There are a great many devices on the market to help you optimise your sleep. Some require the user to wear a wristband, other have sensors located under the pillow or mattress. Most of them work on the principle that human beings enter into cycles of sleep and that there are optimal times to wake.
Sleep hacking technology has been with us for a little while now, and it’s one of those growth areas that is benefiting from the increase in sensors embedded in wearable technology and our smartphones.
The whole notion of using technology to optimise biological functions is a trend that is only set to extend into more areas of our lives as sensors and algorithms get better and more subtle. Broadly speaking, this is no bad thing. Devices that can track a variety of biometric data could revolutionise preventative healthcare. Imagine a device that could be worn invisibly and detect an imminent heart attack or stroke? We’re not far off such technology, and for many this will be a game changer.
So what about sleep? Do we need to mess around with it? If advertisers are to be believed then the western world has a problem with sleep. Posters on the London underground promote products that will give you energy and help you keep up with your colleagues. These posters ask the question – Tired?
Clearly there’s a market here. Pills you can take to correct some kind of imbalance, books you can read to give you inner calm and technology you can use to optimise your sleep cycles.
This is the problem. There’s a market. Those three (sic) words should strike fear into you, because once the worlds of FMCG, consumer tech and over the counter pharma detect a sniff of a new market, all bets are off.
We enter a feedback loop where companies tell us that we have a problem the solution to which is their product. We consume the tablets, download the apps and drink the detox juice and we still feel tired, but for some baffling reason we assume that it’s something we’re not doing rather than the ineffectiveness of the various cures we’ve bought. So we double down on solutions, buy a different brand of tablet and try a different app. We’re in the marketing mix now. Rather than look at the simple changes we might make (drink less, sleep more etc) we look for some kind of external fix.
The sleep app fits neatly into this outsourcing of our responsibility for our own biological functions. Just as suppliers of bottled water want us to believe that thirst is not a reliable indicator of hydration, they now want us to believe that we’re incapable of sleeping properly without assistance (millions of years of evolution and it turns out humanity doesn’t know when to drink water or sleep, who knew?).
One well documented effect of smartphones is that the light they emit tricks the body into thinking it should be awake, plus dicking around on Facebook and Pintrest until 1am can’t be ideal preparation for a good night’s sleep. (Amusingly the answer suggested in many articles about blue light and sleep problems is to use an app that dims your screen.)
So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to leave my phone downstairs. I’m not going to have anything on the table next to my bed but an alarm clock.
I spent £14.99 on a clock from Amazon.
It tells the time, has an alarm and, if I press the button on top, lights up so I can see it in the dark.
I’ll let you know how I get on.