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Open Your Eyes to Sleep Technology's Benefits and Cautions

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Author name: Lee Health


Trackers, white noise machines and other gizmos may not help the underlying problem

If you can stay awake long enough to read this sentence, you’ll learn that 35 percent of us suffer from lousy sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that not getting enough sleep – seven or more hours of sleep a night – is a public health epidemic.

Tired of being tired, we’ve jumped on the sleep technology bandwagon, which promises to have us drooling on the pillow before we know it. We’re ponying up for sleep trackers, white noise machines, light therapy gizmos, robotic sleep pillows, mood music gadgets, temperature-regulating duvets and mattresses, and other sleep-inducements to put us in la-la-land.

But are these cool, consumer sleep technologies helping us wake up refreshed and ready to tackle the day?

Probably not.

“There are no long-term studies on sleep technology products that offer meaningful clinical data to support anecdotal, or subjective, data,” says Dr. Aastha Parsa, a board-certified physician with Lee Health.

“Sleep is supposed to be a natural process. These apps and devices may help lull us toward sleep, but they won’t help us fall and stay asleep, especially if we have sleep challenges associated with sleep apnea and insomnia.”

A round-up of scientific studies supports Dr. Parsa. In fact, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine issued a position statement detailing the disadvantages and potential benefits of Consumer Sleep Technology. The academy went so far as to state: “Given the lack of validation and United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance, CSTs cannot be utilized for the diagnosis and/or treatment of sleep disorders at this time.”

Let’s take a closer look:

Read the fine print

Many CST developers claim their products benefit sleep health, but categorize their products as “lifestyle apps” or “entertainment apps” to avoid potential liabilities related to their use for clinical purposes. Simply put, they’re not medical devices. As such, most CSTs aren’t regulated, approved, or cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates wireless and mobile applications.

The FDA agrees that we can use digital health to manage and track our health and wellness-related activities better. From mobile and fitness apps to trackers and sensors that provide us with information about how we’re sleeping, the FDA supports our use of digital technology and digital health products. Digital health technology, including consumer sleep technology, is a wild frontier changing every day with innovations appearing on retailers’ shelves seemingly overnight.

Challenges and empowerment

The challenge with any technology is how to use it correctly. Consumer sleep technology – when used the right way -- can play a vital role in our health and well-being because the long-term consequences of sleep deprivation and sleep disorders are deadly. Both increase our risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke.

Dr. Parsa says users can benefit from sleep technology, despite most CSTs lacking clinical data and FDA approval. The data gadgets motivate us to take appropriate actions, such as seeing a sleep specialist if we’re having sleep challenges.

“The technology can empower us to be more proactive about our sleep health habits,” Dr. Parsa says. “Some mobile phone apps allow us to self-monitor and visualize our sleep patterns, symptoms, and behavioral data. They gather how much time we’re sleeping in phases of sleep. It’s helpful information to bring to our doctors. However, these devices don’t fix the underlying issue.”

Forget the snooze button

Remember: Technology won’t necessarily get you to the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep – that deep sleep that is essential for cell repair, growth, and restoration of learning and memory, Dr. Parsa says.

And there is one piece of technology that is actually hurting our sleep.

“Much of the latter part of our sleep cycle is composed of REM sleep, or dream sleep. So, when you are hitting the snooze button, you are disrupting REM,” Dr. Parsa says. “The few extra minutes of sleep after hitting the snooze button is not restorative, and it may actually make your feel tired after awakening. Furthermore, it may also suggest an underlying sleep disorder.”

Prolonging the REM stage provides great benefits, she says.

“We have three to five cycles each night. Depending on the CDC’s recommendation for seven hours of sleep per night, two hours of REM sleep is ideal, leaving us about six hours of non-REM a night.”

Dr. Parsa warns about the detrimental effects of the snooze button and the alarm clock.

“We should wake up feeling fresh,” she says. “But hitting the snooze button interrupts our early morning hours of REM sleep. We’re chopping up those last precious last 90 minutes of sleep that rejuvenate us and allows us to focus during the day.”

She uses the analogy of a plane landing when we come awake. “We should awaken like a plane lands,” she says. “We should land slowly and smoothly. But the snooze button is like the plane’s wheels coming back up and the plane circling before attempting to land again. Using the snooze button is like putting the wheels up and down repeatedly.”

Undoubtedly, innovative CSTs will continue to catch our eyes and dollars. How these gadgets and apps will affect patient health, health care delivery, and health care costs remains unknown.

Keep your eyes peeled for the answers.

Need more information on sleep medicine, treatments, and services?

Visit our page on Sleep Medicine

Want more on how to improve your sleep? Check out Dr. Parsa’s previous blog.

CST Categories

These non-prescription device and applications claim to monitor or track or induce sleep:

Apps: An application that you download to your smart tablet or mobile device that supports a wearable or other assessment instrument.

Wearables: Most of us wear these devices for entertainment and communication purposes. These items, which may track health and fitness information, include watches, earbuds, headbands, headphones, and waist/chest belts.

Sound technology: We employ this technology, which uses noise or music, to induce sleep.

Embedded technology: This technology uses sensors and trackers inside smart mattress pads and pillows, for example, to lull us asleep. They may also use sleep tracking apps.

How do you know if you’re sleeping well?

  • You fall asleep within 15-20 minutes of lying down to sleep.
  • You regularly sleep a total of seven to nine hours in a 24-hour period.
  • While in your bed, your sleep is continuous—you don’t have long periods of lying awake when you wish to be sleeping.
  • You wake up feeling refreshed, as if you’ve “filled the tank.”
  • You feel alert and are able to be fully productive throughout the waking hours (note, it’s natural for people to feel a dip in alertness during waking hours, but with healthy sleep, alertness returns).
  • Your partner or family members do not notice any disturbing or out of the ordinary behavior from you while you sleep, such as snoring, pauses in breathing, restlessness, or otherwise nighttime behaviors.

If you would to contribute to Healthy News, please contact us at [email protected]

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