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Next-Generation Wearables Are Aiming to Improve the Quality of Your Sleep

Not just track it.

Philips sleep headband
Would you wear this headband for better sleep? Philips

Sleep tracking isn’t anything new. For years now, using data from an accelerometer and a heart-rate sensor, wrist-worn wearables have been able to monitor your sleep duration and quality—and even how long you spend in the various stages of the sleep. Mattress-strapped monitors, while a less invasive form, do much the same thing. While the information these devices provide is interesting, it’s not always useful in helping individuals sleep better.

Now, sleep-focused wearables are taking a step forward in form and function as they aim not just to track sleep but to actively improve it. Nokia, for example, introduced the Nokia Sleep at CES this week. It’s a sensor built into a mat-like device you slide under your mattress that tracks the duration and quality of your sleep. It also monitors whether there were any noteworthy interruptions during the night (that includes snoring) and can track your light, deep, and REM sleep stages as well as your heart rate, respiration rate, how long it took for you to fall asleep, and how long it takes you to wake up in the mornings. Using this information, its companion app then calculates a sleep score accompanied with explanations for that rating and advice on how to better whatever areas could use improvement. If you need extra help, you can use this data in conjunction with an eight-week sleep improvement course. But Nokia Sleep, priced at $99.95 and shipping some time in the next few months, is not all that different from the sleep tech we’re used to seeing. It works much like the Beddit sleep monitor, now in its third generation, or the Withings Aura. (Nokia acquired Withings in 2016).

Other wearable gadget makers are taking a more novel approach to improving our sleep. And since one in three adults doesn’t get enough sleep, according to the CDC, it is a legitimate societal issue. Two companies are trying to use sound to influence and improve your sleep patterns during the night. For those who fall asleep with white noise or music, the idea isn’t a revelation. However, recent research has put scientific backing behind the technique. According to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, listening to “pink noise,” a carefully balanced blend of high and low frequency sounds, can improve memory in both younger and older adults. Besides helping us function normally, good sleep causes changes in the brain that make memories more permanent; it also helps us synthesize learned information and even learn new information, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Two new products, Dreem and Philips’ SmartSleep, incorporate this idea. Curiously, both do so not as a traditional wrist wearable or as a bedside radio, but as headbands. While strapping on a headband all night sounds potentially distracting, the idea seems to be that if their noise therapy is effective, you’ll be in too deep of a sleep to even notice.

Dreem works by tracking and analyzing your overnight brain activity with five electroencephalography (EEG) sensors. Other sensors track your heart rate, breathing rate, and movement. Instead of streaming music into your ears like a pair of headphones, the cloth-covered headband uses bone conduction technology to “discreetly diffuse” audio to your inner ear—through your forehead. While you sleep, the device keeps WiFi and Bluetooth switched off, only transmitting data to your phone once plugged in to charge the following morning. You can choose from sound options designed to optimize four different areas: Breathing, meditation, ambiance, or cognition. Feasibly, it delivers quiet enough sound that a bed partner wouldn’t notice, but as we haven’t tried it, that’s still unclear. However, thanks to its intimate knowledge of your sleep state, it can also intuitively wake you up around a certain time when your sleep is light.

Philips SmartSleep headband, announced at CES on Tuesday, looks and works similarly, but it focuses specifically on improving the length and quality of your deep sleep. According to Gizmodo:

When deep or slow-wave sleep is detected, the speakers in the headband play a subtle white noise in a repeating pattern that matches the rise and fall of your brain activity. The noise, which is quiet enough to not wake you, and staggered so that you don’t subconsciously tune it out, supposedly serves to reinforce that deep, slow-wave sleep activity, maximizing the amount of rest and recovery your brain is able to get overnight.

As opposed to other sleep solutions that aim to improve your general sleep habits, which may include trying to get you in bed sooner and at more regular hours, Philips’ goal is to improve your sleep quality without extra hours of sleep. With that in mind, it’s targeting people who tend to get less than seven hours of sleep per night. According to Philips, 70 percent of users reported feeling less tired during the day after wearing the SmartSleep at night.

However, good sleep comes at a cost. Philips SmartSleep will be $400 when it goes on sale later this spring, while Dreem costs $499. And on top of needing to wear its headband, Philips’ solution also awkwardly requires the wearer to affix a sensor to the skin behind your ear each night. Between hair, pillows, and tossing-and-turning, ensuring that gadgetry stays properly strapped to your head all night long may prove more detrimental to your sleep than not wearing the device at all. Still, these devices mark a new stage in our wearables evolution, one where the tech isn’t just tracking every little thing, but actually, actively, trying to improve your experience. First-generation tech is always awkward, though, so we may stick with our shoddy, pink noise-less sleep until 2019.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of CES 2018.

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