News for insomniacs: Technologies that show promise in battling the sleep deprivation epidemic

sleep deprivationWe have already reported on the topic of sleep deprivation and the epidemic of sleep-related problems that’s been on a rampage across the nation over the last decade or so.

We try to stay on top of things by providing updates on the state of things as often as we can. We keep track of important statistics that affect pretty much every aspect of our lives – from the productivity in the workplace to the more serious ones, like accidents related to drowsy driving.

Ominous stats

Insomnia statistics are intricate for two main reasons:

  • Not all people suffering from sleep problems report it is a health issue
  • The very definition of an insomniac – about 10% of all population are reported to be chronic insomniacs (three episodes a week or more) while the numbers are not as clear-cut in other groups. About a fifth of our population suffers from intermittent insomnia (three months or less).

If you cast a wider net (people with brief episodes) the numbers go as high as 35%. That’s alarmingly high. If you take a moment to let it sink in, one in three people suffer from the problem in one form or another.

Life-threatening implications

The connection between sleep deprivation and health issues is hard to directly measure. One of the implications that’s crystal-clear are the number of traffic accidents related to drowsy driving.

According to the projections and estimates by the AAAF, drowsy driving is implicated in a mind-boggling 328,000 crashes (6,400 of those had fatal outcomes).

Increasing awareness

While the issue doesn’t seem to be something that can be easily fixed and calls for a long-term strategy, the good news is that the awareness of the problem is on the rise.

The stress and anxiety of fast-paced modern life only add to the problem. It’s fair to say that some of the aspects of the lifestyle caused the spike in the numbers in the first place.

It’s not realistic to expect for the life of an average person to “slow down.” But it is realistic to expect for some of the new technologies to address the problem more efficiently.

That’s what we want to talk about today.

Last year in perspective

Instead of just analyzing the stats that indicate how serious the issue of sleep deprivation is, we’d like to broaden the discussion by bringing attention to some of the tech advancements that show promise.

Over the last year, we kept notes on new technologies and products in the arena. Below are four of those that we hand-picked.

Breathing regulation devices

There is a substantial body of evidence that slow breathing can help induce sleep, especially when combined with other stimuli like soothing music.

The science behind this approach is called “guided breathing,” and it’s aimed at reducing the activity of the sympathetic nervous system (the part of our brain that prepares us for physical activity).

Guided breathing shows especially promising results in those who have problems falling asleep in the first place.

This approach is rooted in the science of stress relief and lowering high blood pressure that often follows.

Up to this point, guided breathing devices were primarily aiming to lower those two (stress and blood pressure). A good example of that is the RESPeRATE.

Weighted blankets for adults

The concept of weighted blankets designed to soothe an anxious mind are not new, it goes back decades.

What’s new is the fact that they used to be “localized” to therapeutical use in children with sensory disorders like ADHD. It’s only in the last few years that these products (otherwise known as sensory or gravity blankets) have entered the mainstream of battling insomnia.

The science behind them (Deep Pressure Stimulation) is, in some ways, similar to guided breathing – it’s supposed to address stress and anxiety-related sleep problems.

The jury is still out and most large-scale controlled studies available today explore the effects on children. The concept does, however, show some promising results in other age groups, too. You can see some specific numbers about the effects of weighted blankets in adults here.

Innovation in pillows

A pillow used to be just about comfort. Today, it can be much more than that.

Over the last decade, companies have been experimenting with integrating sound technology into a pillow.

Today, the industry is taking even more significant steps by combining psychological and physiological aspects of sound and vibration.

To put it simply, some modern pillows not only play soothing tones to calm to mind but follow it with vibration to calm the body. You can read more about how they work and the effects of these pillows here.

Sleeping in virtual reality

We’ve saved a concept that’s most “out there” for last.

The concepts that we mentioned above are somewhat easier to wrap our minds around. It’s fair to say that virtual reality as a sleep aid sounds more exciting than a music pillow or a weighted blanket.

In reality (no pun intended), the concept is not so far-fetched.

A well-known device that uses combines soothing virtual reality with other stimuli to enhance the production of melatonin (sleep hormone) and serotonin while lowering cortisol (the stress hormone) is the Kortex made by Fisher Wallace Laboratories.

The Kortex is not a gimmick – the company behind it has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau and the price itself is FDA approved.

Can see more about how it works on the company’s website here.

We live in exciting times

The rat-race of a modern lifestyle does take a toll on our health, there’s no doubt about that.

We bring our laptops to bed and then expect quality sleep on command. Much of it ignores how our brains are “wired.”

The good news is that sleep technology is making giant leaps and we’re excited about what the future holds.

If you have experiences of your own that you’d like to share, feel free to contact us and make suggestions about products or technological advancements that we might have failed to mention.

We’re always open to reporting on exciting developments in the field.

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