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It’s not so long since one of the major reasons for insomnia in the UK was being too cold at night. I recall routinely waking up to frost on the inside of bedroom windows. Today, whether it’s climate change and warmer nights, central heating or physiological changes, the main source of nocturnal discomfort among the people I know who complain of poor sleep is getting overly sweaty. It’s now not at all unusual in Britain to have air conditioning installed in bedrooms.
A family company run by Tara and Todd Youngblood in Mooresville, North Carolina, has a clever, effective – and more environmentally friendly – solution to getting overheated in the small hours. Todd Youngblood’s uncle, Charles Hall, invented the modern waterbed in San Francisco in 1968. It accounted – I can hardly believe this – for 22 per cent of US domestic mattress sales in 1987. The Youngbloods’ new Chilisleep Ooler bed cooling system is not, in fact, unrelated to Uncle Charlie’s innovation. Ooler relies on circulating cooled water around an underblanket, or pad, that fits snugly over a variety of mattress sizes. App-controlled, it can also warm your bed. And in the double bed sizes you can, rather brilliantly, have cooling on one side of the mattress and warming on the other. The system offers a temperature range from 13C to a near toast-like 46C. And you can set the app to change the temperature through the night.
Does it work? Yes, convincingly. Though I’m not persuaded you could dispense with other measures (fans, AC or central heating) on the very hottest or coldest nights. Chilisleep Ooler, from £799, chilisleep.co.uk
Just my chronotype
There’s a consensus among researchers that blue light from phones and tablets can disturb one’s sleep, circadian rhythms and melatonin production. This new Danish product helps those who feel that their sleep might be disturbed, or who have low mood, energy and productivity – but aren’t sure what to do about it, or what light they’re being exposed to.
Lys is a 10p coin-sized button of a few grams that clips onto clothing (or sits by your bedside) and monitors the light to which you are exposed. It then transmits this information to an app for cloud analysis. It also has an accelerometer to measure movement so it can throw data about your physical activity into the mix.
Based on what Lys “sees” having got to know you, it then suggests how you might find different ways of getting the right light through the day. Lys says that after two weeks’ use, its average user reports a 20 per cent improvement in energy and 17 per cent in sleep quality. My “chronotype” doesn’t seem as bothered by light as it does by heat or lack of air, so I can’t judge beyond the efficiency of the tech, which seems exemplary. Lys, £103 including first year’s subscription, lystechnologies.io
Viva las vagus
This is principally an electronic antidote to stress, a pebble-shaped device that plays specially composed music in 10-minute “soundscapes” through headphones, speakers or out loud.
Sensate 2 uses infrasonic waves – those too low in frequency for human hearing – to stimulate your vagus nerve, a lengthy network responsible for a variety of brain-organ connections. It’s involved in lowering alertness, blood pressure and heart rate, and thereby helps promote calmness, relaxation and, by the by, efficient digestion.
A lot of slightly left-field health tech I get sent claims to act on the vagus nerve for relaxation, but it wasn’t until I read up on the subject that I was persuaded it may be more than fringe.
At the same time, the actress daughter of a friend, struggling with sleep disturbance and anxiety, reported that it was “incredibly helpful”. Full disclosure – she was trying hypnotherapy at the same time, so there’s no knowing which had the greater effect. But other buyers on the Sensate website say it has helped with sleep. Could be worth a try. Sensate 2, £199, getsensate.com
Around the time you read this, I will be going for an appointment with a cardiologist armed with three months of two-hourly blood pressure, heart rate and resting heart rate readings on my iPhone.
I’m hoping my consultant will be impressed and ask how I have readings for midnight, 2am, 4am and 6am – which usually require your sleep to be disturbed. Raised blood pressure while sleeping is said to predict heart attacks or strokes better than daytime readings.
My answer is this clinically approved Swiss bracelet device, Aktiia. Its patented technology works by shining a light through the skin, much like the heart monitors on smartwatches. But Aktiia also analyses the signals it acquires. It comes with an inflatable cuff you use to calibrate it once a month. But I have also spot-checked the readings against the mighty Omron Evolv I have favoured since reviewing it, and they are near-identical.
There are smartwatches on the market with a BP feature, and nobody would be surprised if the next Apple Watch had it. But Aktiia seems to be the only product that takes readings automatically at all hours. As such, I’ve found it aids sleep whether the news is good or not so good. Aktiia, £199.99, aktiia.com