In an era where technological solutions are being devised for every nook and cranny of our lives, it is of little surprise to see the recent boom of sleep tech making claims on how apps and wearables can quantify and improve the sacred realm of sleep.
Just think of wearables like the Oura Ring, the Finnish firm claims that by putting on this high-tech Lord-of-the-ringsy sleep tracker on your finger, you can sleep like a log, work like a boss, and train like a champ.
Or take Calm, named app of the year in 2017 by none other than Apple itself. Calm claims to help users get the sleep of their dreams through a combination of guided medications, soothing music, and bedtime stories.
From Apple Watches and Fitbits to Ouras and a deluge of sleep-related apps and connected sleepware (like Snail Sleep, which sells a smart sleep tracking pillow), this cluster of providers are promising better sleep, improved cognition, clarity of thought, and what many techies in particular love — deriving data on your sleep so you can optimize your shut eye.
However, critics suggest that these promises are groundless daydreams. Indeed, whether sleep trackers and devices actually have any real effect on sleep quality is unclear.
Critical reviews such as this Johns Hopkins paper on the efficacy of sleep tracking devices discovered little evidence that these devices can mitigate sleep loss in practical life (suggesting thereby that much of the noise is indeed, hype).
Another study even suggested that in searching for the perfect night’s sleep and relying on potentially inaccurate sleep data, users can amplify their “sleep-related anxiety” and actually become worse off, or self-diagnose some sleep disorder based on the data. By the way, the term is ‘orthosomnia’, a scientific label for the anxiety created by the search for perfect sleep.
It is not altogether unexpected that the tech world, infamous for a fetishistic dedication to workaholism, is touting technology as a solution for getting more and better sleep. Neither is it surprising that some of these apps and devices may not be as accurate or possess as much medical merit as they claim.
But it would be a mistake to think that sleep tech is merely a fad in passing. While the execution may not be perfect (and potentially actively unhelpful), these firms have found a market of high demand. With adjacent industries like AI-driven analytics and emerging use cases for IoT suites of homeware from fridges to blankets, much momentum may still be in store for the world of sleep tech. The problems with the industries now are issues of implementation, but not in concept. For all the reasons to doubt right now, don’t go back to counting sheep just yet.