5 ways technology improved my sleep

Over at MyLifeScoop, I wrote a post about five ways I've used technology to improve my quality of sleep. Some are gadgets or apps to buy, but others don't involve purchasing anything, and one tip involves throwing away a gadget you probably already have.

We tend to think of gadgets, and technology, as stimulants: games, lights, and electric distractions that keep us awake, and push sleep away. That can be true, but technology can also help us obtain better sleep, and the benefits that go with it.

One of the items I mention here is the Phillips Wake-up Light, above:

An "Official Light Therapy Product of the National Sleep Foundation," this lamp with optional audio features (FM radio, or nature sounds) helps wake you up in a gentle way with gradually increasing light. The light gradually brightens over a period of 30 minutes before a time you set gently prepare your body to wake up.

Basically, it simulates the effect of sunrise on your circadian rhythms. Unlike other tools listed in this post, by the way--this one's good for people who are deaf, have limited hearing abilities, or are not as sensitive to audio stimuli as they are to visual stimuli.

Read the whole thing: 5 Tech Gadgets That Improved My Sleep

(MyLifeScoop is an Intel-sponsored site and a Boing Boing sponsor, they made no editorial changes and exerted no control over my post content).


  1. Page two seems to be broken.

    I’m a fan of the light alarm, especially as my ideal routine has me rising long before the sun. I have a different brand: the alarm plugs in to a regular lamp rather than being a lamp of it’s own.

  2. Very cool article.  I’d also suggest a Zen Alarm clock for people who must have alarm clocks:


    The gong slowly gets more and more insistent, and it’s nicer than a loud, angry buzzing.

  3. The light alarm looks pretty cool. I kinda want one. Or to hack something together with an Arduino.

    I have this internal alarm clock, though: I can tell myself to wake up at a particular time and I *do*. I don’t know if it would work if I tried doing it to get to a day job every day – I’m lucky enough to not have one of those – but it can be surprisingly effective. I just firmly tell myself “okay I’m waking up at 9 tomorrow” as I’m settling down to sleep, and I do. It is then up to me to actually get my ass out of bed, of corse.

  4. I have a lovely alarm clock that features Stephen Fry gently waking you up and preparing you for the day. Unfortunately, it’s immediately followed by a loud cheap-sounding electronic shrill that I have figured out how to disable.

  5. My most reliable alarm clock is a sweet cat who crawls on my pillow every morning at exactly 6am. Unfortunately, she does it on the weekends too.

  6. I have my bedroom lights plugged into a timer so that they turn on about 30 minutes before my alarm.  It’s probably not as effective as the gradual sunrise effect, but it was cheaper and waking up to a lit room makes a huge difference in my mornings. 

  7. Let me add my favorite tip: F.lux. This would be a pre-sleep sort of thing, but F.lux has totally turned my body around for sleep, courtesy of circadian rhythms. The gradual color temperature shift works wonders for actually getting me sleepy when I should be sleepy!

    And it’s free!


    (Disclaimer: I’m in no way associated with F.lux. I just use it and love it. It has been a tiny, sleepy miracle for me.)

  8. I used to use Sleep Cycle on my iPhone all the time and loved it. Then I had a baby and don’t even bother setting an alarm any more…

  9. I used a wake-up light for quite a while.  It worked well, gradually increasing the light until I woke up.   But, the light color was all wrong — it was way too yellow, full-spectrum sunlight.  The end result is that I’d wake up all right, with a splitting headache.

    Morning light is is not full-spectrum.  It’s bluer, IMO.  Softer.  If I would find a wake-up light that really captured the softer colors of morning light, I’d get it in a heartbeat.

  10. For years I’ve used “waking up” as the best alarm clock.  It works brilliantly.  It works like this:

    Say I need to get up at 6am;
    I go to bed at about 10pm.
    I wake up at about 6am.
    I get ready and go to work.

    Say I don’t need to get up until 9am;
    I go to bed at about 11pm.
    I wake up at about 6am.
    I think “well fuck me!” and try to go back to sleep again.
    I fail to get back to sleep, and eventually get up, go to the toilet, check some email, read a little news and finally nod off to sleep again.
    I wake up later, check time time and decide whether it’s time to get up again.
    Repeat until 9am.
    Get up.
    Fall asleep at 11am because I’m tired.

    And the best bit is, I don’t need to waste money on alarm clocks!

  11. The most effective technological sleep aid I’ve employed is a water gun to teach my cat not to wake me up at 5 AM to feed him.

  12. I’m afraid though, the Wakeup Light won’t really be compatible with my sleeping mask.
    So I guess it’s either good sleep, or good wake-up…

  13. I’ve had sleep problems for more than 20 years- delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS) is the fancy term. Being a night owl is the common term. Doesn’t matter when I wake up in the morning, my brain simply won’t want to go to sleep until well after midnight that night. Doesn’t matter if my body is well ready for sleep, once 10 or 10:30 rolls around, my brain spins and spins and spins as if its internal gas pedal is full throttled, to the floor and has no intention of backing off.

    I can’t say the following technique alleviates that at all (seems like most of the article and most of the comments address ways to wake up easier, while I’m much more concerned with actually sleeping better), but I have found this to be effective in sleeping deeper and longer in the deep sleep phase-

    Play music at a moderate volume all night. Simple as that. I don’t know if it makes a difference that I’m a musician. I don’t know if it makes a difference that I really like classical music. But once I’m ready for sleeping, I direct the ipod to the classical library and let ‘er rip. Usually nothing too aggressive like Holst’s Mars, but usually Baroque or Classical era tunes, stuff like trio sonatas, concertos, symphonies, solo guitar. Although every once in a while I’ll put on some electronic music, again not too heavy, but I’ll go for stuff like the early Autechre albums or something similar.

    This might be a weird analogy, but I think of it like this- when I sleep, that’s when my consciousness dips below the surface of the water in a pool or in the ocean. How deep below the water’s surface it goes is how deeply I’m sleeping. The music is playing, but is only playing above the water. My underwater consciousness can hear it, but only very faintly.

    When my consciousness pokes up above the surface of the water is when I wake up. At the end of the 3 hour circadian rhythm cycles is when it’s at its closest point to the surface. But as it approaches the surface, it detects the music playing above the surface. You’d think that the music would pull me up into waking consciousness, but actually it has the opposite effect- the music pushes it back down into deeper sleep. I know it doesn’t make much sense, but that’s how I’ve found it works in my experience.

    And I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve trained my brain to hear the music even when it’s not really at a point where it’s that close to the surface, therefore staying at a deeper sleep for a higher percentage of the time when I am asleep.

    I don’t know if anybody else has similar problems, or if anybody else has tried this same thing, but maybe that’ll help somebody out there who hasn’t tried it.

    (And don’t tell me there’s no such thing a s 25 hour cycle related to DSPS like it says on wikipedia. I know there is because I’ve lived with it for decades.)

    Supplementary technique- get rid of your spring mattress and get a latex foam mattress. Once you make the move up to latex, you’ll never ever go back to spring mattresses again. Expensive, but absolutely worth it.

    1. Fellow DSPSer here.  A sleep specialist prescribed me several steps to follow:

      1. To begin a 16-hour waking cycle, sit or stand under the sun, no shade, hat nor glasses, let the rays hit the eyes indirectly for 1/2 hour, or if you prefer to stay indoors, use a Philips goLITE.  http://www.amazon.com/Philips-goLITE-BLU-Therapy-Device/dp/B001I45XL8/ref=sr_1_1?s=hpc&ie=UTF8&qid=1320361545&sr=1-1
      2. Under all circumstances, avoid sun in the eyes after the morning.  No staring at sunsets for you, mister, unless you don’t mind staying awake until 10 of the following morning.
      3. Shut off the electronics (computer and TV) at least 1/2 hour before bedtime.  A lamp and a book are okay.

      While not a perfect solution (stress, illness and partying can mess up the delicate rhythm), before this regimen I was able to achieve a morning schedule for a couple of days at a time, now under ideal circumstances I’ve been able to keep it stable for 2-3 weeks, painlessly, a truly dramatic improvement.  Surely someone more disciplined than me can keep it going for months at a time!

    1. But you can get a buzzing watch!  I always thought as a kid that a buzzing watch, with a mild perhaps electric jolt, would be a fantastic money-spinner.  But now everyone is making them.

  14. Nobody has mentioned Clocky?

    Did they not know that the name Clocky was already taken?  I can’t think of many things that would make me less likely to sleep well than Clocky.

  15. As an owner of a beloved Verilux Rise and Shine, all I can say is PREACH IT, SISTER XENI!

    I thought a hundred bucks was too much for an alarm clock, but I’m totally a convert now. It’s one of the best things I ever bought in my life. My mom’s getting one for Christmas.

    F.lux is also good, especially if you do a lot of work on the computer.

  16. I’ve been experimenting this past month with my ipod and binaural beats.  Falling asleep with the earbuds in place and the volume barely audible….I had my first lucid dream about 2 weeks back. I had been very skeptical that such a thing could be real. Then I experienced it. Ho-lee F*ck!! It was the eeriest thing I think I have ever been witness to. I was wide awake but in some “other” place….very strange.

  17. Get rid of night lights.  (Er, you should know your home blind, no?)  Get heavy curtains.

    Don’t put clocks that emit light in your bedroom.  Especially blue light.

  18. It should be possible to build something like this into a sleep mask. A coin cell, surface mount 6 or 8 pin microprocessor and LEDs would fit on on a tiny PC board small enough to fit comfortably in the mask. Use leaky fiber optics to pipe the LED light from the board to the mask in front of the eyes.

  19. What, nobody’s mentioned CPAP yet? I went from being so tired I wasn’t safe to drive, to perfectly fine, in about two days after I got mine. It’s not for everybody, but if you have sleep apnea, you really need one.

  20. There was a conference her in Kyoto about sleep disorders and the researchers I spoke to said Sleep Cycle was not accurate or useful. Mind you, they did not provide me with empirical evidence. Still, expert opinions carry weight.

  21. well,  I just read your post and some reviews; then bought the Phillips lamp alarm.  Also installed f.lux–good looking, Bahumat.

    looking forward to some help with my lifelong aversion to waking.  even if it isn’t a “miracle product,” or if my mileage varies from the good reviews, it still seems like a nicer way to wake up.  $90 is a helluva lot for an alarm, but even if it helps just a little, it’ll be worth it.  I’m that guy that simply doesn’t wake up.

    these comments will be closed before the thing is even delivered, but I’ll try to hit Xeni up to her email if I have anything useful to add to the discussion after I’ve used it a while.

  22. That wake-up lamp appears a bit orange in the photos, and colour isn’t mentioned in its (fairly long) amazon.com description. For it to have an effect it needs to have a lot of high frequency (blue) light, which you don’t normally get in standard electric light.

  23. On android, I use ElectricSleep to give me a bed motion detecting wakefulness alarm, it works very well. I have started using NeyetLight for color and dimming, unfortunately, it has to have the times set manually, rather than calculating sun rise and set from location and date. Hopefully they will add Locale integration, and I can control it from that.

    And f.lux is great.

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