Australia Day. A day of celebrations around the country as we mark the 230th anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet of British ships at Port Jackson. Technology will be used extensively across the country as we take photos and videos and edit, post and share them to our family and friends via a variety of social media tools. We might settle down in the afternoon to watch the cricket from Adelaide Oval and then in the evening flick over to see Federer playing against the surprise packet Chung at the Australian Open in Melbourne.

After a full day of fun, frivolity and lots of screen time, we will eventually settle down to go to bed. And that is a problem. Research across the world increasingly tells us that looking at a screen – any screen – right before bedtime is a problem. The brain is stimulated just at the time it needs to be relaxing and millions more people across the world are reporting difficulty sleeping as a result.

The solution you ask? Well, you are asking the wrong person. My solution to all problems is more technology – which seems somewhat counter-intuitive – but I am not alone. Small niche companies through to huge multi-nationals have jumped on the sleep category and a myriad of products have been introduced to a category that didn’t exist six years ago.

There are products that will track your sleep patterns and tell you how many hours each night you had effective sleep. There are devices that will play music or create lights to put you in the mood for sleep. There are masks that will tell people around you what stage of sleep you are at to ensure they don’t wake you up at an inappropriate time. A mattress sensor has been introduced to monitor your entire body. A pillow has been released that you can hug to sleep. There are also apps that can be installed on your current smartphones or tablets. These devices can be worn as wristbands and waistbands and headbands or in the bed; on the bed and beside the bed. I haven’t found any that ARE the bed – but that can’t be too far away.

In complete contradiction to all of the technology created, a name has been created for a new condition caused by these devices. Researchers studying people using these devices found that some lacked sleep because they became anxious with the results their sleep trackers would deliver to them in the morning – and that anxiety resulted in less sleep! The new term for this is orthosomnia – partially derived from the term orthorexia which is an eating disorder that involves becoming extremely preoccupied with the quality and healthiness of food.

One thing researchers can agree on is that lack of sleep delivers an entire range of health-related problems. Diabetes; obesity; cancer (everything seems to cause cancer) and my personal observation is that lack of sleep exacerbates GOMS (Grumpy Old Man Syndrome) – or maybe that is just me!

The $64M question is whether any of this technology actually works. How much research is being put into the products by the companies releasing the huge variety of products – and how much is this a case of a bandwagon hurtling forward and companies trying to jump on it. I don’t know that there is enough peer-reviewed literature to know the definitive answer to that but I am sure universities are receiving grants as we speak to research this very topic.

For me the answer is pretty simple. If you have some spare cash, give it a go but don’t have high expectations. If a device works for you, stick with it. If it doesn’t then it was only spare cash anyway! Most importantly, don’t suffer form orthosomnia – but be sure to use that word at an Australia Day BBQ to impress your friends!

Mathew Dickerson

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