adjusting wearable sleep technology“What wearable sleep technology do you recommend using?” is probably the second question I am asked the most behind “How to overcome jet lag?”    People want to know which device is the best and where to spend their money to improve their sleep.  Consumer sleep technology (CST) has proven to become a sizable business.  CST takes on many forms.  There are mobile phone apps, devices that attach to your clothing and websites.  There are even devices that are embedded in mattress and furniture.  Each device may measure different aspects, but they are all aimed to help consumers improve their sleep from a participatory standpoint.  

The most popular form of CST is wearable sleep technology.  Such devices are worn by the consumer and make contact with his/her skin.  It differs from the devices that can be attached to an article of clothing.  Many different forms are available.  Some are worn on the wrist, while others are worn across the chest and other parts of the body.  Many different sizes and colors have contributed to CST becoming a fashion accessory rather than something that looks like a clunky medical device.  Yet, the question remains: “Does CST improve sleep?”

The Benefits of Wearable Sleep Technology

 Sleep is easily overlooked.  Just recently, sleep medicine has been coming into its own regarding consumer health.  More studies are coming out about the influence sleep has on chronic pain, immune system and mental and physical health.   Naturally then, sleep has become a part of consumer health products.   A recent study cited CST has offered two essential contributions to the marketplace.  

First, it has helped to increase the importance of sleep as apart of a healthy lifestyle.  The ability to measure specific elements of sleep brings it to the forefront of your attention so that it becomes a consideration for planning daily activity.  For example, by reducing your caffeine, or alcohol, consumption earlier in the day can improve your sleep.  Or you are choosing to exercise in the morning rather than late at night may reduce waking up in the middle of the night.  Also, creating a winding down routine at night rather than spending long hours on the computer will help you sleep.  All of these behavioral changes are a result of becoming aware of the need to improve your sleep that has come about with the help of wearable sleep technology.

Another benefit of CST is making it easier to gather some sleep data without the worry of someone watching you as conducted in the sleep lab.  During a polysomnography test (PSG), a person enters the sleep lab and is told fall asleep naturally while someone observes all night.  For many people, the notion that someone is watching them sleep is far from natural!  CST has the advantage of gaining some information while eliminating the observed element of sleep.  So then, does this mean CST can replace the tests done in a sleep lab?  In short, the answer is “No.”

The Drawbacks of Computer Sleep Technology

CST has not been shown to replicate the same measurements of those conducted in a sleep lab.  Compared to validated sleep tests, they have been proven to lack accuracy.  Although wearable sleep technology has potential, it too has not been validated by the FDA to provide specific accurate information regarding sleep.  The same study reported that chest monitors and sensors embedded into foam mattress offer a bit of similarity to validated sleep studies.  However, they are far from being scientifically reliable.  Sensors may be exaggerated thereby leading to skewed total sleep time resulting from body movement rather than quality sleep. Validation and reliability are essential for proper diagnosing.  Otherwise, patients may not get treated for sleep disorders due to misdiagnosis, or they may be given a false diagnosis because the CST device is providing inaccurate information.   Meanwhile, companies promise claims of improved sleep without any supportive research while injuring profits from unsuspecting consumers.  

The premise that CST offers misinformation is credible because it raises the question of “Exactly what is the CST measuring?”   Wearable sleep technology can also help track how many steps are taken throughout the day.  It also can be used to keep a daily calendar, send text messages, answer phone calls and even remind you where your car is parked — all on one small portable device.  With so many capabilities, it seems reasonable that the sleep data gathered is more generalized than empirically grounded.  

Additionally, CST has been observed to disrupt sleep with its alarms, notifications, and lighting.  Even a low volume alarm can be disruptive for someone that is experiencing insomnia. The constant chirping of announcements on a smartphone can be heard in the middle of the night.  The cost of many CST may also be a barrier to prospective consumers that want to improve their sleep.  

Despite the current drawbacks, the future of consumer sleep technology is optimistic.  Studies continue to be forthcoming, and the ever-changing field of technology will likely become more aligned with empirically supported sleep medicine.  Such contributions will only enhance the consumers desire to further restorative sleep and the field of sleep medicine.