Sleep seems to be a reoccurring topic here (see my previous post on good sleeping habits), which isn’t surprising seeing as it’s such an interesting subject, even more so when it’s related to technology. Tommy Collison wrote a great post this week about an iPhone app called Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock that helps you wake up more naturally and since trying it out I’ve been acutely aware of the scepticism online surrounding its validity and usefulness.
Sleep Cycle is an app that turns you iPhone into a bio-alarm clock. Using the accelerometer built into the iPhone it reads specific movements common during sleep and wakes you up when you are sleeping lightly, aiming to give you a more refreshing awakening. Haven’t we all felt the frustration of being woken up during an especially interesting dream, and then felt dreadful for the day because of it?
This type of movement based bio-alarm clock has been around for awhile. You often find them as glorified watches with internal accelerometers, or overcomplicated devices that require placing motion detecting electrodes under your pillow case. The reason bio-alarm clocks work is due to the extensive sleep research that tells us how our body moves or doesn’t move during sleep.
How Does It Work?
Software like Sleep Cycle looks out for the right breathing patterns or muscle activity to determine what stage of sleep we are at. For example, during the REM stage of sleep (when we are dreaming) your body is essentially paralysed, this stops your body from acting out and hurting itself during a dream, but during light sleep your muscles will occasionally twitch. Another example is how during the deepest stage of sleep your breathing becomes rhythmic, but during REM sleep your breathing is rapid and shallow. These are distinct and measurable differences and are the biological indicators that bio-alarm clocks are looking out for.
The Sleep Cycle app on the iPhone doesn’t just wake you up though; it also produces a graph of your sleep pattern, so you get a general idea of how restful your sleep was. These graphs are more of a novelty than anything else and though I wouldn’t recommend you use them to make inferences about how healthy your sleeping behaviour is, it could provide you with a valuable insight when paired with keeping track of your routines, helping you to figure out what works best for you for a good night’s sleep.