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Technology is destroying our sleep. Technology is saving our sleep.

Posted on May 12 2020

When did we start keeping ourselves up worrying about our sleep tracker scores?

It sounds crazy, but that’s exactly what’s happening according to the Journal of Sleep Medicine.

The very technology that’s supposed to help us sleep better is causing so much anxiety that we can’t fall asleep.

The irony of it kills me. But that’s not all.

There’s a secret no one likes to talk about: sleep trackers are horribly, terribly, no good, not even a little bit accurate. Virtually all consumer sleep trackers can’t truly identify your time spent in different phases of sleep or number of wakeups or actual sleep quality.

But they pretend to.

And consumers believe it. So much so that people are making real health decisions based on this flawed data, leading to all sorts of bad, unintended consequences (like our poor friend Mr. R).

It doesn’t stop there though. You don’t have to be using a tracker for technology to be negatively impacting your sleep.

The National Sleep Foundation says 95% of people use electronics in the hour before they sleep. Shorter wavelength light (AKA blue-light), the kind that comes from your phones, tablets, laptops and other electronic displays, can actually make it harder to sleep. The blue-light emitted from these devices suppresses melatonin, a hormone in your body that helps regulate circadian rhythms and signal your body that it’s time for rest.

There’s also psychological effects. Things that you may read online, or even video games before bed, could energize or stress you out, making it harder to go to sleep.

But then, eventually, you might fall asleep… only to be woken up by a call, email, text message, or other push notification, since you forgot to turn your phone on silent (according to some statistics it happens to about ~10% of people routinely).

We’re surrounded by distractions and interruptions, technological traps so to speak. And it’s devastating our resting hours.

Sleep problems have climbed to be the 2nd most common health complaint, with the Center of Disease Control naming poor sleep as a public health epidemic, affecting some 70 million Americans routinely.

This all sounds a bit too bleak though, doesn’t it?

Stop for a moment. Breathe. Really, take a deep breath. Relax.

Technology is not a boogeyman out to get you. We’re just misusing it; it’s a double edged sword, and right now we’re holding it by the tip instead of the handle.

It’s straightforward for us to address most of these problems head on: turn your phone on silent before going to bed, reduce exposure to blue light an hour before sleep (or wear these funny glasses), and be conscious of getting into crazy online arguments, or adrenaline pumping video games late at night. Also, take advice from consumer health trackers with a huge grain of salt, they generally aren’t that accurate.

The exciting part though lies beyond the simple suggestions. How could technology truly enhance our sleep? A new generation of tech companies have cropped up to answer the call.

Some make big, unproven promises that are wild and intriguing, like KokoonRythm, or Neuroon, which combine advanced sensors to react and mold a sleep solution to you (supposedly).

Others, like HeadspaceCalmBrain.fmSleepio, and of course Pzizz (that’s us!) are trying to help you quiet your mind, as indeed the biggest problem with sleep these days is the terrible disease of “too much thinking.”

And who could forget all the new mattress-tech companies (who also generally sell sheets, pillows, comforters, etc)? CasperPurpleEveLeesaand so many more are fighting out the battle for the bedroom.

There’s so much happening, on so many different fronts. In a way, it is the best of times (for sleep), it is the worst of times (for sleep). The stakes are higher than ever before.

Innovating now in sleep could affect how billions of people around the world not only appreciate their times of rest, but how they are able to show up and enjoy their waking hours.

Wherever your loyalties end up and whatever paths you decide to experiment with, keep in mind that not everything will work as advertised, and not every company will truly deliver on the dream (I make no apologies for my puns!).

But with a bit of luck, a lot of science, and an incredible amount of hard work, we all just might wake up to a better night’s rest.

Note: this piece was originally featured as part of the Milken Conference’s LinkedIn Series

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