DORY GASCUEÑA LÓPEZ | Tungsteno
Smart devices have now reached every corner of our home and are increasingly part of everyday activities, even those we do unconsciously. Given the importance to our health of getting a good night’s sleep, many tech companies are investigating how to help us fall asleep more easily and improve the quality of our sleep. And in this field, some of the next big innovations in consumer electronics are expected.
Gadgets to help us "sleep like a baby" are already a reality. Young children in particular pose one of the greatest challenges for doctors and sleep engineers, who have already developed a smart crib to teach babies how to sleep and relax without the classic intervention of parents. With a monitoring app that explains what is happening in the crib at all times and also allows the different programs to be adjusted from a mobile phone, the aim is to reproduce an environment as close as possible to that of the mother's womb. The cot has a sack that keeps the baby on its back, and gentle rocking and white noise soothe and calm the baby, increasing in intensity if the infant starts to cry.
The same technology used by NASA to help astronauts sleep is at the base of the development of smart glasses that promote melatonin secretion. Credit: NASA.
Artificial light to regulate sleep patterns
Ensuring a few more hours of sleep for children is undoubtedly the best way to provide additional rest for parents, but technology also has some recommendations for teenagers and adults. A large percentage of the population, especially young people, have acquired the habit of using their smartphones to distract themselves before going to sleep. However, exposure to light from these devices may make it harder to fall asleep because it can decrease the secretion of melatonin, the hormone responsible for rest. The short-wavelength blue light they emit slows down the circadian clock and disrupts melatonin production, according to a study by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. The good news is that technology itself already provides ways to solve this interference. Several researchers have found that using special lenses to block blue light from screens reduces alertness and promotes sleep initiation mechanisms at the cognitive and physiological levels.
Light is one of the key factors in regulating sleep patterns, since human evolution has trained us to sleep between two light events that are fundamental to our body's circadian rhythms: dusk and dawn. However, society challenges these parameters with night-time work shifts or even extreme situations such as sleeping in space. It is, in fact, technology used by NASA to help astronauts sleep that has inspired the development of smart glasses whose aim is to encourage the secretion of melatonin by activating the optimal circadian rhythms in each phase of sleep through a play of light. Melatonin is produced more easily with red light, like that of the sunset, and the blue light of the morning prepares us to wake up with more energy. These glasses, which look like a sleep mask, allow users to program a sunset and sunrise on demand from a mobile app.
New smart beds analyse our biological patterns while we sleep so they can regulate from the hardness of the mattress to the position to facilitate our rest. Credit: Eight Sleep.
Other basic and more everyday objects such as the bed itself, as well as the mattress, duvet and pillows, have also acquired a "smart" label thanks to different technological applications that aim to facilitate our relaxation through different ways, for example by regulating the temperature according to personal preferences, adapting the hardness of the mattress to different postural patterns or emitting white noise that isolates us from the ambient sound. Achieving smart sleep is also becoming easier for those of us who suffer from some sleep pathology. For people who sleep next to a partner, it is now possible to analyse snoring patterns and even cause our partner to change his or her position to improve their breathing while sleeping, without the need for uncomfortable wires or direct human intervention. From insomnia, sleep apnea, sleepwalking or narcolepsy, the ability to analyse our biological patterns while we sleep has multiplied in recent years, and not all options involve wearing the now classic smart bracelet.
There are now multiple ways to understand how we sleep and to optimise the conditions for slumber, but is smart sleep alone sufficient if it does not take place in a healthy house? Sleeping in an environment that does not have the necessary humidity or air quality conditions, for example, can be more complicated and even counterproductive to our health. This is why some appliances already measure different quality parameters and offer suggestions for improvement. The European Sleep Centre has developed a device with integrated sensors that can manipulate and adjust the temperature, brightness or humidity of the room. Beyond blinds, classic humidifiers or air fresheners with relaxing oils, technology has come to stay while we sleep and will do so through the analysis of data and internet of things to give us all possible information about what happens in our body and in our house while our eyes are closed.
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Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation. Devised by Materia Publicaciones Científicas for Sacyr’s blog.