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The Best Tech Gadgets to Help You Sleep (and Sleep Better), According to Sleep Experts

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There’s now more technology than ever claiming to help you sleep better, from wake-up lights that mimic the sunrise to mattresses that use science to turn body heat into restorative infrared heat, and even so-called meditation headsets that claim to calm you down enough to fall asleep. But if you’re having a hard time falling or staying asleep, just buying up all of these bedroom gadgets isn’t necessarily going to help (and if your problems are chronic, you should really seek assistance from a medial professional, not an app or tech product).

If you’re having a hard time falling asleep during the pandemic, you’re not alone. A study done by the department of psychology at Sapienza University of Rome found that “a significant proportion of respondents reported that their sleep quality had been affected as a result of the pandemic, with 57 percent of respondents in the Italian survey reporting poor sleep quality, as well as high levels of anxiety and distress.” According to the British Sleep Society, close to three-quarters of people in the United Kingdom noticed a change in their sleep patterns, too.

Rebecca Robbins, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and associate scientist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, says that approximately 30 percent of adults in the U.S. already “track their sleep using their smartphone or some sort of wearable technology.” And that trend seems to be growing as more technology becomes available, she says, giving the average person detailed sleep data to work with. The trick is using that data and the available technology in a way that actually helps you improve your sleep. Dr. Matthew Ebben, sleep medicine expert at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian, compares it to working out: “Just buying a bunch of weights doesn’t put you in good shape, doesn’t build muscle for you. You have to know the proper exercises. You have to do them on a regular basis, and technology for sleep is like that.”

We talked to sleep experts to figure out which of the most common types of sleep gadgets can actually help you improve the quality of your sleep and how to use them correctly (along with some low-tech alternatives).

Sleep Trackers

Fitbit Charge 4
Photo: retailer

If you feel like you haven’t been getting enough sleep, but otherwise feel okay, it might be helpful to start using a sleep tracker. “A lot of times, these things can be very helpful to make people understand that their problem isn’t that you don’t sleep. It’s you don’t perceive your sleep, or it’s not satisfying,” says Dr. W. Chris Winter, sleep-medicine specialist and neurologist. It’s ostensibly a relatively low-impact way to gain some insight into the number of hours that you sleep, especially when it’s an item like the FitBit, which has a battery life of up to seven days.

With Apple’s sleep-tracking app you can see how long and how deeply you’re sleeping, then create a sleep goal and a custom sleep schedule to try to improve your sleep. Tracking your sleep in this way, Robbins says, is “generally a good thing. When we all draw a little bit more attention to our behaviors, it prompts things like self-reflection.” You might realize that you’ve had too much coffee that day or you stared at your phone screen for too long before going to sleep. The tracker’s job is to “provide behavioral feedback,” says Robbins. “You slept well last night. And now we have the XYZ parameter to show that it was, pretty good sleep.”

Or, if you prefer a sleep tracker that you don’t have to wear, you can try this sleep-tracking pad from Withings (a company owned by Nokia that’s recently undergone some rebranding, hence the somewhat confusing product title). Setup is simple: Just slip this pad underneath your mattress and connect it to the accompanying app. Plus, since you leave it plugged into the wall, you never have to worry about charging it.

Ebben takes a different approach — especially since “we don’t know the accuracy of most of these devices,” as he points out — and recommends keeping a sleep journal or log in a regular, low-tech notebook, especially if you recognize you have a problem. “You keep track of when you thought you got into bed and when you thought you fell asleep and your awakenings during the night, which can be quite helpful when you bring it into a sleep doctor,” he explains. (This is also a good option for those nervous about uploading your biometric data to an unknown server.)

Biofeedback Devices