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The Science Behind Sleep Sensors

I’m sure every human being is suffering from stress and anxiety right now to varying degrees. In this current climate of uncertainty, sleep may be the last thing on our minds but it remains as important as ever.


Spending three or four hours tossing and turning does not constitute a proper rest, and our body will be more than happy to remind us of that at the most inconvenient times. 

A grayscale photograph of Jeff Bezos' head lying on a cartoon pillow with a bright pink and yellow sleep mask over his eyes.

Struggling to focus, lack of motivation, physical fatigue… these are all classic symptoms of sleep deprivation. And let’s face it, no one wants to be nodding off on that important conference call with your boss or facing the wrath of your other half when you appear disengaged over dinner. So, what can we do about it? What help exists to improve our sleep quality? 


Perhaps surprisingly, it is technology that steps up to the plate — and in some cases, the very same devices we are told impact our ability to adequately relax at bedtime. 

Take SleepScore, for example, an American company dedicated to delivering quality shut-eye:

"We’re sleep experts from institutions like ResMed, Harvard, and Apple driven by a shared purpose: to unlock human potential through the power of sleep.

"After studying millions of hours of sleep for over a decade, we’ve applied what we learned to our technology and the products we recommend. Sleep affects how you feel, your productivity and even your creativity. Over time a lack of sleep can affect our mental health and ability to manage our weight. It can also increase our susceptibility to disease."

One of their products — the SleepScore Max — is billed on their website as “the world’s most advanced sleep improvement system”, built on 12 years of research with “accuracy validated in over 12 published studies.” This bedside gadget costs $149.99 and works alongside an app on your smartphone to assess the quality and quantity of your sleep. 

At first glance, the price tag seems excessive. After all, who wants to part with $149.99 to achieve something that should come naturally to us? Ask someone who suffers from any number of conditions that affect our ability to get a good night’s rest, however, and they’ll likely tell you it’s a small price to pay.

Thankfully there is a free option for those of us wanting to dip our toe in the water before taking the plunge — the SleepScore app for Apple and Android:

"Using just your smartphone microphone and speaker capabilities to track and measure your breathing rate and body movement, SleepScore provides insight into your sleep environment and delivers an in-depth analysis into every stage of your sleep. And we never record anything. Ever."

Their website elaborates on the need for a technological solution:

"Measuring sleep isn’t as easy as stepping on a scale. SleepScore technology makes measuring sleep simple and reliable. Every morning, we provide you with an easy to understand SleepScore — a normalized 100-point sleep quality metric, based on proprietary algorithms. Your SleepScore is composed of six sleep parameters that combine to reflect the overall quality of sleep.

"In addition to your SleepScore, every morning you also get a Mind Score and a BodyScore. MindScore reflects the amount of REM sleep, which plays an important role in creative thinking, problem-solving, and emotional processing. Body Score reflects the amount of deep sleep, which is considered restorative sleep and is linked to the perception of feeling well-rested the next day."


What’s more, the app tracks your score over time to help you to identify longer-term trends (although a premium subscription is required to access enhanced features). 

A cartoon image of a figure asleep in a blue armchair in front of their TV, with "Z"s floating above to signify snoring.

The app interface itself is simple and easy to navigate, breaking your sleep duration down into stages: Time to Fall Asleep, Light Sleep, Deep Sleep, REM Sleep and Wake Time. If you’re not much of a data nerd, you might think this granularity of detail is a) overwhelming, or b) of little benefit to you. Once you understand what “good” looks like, however, the value of these figures will become apparent. 

Five hours of “light sleep”, for instance, does not constitute an optimal rest. Neither does 12 hours of deep sleep. As with most things in life, there are delicate balances at play which we can’t always achieve on our own. Hence the existence of fitness trackers, calorie counters, blood sugar monitors — these are not inventions for inventions sake — they have been specially designed to inform, guide and support us. 

In the case of SleepScore, it’s clear they’d also like to add “Relationship Saviour” to their C.V. Their Do I Snore or Grind app listens out for tell-tale sounds, and keeps track of which remedies work the best — from mouthguards and snore strips to stopping drinking alcohol. Again, the basic app is free so what do you have to lose? Nobody likes to think that they snore like a dying dinosaur, but it’s always reassuring to know for sure… 

In July 2019, SleepScore Labs shared insightful data on America’s sleeping patterns:

  • People that reported having 5 drinks or more, are on average, awake 20 minutes more at night.

  • On average people who had 5+ caffeinated drinks had about 13 minutes less total sleep than those who had none.

  • On average, people who sleep in a room with a temperature 65 degrees or lower sleep almost 30 minutes longer than those in a room with a temperature of 77 degrees or higher.

  • Exercise is positively related to the amount of sleep during the week.

  • People between 40 – 60 are getting the least amount of sleep.

  • Compared to people with normal weight, people with obesity show a 17 to 22-minute decrease in total sleep time. That’s a lot in sleep terms!

With lockdown measures in place across much of the world right now, millions of us will be wittering well into the night about work, money, health and the wellbeing of our family and friends. With or without an app, this data points to clear steps we can all take to ensure we are well-rested and ready for whatever tomorrow brings: 

  • Reduce alcohol and caffeinated drink intake  

  • Keep your bedroom cool (and no, I don’t mean with “groovy” lava lamps…)

  • Exercise regularly, and try to achieve / maintain a healthy weight

There are many more sensor-based devices out there to choose from — from ResMed’s flagship non-contact offering S+(which also analyses light, noise and temperature levels in your bedroom) to Beddit — a sleep sensor that slips under your mattress to measure / assess how long you sleep, your heart rate, breathing patterns, whether or not you snore, and the temperature and humidity of the environment in which you sleep. Beddit — which was already iPhone compatible and synced with the Apple Health app — was purchased by the tech giant in May 2017, solidifying the position of tracking technology as a hugely exciting, emerging market. 


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