Bedtime Technology for a Better Night’s Sleep

ADVOCATES of healthier, less tech-dependent living say you should keep your gadgets out of the bedroom.

But what if those devices can help you get a decent night’s sleep?

Plenty of consumer devices can track sleeping patterns — how long and deeply you rest, how often you get up and even your heart rate and respiration. No gadget is going to solve issues like apnea or insomnia, of course. But if you want more information about how you sleep or you’re trying to figure out why you’re still tired after a good eight hours in the sack, sleep monitoring can be illuminating.

The extent of that illumination depends on how much you want to spend. For $50 to $200, you can get an activity tracker that is worn like a watch, with familiar brand names like the Jawbone Up, Fitbit, the Basis Peak and the Microsoft Band.

You can get more data — and spend more — with things like headbands and chest straps and bedside monitors that can watch your breathing and respiration. And for the truly sleep obsessed, multi-thousand-dollar beds will track your sleeping habits and let you adjust the entire bed.

Let’s start with the wrist gadgets you’ve probably heard of: Jawbone and Fitbit don’t track heart rate or respiration, just movement — though both have announced coming devices that will include heart rate tracking.

The Microsoft Band and the Basis Peak provide heart-rate monitoring in addition to sensing motion. Their manufacturers claim they can tell the difference between light and deep sleep. I found that the Microsoft Band consistently underreported my sleep when compared with other trackers. And experts say respiration and heart rate alone are not as telling as the brain activity, eye movement and muscle activity monitoring that are done in medical sleep clinics.

People reasonably object to wearing a wristband, chest strap or headband while sleeping. An answer to that could be bedside devices that claim to monitor your sleep from afar, like the $150 ResMed S+. Nintendo is reportedly developing something similar.

You can also consider tech that doesn’t require any extra work at all — you just have to go to bed.

Withings, a French company, makes a $300 device called the Aura, which includes a mattress pad and a bedside base that can produce various sounds, lights and alarms. I didn’t test the device, although the night stand base seems unnecessary.

I tried and liked a cheaper competitor called Beddit, a $150 setup that consists of a motion-sensing strip that sticks to your mattress and plugs in next to the bed. A free app for Android or iOS devices collects sleep data and provides tips related to weight, stress, insomnia, snoring or sports and exercise.

If you’re willing to sleep with your phone next to your head, it will even use the phone’s microphone to listen for sounds like snoring. And you can set various alarms on the phone, including a “smart” alarm that will sense an optimal wake time in your sleep cycle.

Of all the apps I’ve seen, Beddit’s provided the most attractive and detailed sleep information along with sleeping tips that weren’t completely generic.

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For the serious sleeper, there are — for lack of a better way to describe them — smart beds.

I spent a month sleeping on a bed from Sleep Number, which makes mattresses that can inflate or deflate to a desired firmness. Sleep Number beds now include optional technology called SleepIQ, which uses a sensing pad and a smartphone app to monitor sleep. The bed’s control system connects to your home Wi-Fi network and sends sleep data to your phone.

The mattress pad captures data like your heart rate, respiration and head-to-toe movement. Then the free smartphone app for Android or iOS displays a sleep score complete with a breakdown of light sleep versus deep sleep, movements throughout the night, and times you got out of bed.

The app includes a “journal” feature so you can enter factors that might have affected your sleep. There are preset options like exercise, alcohol, medication, television watching or caffeine, or you can type in notes such as “ate spicy food” or “watched a scary movie.”

It gets more useful over time. You can look at a monthly calendar and if you’ve kept up on journal entries you can pick out patterns. I like that the system doesn’t require you to do anything but go to sleep, and that it has a couples-friendly ability to track the sleeping habits of both sides of the bed.

But there are a few drawbacks. For one thing, the SleepIQ system is expensive and installation is complicated. The Wi-Fi-connected bed I tested cost around $4,500, took hours to set up and required a SleepIQ account created in advance. For $500, you can add the SleepIQ system to any Sleep Number bed made after 2008, but not any other bed.

The SleepIQ app is attractive, but it needs work. The journal feature works only on data from the night before, and you can’t do things like enter the kind of exercise you did before you go to sleep. And despite a wealth of collected information, the app offers only intermittent and even obvious tips, like eating healthier food.

The SleepIQ system never told me what I didn’t already know. Pepperoni pizza keeps me up at night and so does exercising in the evening — I didn’t need an app for that.

Still, sleep scientists say a lot of people go to sleep at night and wake up tired for reasons they can’t explain. If you live alone, you might have no idea that you have sleep apnea, restless legs or even problems like sleepwalking. Sleep tracking can help uncover patterns that you didn’t already know about, even if they are not always completely accurate.

“A given night might not be completely accurate, but if the person looks at the trend over time it might be more revealing,” said Dr. Clete A. Kushida, medical director at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine.

But he said even a costly mattress alone isn’t enough to improve serious sleep issues. If you are having problems, ask your doctor for a sleep study.

"These devices are good for maybe highlighting a problem or looking at sleep over time, but to actually diagnose a sleep problem, I think it’s very difficult to do that without seeing a physician,” Dr. Kushida said.