A digital slumber party: Why everyone is obsessed with wearable sleep aids

‘I think we’ve come to the realization as a society that sleep is at the core of being recovered, refreshed and productive,’ says sleep expert Dr. Jonathan CharestAuthor of the article:Courtney GreenbergPublishing date:Jan 24, 2022  •  10 hours ago  •  4 minute read  •   7 Comments

Professional surfer Carissa Moore, the first woman in history to win an Olympic gold medal in the sport, wears her Oura Ring in the ocean.
Professional surfer Carissa Moore, the first woman in history to win an Olympic gold medal in the sport, wears her Oura Ring in the ocean. PHOTO BY OURA RING

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What do top atheletes like ski racer Lindsey Vonn and basketball player Chris Paul have in common with celebrities like Gwenyth Paltrow and Kim Kardashian?


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They all want to get a good night’s sleep — and they’re using the Oura Ring , a piece of wearable technology in the form of a ring, to track their progress. They’re sharing their results online and even challenging each other. Kardashian and Paltrow recently entered into a friendly feud. Kardashian boasted in an Instagram story that she slept for 9 hours and 36 minutes, according to her Oura Ring app.Motor Mouth: Are Ford, GM, and Stellantis ready to take on Tesla?


“How is this possible? @KimKardashian are you a 16-year-old boy on a Saturday morning???” Paltrow responded in her own Instagram story.

The ring works by measuring statistics like heart rate and body temperature, and providing analysis through a smartphone app. It rates sleep, activity and readiness (how ready you are for the day) in a digestible way to break down how to get a better sleep. It’s been around since 2015, when the company launched a kickstarter to fund the Generation 1 ring. The latest version, Generation 3 , is US$299.


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Oura Ring is yet another wearable sleep aid that showcases how these devices can be integrated seamlessly into daily life with technology. The trend is exploding as more people deal with sleepless nights during the COVID-19 pandemic. This could be, in part, due to heavy drinking habits developed during the pandemic, making sleep more fragile and “littered with fragmented awakenings,” according to Matthew Walker, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.

“ I think we’ve come to the realization as a society that sleep is at the core of being recovered, refreshed and productive,” says Dr. Jonathan Charest, the Calgary-based director of athlete sleep services and behavioral sleep medicine specialist at the Centre for Sleep & Human Performance. “Now everyone is on a quest to improve their sleep with whatever resources they can get their hands on.”  


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Athletes and celebrities are not the only ones fascinated with catching Zs. A study entitled Sleep Apps: Current Limitations and Challenges found that their use has “increased exponentially,” largely due to the growing number of people who have access to smartphones — an estimated 6 billion will be circulating by the end of 2020. (The study concluded the need for more “rigorous validation studies to ensure that their claims are evidence-based.”)

Meanwhile, the world of technology-based sleep aids is erupting, with an endless amount of companies offering the promise of sweet dreams.

While it is by no means the first of its kind, the Oura Ring has sparked a renewed interest in the data that sleep aid devices can offer. An article in The New Yorker discussed its potential as a menstrual cycle predictor. A review in The New York Times explained what set it apart from competitors: “Its ability to measure your heart rate, HRV, and skin temperature while you sleep.”


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Fitbit , Whoop , and Apple Watch have similar features, and all of them have sleek, even stylish, designs. The sleep statistics can be shared on social media, too. (And in a world where our phone documents everything we do, sharability is almost as important as the results.)

Sleep is becoming the new diet

“ Sleep is becoming the new diet. If we go back maybe 10, 15 years ago, everyone was fussing about, ‘What should I eat? What should I avoid?’” says Charest. “The pandemic allowed a lot of people to sleep in in the morning because of the absence of the commute and some were, unfortunately, laid off…People realize how sleep deprived they were.”

The best way to use sleep aid devices is for accountability, suggests Charest. He compares them to a scale, which can indicate if you are under or overweight, but won’t tell you how to gain or lose the pounds.


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“ It’s the same thing for these devices. It will tell you, ‘You slept poorly’ but it won’t give you any feedback. The idea around this is that you use the device to be accountable. You know that consistency of bedtime, consistency of wake time is important. This is what they should be used for,” he says.


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As well as wearable technology and tracking apps, there have been others popping up to join in on the sleep trend. Calm and Headspace have become mainstream. They focus on meditation and have functions that can help users doze off. They’ve even partnered with streaming services to reach more people at home.

“When you have these big industries taking sleep that seriously, you can see there has been a shift going on for a long time and now it’s just exploding,” he says. 


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Although high tech sleep aids are helpful, there is also a dark side. Part of the obsession with getting the perfect sleep, orthosomnia, can actually be detrimental to having restful nights.

“ What we noticed is that sleep is taking up a big part of our patient’s life,” says Charest. “If you realize that your device is in fact creating stress, anxiety… Please put the device away, if it’s creating a problem that shouldn’t be there in the first place.”

There are major benefits, though, Charest points out. His patients are becoming more knowledgeable about their own sleep habits. And he’s able to hold them accountable.

“ If we ask them to be in bed between 11 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., the device helps,” he says. “That’s how I would see it. Know what you’re looking at and know what you’re getting from it. Don’t make it something it’s not .”

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