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Debunking the Commodification of Sleep

Are sleep devices actually the most effective way to get a good night’s rest?

We’ve all heard of recipes for healthy eating, but have you ever heard of a recipe for sleep? Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington shared her personal recipe for sleep in an article published by Fast Company last year. Ingredients include turning off devices 30 minutes before bedtime, a hot bath, and a good, non-work related book.

Huffington is at the forefront of a new sleep revolution, one that has transformed sleep from an essential activity required to live, to a status symbol. From a recommended seven to nine hours each night for adults, to this; sleep has become a practice, an art, and a topic of dinner conversation. Perhaps it’s about time — the average person does, after all, spend one third of their life asleep.

Alongside any status symbol comes the introduction of material items. In the case of sleep, companies have developed products that can assess whether lighting or temperature is interfering with your sleep using sensors attached to your body or mattress. The firmness of your bed can be adjusted through a smartphone app. A small stone-like pump can soothe your snores by stimulating your throat muscles.

Mattress companies, meanwhile, have entered the startup space, with online businesses such as Casper and Herobed targeting millennials, a market which is now replacing their mattresses every six years. On their websites, these companies advertise dedicated design teams, community gathered data, and super fun boxes — sales pitches that sound like they come more from a tech company than one who produces mattresses. The sales pitch is warranted, though. The sleep industry is expected to become a $10 billion market by 2020.

With top 10 lists proclaiming the best items to help people sleep, you have to wonder: are these devices actually the most effective way to get a good night’s rest?

The Effectiveness of Sleep Products

As Dr. Matthew P. Walker, director of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory at the University of Berkeley California told the New York Times: “what gets measured, gets managed.”

He was referring to sleep, and how people should be taking the activity more seriously. Just as you make efforts to buy healthy foods or a gym membership, that means investing time and capital into pursuing a healthy sleep routine.

Unfortunately, there’s no real evidence that shows your sleeping habits benefit from a stroll down the gadget aisle. Unlike other medical technology such as heart rate monitors and blood glucose monitoring devices, consumer sleep devices don’t require certification, meaning the science behind them isn’t backed up by any regulated body. As a Harvard study stated, the creation and sale of sleep devices is outpacing the data collection and research needed to validate their effectiveness. As a result, consumer sleep devices may be useful for providing data about our sleeping habits, but the recommended course of action they prescribe cannot be backed up by science.

Be wary. Sleep trackers don’t always provide the most accurate information, especially given each person’s unique sleep patterns, says sleep expert Hawley Montgomery-Downs. According to Montgomery-Downs, the sleep trackers that have been studied have all been found to overestimate sleep time and quality, which can actually lead to a worsening of sleep habits.

So while consumer sleep devices may be able to induce sleep through placebo effect, sleep is such a personal thing that no invention can be expected to cure the entire population of its issues.

Get a Good Sleep — Device Free

Even though sleep gadgets may not be all they proclaim, there are still some opportunities to invest in a better night’s sleep.

Instead of buying wearable gadgets and sensors galore, buy only those products directly related to your sleep: a comfortable mattress based on your sleep position; a pillow that doesn’t make your neck crick, and the housewares you need to keep your bedroom at the right temperature and darkness level.

Once you have these basic items, there are some other best practices to follow. Luckily, for those wanting an old fashioned sleep experience, a good night’s sleep can be obtained with a few straightforward changes. Similar to other health and wellness principles, a positive sleep schedule depends a lot on how you treat your body.

There are six steps to getting a better sleep. They include:

  • Stick to a sleep schedule: The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) calls this “sleep hygiene.” Good sleep hygiene depends on a regular sleep and pre-sleep routine so your body knows what to expect each night. A regular sleep schedule also means going to bed and waking up at approximately the same time each day.

  • Pay attention to what you eat and drink: Avoid large meals within a few hours of bedtime. On their page about sleep hygiene, the NSF says heavy, rich, fatty, spicy, and citrus foods can cause indigestion throughout the night. Caffeine and nicotine don’t help, either.

  • Create a restful environment: A room that is cool, dark, and quiet is the most conducive to sleep.

  • Limit daytime naps: Sleeping more than 30 minutes during the day can interfere with your ability to have a good night’s sleep.

  • Include physical activity in your daily routine: Daily exercise has been found to increase the amount of time you spend in the deepest phase of sleep. Since you’re expending extra energy, your body is also more likely to sleep for longer, as it recharges your system for the following day. It’s also well known that exercise releases endorphins, neurochemicals that trigger the reward circuits in our brain and make us happier. Happier people are less stressed, and less stress leads to better sleep.

  • Manage worries: There is an adage that says you should not go to bed angry. The same goes with your worries — there is no way you’re going to get your best night’s sleep if you’re a ball of stress and nerves. In her recipe for sleep, Arianna Huffington says she writes down three things she is thankful for at the end of the day. Doing this will help you refocus on the positive and fall asleep with those thoughts in mind.

So if you were on the fence about getting the latest consumer sleep device, you may want to reconsider. The methods that are scientifically proven to help us get a better night’s sleep are much more readily available and affordable than commercial sleep products want us to believe.

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