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8 comments

Smart Alarms and Better Sleep

Posted December 05, 2013 12:00 AM by cheme_wordsmithy

Despite a refreshing and restful Thanksgiving weekend, Monday morning hit me like a truck. I woke up right in the middle of a dream in deep sleep, and I was extra groggy all morning as I made the hard adjustment back to my normal work schedule.

With the holiday season in full swing, many people are facing the same reality as they deal with sleepiness in the midst of busy holiday planning, travelling, shopping and more shopping *sigh*. If only it were possible to get more energy out of the same sleeping schedule.

Interestingly enough, this is an issue that "smart" alarm clocks attempt to address.

In the past few years, there has been a surge of smart alarm clocks and alarm clock apps designed to be more aware of a person's sleep cycle. The intent is to wake the person more "naturally" during the lighter stages of sleep, avoiding a hard alarm wakeup during deep or heavy sleep. The result should be more energy and less fatigue in the morning.

These smart alarms are based on an understanding of the normal human sleep cycle, which alternates between two states: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. NREM sleep consists of three stages (N1, N2, and N3), where brain activity decreases and sleep deepens with each subsequent stage. REM sleep, involves increased brain function and rapid movement of the eyes underneath the eyelids. Typically, when people are awakened from REM sleep, they report that they had been dreaming.

Via helpguide.org

Brain waves taken by electroencephalogram (EEG) are used by sleep experts to identify the stages of sleep. Closing your eyes will result in brain waves similar to the first band shown above, "relaxed wakefulness." Theta waves indicate stage N1 sleep. Stage N2 sleep shows brief bursts of activity as sleep spindles and K-complex waves. Deep sleep (stage N3) is represented by large, slow delta waves.

Smart alarms based on these studies have been in around since 2005. Some monitor motion to determine sleep stage (such as Sleep Cycle), while others monitor actual brain activity. One such device was the Zeo Headband, which incorporated a headband and a wirelessly connected clock. The headband read, recorded, and logged brain activity (via skin surface electrical signals) and communicated with the clock. The alarm would go off at the most ideal time within a set period (typically 90 minutes) before the deadline time set by the subject.

There is one question paramount to usefulness of these "smart" alarms: Does waking up during a lighter stage of sleep really make a difference? Well… yes and no. I can say from personal experience that, regardless of the quality or # of Zzz's I received, I will be more tired in the morning when waking up from a deep slumber. I can also say that my energy level for the next hour or two will be noticeably less.

A screenshot from the Sleep Cycle app. Via mylifescoop.com

The truth is, however, there is no scientific evidence that proves that waking up a certain way will affect our overall restfulness throughout the day. Sleep scientists have contested products like the Zeo Headband, saying the key to restfulness and energy is a good night's sleep. Most important is the # of sleep cycles (REM and NREM) we receive during our sleeping time that determines how refreshed and awake we feel. Alternate schedules and shorter hours may work for some; heck, some have even been able to live off power naps at set intervals (see polyphasic sleeping for more on the subject). But ultimately, the majority of us need the recommended 7-8 hours of good quality sleep to function as our bodies intended.

Or Americans could just incorporate the ciesta, and everything would be better. The end.

Sources:

Sleep Cycles Body Clock - Help Guide

Garfield image - Thinkquest.org

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#1

Re: Smart Alarms and Better Sleep

12/06/2013 12:05 AM

I regularly take a siesta (note the spelling!), and it helps a lot. But that seems to run in my family...

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#2

Re: Smart Alarms and Better Sleep

12/06/2013 8:18 AM

The most realistic method is to learn the typical lengths and number of your natural sleep cycles and time when you go to bed from that.

I have three three hour cycles on average and it takes me about one hour to fall asleep so when I need to be waking up at 6 am I start going to bed at 8 PM.

That's how I do it and I rarely have a day where I don't automatically wake up a few minutes before the alarm goes off.

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#3

Re: Smart Alarms and Better Sleep

12/06/2013 10:39 AM

If it weren't for cruise control, I'd never get any sleep at all

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#4

Re: Smart Alarms and Better Sleep

12/06/2013 4:31 PM

Of course the inventor would claim the device had health benefits.

Tcmtech,

I wish I could go to sleep like you do. I Have ADD which is likely a sleep disorder. Most of us don't get tired like normal persons. I need to take 2 melatonin tabs at 9 and 2 more at 10 to get to sleep by 11. This way I get 7 hrs sleep. I could go indefinitely on 6 hrs sleep. The problem that is not enough time to detox my mind, so I have attention problems. This is all relatively breaking info. Sleep detoxing your brain is quite a resent discovery.

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Re: Smart Alarms and Better Sleep

12/07/2013 3:17 AM

I usually take two melatonin's and a Ibuprofen PM an hour before I go to bed that way I am sound asleep before my wife comes to bed.

Otherwise I have to listen to her for 2 - 4 hours because she cant fall asleep without giving me a minute by minute reaccount of her whole day plus her dreams from the night before were followed by a full Q & A over what I did for the day and what I may have dreamed about the night before.

I'm pretty sure she has ADD as well.

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#6

Re: Smart Alarms and Better Sleep

12/09/2013 6:40 PM

Liked you explanation of the sleep stages. I am not sure I would like to sleep with a Zeo Headband. It would most likely affect my sleep in a negative way. I would try the Sleep Cycle if they had an android app.

I have also noticed that I function better during the day if I allow myself to wake up naturally instead of using an alarm. Even setting the alarm will cause me to wake up before it goes off. Seems like an alarm that wakes you gradually would be more effective, slowly bringing you to a lighter stage of sleep. Maybe an alarm that had a staged snooze, one that starts out with low noise progressing to a louder sound, bringing you awake slowly, from a deep sleep to a the lighter stages of sleep before waking you. A good way to start your day.

I find I take a long time to fall asleep and, as a others mentioned, cannot focus well if I don't get the right amount of sleep each night. Maybe I have adult ADD Haven't tried melatonin though. I have done the sleep study thing and it only seems to be set up to sell sleep apnea equipment.

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Re: Smart Alarms and Better Sleep

12/10/2013 10:23 AM

Try one of the "artificial sunrise" type of alarms. They gradually increase from dark to light, instead of using sound.

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Re: Smart Alarms and Better Sleep

12/12/2013 5:17 PM

Thanks, I will look into it.

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