x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Sleep technology a growing market

A range of apps and devices are coming to market that are designed to monitor users' sleeping patterns and thus help them achieve a good night's rest. While still something of a niche sector, the market for such technology is growing.

Some retailers in the UAE have begun selling sleep-tracking devices such as the BodyMedia Fit Core Armband, above. Frederic Brown / AFP
Some retailers in the UAE have begun selling sleep-tracking devices such as the BodyMedia Fit Core Armband, above. Frederic Brown / AFP

Like many busy professionals in the UAE, Chloe Geake struggles to get enough shuteye and, once in slumber, she often wakes herself by talking in her sleep.

That is why she recently turned to some high-tech helpers to determine exactly what is going on at night.

The public relations account manager at Blue Apple, a branding and ad agency in Dubai, read a post on Facebook from someone who once heard themselves talking in their sleep (about unicorns ...) then used a mobile app to record what was spoken at night.

“It amused me, and I know I talk in my sleep and have night terrors so wanted to check it out,” says Ms Geake.

Known as Dream Talk, the free app recorded only Ms Geake’s first two hours of sleep, so she spent 65 British pence to upgrade to a version that let her record all night. She also downloaded another app called Sleep Time, which if worn via a small device uses movement-tracking technology called an accelerometer and relies on an algorithm to set an alarm at the “perfect moment” depending on how much rest a person actually gets. After trying it one night recently, Ms Geake says the app showed she was in deep sleep for 37 per cent of the time, light sleep for 59 per cent and awake the remainder.

“It’s very interesting to see my sleeping pattern backed up without me just saying, ‘I feel tired today,’” she says.

While still a small market, apps and consumer electronic devices capable of tracking sleep patterns have become a growing market within the global technology sector. A wider array of health and fitness gadgets now also track how long, and how well, people sleep in addition to other common metrics such as counting the number of steps people have walked.

Ironically enough, part of the demand behind this nascent market is the tendency for so many people to stay tethered to technology, day or night, and the ease at which they can see sleep-related information easily on a small or big screen. Such data helps track how well they sleep in spite of the attention they often pay to other glowing gadgets.

“Because of the stimulants we’re taking during the day and also at night – the bright lights of the TV and iPad – as a globe we’re not getting as much rest as we could,” says Rich Tehrani, the group editorial director of TMCnet.com, a US-based international media and marketing company where he covers communications and technology trends.

“The onus is on us to maximise our productivity of our sleep, but that puts a lot of stress on our sleeping,” Mr Tehrani adds.

In the UAE, Ignite fitness & wellness relies on sleep trackers to help clients within some of the company’s corporate wellness programmes. The devices track disruptions to a person’s slumber patterns, which can identify culprits – drinking too much coffee or exercising too late in the day, for example.

“This allows us to suggest changes to certain habits that may be affecting their sleep efficiency,” says Guillaume Mariole, the managing director for Ignite fitness & wellness.

Some local retailers in different emirates have begun selling sleep-tracking devices such as the Fitbit One, a US$99.95 gadget that slips into a wristband at night to monitor how long someone dozes and the number of times they wake up. Similar products include Jawbone’s Up and BodyMedia’s Fit activity and sleep monitoring armband.

These kinds of technologies have attracted early adopters who are keen to measure various personal metrics, and the market first started growing after a few apps became popular among smartphone users who placed their devices next to their pillow, says Omar Kassim, founder of JadoPado, an e-commerce site that sells Fitbit sleep trackers.

“I think the technology is still in its infancy, but it is interesting to observe that we’re getting more standalone devices whose sole task is to measure a given set of metrics,” Mr Kassim says.

“The interesting question would be what sort of action do we take post-measurement?”

Consumers say they do want more data than just the number of hours that they sleep at night. That has spurred some device makers to create more sophisticated hardware and software capable of tracking more subtle shifts in our sleep patterns, such as detailing the specific times during the night when people roll around or when they wake up even for just a moment.

With all of this digital intelligence, tech analysts say, manufactures hope that they can help consumers find new ways to improve slumber.

“We’re going to see continuous improvements in the market as vendors take into account more body signals and try to determine the quality of your sleep,” says Mr Tehrani.

“In other words: pulse rate; brain waves.”

In the future, more smartwatches are also expected to include sleep-monitoring features, in part, because they are already positioned on the body where existing slumber trackers are worn.

“Everyone assumes there’ll be health and fitness components on smartwatches,” says Shawn DuBravac, the chief economist and senior director of research at the Consumer Electronics Association, an industry trade group in the United States.

Then, again, some warn this market could suffer from a major drawback given the data-centric culture consumers seem to be living in these days. Mr Kassim calls the problem “analysis paralysis”.

“Yes we can measure and quantify just about anything today, but do we really need to?” he says.

“I think we may see a movement at some point in the next five years to re-simplify our lives and let more important data rise to the top and end up measuring stuff that really matters – or, perhaps, not measuring much at all.”