There hasn’t been much innovation in waking up since the mechanical alarm clock was invented in 1876. Sure, it was a vast improvement over the rooster, but the idea was the same: loud, sudden noises ripping you from the sweet embrace of sleep.
A slew of new gadgets are trying to change that. They use technology like sensors and lighting to ease people into their day in a kinder, gentler fashion.
Studies show that blue light blocks the release of the hormone melatonin, which tells the body it’s time for sleep. Companies like Apple (Tech30) and , Google ( have started adding features that remove blue light from smartphone screens at night to supposedly help people sleep better. )
Sleep gadgets are using that same concept to wake people up. The Aura connected alarm clock slowly floods a room with bright blue light to “simulate the sunrise,” for anyone without access to the actual sun.
There’s a companion sensor that slips under the mattress to track your sleep patterns and cycles, which is the other major area that sleep gadgets are focused on.
We go through three sleep cycles every 90 minutes: light, deep and REM, which is when we dream. The devices claim that it’s best to wake up during the light sleep cycle so that you’re less groggy and disoriented.
The Beddit is a sensor similar to Aura’s that tracks information like how long it took you to fall asleep, if you snored, and how many breaths you took each minute. It pairs with an app to wake you up during the lightest sleep. Like many tracking products, it turns sleep into a game by giving a daily score for the quality of slumber, which can be improved with a nap.
For simpler tracking, try an app like Sleep Cycle. It uses your smartphone’s accelerometer or microphone to track your movements while you sleep. The less you move, the deeper the sleep.
Wearables like Fitbit ( also offer )sleep tracking tools, but you have to be comfortable wearing them all night. Many don’t offer alarms, just suggestions based on what they’ve learned about you.
On the overkill end of the spectrum is The It Bed by Sleep Number. It’s a mattress that acts like a traveling sleep lab. Embedded biometric sensors track a sleeper’s movements and vital signs hundreds of times every second. It even has an API to connect to the other apps and wearables piling up on your bedside table. The company creepily promises to “track your every day and night.”
What does it do with all that data? Find patterns and make suggestions. Maybe a person sleeps better when the temperature is below 65 degrees. The bed is adjustable, and it will recommend a level of firmness based on the exhaustive dossier it’s collected on your life.
The bed was announced at CES in January and will be available this summer.
Unfortunately, there haven’t been any rigorous studies on these kinds of devices, says professor Jerry Siegel of UCLA’s Center for Sleep Research. So while these companies’ claims line up with some established science, there’s no evidence they actually improve sleep or your morning mood.
Hard science or not, waking up gradually to a pretty light and your favorite music sounds like a nice, harmless way to start the day. But beware of getting too tied up in tracking and quantifying your every toss, turn, and REM state. That can lead to more anxiety about how you’re sleeping, and less restful nights.