Many people are pursuing the dream of optimizing sleep for social life.
Kampala, Uganda | Catherine Coveney & Eric L. Su | From sleep trackers to stimulants, the 21st century is inundated with new technologies that have the potential to fundamentally change the way we sleep.
Many of these new technologies are chasing the dream of optimized sleep. These promise to help us adjust our sleep schedules to fit our social lives, help us sleep longer, or skip a night of sleep altogether.
Find out how technology is infiltrating our sleep and what the future holds.
Many people are already using smart watches, smart jewelry, and fitness bands to track their sleep. Examples include alarms that wake people up at the optimal point in their sleep cycle, and motion sensor apps that analyze sleep patterns.
New ways to track sleep could soon include wearing pajamas embedded with sensors that track changes in posture, breathing rate and heart rate, or hugging a robotic pillow. There is The robot’s pillow algorithm creates breathing patterns to mimic and fall asleep.
Care robots, meanwhile, are already being tested in Japan to test whether they can improve sleep for the elderly. Designed to watch over residents at night in care homes, it provides staff with information about residents’ sleep conditions and lets them know if someone is loitering at night.
in your dreams
Dream management technology is in a very early stage of development. Scientists believe sensory stimulation technologies and devices, such as virtual reality visors, could be used for sleep engineering. This new science involves exposing sleepers to sensory stimuli such as clicks and vibrations at specific times in their sleep cycle. The aim would be to improve sleep quality, enhance memory, and even treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
As for the prospect of “reading” our dreams, progress can also be seen in this aspect. Scientists have taken the first step towards dream interpretation by measuring brain activity during sleep and using AI to decode visual images. Participants in a 2013 study were asked to report dream images they had after falling asleep inside an MRI scanner. The researchers compared scans of people looking at the same type of images while awake, and the results showed matching patterns of brain activity.
But there is a dystopian side to this story. The lights, smartphones, streaming services and other technologies we already have can wreak havoc on our sleep.
For example, a recent study in the United States found that college students often sleep with their phones on their beds, so phone calls, software updates, and app notifications can be a distraction. Watching TV, playing video games in bed, or staring at tablet or phone screens late into the night has become the norm for many. It can reduce sleep quality and disrupt sleep cycles.
More and more people are seeking treatments for new sleep conditions such as orthosomnia. Orthosomnia is an obsessive quest for perfect sleep that resembles an unhealthy obsession with nutrition. Some people actually suffer from insomnia because they worry about improving their sleep metrics.
time to wake up
Sleeping pills have recently been joined by a wave of stimulants, safer and more potent alternatives to caffeine. It seems to work best for people who are already sleep deprived, and not so well for those who are already well rested.
Modafinil is touted for its cognitive-enhancing effects, especially in sleep-deprived people, and is thought to keep people awake and alert for days at a time. Some scientific studies have shown that this may indeed be the case, but there are other studies that show its effects to be similar to caffeine, although results are mixed.
The drug was developed to help people with narcolepsy, but some people have started using it for its ability to improve concentration. It is a controlled substance (by prescription only) in most countries. People who use it for cognitive enhancement or alertness buy it on the black market or get it from a friend with a prescription.
Modafinil is popular with students. In 2020, Loughborough University researchers found that of 506 students surveyed at 54 UK universities, 19% had taken cognitive-enhancing substances.
However, people who take them for non-medical purposes are putting their health at risk. Studies on the safety of these drugs have not considered this type of use. We don’t know how staying awake for long periods of time with these drugs affects a person’s body. However, we do know that disrupted sleep patterns (such as shift work) are linked to health problems such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Recent research suggests that some people combine sleeping and wakefulness drugs to manage their internal rhythms, optimize sleep, and relax after a hard day’s work. . Little is known about the effects of combining stimulants with other drugs.
In the UK it is a crime to sell or supply prescription-only or unlicensed medicines. On the other hand, in the United States, it is a crime to possess methamphetamine without a prescription.
There’s still a lot we don’t know about sleep, and new technologies are changing our sleep faster than scientists can catch up. One thing seems almost certain. Sleep and technology in Western societies are becoming more intertwined than ever before.
Catherine Coveney is Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Loughborough University and Eric L Hsu is Lecturer in Sociology, University of South Australia.
Source: The Conversation