4 ways to use technology to get your best night's sleep

When counting sheep isn’t enough to get you to fall asleep, there are technologies offering to hack our tired brains with hardware. We’ve rounded up the best that you can use on your journey to find that elusive good night’s sleep.

1) Sleep trackers

The first step with overcoming sleeplessness is recognizing that it’s a problem. Using wearable technologies can be a built-in sleep diary to help you keep track of how much you sleep, and what kind of quality of sleep you’re getting.

If you’re skeptical of how a heart rate sensor’s light can accurately tell how little you’re sleeping, studies back up a wearable’s medical accuracy.

In two studies, health startup Cardiogram and the University of California San Francisco found that wearables like Apple Watch and FitBit have the ability to detect an abnormal heart rhythm with 97% accuracy and can detect sleep apnea, a potentially life-threatening condition where the afflicted stops breathing in their sleep, with 90% accuracy. Since we’re asleep when we’re suffering through sleep apnea, the condition often goes undetected. Eighty percent of the 22 million estimated U.S. cases of moderate and severe obstructive sleep apnea go undiagnosed, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association.

If you don’t have access to a wearable tracker, break out your pen and paper to keep a written sleep diary. Write down when you go to sleep and when you wake up, and how you feel before and after each of these moments. Even if you don’t identify as an insomniac, you may be surprised by your sleep patterns once you see them charted out.

2) White noise machines

For those of us who live a car honk away from a busy street, going to bed in a noisy environment is outside of our control. But just because your neighbor decided to do a one-man 4 a.m. rock concert doesn’t mean that sleep needs to be outside of your control, too.

Using a white noise machine allows you to fight noise with noise. Medical studies have found that the random, constant white noise these machines emit can help people stay asleep in noisy environments such as hospitals. If you don’t want to buy a physical white noise machine for your bedroom, there are free white noise apps for your phone that will let you use the soothing sound of rain and bells to block out unwanted noise.

3) Software to change your screen’s blue light

The blue lights on our screens may also be culprits preventing us from falling asleep. Our favorite technological devices emit a light that convinces our brain it’s morning when it’s midnight.

For those of us who cannot unplug from technology at night, using software to change your screen’s light could be the trick you need to keep your brain relaxed and sleepy. I use f.lux, a free software plugin that changes the harsh blues in my computer screen to a dimmer orange after sunset. From my personal experience, f.lux is effective at letting me scroll through the night on my devices without the guilt of looking at a blue light my eyes think is sunlight.

4) Don’t have access to tech? No problem!

When your phone dies and the batteries in your device fail, you can turn to the natural technology within your body to get yourself to sleep. Mastering your breath can be a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system,” according to sleep expert Andrew Weil who has developed a yoga-breathing technique promising to have you “asleep in 60 seconds.” We know. These are strong claims. I, too, was skeptical of Weil’s grand promise until I found that it worked.

As with all biological hacks, figuring out what works for you is a process of trial and error. Your mileage may vary.