To sleep, perchance to analyze data?

May 16, 2013 – 12:36 PM | By Rob Kimball | No comments yet
just give me another five minutes

just give me another five minutes

OK, I admit it, I love to sleep! If I need any more reminders that I am getting old – thinning hairline, constant aches and pains, the imminent arrival of reading glasses – the fact that I really enjoy going to bed early should be a sign. To me, nothing is more relaxing than a good book and some peace and quiet before nodding off; 10:00 is usually about right. Accompanying me on the bedside table is a sound machine which creates soothing background noise to help drown out the outside world (which is usually the TV in the other room by my night-owl wife).

But, while we were awake, sleep has become a serious business. A search at clinicaltrials.gov revealed 3,246 sleep disorder studies are currently conducted worldwide.  In addition, a recent survey conducted by the Pew Center  showed 60% of respondents track health indicators such as weight and exercise, and 33% track health indicators or symptoms, like blood pressure, blood sugar, headaches, or sleep patterns. Of this study population, 21% say they use some form of technology to track their health data, such as a spreadsheet, website, app, or device.

For those of us more inclined towards technology, the options are many. Open up the app store on your smartphone or tablet and type in “sleep cycle.” Of the 134 choices that popped up on my phone, the Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock (99 cents to download) from Maciek Drejak Labs is the most prominent. The user places the phone under the sheets near the pillow before getting into bed. Since you move differently in bed during the different phases, Sleep Cycle uses the accelerometer in your phone to monitor your movement to determine which sleep phase you are experiencing. The goal of the app is to wake the user in the lightest sleep phase, which feels like waking without an alarm clock – it is a natural way to wake up where you feel rested and relaxed. Say you normally get up at 7:30, the Sleep Cycle will determine within a half hour the best possible time to wake you peacefully from slumber. No more smashing the alarm clock against the wall; you might be less inclined to smash your smartphone, but that’s a personal choice.
Upon awakening (refreshed and ready to take on the day!), the user is privy to all sorts of data on his or her sleep cycle for that night. You can find out the total time spent in the bed, of that time, what percentage of it was “quality sleep.” It keeps track of your statistics over time, so you can view a graph your sleep cycle.

Another device that has been getting attention is the fitbit one. The fitbit one ($99) consists of a wireless wristband that is always on and tracks all the user’s movements and patterns, including sleep. Slip into your wrist band at night, and it’ll measure your sleep cycle. Once the data syncs, graphs on your dashboard (via your smartphone) will reveal how long you slept and the number of times you woke up, giving you a sleep quality score. Over time, you can apply what you learn to help you sleep more soundly. The device also has a silent wake alarm that gently vibrates to wake you at your desired time, without disturbing your partner. This device is all-encompassing as it keeps track of your total fitness levels and lifestyle (steps taken, calories burned, distance traveled, stairs climbed, hours slept, and quality of sleep).

Full disclosure: I haven’t tried these myself (or any of the other numerous sleep aid devices). Call me old fashioned, but for now I will stick with my tried and true methods – comfortable bed, sound machine (set to rainstorm, please), and an automatic brew coffee machine. Sometimes variables, like my lab’s cold nose and panting breath in my face, take care of waking on its own.

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