wristbands and smartwatches come from familiar companies: Fitbit, Jawbone, Nike, Apple, and more. Initially promoted as enhanced step counters, they now incorporate movement data as well as heart rate and even blood oxygen measurement to estimate sleep states. Guidance may be offered for changes to improve sleep.

Smart Beds and Mattresses

As part of the expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT), the bed has become a source of data. Newer options may record the same information that would be captured by a wearable, either with a pad (such as Nokia Sleep or Beddit) or integrated into the mattress itself (such as Sleep Number 360). The bed may be able to raise the head to alleviate snoring (like via the Smart Nora) or reduce the risk of sleep apnea. Temperature regulation may also be possible, alleviating insomnia symptoms.

External Bedside Monitoring

External monitoring devices are meant to be placed on the nightstand. These survey the sleep environment, collecting information about sleep and potentially extending interventions. One of the most high profile options is the SleepScore Max.

Targeting Environmental Changes to Enhance Sleep

Beyond monitoring sleep characteristics, it might also become possible for these devices to make specific changes to enhance sleep. These may be integrated into IoT to create an enhanced environment, such as the one offered by Sleepace DreamLife. There also may be individual interventions. These would be likely to fall into the following broad categories:

Light

Most people sleep better in a dark environment. Black-out curtains work well during the night, but unless someone opens them in the morning, it may be harder to wake when you need to. What if technology could help to enhance exposure to the natural pattern of light and darkness? The shades could be opened as morning approaches. It may be possible to slowly increase light similar to a sunrise. Whether enhancing exposure to natural light or providing the substitute of an artificial source, optimized timing of exposure to light may greatly improve sleep.

Sound

It is clear that external noise can be disruptive to sleep. White noise machines may help to blot out these disturbances. It may also be helpful to produce relaxing sounds, either mimicking natural ones or simply canceling out noise that is bothersome. The Nightingale device attempts to fill the bedroom with sound that promotes sleep. Alternatively, it is possible to cuddle up to the Somnox robot to accomplish something similar.

Temperature

A cool environment is ideal for sleeping. Our body temperature drops overnight, dovetailing with the natural changes that occur in the environment. Some technology even attempts to cool the brain to enhance sleep, such as the Ebb sleep device.

Humidity

Newer technology may also be able to alter the humidity of the sleep environment. This could make it easier to breathe overnight, making it easier to manage allergies, snoring, and sleep apnea.

Air Pressure

Air pressure may impact breathing. One might imagine a sleep pod that could carefully regulate the pressure to reduce airway obstruction during sleep without requiring an uncomfortable CPAP mask. This would alleviate the vibration of snoring as well as the recurrent blockage associated with sleep apnea.

Altering Brain Waves

It might become possible to induce changes in the brain waves to deepen sleep (by reinforcing slow waves). There are several products in this realm, including Phillips SmartSleep and the Dreem headband. Further research may demonstrate the utility of this intervention.

Future Innovations in Sleep

There is growth in telemedicine for the management of sleep disorders. This will increase access to board-certified sleep physicians, who will always have a central role in treatment (partly due to restrictions regarding prescription medications and devices that require medical licensing).

It is possible that artificial intelligence may have the ability to provide some helpful guidance in the management of sleep conditions like insomnia. This may make cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI) accessible in a new way.

There are some dangers associated with the advancement of sleep technology. Sometimes the hype gets ahead of the science. Unscrupulous individuals may set up efforts to raise large amounts of money with a few attractive pictures, but not actually be able to deliver on their promises. This may require oversight by the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection. Regulation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may be helpful to ensure that these interventions do not harm those who seek relief.

A Word From Verywell

There is a considerable need to improve sleep within modern society. In some ways, we have lost respect for the central place that sleep should have in our lives. Future innovation in sleep technology may be motivated in part by financial gain, but one hopes that it might also have a foundation for helping to better the lives of others.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
  • CES Consumer Technology Association. "Sleep Tech."