Technology is often considered the enemy of sleep. Think blue light and the ‘just-one-more’ approach to a new Netflix series. But there’s a school of thought gaining pace which sees sleep technology playing an important role in how we sleep in the future. In fact, it might already be here…
The rise of sleep technology
Ever since the invention of memory foam mattresses in the 1980s, sleep tech has been on the rise. Nowadays, it’s everywhere. From sleep trackers in our smart watches to alarms that wake us only during light sleep, the science of sleep is big business.
Valued at $58 billion in 2014, the sleep tech market is forecast to be worth $80 billion¹ by the end of 2020. These forecasts have developers and engineers battling to push the boundaries of sleep and find the next big sleep-tech breakthrough. And in terms of a target audience, it makes a whole lot of sense. Everybody sleeps. Every night. What’s more, with most adults not getting the right amount of sleep2, this is a market set to boom.
So, what do we expect to see in the sleep-tech industry over the coming years and beyond?
The future of sleep technology
The big factors about getting to sleep are environment, bodily health, and psychology. Science and product design plays a huge role here – how can we use electronic devices to bridge the gap between these areas? Here, we take a look at some of the current trends in sleep technology and how we expect them to evolve.
1. The perfect sunrise, every single morning
Morning sunlight solidifies your circadian rhythm3 – the 24 hour cycle which determines why we sleep at night and wake in the morning. It stems from the early days of humanity, where we slept outdoors and rose with the sun. Nowadays, with blackout blinds and the like, it’s often difficult to keep our circadian rhythm in sync. That’s where sleep tech comes in.
While there are already sleep lights which mimic the rising of sun, we expect this to go further. We already have lightbulbs which can controlled via voice, phones and tablets, so it won’t be long until these can be linked to sleep trackers and alarms. Not only will you be able to wake up when in a light phase of sleep, you’ll do so to the perfect lighting. Whether that’s through traditional lighting or windows which double up as screens is yet to be seen. But be confident in the fact it’s coming, one way or another.
2. Neither too hot nor too cold, just perfect
There are already plenty of mattresses which react to your body temperature. TEMPUR mattresses, for example. But what we expect in coming years is a range of mattresses which use electronic tech to keep you at the optimum temperature throughout the night.
Instead of relying on the thermoregulating properties of materials, expect mattresses linked to an app where you can dictate temperatures for bedtime, during sleep, and for the morning. Say goodbye to those cold winter mornings! And no doubt there’ll be automated modes which will respond independently throughout the night helping you snooze the night away in perfect harmony with your environment.
3. Sleep tech goes one step beyond
If ten years ago somebody tried to pay for their grocery shop with their watch, they’d be laughed out the door – with security close behind them! Nowadays, it’s totally normal. What’s not yet so normal is the idea of a sleep headband which guides you through various stages of hypnosis to help you drift off with ease.
However, showcased at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show, the Muse-S is exactly that. Using a combination of ambient sounds, soothing narration, and ‘real-time biofeedback’ this sleep headband is the next step in all things sleep-tech. Expect to see this model and similar hitting the shelves soon!
4. Control your dreams with technology
Dream management may sound more like a Hollywood blockbuster than something the average Joe would use, but it’s not as left-field as you’d imagine. Neuroscientists have been using technology to induce lucid dreams since the 1980s.
Back then, it was a case of using technology exterior to the body to implement signals into the sleeper’s dreams to invoke awareness. These included verbal cues, musical tones, and signals sent via smell and touch.
Since the ’80s, the technology has come on leaps and bounds. Nowadays, neuroscientists are using biofeedback devices to create hyper-personalised technique for the induction of lucidity into dreams. Put simply, this means devices which will detect REM Sleep – the phase in which we dream – and trigger individualised stimuli. Theoretically, these stimuli will help create an awareness of dreams while the dream continues.
In a controlled test4 back in 1995, similar techniques resulted in 78% of participants achieving lucid dreams. While it’s not quite yet taken off, this technology is starting to enter its teenage phase.
For example, there are already a few headbands on the market designed to induce lucid dreams. The cheapest is the Remee headband which sends signals regardless of your sleep phase. For something a little more scientific, the Aurora headband is one of the best – using biofeedback to personalise your environment when you enter the REM phase of sleep.
While both the Aurora and Remee are already available, dream management is still very much in its infancy. Huge developments are expected over coming years, with plenty of studies and research5 underway at places such as the Lucidity Institute and Wisconsin Institute for Sleep and Consciousness.
Related: A Beginner’s Guide to Lucid Dreaming
5. Forget about the power nap, discover the super nap
No matter how tired you are, it can be difficult to get to sleep fast enough to make a power nap worthwhile. The good news? The sleep tech industry has identified this as a common problem and is working to create products which solve the issue. Currently, noise conditioners and lighting devices are used to create the perfect sleep environment, regardless of the time of day or night. What we expect further down the line is the whole environment to be altered for the perfect sleep experience. Expect everything from temperature control and lighting to headbands which will stimulate the parts of your cortex that manages sleep.
And don’t think this will just be for the home. Nap pods in the workplace have seen a rise in prominence all over the globe. What started as a Japanese trend has now been picked up by the likes of Google, Facebook and a host of other tech companies. The reason? Naps are believed to make you more productive, not less. As naps in the office become more common and valued, you can expect big tech companies to jump on the trend; offering employers comfort in the knowledge that those who choose to nap, really will drift off.
Related: The Benefits of Napping and How to Make Sure Your Power Nap is Effective
6. Pharmaceutics vs sleep technology – who will win?
The discipline of pharmacy that deals with the process of turning a new chemical entity into medicine.
Often first on the scene for all things physiological, the pharmaceutics industry is already in full swing when it comes to sleep. More chemical technology than the rest, however, be in no doubt that this is an industry on the hunt for the next big sleep trend.
With between 30-50% of the population experiencing insomnia6 at some point in their lives, pharmaceutical companies are desperate to find the answer with research and testing always on-the-go.
As quoted by the Pharmaceutical Journal7, Elaine Lyons, a pharmacist specialising in sleep, has identified the need for ‘the development of agents that target both sleep initiation and maintenance without residual next-day effects’.
This shows how imperative it is for the pharmaceutics to find a solution without negative effects before sleep-tech takes the reins. Expect an arms-race to happen soon between the two, hoping to find the answer to the worldwide problem of poor sleep.
The verdict: technology is set to become sleep’s friend
Without a crystal ball, there’s no knowing where the sleep-tech industry is heading. That said, we’ve used recent trends and historical trends to build our predictions. The future is definitely in a more holistic approach to sleep, using technology to bridge the gap between health, environment, and psychology. The rise in sleep tracking and it’s availability for consumers has this market ready to blow up. Get ready, your dreams are calling…