Digital Sleep Trackers. Are They Worth It?

Digital sleep trackers. Are they worth it?

Modern technology can help improve virtually every aspect of our lives, including exercise habits and physical condition. However, digital tracking devices aren’t limited to monitoring walking, jogging or other daytime exercise and fitness activities. Many people who consistently have trouble sleeping are now using digital sleep trackers. The tracker lets them record the time they fall asleep as well as when and how often they wake up. Furthermore, they can see how much time they actually spend sleeping during the night.

Types of Digital Sleep Trackers and What They Detect

The most common digital sleep trackers are wearable wristbands and smartwatches. Additionally, there are standalone systems that are clipped to a pillow or are placed on or under the mattress. These trackers gather and store information related to the quality, duration and trends of the user’s sleep.

Wearable Trackers

These contain sensors, called accelerometers, that monitor the sleeper’s rest and activity cycles. However, they’re not always entirely accurate. The accelerometer might confuse lack of movement as time spent sleeping. So when a body is lying still in bed for a while, it could be recorded as sleep. Conversely, the tracker might interpret nocturnal tossing and turning as awake time.

In addition to sleep cycles, some wearable trackers also monitor the sleeper’s heart and respiratory activity. This can change during the four different levels of sleep. Most wearable sleep trackers cost between $150 and $250, depending on the number and types of features they include.

 Standalone Sleep Tracking Systems

These types of trackers don’t come into contact with the body. Most contact-free sleep trackers use thin strips of fabric with built-in infrared sensors that detect the sleep/wake cycle. They’re placed either under the mattress or on top of the mattress beneath the bottom sheet. Standalone trackers use ballistocardiography (BCG) to create graphical representations of changes in the sleeper’s heart rate. Both types of trackers connect to your smartphone or tablet to keep records of sleep activity and trends. Some trackers will also interface with Alexa and similar home automation systems.  Non-wearable trackers are less expensive than wearable trackers because they lack the technology to monitor daytime activities. Prices for basic non-wearable trackers start at less than $100.

Additional Digital Sleep Tracker Features

Both wearable and non-wearable sleep trackers monitor each phase of the nightly sleep cycle. There are four stages of sleep in each cycle. Three are Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) phases, which called quiet sleep. There is also one Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage, known as active sleep. The trackers sense and record the amount of time the sleeper spends in each of the four stages:

  • NREM Stage 1 – This is a short, 5 to 10 minute period of transition between being awake and falling asleep.
  • NREM Stage 2 – During this period which lasts about 20 minutes, the body’s temperature drops and the heart rate begins to slow. There are also sudden bursts of brain activity during Stage 2.
  • NREM Stage 3 – This is when the deepest sleep occurs. The muscles relax, blood pressure drops and the breathing rate decreases.
  • REM Sleep – During the REM stage, brain activity increases, the body is relaxed and immobilized, the eyes move rapidly and dreaming occurs.

A full sleep cycle takes about 90 minutes, after which stages 1 through 4 are repeated throughout the night, all of which are captured and recorded. Ideally, healthy adults should complete four or five sleep cycles each night.

Some of the more advanced systems come with listening technology to detect snoring or other breathing abnormalities. These could be help identify indications of sleep apnea or similar sleep disorders. Many tracking systems will also monitor the sleeper’s surroundings. These include the bedroom’s temperature, ambient noise level and air quality. Both wearable trackers and contact-free trackers typically have silent alarms that vibrate to wake the user up.

Do Sleep Trackers Actually Work?

Sleep trackers can gather lots of information about sleeping habits. However, they don’t measure sleep directly. Sometimes they’ll interpret periods of inactivity as being sleep. Futhermore, they’ll consider episodes of restlessness as being awake. But they can still be useful in helping identify specific sleep patterns. Discuss your sleep quality with your doctor, if you’re concern about your sleep.

Sleep trackers can actually hinder some people from getting a good night’s rest. In some instances, trackers actually lower sleep quality by inducing anxiety that can result in insomnia. One study describes a growing number of cases of a new sleep disorder called orthosomnia. This disorder is an unhealthy obsession with the results of a sleep tracking device’s findings. In most cases, orthosomnia ends up impairing, rather than improving, sleep quality.

Many people find sleep trackers to be both entertaining and a useful way to monitor their sleep habits. But they’re not for everyone. If the tracker’s data contradicts the way you actually feel, listen to your body rather than the device. Otherwise, you may find yourself suffering from the effects of orthosomnia.

While a digital sleep tracker can help, nothing is more important than having the right mattress. Stop by your local Sit ‘n Sleep to speak with one of our knowledgeable sleep consultants. They’ll help you find everything you need for a good night’s rest.

Sleep and Academic Performance

It’s generally recognized that getting a good night’s sleep is necessary for overall mental and physical health and well-being. Recent studies, however, indicate that today’s adolescents aren’t getting enough sleep, and that lack of sleep may be directly affecting their ability to learn.

The National Sleep Foundation is among the professional sleep research organizations whose findings indicate a direct correlation between sleep and academic performance in young students, particularly those in middle school and high school.  The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends middle schools and high schools delay starting morning classes until 8:30 or later. The results of these studies have prompted them to call for delaying the start of the school day to no earlier than 8:30 am, which is a move widely supported by medical doctors, educators, politicians and, of course, students themselves, but obviously for different reasons!.

Forty-five states have at least some school districts where the school day starts at 8:30 in the morning or later. There’s currently a bill on California Governor Jerry Brown’s desk that if signed would prohibit middle schools and high schools from starting classes before 8:30 a.m. Supporters argue that if students were able to get more sleep, attendance, grades and graduation rates would all improve. Senate Bill 328 would include charter schools, but exclude schools in rural areas. If the bill is signed, school districts would have until 2021 to make the transition.

School Starting Times and Academic Performance

Not getting enough sleep on school nights is common among middle school and high school students. Almost 90% of high school students regularly sleep less than the recommended nine or more hours. It’s estimated that 40% of high schools nationwide begin classes before 8:00 a.m., with only 15% starting at 8:30 or later. The median U.S. middle school starting time is 8:00 a.m., and over 40% of them start at 7:45 or earlier. According to National Sleep Foundation studies, this lack of sleep means the average adolescent is seriously sleep deprived.

Based on an American Academy of Pediatrics 2011/2012 school year study, California has over three million students enrolled in middle school and high school, three quarters of whom attend classes that begin before 8:30 in the morning. Classes at some schools begin as early as 7:30, with the average start time being shortly after 8:00 a.m.

Sleep research indicates that the circadian rhythms, or “body clocks”, in teenagers work differently than those of younger children and adults. The production of melatonin, which is the naturally occurring substance that induces sleep, doesn’t start in their still-growing bodies until some time between eleven p.m. and midnight. Melatonin production in adolescents continues until around 8:00 a.m., which is when their body clocks tell them it’s time to wake up. Most, however, are already out of bed because of early school starting times.

Waking up too early means that these young people also miss out on important rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which helps people consolidate memories and remember what he or she learned during the day. It’s also when dreaming takes place. Deep REM sleep usually occurs during the last third of the sleep cycle, which for a typical teenager if left uninterrupted would be between six and nine in the morning.

Effects on Attendance and Test Scores

Results of a poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation indicate that many young people are so groggy that they don’t bother showing up for the first class of the day, particularly if it starts earlier than 8:00 a.m. Of those students that do attend, almost thirty percent fall asleep during class because their young minds aren’t yet fully awake. Failing to show up and dozing off during early morning classes contributes directly to poor standardized test results, low grades and school dropout rates.

Many people argue that delaying classes until 8:30 a.m. or later will improve both attendance rates and test scores. School districts in some areas of the country, including Virginia, Kentucky and Connecticut have already moved their school starting times forward. As predicted, the result in these areas is higher attendance records and improved test scores.

How Much Sleep is Enough?

The amount of sleep people need each night depends in large part upon their age. According to the National Sleep Foundation, preschoolers need 10 to 13 hours’ sleep, while older adults need just seven or eight hours. Although requirements can vary among individuals, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that teenagers from 14 to 17 years of age get eight to ten hours of sleep nightly.

Teenagers’ body clocks are different from those of younger children and adults, which keeps them from becoming drowsy until around 11:00 or later at night. If a student’s first class starts at 8:00 a.m., he or she would probably need to get out of bed around 6:30 in order to get dressed, eat breakfast and make it to class on time. This routine means the student gets perhaps no more than seven hours of sleep nightly, as opposed to the recommended eight to ten hours. The result is sleep deprivation.

How Too Little Sleep Effects Adolescents

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that in order to get the amount of sleep middle and high school students need, classes should start at 8:30 a.m. or later. In addition to poor academic performance, there are serious health risks associated with not getting enough sleep. These include heart disease, obesity (which can lead to type 2 diabetes), smoking, depression, drinking alcohol and drug use. Too little sleep can also impair drivers and lead to serious accidents. Studies conducted using driving simulators indicated that getting too little sleep has the same effect as being moderately intoxicated. Sleep deprived teenagers behind the wheel are just as dangerous as if they had consumed three or four drinks.

Why More School Districts Haven’t Adopted Later Start Dates

The answer appears to be due at least in part to logistics. Starting the school day later would shift the times students are dropped off in the morning and picked up in the afternoon. School bus schedules and carpool arrangements would need to be adjusted accordingly. Delaying the start of the school day would mean many working parents could no longer drop their kids off at school and still get to work on time. Because of increased ridership, school districts would need to purchase more very costly busses to accommodate those students who were no longer being dropped off by their parents or arriving by carpool.

Moving class starting times forward obviously means that the school day wouldn’t end until later. This would affect students who participate in sports and extracurricular activities, as well as those young people with after school part-time jobs. Despite these drawbacks, a RAND Corporation economic analysis concluded the benefits of later starting times would far outweigh any additional costs. According to their study, adopting school starting times of 8:30 a.m. or later could add $83 billion to the economy over the next ten years. The money result from higher graduation rates producing more skilled workers, along with a decrease in the costs of health care and auto accidents involving sleep-deprived teenagers.

As more research is conducted into the relationship between sleep and academic performance, look for an increasing number of school districts throughout California and the rest of the country to delay school starting times.

Is Technology Interfering With Your Sleep?

From the time we get up in the morning until retiring at night, computers, cell phones, tablets and similar electrical devices have become part of virtually every aspect of our daily lives. The ability of these devices to digitally receive, store, process and disseminate information truly borders on the amazing. There are, however, downsides to these technological wonders, one of which is their interference with the way we sleep.

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Tips for a Sleep-Friendly Bedroom

Everyone knows that getting a restful night’s sleep is essential for maintaining good physical and mental health and overall well-being. Consistently sleeping well and awakening refreshed, however, isn’t always as easy as it sounds. According to a study by National Public Radio, roughly 60 million Americans, or approximately 1 in 5, suffer from a sleep disorder. Although there are several factors that can affect sleep quality, many experts agree that environment can go a long way toward promoting sound, relaxing sleep. Here are a few tips to turn your bedroom into a comfortable, sleep-friendly sanctuary.

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