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Jawbone activity monitors; Dreem headband by Rythm.

The appliance of science is even seeping into the activity of our unconscious minds, with the rise in fitness trackers, mindfulness apps and even sleep pods in public spaces, designed to evaluate the quality of our sleep.
We spend a third of our lives sleeping, but nobody knows why. It’s a question that has baffled scientists for centuries, and most of what we know has only been discovered in the last 25 years thanks to advances in neuroscience. Broadly speaking, sleep gives the body time to recover. Not getting enough can lead to serious health consequences: adults who sleep less than six hours a night typically gain weight, become more susceptible to a heart attack and experience diminished brain activity, which causes poor decision-making.

It’s an increasing problem, with two-thirds of us now unhappy with the quality of our sleep. Sleeplessness is killing our productivity too. According to a recent study, lack of sleep could be costing UK businesses as much as £453 million a year in lost efficiency and performance.

To combat this modern malaise, firms such as Uber and The Huffington Post have introduced ‘napping rooms’, while Google has installed a bank of MetroNaps EnergyPods ($13,000; metronaps.com), specialist ‘napping chairs’ complete with privacy visors and sound systems. Even luxury hotels are catering to power nappers: at the Conrad Manila for instance, guests can catch a few extra
Zs in the hotel’s oxygen-rich sleeping pods.

But whether it’s 40 winks or a full night’s rest, sleep is not simply a case of your body shutting down. There are two main types of sleep and both are critical to your mental and physical wellbeing. During deep ’slow-wave’ sleep the pituitary gland releases growth hormones to stimulate tissue and muscle repair. It’s the reason that professional athletes tend to sleep 10 to 12 hours, compared to the average person’s seven to eight hours.

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The EnergyPod by MetroNaps.

The other type of sleep, ‘rapid eye movement’ (REM), is when you dream. It occurs in short bursts throughout the night and sees the brain burst into life, burning as much energy as it would if you were awake. During this phase, the brain deletes all the irrelevant stuff from the past 24 hours, and stores away important memories by growing neural pathways that connect new experiences to existing memories. Researchers call it ‘maintaining brain plasticity’ but, essentially, it’s the brain decluttering itself.

If you want to improve the quality of your sleep, there’s plenty of technology that can help. The latest activity monitors (think Fitbit, Jawbone, etc) can track and ‘score’ your sleep. But the next generation of sleep gadgets promises to actively enhance the quality of your sleep—by hacking into your brain.

TWO-THIRDS of us [are] unhappy with the quality of our sleep. sleeplessness is killing our productivity.
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Jawbone activity monitors; Dreem headband by Rythm.

nasa has been researching sleeplessness for decades, with the aim of helping astronauts get to sleep in space.
Paris-based neurotechnology start-up Rythm says its Dreem headband ($349 for the first 500 members of the Dreem First program; rythm.co) can influence your brain waves to keep you in a deep sleep for longer. It triggers non-invasive sounds that travel down your inner ear and become electrical impulses that can be read by your brain. By triggering a precise sound at a precise moment, the device—designed with the help of the world’s top neuroscientists—should help you sleep well, remember more, think faster and perform better. 

Ironically though, technology is also preventing us from sleeping soundly. Smartphones, laptops and tablets all have bright screens that are designed to simulate daylight, and research shows that using them before bedtime slows down the production of melatonin (the hormone that induces drowsiness). Apple is helping to combat this with its new ‘Night Shift’ feature. When engaged, it turns the gadget’s display to a warm orange color at sunset, preventing it from screwing with your body clock.

As you’d expect, NASA has been researching sleeplessness for decades, with the aim of helping astronauts get to sleep in space. You can benefit from its findings by downloading the Sleep Genius app ($4.99; sleepgenius.com). Based on successful NASA experiments, it uses scientifically composed music to engage the brain’s ‘neurosensory’ algorithms and gently prep you for sleep. It even has a ‘Power Nap’ mode.

Of course, fiddling with an app or strapping an electrode to your temple isn’t everyone’s idea of a relaxing evening. The most commonly reported reason for a poor night’s sleep is a stiff neck caused by inadequate pillows. But what if you’re struggling to find the perfect pillow? Well, you could always check into a Conrad Hotel or Resort, where you’ll find one of the world’s most extensive pillow menus. With fillings that range from plump duck down and memory foam, to organic buckwheat and even Japanese grasses, you’ll be nodding off in no time. Assuming, that is, you can resist ordering an espresso martini at the bar …

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