How Technology Can Help To Improve Your Sleep Quality

20 Minute Podcast Episode #59

New Year, new episode on the ‘How Technology Can Help’ mini series of the 20 Minute Fitness podcast. This week Charlie brings some great tech products and services that can put you on track for a year of great night sleep.

If you’ve ever struggled with insomnia or sleep deprivation, this is your episode! Listen on to learn how to overcome the struggles of bad sleep!

Three Things You Will Learn

1) How Different Apps Can Make You Sleep Better

Although using your phone before going to bed is generally a bad habit, there are certain apps that are exceptions. The Sleep Cycle app for instance will aid your good night sleep by tracking your sleep cycles and waking you up while you’re at the appropriate sleep stage. Whereas Calm is taking a different approach and uses meditation and breath technique coaching as means to improve your sleep quality.

Find out more about these apps and their various features from this week’s episode!

Biohacking Tricks For Better Sleep

2) The Gadgets Of Your Dreams

Of course the wearables market has something to offer in the sleep department as well. The Oura Ring is the ultimate solution for accurate and fashionable sleep tracking. The ring and the Oura app will provide you with comprehensive data and sleep analysis, including your sleep efficiency, sleep disturbances and a lot more.

The Top Health & Wellbeing Gadgets For Your Home

However, if you’re not a big fan of wearables and mainly struggle with falling asleep and waking up, the Phillips Somneo Sleep & Wake-Up light should get on your shopping list instead. These lights will ensure that you fall asleep easier and wake up more naturally by stimulating sunrises & sunsets. Press play to find out why natural lighting is better and hear about others’ experiences with Somneo!

3) The Smartest Bed Accessories

What would a smart home be without a smart bed?

Thankfully we don’t have to find out as innovations like the Somnox Sleep robot will quickly turn your average bed into one that fits in our 21st century lifestyles. However Somnox’s new gadget doesn’t only sound cool, but is actually super useful. It packs almost all the features that the previously mentioned products have into a pillow form that will quickly become your favorite sleep buddy.

Finally finishing off with the basis of a good quality sleep, the mattress. They might be a bigger investment, but the Eight Smart Mattresses will definitely ensure your comfort with their top foam quality and also use their built-in sensors to provide feedback on your sleep.

Tune in to learn how Somnox will help you feel great when waking up and what factors do the Eight Mattresses track!

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Full Transcript

00:01 Speaker 1: Hello and welcome back to another episode of 20-Minute Fitness. Today, we are back with another episode from the How Technology Can Help series. I really hope you enjoyed the story of the founding of Charity Miles last week. I definitely recommend tuning in if you haven’t already.

00:18 S1: So for today’s episode we’re looking at the tech that can help improve your sleep. We all know that quality sleep is essential, not only for rest and recovery, but sleep also affects every type of tissue and system in the body, from the brain, heart, the lungs, your metabolism, your immune system and your immune function, your mood. It helps increase disease resistance. There are really ten-fold benefits of getting better quality sleep. So obviously today, we’re gonna look at the very best tech which can help you or help facilitate better sleep.

00:47 S1: Before we start, of course, 20-Minute Fitness is powered by ShapeScale. ShapeScale is a 3D body scanning scale that works as simply as you stepping on to the scale and the robotic arm moving around your body capturing all sorts of body data, and then this then appears in the Shape app and you can see such useful insights, such as your body fat percentage, your muscle mass, your muscle girth measurements, and much, much more, and it makes ShapeScale a truly comprehensive fitness tracker. It’s now available for pre-order at shapescale.com, so definitely go check it out. And of course you can find all episodes of 20-Minute Fitness on any of your podcast players, whether that be Spotify, Apple Podcast, Stitcher, you name it, it’s on there. And of course, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’re really excited to hear what you’re thinking of season two so far and the two series, and also we want any feedback you have and any recommendations for future episodes. So, do not hesitate to reach out to us. And you can email us at podcast@20minute.fitness. But now let’s get back into the show.


01:47 S1: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three adults do not get their recommended hours of sleep each night, and many adults don’t look after their sleep hygiene enough, and sleep hygiene is where you promote regular sleep patterns and healthy sleep habits. So, sleep hygiene methods or improving sleep hygiene methods includes going to bed and rising at the same time each day, as routine can really help facilitate better sleep, avoiding large meals just before you go to bed, avoiding caffeine before you go to bed, don’t workout too close to going to bed either, no alcohol, because alcohol inhibits REM sleep and avoid nicotine all together. So we’re gonna look at some devices which can help promote your sleep hygiene and improve and optimise your sleep hygiene.

02:26 S1: And as always we’ll kick it off with the accessible category, and we’re gonna look at two really interesting apps. The first of these is called the Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock, and the Sleep Cycle is an intelligent clock, that not only tracks your sleep patterns, but also aims to wake you up during your light stage of sleep, and this will enable you to feel better rested, and more energised when you first wake up. And what’s interesting about Sleep Cycle is it tracks your sleep using sound analysis. So as you pass through the different stages of sleep, your movement varies. So when you’re in your light stage of sleep, you tend to move round more, you’re more disturbed. And the Sleep Cycle app tracks these different movements using sound or vibration analysis.

03:02 S1: So depending on when you have your alarm set, the Sleep Cycle app will wake you up during a pre-defined 30-minute time window when it’s identified that you are in a stage of light sleep. So for example, if you set your alarm at 8:00 AM, but the app starts picking up lots of movement at 7:45, the alarm will go off at 7:45 because it’s identified you’re in a light stage of sleep, so you’ll wake up better energised and more refreshed than you would at 8:00 AM because you might have entered another sleep cycle at that stage. In the morning, you can see all sorts of detailed sleep statistics and daily sleep graphs to analyze your sleep performance, and these include metrics such as your sleep quality rating, your time in bed. You can see whether you snored a lot. You can actually listen back to your snore. What I thought was really interesting as well is that you could actually learn to improve your sleep and actually see these changes over time, so you can see how different habits or behaviours or routines positively or negatively impact your sleep performance. So, for example, it will show you not going on your phone before bed as blue light can suppress melatonin, or working out during the day, will that help you sleep better? And then you can see the impact that’s had on your sleep when looking in the sleep analysis section of the app.

04:05 S1: You can also see how things negatively impact your sleep. Like, whether you ate too late, or you were ill, or you had a very stressful day, and obviously, it’s then up to you to act on this. You should actually adapt and change your routines and behaviours based on what you’re learning, what insights you’re getting from your sleep analysis. So if you find you better when you work out during the day, then try and make sure you get some sort of exercise done during the day, because you’ll obviously wake up and feel thankful for that.

04:28 S1: The app is free, but there is a premium feature which costs $40 per year, and in the premium feature you can see long-term sleep trends. You can compare your sleep to world sleep statistics. You can even see how the weather affects your sleep, and many, many more metrics. But, of course, there are some drawbacks with this app. You need to have your phone on charge next to your bed or on your bed, which obviously will kill your charge overnight. The app will also pick up any sort of movement there is. So if you share a bed with a partner, then their movements will get picked up as well, so you’re not gonna get that accurate results. Also, it appears that, depending on the material that’s used for your mattress, whether it’s hard or soft, they can impact the accuracy of data readings as well. But none the less, it’s definitely worth trying for you, especially the free version at first to see if it can help you improve your sleep habits and sleep hygiene.

05:16 S1: The second app we’re looking at you may well have heard of, it’s called Calm, and the self-care/mindfulness app market is absolutely booming at the moment. Loads of new companies are coming to fruition, and Calm is leading the way with this, along with Headspace. But I said, Calm is the most popular app for meditation, mindfulness and sleep currently on the market. So how has it become so popular? Well, there are over 100 guided meditations to help you manage your anxiety, lower your stress by lowering your blood pressure, helping you to sleep better, because practicing meditation and breathing techniques has been linked to reduced fatigue and better sleep quality. A study, which appears in the JAMA Internal Medicine, ran a test on 49 middle aged and older adults who had trouble sleeping. So half of those completed a mindfulness awareness program that taught you things like meditation, and the other half had sleep education classes, where they were taught about sleep habits. Both groups met six times once a week for two hours. So, the people that were actually in the mindfulness group had less insomnia, fatigue and depression at the end of the six sessions than those in the sleep education group. This study obviously shows the benefits of mindfulness and meditation and trying to pay attention to your body and make it relaxed and obviously trying to reduce anxiety.

06:33 S1: So what does Calm offer? So Calm has sleep stories which are soothing stories or tales read by well-known voices, such as Stephen Fry. And they are obviously designed so that you listen to them when you go to bed, and you can try and fall into a deep sleep whilst listening to them. As it occupies your mind, it will get you into sort of meditative or semi-hypnotic state, because your full focus of your mind is focused on that story. I myself actually listen to audio books when I go to bed because I find my mind wanders so much, so much irrelevant rubbish when I go to bed, so having something to actually just take my mind’s attention off the numbers of random thoughts I have really works for me. And I know it won’t work for everyone, but definitely a great feature for myself. You can also enjoy guided video lessons on mindful movement and gentle stretching, so you can practice these before bed to help you relax if you’ve had a stressful day at work, for example.

07:22 S1: Like the Sleep Cycle app, there are paid upgrades you can opt-in for if you want the full extent of the content that Calm has to offer. But one of the best things about Calm is that every single day there is a new daily calm. And these are 10 minute programs that help you to unwind or to relax just before bed. These are 10 minute meditations that focus on different aspects of mindfulness and they introduce new concepts for both beginners or for people who are practicing meditation or advanced meditation students. So it caters to everyone, really.

07:52 S1: So, two very different, but very interesting apps there. One a sort of alarm and the second a meditative sleep improvement app. So definitely worth checking either of those out, depending on which one you feel fits more with you. So moving on to the mid-level accessibility technology now, and we’re going to start with the Oura Ring. And the Oura Ring is another sleep tracker, but it’s the form or a fashionable, functional ring that looks like jewellery. So, it’s quite discrete, which a lot of people are obviously looking for when they’re buying wearable technology. It also comes with a comprehensive sleep tracking app, sorry, where you can see all sorts of detailed insights about your sleep and this includes metrics such as your sleep efficiency, your time spent with different sleep stages such as your REM sleep or deep sleep or light sleep, your sleep latency, which tells you the amount of time it takes you to get to sleep. And I think that’ll be a key metric for me to look into because that’s probably the thing I struggle with most actually, not a good quality night’s sleep, but actually getting to sleep.

08:45 S1: So you could obviously start tracking your sleep latency and find out whether changes in your routine or habits are improving the time it takes you to get to sleep. You can also look at the number of disturbances you have in a night. So they might be caused by the restlessness or if you’ve woken up to any noise, and then you can try and analyse where these sources of disturbance are coming from, and fix them. On your daily timeline, you get the main view of the app, so you get your sleep data and your readiness data, and this is really your readiness to perform the day. So within this metric, you’ll see insights and summaries about your previous night’s sleep that actually dictate, in Oura’s opinion, how well you’re going to tackle the day or seize the day.

09:24 S1: So, for example, if you’ve got a quite low readiness score, maybe due to potential elevated body temperatures or for whatever reason it may be, you may be told to go about your day in a slightly more easy-going manner, not maybe go as full on into it as you may if you had a good readiness score. And this is obviously quite linked to working out and training as well, because if you’ve been told that you’ve got a poor readiness score you might want to consider doing something slightly different or having a rest day because you’re body’s obviously crying out for it to rest and recover, rather than going for a normal workout, so you might just wanna stretch or something like that, and obviously, on the other, if you’ve got a really good readiness score that shows your body’s ready and raring to go for another workout. As I mentioned, you can track your habits and routines and see how they impact your sleep. So the Oura Ring app has a nice notes feature where you can write about what you’ve done, potentially, if you’ve said that you didn’t go on your phone at bed, but you started reading before you went to sleep, so you can then see how it has impacted your sleep in the next morning. This way you can keep hacking your way to a better sleep.

10:25 S1: After you first start using the Oura Ring and it’s started to collect body data from you, it learns about your new daily rhythms and you’ll get advice on the most suitable bed time window for you, so it’s personalised to you. Because as humans, we operate on a 24 hour rhythm, called the circadian rhythm, that need’s produced by our biological clocks. A biological clock is an organism’s innate timing device and it’s composed of specific molecules or proteins that interact with cells throughout the body. So, in a sense, what it means is that there’s a specific time, or optimal time, sorry, for when you should do everything really, whether that be eating or sleeping. So the Oura Ring really helps, tries to help you find the optimal bedtime window for you, so if you hit that window you’ll wake up feeling more energised and rested then you would usually, and so you can help your body to recover and obviously get back to being fighting fit as fast as possible. If you want a sleep tracker that’s obviously multi-functional, then the Oura Ring might be the one for you as it’s also an activity tracker. So you’ve got tons of other functional benefits there as well.

11:25 S1: The second bit of tech in this category we’re going to look at is the Philips Somneo Sleep and Wake-up Light, and again, this offers a range of functions to help you get to sleep faster and to help get better quality sleep. One of the cool features is that it offers simulated sunrises and sunsets, which informs your brain that it’s the day time, obviously, and it’s time to wake-up, rather than just having a random noise which disrupts you and you’re in a disoriented state as you start to wake up. And the goal here is that you’ll feel more refreshed if lighting gradually gets brighter like it does during a sunrise. So the Somneo tries to replicate the process of changing and increasing light to stimulate your body to wake up naturally with the sun.

12:02 S1: By the time your room is filled with light as well, your selected natural sound or radio station that you’ve synced with the light also helps to complete the wake-up experience to get you ready for the next day. Having said this though, artificial light is much dimmer than natural light. A well-lit room inside exposes our eyes to around 100 lux, with lux being the standard unit of light emittance. Even really bright artificial light, you rarely get more than a few hundred lux. Whilst outside, even on a non-sunny day, a quite overcast, cloudy day you will still be exposed to around 10,000 lux or with a really bright sunny sky, maybe 150,000 lux. So you can see there that artificial light is never going to be as optimal as natural daylight, but it’s still, obviously, a step in the right direction.

12:51 S1: Alongside the sunset feature, you can also try the guided breathing routines to help you settle down more as well. And, obviously, like the Calm app, it’s all about getting into a meditative state whereby you’re trying to lower your blood pressure and really forget about all the stress that you’ve had throughout the day and focus on your breathing, and that will help you get to sleep faster as well.

13:11 S1: According to Philips, 92% of their users say the Wake-up Light has woken them up pleasantly, 88% of users say the Wake-up Light is a better way to wake up than they previously had before and 92% of users have said that they found it easier to get out of bed when they started to use the light.

13:29 S1: Now let’s move to our “wow” category, and today we’re gonna look at the Somnox Sleep Robot. And for a price of just over $500 you can pre-order yourself the Somnox Sleep Robot. And this is really a smart pillow that aims to help you get to sleep faster, to sleep for longer durations and obviously, to wake up feeling great.

13:48 S1: But how does it work? The Somnox simulates breathing rhythms. So what happens when you breathe is your breathing naturally adjusts to another breathing pattern. So the Sleep Robot, by creating a breathing pattern, can help you relax by slowing down your breathing, and that helps induce faster sleep, much like if you listen to an audio book, like I said I do, it can help you occupy your mind from wondering if you’re really focused on getting your sleep in rhythm with the Sleep Robot’s.

14:14 S1: You can play different sounds, like guided meditations, lullabies, white noise. And white noise has often been linked to better sleep. It’s a special type of sound or sound signal which is used to mask background sounds, and when it’s used to promote healthy sleep it helps to drown out other sounds which might otherwise prevent you from falling asleep or waking up during the night. You could also listen to a heartbeat or different audio books as well. If there’s a particular sound that helps you get to sleep, potentially like alpha waves, because alpha waves can help you work better as well, you can upload those to the Sleep Robot. And the team behind the Sleep Robot have allowed this function because they really believe that slow paced music encourages slower brain waves as you’re trying to get to sleep and it this therefore facilitates a meditative state.

15:00 S1: The app is quite personalised. You can set it up whereby the Sleep Robot stops breathing at a certain stage of your sleep, and you can obviously dictate that. And you can create your own breathing techniques for you to follow and practice or you can select them from a preset as well. So when the Somnox Sleep Robot’s out it really tries to incorporate quite a lot of the different features of the apps and the other bits of technology that we’ve previously talked about into one device. And it’s in the shape of a pillow, so the whole aspect there is of the ergonomic suit that you’re going to be able to cuddle up to it as well and it’s gonna be very comfy for you to have in your bed and not be a disturbance or a different object in your bed that’s gonna distract you.

15:36 S1: And the final bit of tech in our wow category is the Eight Sleep mattress. We talked about these guys before, we love what they do. Not only are the mattresses super comfy and they’re gonna promote alone a better night’s sleep because of the material, as they have four layers of dynamic reactive foams, but it also has tech incorporated into the mattress. So sensors are actually embedded in the mattress and these sensors track your sleep as well, much like the other sleep trackers we’ve already mentioned, and then you can leverage all these insights to adapt to your bedtime routine again.

16:07 S1: The Eight Sleep mattress actually tracks 15 factors about your sleep and health, including your REM sleep, your deep sleep, your heart rate, your respiratory rate and like the Sleep Cycle alarm as well, the Eight mattress detects when you’re in your light sleep and triggers the alarm when it’s easier for your body to start waking up, so you’ll feel more energised as soon as you wake up. And finally, when you’ve woken up, obviously you can look at your comprehensive sleep reports, see your sleep score, and then start adapting things in your routine to try and get as good a sleep score as possible. And on their website they’ve got help with what your sleep score should be, how many times you toss and turn, and what the average number should really be. So even though you might think you slept well, it’s not as optimally as you could have according to the experts at Eight Sleep. So they really do try and help you optimise your sleep quality and your sleep hygiene so you get the best night’s sleep possible, and you’ll obviously wake up feeling energised and ready to start the day.

17:01 S1: So that’s what we have time for on this week’s episode of 20-Minute Fitness. Really hope you enjoyed learning about some of the different technology out there to help to get to sleep. It is such an imperative aspect of our lives. It really does help with every function of our body. It helps protect us from disease, and we really need good quality sleep to recover faster so we can get back training. And obviously, get towards our body goal as well. It is literally correlated with our body goal, so if we’re sleeping better, we’ll hopefully be able to train better as well. So the best advice to give really is make sure you’re doing everything you can to optimise the quality of sleep you get and try and mitigate and reduce as many distractions and bad parts of the routine that you might already have, so eating too late or having caffeine before bed or working out too late, et cetera, et cetera.

17:45 S1: So make sure you tune next week for another episode. Once again, I hope you’re really enjoying the new direction that Shape have taken 20-Minute Fitness in. It’s been really enjoyable actually producing this and having the variability between the different podcast episodes. So Happy New Year. Make sure you tune in next week and we’ll catch you again very soon.

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Lilla Laczo

Lilla is a content writer and community manager at Shape.
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