The market has exploded with options meant to help you sleep. Consumer Reports recently had its experts examine some of the latest in its labs.
• White-noise apps. More than half of people in Consumer Reports' new sleep survey who report that they have tried white-noise machines — which both block out distractions and provide soothing sounds such as ocean tides and soft rain — say the devices help them sleep. The machines can be pricey, though, and are not especially portable.
But you can enjoy the white-noise benefit with a free smartphone app. In Consumer Reports' tests, neither the myNoise app (available for Apple iOS devices) nor the White Noise Free Sleep Sounds app (Android and iOS devices) precisely matched the sounds produced by the machines that were tested, but they sounded very similar. The apps, however, have many more sounds to choose from, and you have the option of recording your own personalized sounds. Plus the apps are as portable as your smartphone is.
• Sleep trackers. Certain devices are claimed to track how much and how well you sleep by measuring your bedtime tossing and turning. That includes fitness trackers, such as the Fitbit Surge, $250, which syncs to justyour smartphone or computer to create charts of how long it took you to fall asleep, how many minutes you were restless and how long you slept.
But trackers that you wear on your wrist, such as the Fitbit, may overestimate sleep duration by as much as an hour, says Dr. Nathaniel Watson, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), who helped review new sleep technologies in the December 2015 Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. But even if the devices aren't completely accurate, they may alert some users to underlying health problems, such as sleep apnea.
• Blue-light eyeglasses. The full spectrum of visible light is often described using the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. The LED screens of TVs, computers, smartphones and video games produce lots of blue light. Exposure to high levels of that light close to bedtime can suppress the production of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin by the brain's pineal gland, says Dr. Charles Czeisler, chief of the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. That's why he and other experts advise that it's best to avoid those devices two or three hours before you hit the pillow.
For those who can't — or won't — unplug in the evening, several companies offer blue-light blocking glasses that filter out the wavelengths in the blue part of the spectrum. Czeisler cautions that for those glasses to offer substantial benefit, they need to block almost all blue light. In addition, he says more research needs to be done to prove that people who wear the glasses actually fall asleep faster.
• Sleep hat. The maker of the Sleep Shepherd, an ear-hugging hat with built-in speakers, says it monitors your brain waves and "optimizes your time asleep" while "drowning out distractions like a snoring partner."
The company points to small studies in Europe, one of 20 adults and another of 15 teens, to support its claims that the Sleep Shepherd sounds can influence brain wave signals and promote sleep. "Biofeedback is a fairly legitimate way to train your body and alter your behavior," says the AASM's Watson. "But these kinds of devices need to prove their worth more than they have up to this point." Consumer Reports' tester found that the hat functioned well as a white-noise machine — though, at $149, an expensive one.
To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org.