There is an increasingly sophisticated array of technology available to combat our growing battle with sleep. And no wonder: We experience less and less beneficial sleep as we age, starting as early as our mid-to-late-twenties. The CDC claims an estimated 25% of Americans face a bout of insomnia in a given year, and at least 10% of us suffer from chronic sleepless nights.
Early concepts provided some very cool wake-up alarms and ways to track our sleep routines. Today, developers are causing a medical stir by promoting direct-to-consumer apps that use physiological parameters like body movement to detect sleep stages and, further, apps that are supplemented with body attachments. Has Dr. iPhone gone too far?
Dr. Jordan C. Stern, Founder and Medical Director of BlueSleep a comprehensive snoring and sleep apnea center, thinks this sleep technology can be very helpful. "We are a sleep-deprived society, sleeping much less today than 50 to 100 years ago. Sleep disorders including insomnia and sleep apnea are becoming epidemic. All of this contributes to the sharp increase in high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, among others. In addition, lack of sleep contributes to poor physical and intellectual performance during the day with the risk of work-related injuries and diminished productivity."
Sleep Doctor and Medical Expert for SleepBetter.org, Dr. Lisa Shives, sees things a little differently. "There are no apps that I use in practice and none I think could be helpful unless there are electrodes connected to the patient's head, she said. "Apps are trying to paint a picture of your sleep health through your body movement alone and I think very few people are going to be helped due to the incomplete information."
Sleep apps are in vogue but they are not reliable, said Dr. Stern. A medical-grade sleep test measures a comprehensive panel of parameters including breathing, brain wave activity, oxygen saturation, eye and muscle movement, blood pressure and pulse.
Apps like Sleep Cycle and Sleep As Android use a smart phone's accelerometer to monitor body movement. Theoretically, this helps detect a patient's sleep phase, of which there are five. Phase 1 is called light , Phase 5 is known as deep sleep ; that's the best possible quality of rest.
Tossing and Turning
This direct-to-consumer technology, without the interpretation of a professional, is making otherwise well rested people anxious about sleep; ironically, that can cause insomnia. If you think your sleep is okay, why would you need a sleep app?" Dr. Shives asked. "The people interested in monitoring their brain waves are the type of people who are overstimulated and worry about getting a good night's sleep. We're trying to get people to stop worrying."
Janet K. Kennedy, PhD, a clinical psychologist and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor thinks technology should be used to monitor our daily routines. She recommends apps like SleepBot that track sleeping habits such as bedtime, wakeup time, sleep walking and lifestyle habits including caffeine intake, exercise, use of sleep medication and alcohol use. "Often, just tracking these parameters will indicate where people need to make changes, said Dr. Kennedy. The key to a good night's sleep is remaining fit and healthy in our waking life, she said.
She also recommends listing to-do items before bed to keep those tasks from popping into your head while you're trying to sleep. Apps like Pzizz provide a guide to relaxation and can help calm the body and mind by slowing down breathing, releasing tension and taking the mind away from stressful thoughts.
Our three doctors agreed that the bed should only be used for sleeping. OK, one exception. But no i-viewing. There's a physical component to screen time " a phone, tablet or laptop " of which people aren't aware, said Dr. Shives. It's true that we're overstimulated by our technology and our connectedness, but the biggest problem comes from a device's light. That light delays the release of sleep-inducing melatonin produced by the brain, thus interferes with the body's natural sleep process.
Dr. Shives recommends limiting evening technology to audio books, television (on a timer for when you fall asleep) and installing dimmers on bedroom lamps to help shift your brain into sleep mode.
Sleep experts are far from unanimous on how to apply technology into their practices while trying to make sure their patients receive the best possible care. Our three experts agrees that apps with devices that attach to the body should be avoided. An example is Zeo Sleep Manager Pro, an app that records sleep patterns through a headband that is intended to measure brain waves.
Dr. Stern is a proponent of sleep technology. He's developing his own sleep app to track patient compliance with their dental appliance or CPAP machine for people with sleep apnea. A CPAP is the bedside box that provides Continuous Positive Air Pressure, delivered through a face mask. Apnea is characterized by loud snoring and unsteady breathing patterns, including sudden gasps for air. Snoring may be an annoyance to a bedmate but apnea is a life-threatening disorder affecting 70-million Americans, of which 90% go undiagnosed.
So the question remains: Has Dr. iPhone gone too far? Clearly the jury is still out. In the meantime, don't take your health lying down. If you snore or are one of the insomniacs, see a professional to complement any use of this new technology.
by Kayla Bibeau of Fueled.
Fueled is London's leading iPhone app development firm. We love making apps.