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Missing sleep can impact your health and your performance. Thankfully, there's plenty of technology that can help. We review three of them.

Fritz Nelson

December 16, 2010

7 Min Read

One of the most effective ways of dealing with lack of sleep, energy, or jet lag, is the creative use of light. Your retinas have photoreceptors, according to Dr. David White, Chief Medical Officer for Philips Respironics, and one of those photoreceptors -- ganglion cells -- responds to bright light, sending signals to the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which controls your circadian rhythm -- essentially your body's daily clock. You can alter this clock using bright white light, or blue light. While exposure can help with jet lag, it can also improve your mood and coax wakefulness whenever you need it.

Philips goLITE BLU

Philips goLITE BLU

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Philips goLITE BLU I've been testing the Philips goLITE BLU energy light for a few weeks, shining it at my face at a clip of 15 minutes each day, roughly around 3 p.m. This 6-inch light didn't give me any noticeable energy jolt, but then neither does caffeine. I powered through my afternoons easily, but whether that was because of a good night's sleep or the goLITE BLU, I can't say. The unit costs $129.99. I also tested the Philips Wake-up Light, which is essentially an alarm clock, with a radio and a special light that comes on one-half hour before the alarm goes off, building in light intensity during that half hour. In other words, it acts like the sun rising. Making your bedroom completely dark helps with sleep, but if that means shutting out what could become morning sunlight, the Wake-up Light can be an adequate substitute, or so goes the theory.  Philips Wakeup Light

Philips Wakeup Light

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Philips Wakeup Light The light has all sorts of other features, including an alarm radio and a variety of peaceful waking sounds, each of which can be set to gradually increase in loudness for a more streamlined awakening. But the main feature is the light. (You can change the length of the light window, say to 15 minutes instead of 30). It's not the easiest alarm clock to set, but waking up to a gradually increasing light source was a pleasant experience when it happened. Sometimes I didn't even notice it. The idea here, like with Zeo's ability to detect when you're in a light sleep, is not to jolt you out of a deeper, more important form of sleep, and to do so as naturally as possible. I often use these products in conjunction with one another, with great success . . . that is until their clocks start to become unsynchronized over a number of days. The Wake-up Light costs $99.99. Sleeptracker Elite

Sleeptracker Elite

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Sleeptracker Elite One of the big problems I've had with the Zeo Personal Sleep Coach is that it requires wearing a headband. The headband is made with some special material, and it actually detects brain waves. However, the headband often slips off my head, or it's sometimes especially uncomfortable during fitful sleep nights. Sleeptracker makes watches that provide sleep data, and I've been testing the Sleeptracker Elite. These don't fall off, and they're much easier to wear to bed. However, while the Zeo tracks brainwaves, Sleeptracker is an actigraph-based device; these use elements like movement and body temperature and make a guess on which sleep phase you're in. Specifically, Sleeptracker is measuring the number of wakeful blasts you have each night. The watch has both an audible and tactile (buzz) alarm, and like the Zeo, you can get the watch to wake you up when you are in a light sleep phase. You have to tell Sleeptracker when you're going to bed -- setting the time like you would an alarm clock, or hitting the "To Bed" mode 30 minutes before you anticipate going to sleep. It only starts tracking your wakeful times once it determines you are sleeping. At the end of a night's sleep, you can review your data right on the watch. The most important data point is the average length of time between wakeful moments. Here, you're comparing your scores to a baseline you establish for about one week. You can also review each recorded wake time, just to see when they occurred. The watch is easy enough to figure out. It also comes with a special cable that attaches to three holes on the back of the watch, and into a USB port on your computer. From here, you can upload your data using the company's software. I didn't have the Windows-based software to test, but reading through the documentation it seems very similar to what Zeo Sleep Coach provides in its web-based "MyZeo" site -- namely a place to record behavior that may have affected sleep, and your mood and energy for the day; all of which is kept historically, and you can search for your best and worst sleep events, for example. While I certainly prefer wearing the Sleeptracker, the data collection and product accuracy seem better with Zeo. However, if you're doing all the right things -- reducing anxiety close to bed time, dimming lights, not eating or exercising too close to bedtime, not drinking late at night, not smoking, cutting out caffeine after 3 p.m. -- then Sleeptracker, like Zeo, becomes a great tool for measuring the effectiveness of those efforts, and predicting when you might need to use something like the goLITE BLU in the afternoon. A Sleeptracker Elite runs about $179. There are other products, like this aromatherapy alarm clock from Hammacher Schlemmer, and this ReadiBand watch, which we'll be taking a closer look at in January at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). There are also products from Cornell's Dr. Maas, including special pillows and a forthcoming alarm clock. You can check out his site here. Also, Philips' Dr. White told me that the company is working on high-energy lights (bright white) for the workplace, schools and hospitals (where he says it can promote faster healing). It is working on what White called "stumble lights," using wavelengths that suppress melatonin (unlike bright bathroom lights), making it easier to fall back to sleep. Philips is also working on what White termed "sleep waves," or electrodes that go behind the ear and generate an electrical pulse that activates the balance system and provides a gentle, rocking effect; this type of product would help insomnia patients, for example. The company is also working on more personalized, or individualized ways to deliver energizing light, especially for shift workers. Finally, it is working to create less intrusive technology to treat Sleep Apnea. Fritz Nelson is the editorial director for InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing. Follow Fritz Nelson and InformationWeek on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn: Twitter @fnelson @InformationWeek @IWpremium Facebook Fritz Nelson Facebook Page InformationWeek Facebook Page YouTube TechWebTV LinkedIn Fritz Nelson on LinkedIn InformationWeek

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About the Author(s)

Fritz Nelson

Vice President, Editorial Director InformationWeek Business Technology Network

Fritz Nelson is a former senior VP and editorial director of the InformationWeek Business Technology Network.

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