Tech for a good night's sleep

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Syd Bolton, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:07 PM ET

Sleep. We all need it. Most of us don't understand it. Most of us don't get enough, some of us seem to need less. It's one thing that can greatly impact all of us and yet we spend so little time doing anything about it. With technology, that could all change.

If you think snoring is a harmless (but annoying) side effect you'd likely be wrong. Snoring is often a sign of sleep apnea, where your body actually stops breathing during a sleep cycle and eventually wakes you up before you get into serious trouble.

The problem is that you likely won't notice this interruption in your sleep but your body will never get the right amount of sleep (stage 3 or 4) that it needs to function properly. It would be like trying to walk to the other side of the room but never quite making it because you constantly get pulled back to the beginning.

A doctor-ordered sleep study can identify problems with your sleep but even they are not perfect. Patients often feel out of sorts and not quite themselves sleeping in a lab environment, so what about bringing the lab home to you? There is some technology out there than can really help you identify problems with your sleep cycles which could explain all kinds of seemingly unrelated health issues.

I've written before about the Shine that not only acts as a fitness tracker but a sleep monitor as well. The Shine is capable of detecting how much deep sleep you get in a night, and although the "official" amount of deep sleep you get seems to be a moving target it's a good device to tell you if there is a problem. The Fitbit Force does a similar job in tracking the quality of your sleep and even has the added bonus of waking you with a vibrating timed alarm that will not disturb your partner.

There's also a third competitor in this space, the Jawbone Up which also provides the ability to track your motion and sleep patterns. Each of these products has minor advantages and disadvantages over the other, so I'm going to just recommend the one that suits your fashion style most while providing the basic functions that you need. These devices will continue to get better and more powerful as time goes on. This band ranges from $130-$150.

A cheaper alternative (but perhaps a little less convenient) is to get the Sleep as Android app for your Android smartphone. This "free" app ($2.99 after a two-week trial) has many features including an alarm clock and sleep cycle tracker. The alarm clock gently wakes you during your preset "wake window" when it is least jarring to do so. It is a well known fact that waking someone when they are in a deeper sleep is not as pleasant to the body or the mind versus be awakened in a lighter sleep state.

iPhone users have Sleep Cycle as a top choice for tracking their sleep cycles and providing a gentle wake alarm just like the Android App. It recommends placing the phone on your mattress by your pillow and under the sheet. It will set you back 99 cents. But let's face it, if it helps you get a better sleep then it's priceless.

While all of these apps might make you think that it's okay to be using your smartphone late at night, one of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to put away that phone or tablet 30-45 minutes before going to sleep because using them keeps your body awake. The phone apps mentioned here can be used with the screens face down in between your mattress and the sheets, and should not interfere with your sleep.

Getting a good night's rest can affect so much of the quality of your life. Speaking from personal experience I can assure you that it can make all the difference in the world and completely control the quality of your life. This time don't just sleep on it, do something about it!

Syd Bolton is the curator of the Personal Computer Museum and the manager of Information Technology at ACIC/Methapharm. You can reach him via e-mail at sbolton@bfree.on.ca or by snail mail care of The Brantford Expositor.

 


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