Technology, for all its merits, hasn't been great for our sleep cycles. Science pretty much agrees that using technology in the bedroom, from iPads to Kindles, is universally bad for you — because the artificial light levels disagree with you and disturb your natural melatonin production. There are apps out there to adjust the "warmth" of your computer's lighting (take a bow, f.lux), but largely, the bedroom should be a tech-free zone — until now. Sleep is the brave new frontier of many home-focused tech brands and Kickstarter entrepreneurs because it's one of the great human constants, and insomnia and disturbed-sleep sufferers will pay a great deal to make their problems go away. It may be sleep's greatest enemy, but technology could also hold the key to a better night's sleep.
We've moved beyond the simplicity of black-out curtains, sleep masks, and rainforest-noise machines. If you want to get a good sleep nowadays, the sky's the limit, occasionally literally: as of November 2014, you can have a nap in a super-dark pod in Dubai's airport. Earplugs are passé, and fitness trackers like Jawbone and Fitbit don't dare show their faces unless they also incorporate a sleep-tracking system that shows users their patterns of slumber. "Analyzing your sleep" is the new "comparing discographies" on first dates.
If it's all getting a bit intimidating for you, don't worry — many of the devices on this list are meant to be as unobtrusive as possible, and those that do require you to, I dunno, buy a whole new bed promise that it's worth it. (Though for the price, it's possible only Sleeping Beauty might declare she's got her money's worth.)
1. The NASA Sleep App
There are a lot of sleep-monitoring apps on the market right now, jostling for first position — but one of the top contenders is Sleep Genius, which is a bestseller and incorporates NASA-developed technology. Its claim to fame is its ability to find your "natural bedtime" via analysis of your sleep patterns, and then encourage you to get yourself to bed as close to it as possible. It also comes with power nap settings, a gentle wake-up function, and sleep reports that may make your eyes cross. Get it here for $6.49.
2. The In-Bed Sleep Monitor
This is a three-part monitoring system and waking-up service. The Aura has a pad to slip under your mattress (tracking your tosses, turns, breaths, and deep REM sleep), a light that gently wakes you up with increases in light at your appointed alarm time, and an attached app to give you full info on what went on in your bed during the night. The three-part system combines to give a tailored sleep and wake-up experience to fit your natural rhythms. Get it here for $299.95.
3. The Light-Guided Relaxation Program
Having problems dropping into deep sleep? You can be guided into the Land Of Nod by the Nightwave, a light-guided relaxation program. This may sound like the most disturbing thing ever, but it's hardly a rave show in your bedroom: it's a series of gradually slowing blue light flashes, with which you can time your breathing and gradually drift off. It works on the same principle as f.lux: infusing vision with soft, dark tones of blue at night encourages sleep. Get it here for $49.95.
4. The Smart Bed With Its Own IQ
This is the product for serious sleep-deprived people with deep pockets. It's a smart bed which aims to track your sleep, and ascribe it its own "Sleep IQ," or unique identity. Like other sleep-monitoring technologies, it's meant to guide you into getting to bed at the right time or adjusting your patterns in other ways to help you maximize your sleep efficiency. (Because we all need to treat our bedtime like a ruthless obligation.) Get it here for $999.95.
5. The Gentle Wake-Up Light
Unsurprisingly for anybody who's woken by blaring alarms or switched-on lights every morning, it's been proven to be significantly less stressful if you're woken "naturally" — i.e. by the light of the sun. If you can't actually get yourself up at the crack of dawn, though, the Philips Wake-up Light aims to replicate the experience, filling your room over 30 minutes with the warm glow of sun without actually needing to have the sun nearby. Get it here for $99.99.
6. The Smart Pillow That Plays Soothing Frequencies
The Chrona smashed its Kickstarter funding, so clearly it's onto something — and that "something" is apparently a pillow insert that plays deep-frequency sounds to help you enter the refreshing REM stage of sleep. It also plays soothing sounds to help you nod off, and wakes you up with a rising frequency of noise and small vibrations. Preorder it for $169.00 here.
7. The iPhone Scent Puffer
I've heard about this one in other contexts — a friend used it to impress a perfumer on a date — but Scentee Apps also promise to be able to lull you to sleep. They have customizable "scent cartridges" that fit on the earbud part of the phone and release scent from your iPhone on command, and the lavender one is apparently tailored to relax users into a sweet snooze. A lavender cartridge costs $7.00, while the scent-release device itself costs $49.99; get them here.
8. The Globe That Monitors Your Environment While You Sleep
Sense isn't so much a sleep monitor as an environmental monitor. It's like a tiny, globe-shaped sleep dictator; it monitors the conditions in which you get the best sleep, including light levels, sound, and temperature — and then lets you know when the room you're sleeping in doesn't fit those conditions (and gives advice on how to get it that way). It's got two parts: the globe and a "pill" that clips onto your pillow to track your sleep. Get it here for $129.00.
9. The Smart Mattress Cover
We have smart pillows, smart beds, smart bedside lamps — did you really think you weren't going to get a smart mattress cover, too? The Luna is a truly fabulous piece of tech that not only tracks sleep (which is, let's face it, a fairly basic feature nowadays), but also adjusts its own temperature to make you more comfortable. It even has dual-temperature settings in case your partner always gets cold and you keep kicking the covers off. It's up for pre-order at $235.00 here.
Images: Luna, Sense, Scentee, Chrona, Philips, Sleep IQ, Nightwave, Aura, Sleep Genius