Technology Could Help You Sleep Better

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You know this, but we’re going to tell you anyway: Sleep is a beyond crucial part of your overall health. On a macro level, logging the recommended seven-plus hours of ZZZs a night helps make sure that you’ll feel ready for whatever the next day throws at you. But there’s more to sleep than just being able to rebound.

“Sleep is one of the fundamental processes by which our bodies recover, heal, and rejuvenate after a day of activity,” says Matthew Scharf, MD, PhD, medical director of the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Sleep Laboratory in New Brunswick, New Jersey. It impacts everything from head to toe—specifically:

  • Your immune system: Regularly struggling to sleep well impacts how well your immune system works, according to a 2019 review of scientific literature published in Physiological Reviews. A lack of sleep is also linked to higher levels of inflammation, which can raise your risk of a slew of serious health conditions, including cancer and heart disease, per the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
  • Your heart health: One large-scale, observational study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in 2019 found that Those who log less than six hours a night have a 20 percent increase in risk of developing heart disease or a heart attack in their lifetime than their better-rested counterparts.
  • How you deal with stress: A 2015 review published in Sleep Science showed that levels of the stress hormone cortisol drop overnight (typically hitting their lowest levels around midnight). If you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re not allowing your body to rid yourself of those extra stress hormones leaving you feeling, well, stressy.
  • How you age: While a celebrity crediting good sleep to their age-defying looks may cue a few eye rolls, there’s something to this. One study photographed 10 people after eight hours of sleep and again after 31 hours of sleep deprivation and had 40 people rate their pictures across a range of categories. When people were sleep deprived, they were rated as having more wrinkles and fine lines than when they were better rested.

    Of course, knowing you should get good sleep and actually making it happen are two totally different things. And, while technology often gets a bad rap for preventing your daily seven-plus, it’s possible to put your gadgets to good use. Here’s how.

    Assess your tech use

    Sleep docs recommend turning off all screens an hour or two before bed. “Set aside time and space for sleep,” says Sabra Abbott, MD, a sleep medicine physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. “Unless the technology is specifically related to promoting healthy sleep, it should be limited to the daytime, and only be used outside of the bedroom.”

    Track your sleep

    Sleep trackers can help patients become more aware of their sleep habits, say experts. “Technology can be helpful if it serves to keep you honest,” Dr. Abbott says. “For example, you may start to notice correlations between feeling tired during the daytime and decreased sleep recorded on the device. In turn, this could be used as a motivation to try to make sure you are allowing enough time for sleep, and keeping regular bedtimes.”

    Oura Ring

    One sleep and health tracker worth considering: The Oura Ring. You wear it on your finger—where, according to the company, the ring’s research-grade sensors can collect more accurate data because the finger is more sensitive to movement and the heart rate signal is stronger from the finger due to its proximity to your arteries.

    It provides you with all kinds of data, like how well you slept, whether you’re getting enough deep and REM sleep every night for your body to repair and recover, and which daytime habits (looking at you, 4 p.m. coffee) could be impacting your sleep.

    What’s more, the ring tracks other key body metrics, like your heart rate, temperature, daily movement, and more, and it can tell you when you might be too tired, under the weather, stressed, or even getting sick.

    The ring is so lightweight, you’ll barely notice it’s there, and there’s no bright screen to wake you up. It also has a long battery life (up to seven days), and comes in timeless colors that go with every outfit and occasion.

    And, if you want to get analytical, you can track when you implement a potential sleep-boosting habit, such as taking a hot shower before bed, and over time see if it correlates with the nights you get better rest.

    Listen to a calming meditation before bed

    Peace and quiet doesn’t always cut it—when you’ve been staring at the ceiling for what feels like hours to no avail, your phone’s speakers can come in handy. Oura Ring has a library of guided meditation and sleep sounds. You can tell if a specific meditation or sleep sound can help you fall asleep faster based on the metrics that the ring collects. Set the serene stage—and prevent hearing loss—by listening at the lowest volume possible.

    “A guided meditation is very effective for calming people,” says Karen Lee, MD, a sleep neurologist at Massachusetts Eye and Ear in Boston. “You can close your eyes and just relax. I hear from a lot of people that this helps with falling asleep.” Dr. Scharf agrees. “I have a lot of patients who use calming music and meditation apps to fall asleep,” he says.

    Turn up a white noise app

    Another auditory assist you can get from technology, white noise is a sound that contains all frequencies across the audible spectrum in equal measure. Non-science speak: It kind of sounds like a gentle static hum that can block out other sounds. “White noise is particularly useful if you are sensitive to noise, and/or your bedroom environment is not particularly quiet,” Dr. Abbott says.

    Using a white noise machine or app “can limit the likelihood that your sleep will be disrupted,” Dr. Abbott says. Important: To protect your ears, set your machine to play for no more than an hour or set a sleep timer (for iPhones, Clock>Timer and select “Stop Playing” for When Timer Ends) on your phone.

    Silence your phone

    Speaking of sounds, keeping your phone ringer on can lead to you waking up with every text, alert, and call. And yeah, that’s not exactly great for your sleep. That’s why—in a perfect world—Dr. Scharf says you’d turn your phone off and put it outside your bedroom while you snooze. But, if that idea gives you minor heart palpitations, doctors say there are work-arounds.

    If you feel like you can deal with some possible vibrations-as-alerts here and there, just setting your phone to silent can help, Dr. Scharf says. Putting your phone on airplane mode or do not disturb is better. If you’re worried you’ll miss an emergency situation, set exceptions on your phone.

    Also! Simple yet effective: Put your phone face down, so it doesn’t light up and shine in your face if someone reaches out to you, Dr. Lee says. With that, it’s time to put these practices to work—and track them using your Oura Ring, of course—so you can be well on your way to dream town.

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