Our bodies are biologically inclined to include sleep. You may have heard this instinct referred to as the circadian clock, and it is what encourages us to fall asleep when the sun goes down and wake when it rises. Many years ago, before the invention of electricity, people followed this cycle of sleeping and waking. However, modern times and technology have changed our natural sleep patterns. If our internal clock gets thrown out of balance, it can be hard to get back into a normal sleep pattern.
The ‘master clock’ of the body exists into the hypothalamus of the brain, and it is known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus. This part of the brain is responsible for receiving information about light from the retina of the eyes and sending that information to other parts of the brain. This includes the section of the brain that produces sleep hormones. This means that the more light signals that your brain picks up at night, the worse your sleep will be.
Sleep deprivation can cause a multitude of physical and emotional issues. You may notice that you have sore muscles, fatigue, and general irritability. Silent symptoms include an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. It can also lead to depression and other mental health disorders. Studies have shown that extreme sleep deprivation can affect the body the same as being intoxicated. While our society often accepts sleep deprivation as a way of life, it is something that needs to be taken seriously. Fortunately, there are ways to get yourself back on track.
1. Set a Routine
Having a bedtime isn’t just for children. Getting your body adjusted to going to bed a certain time promotes a regular sleep schedule. It can take some time to establish this routine and for your body to begin to realize that it can depend on being in bed at a distinct hour. In addition to setting a bedtime, you further promote a sleep schedule by having a ‘before bed’ routine. This can include:
Drinking a warm cup of decaffeinated tea
Reading a book
If you stick to relaxing activities consistently, you will be training your body to expect that sleep comes next.
2. Pay Attention to Your Lighting and Environment
Light and dark play a key role in regulating our sleep patterns. Instinctually, the body knows that it gets light out when the sun rises and that it is time to wake. It also knows that when the sun has set, it gets dark and it is time to rest. Electricity allows us to stay up later, and hobbies such as watching television or playing on our cell phones further discourage sleep. An hour or two before you’re ready for bed, it can be helpful to dim the lights in the room to get your mind started on thinking of sleep. In the mornings, especially if you rise early when it is still dark out, make sure your turn on your lights to keep things bright. It will help your body realize it is time to be awake, alert, and ready for the day.
Additionally, you should evaluate your bedroom to make sure that it promotes rest and relaxation. Is your mattress comfortable? Keep in mind that they need to be replaced approximately every 9-10 years. If yours is old, you may notice a difference in your sleeping habits by simply replacing your mattress. Make sure that your pillows, sheets, and comforter are in good repair as well. You’ll want to keep your bedroom at cooler temperatures than the rest of the house if possible as studies have shown it promotes sleep.
3. Make Your Daytime Activities Conducive to Sleep
Think about the things you do during the day. Do you drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages? How late in the day do you consume them? Caffeine has been known to affect the body for hours after you’ve stopped ingesting it. Play around with your caffeine habits to determine if it is having an impact on your sleep schedule. Some people are very sensitive to caffeine and can’t tolerate it at all while trying to maintain a healthy sleep routine. Others can drink it late into the day and suffer no consequence.
Do you exercise during the day? In today’s world, most people have very sedentary lifestyles, which can lead to excess energy at the end of the day. Getting into an exercise routine not only increases your chances of getting better sleep, but it’s good for your overall health as well. Just don’t work out too close to bedtime, or you might get the opposite effect.
Make sure that you try to limit your daily stressors, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime. If you need help decompressing, try to listen to soothing music, practice yoga or meditation, or even journaling. By finding a way to rid your mind and body of the day’s stressors, you’re helping your brain let go of excess stress and thus opening the door to a good night’s rest.
4. Try To Nap Less
If you get fatigued during the day or when you are done with work, it can be incredibly tempting to take a nap. If you are trying to change your sleep pattern, napping is going to hinder your efforts. Instead, try to do something active to rejuvenate you and give you the energy you need to make it through the rest of the day.
Similarly, it might be tempting to turn off the alarm clock on the weekends and sleep in. This can be damaging as well. The brain does not differentiate between weekdays and weekends. Altering your routine will confuse your body and disrupt the pattern you are trying to set. It helps to give yourself a reason to get out of bed and get moving. Schedule an exercise class, plan a fun morning activity, or simply go out for a cup of coffee. Anything to get you up and moving and quell the urge to hit the snooze button!
5. Keep Meal Times Reasonable
In the hustle and bustle of after work demands, it can be all too easy for dinner to be as late as 8 or 9 pm for some people. Unfortunately, our digestion is not designed for that and our metabolisms do play a part in wakefulness. Instinctually, our bodies want to be awake when food is most plentiful. If we are feeding ourselves late into the evening, our bodies will want to remain awake to ensure we take full advantage of food availability. If you typically eat dinner late, it can be helpful to engage in a fast to reset your mealtime schedule. Generally, breakfast and dinner should be around 12 hours apart, with breakfast being shortly after rising and dinner being a few hours before you plan to sleep.
6. Minimize Your Screen Time
Studies have shown that the blue light on cell phones, televisions, and E-readers can affect our sleep pattern. Not only does it interrupt the circadian rhythm, but screen time can also be disruptive of sleep hormones and sleep quality. Dim lighting is recommended in the bedroom, and if you like to read before bed, use a real book. If you simply must use your phone, make sure to engage the nighttime feature to reduce the amount of blue light you are exposed to.
Reserving your bedroom for relaxing activities only will train your brain to associate the room with rest. If you like to take your work home with you, it’s recommended that you skip using your laptop in bed. Stick to other areas of the house to get work done and leave the bedroom for sleep.
7. Keep Trying but Don’t Stress
When it’s time to lay down for sleep, be sure that the room is very dark and cool. Lay down and close your eyes, and try to clear your mind so that you can relax. Don’t stress if your body isn’t cooperating and you are still awake 20-30 minutes later. Just remain calm and resume reading or doing yoga, whatever you find to be a quick way to relax. When you feel sleepy, lay down and try again.
Patience is Key
Restructuring your sleep pattern will take time. Be consistent with your schedule and tweak your daily habits as needed. What works for one person may not work for the next. If you need some extra help falling asleep at night, you might consider using sleep technology. There are many devices on the market these days that offer a natural approach to falling asleep faster and staying asleep longer. Some of these include white noise devices, sleep-inducing lighting for your room, and robots that help you to sleep. The Somnox Sleep Robot works by using scientifically proven cognitive and simulated human breathing techniques to accelerate the process of falling asleep. Its users snuggle the Sleep Robot and subconsciously replicate the physical sensation of falling and rising of the breathing of the robot. Research has shown that breathing is essential to naturally reduce stress and increase relaxation.
Additionally, the Sleep Robot provides users soothing sounds such as meditative music, ambient sounds and cognitive shuffling. Users can also upload their own audio files to the companion app. Personal preferences can be set during the day and ensure a tailored approach to improve the user’s sleep during the night. Being huggable and soft, the robot makes the user calmly doze off again.
Our team has been working for the past 3 years to make our dream come true: creating a healthier and happier world, doing our best to deliver smart soft robotics that will make a major difference in people’s daily lives. You can try the Sleep Robot in your bed, with our 30-night trial. Not satisfied? Get your money back, no questions asked. (See the full conditions on our website.)
Similar to development of the Sleep Robot, the design of the app is a process of many iterations. Starting from the basic functionality: setting the breathing movement of the sleep robot and audio settings towards creating a personal tool that helps you understanding the Sleep Robot and improving your sleep habits. In this blog, I want to explain the challenges in our design process.
The app will be used to set the different functionalities of the Sleep Robot to the user’s preference: the breathing movement and audio options. A brief introduction to both.
Someone’s breathing rate depends on physical and mental state as well habits. Some examples:
Professional athletes often breathe at a slower pace compared to those who never exercise.
Those who smoke a lot or consume high amounts of caffeine are more likely to breathe at a higher frequency
The level of stress is one of the most important variables for breathing rate. You might have experienced a stressful situation in which you noticed your breathing becoming faster or irregular, or even started to hyperventilate.
Thus, since the breathing rate is dependent on many different personal aspects, we want to provide the user with the possibility to adjust this setting. Next to that, there’s the breathing ‘ratio’, which is often described as a certain ‘pattern’ or implemented in a breathing exercise. Normally, you inhale, exhale and have a natural ‘pause’ in before you inhale again. When enlarging the duration of the exhalation, body and mind will relax.
These patterns have been implemented in breathing techniques as well. Do you know the breathing exercise of Dr. Andrew Weil? It’s slightly different with a pause in between the in- and exhale. By focusing on this pattern, people often fall asleep within no time. You might want to try that one tonight.
We are working on integrating different breathing patterns (created by experts and based on literature) as well. Do you think you want to use a validated pattern or create your own? We’d like to hear your preference. This feature will be included in a later update of the app.
There are tons of music genres and everyone has a different preference. Personally I like jazz, but you might like classical music, the latest pop-hits or easy listening.. Does it make you fall asleep? I like to listen to a bedtime story, while my mother likes to listen to Chopin’s piano pieces.
Since everyone’s preference is so different, we cannot provide standard audio settings along with the breathing settings. Therefore, we will integrate playlists with music and sounds that, based on research, be relaxing and soothing to your ears and mind. We are currently co-developing a set of music samples, natural sounds (such as rain, wind and thunderstorms) and voice samples (such as someone that tells you random words that prevents your mind to think about personal issues, similar to the cognitive shuffling method by Dr. Luc Beaudoin).
Next to that, we want to provide you with the possibility to add your own music to the Sleep Robot’s SD card. Which music makes you fall asleep? Let us know!
We have been brainstorming and iterating on how to translate the above story into an understandable app design. We want to design an app that doesn’t overwhelm you, and still provide you with the possibility to adjust everything to your preference.
But do people want to adjust it, or do we have to tailor everything automatically? How do we find a balance between those who want to be guided and provided with standard settings, and those who want to be in control of every detail? Do we have to make different versions of the app (e.g. a basic- and advanced version), or keep it simple in general? And how to provide enough information in the app or via a manual?
All challenges are related to the user experience and interaction with app and robot. We have done many tests and interviews to find out what people want. Some responses:
“I want to practice the breathing techniques during the day as well”
“I want the robot to adjust to my own breathing rate”
“I love to listen to the sound of a storm in the rainforest, a playlist that I have found on Youtube”.
“It sounds weird, but I actually fall asleep by listening to rock music”
“Actually, I believe that silence has been proven the best to fall asleep”
Iterations And Testing
We have tried many things in our process of designing the companion app. Different colours, different configurations, different ways to present the settings. We iterate a lot and test the designs in our team and during user tests (do people understand the interfaces, do they like it or get lost?). We have invited future users to come over to Delft, present the new designs to friends and family and have seen the design developing over time.
Final Design Or An Ongoing Process?
Currently, we are working on the software implementation of the final design. The design is based on the Somnox brand identity (soft, comfortable and clear) and the user’s desires on how to set the robot. We will guide the user by asking about the purpose of use (do you want to sleep or have a relaxing moment?) and desired duration of the movement. Not satisfied about the Sleep Robot’s movement? You will always be able to customize the breathing rate. In the future, we aim to add options if the user’s desire is there.
Some (pipeline)-ideas: adjusting the colour theme, adjusting the breathing movement, an integrated sleep diary, breathing exercises.. What (else) would you like to use?
Of course, we have not tested this app with all future users of the Sleep Robot yet. We will keep on asking for feedback to make sure we will update it. I’m curious to your opinion, let us know what you think.
During the process of developing the sleep robot we came across a lot of stories of people suffering from insomnia and other sleeping problems. Along with hearing stories from adults, we also got in contact with parents who would tell us their kids could just not catch sleep. Inspired by these stories Somnox decided to start examining sleep and insomnia in children.
As well as for adults, sleep is very important for children. Sleep deprivation can cause lowering of the body defense system, which will increase the chance of your child to become ill. Next to that, sleep deprivation can also effect their performances in school and is linked to obesity. These things make it all very important to teach your child the importance of sleep, and to have a regular sleep schedule.
Whilst we are exploring how to transform the current sleep robot into a child-friendly sleep companion, here are some easy tips that you as a parent can already implement today for better sleep for your child:
Limit screen-time 90 minutes prior to bedtime.
Limit caffeine-holding drinks 4-6 hours before bedtime.
Use the same bedtimes every single day, this means also in the weekends and on holiday.
Create a sleep ritual with your child. This ritual consists out of activities you can do with your child before it’s time for bed.
A sleep ritual example would be:
Change into pyjamas
Read pages out of book together
Goodnight kiss from parent
Time to sleep!
If you repeat this every day, the child will get used to it and knows he/she is preparing for sleep him/herself during this process, which will help sleep onset occur faster.
And last but not at least, a lot of parents think that when their child is not tired at night, they need to get them tired by running outside or up and down the stairs. This actually does not help sleep onset, because this will raise their body temperature which lowers the production of melatonin: human’s sleep hormone! So instead of wearing out your child before bed, try a calming activity, like drawing or reading!
Sleeping well is essential to having a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Unfortunately, sometimes people tend to lie in bed, thinking about the problems they had during their day or the challenges they will face in the day after.
Nearly one in three Americans reports having difficulty getting a good night’s sleep. For some this is just a temporary inconvenience brought about by stresses in life, physical discomfort, or children that need our attention. For others, chronic insomnia is robbing us of our time, our energy, and even our health.
The consequences of sleep may seem small at first, but over time our sleep deficit grows, and we find ourselves with mental, emotional, and physical afflictions that can compromise almost every other aspect of our lives. What can be done to restore some much needed rest and give us back our daytime energy and vitality?
Breathing: The Key to Better Sleep?
A common complaint for many when dealing with sleepless nights is that “they just can’t turn off their mind”. There is scientific evidence behind the fact that if brainwave activity is too fast, we are physically unable to achieve the state of rest that our bodies need to recover and repair themselves overnight. Fortunately, there is a way to turn the mind off and calm yourself mind and body to achieve a state of perfect sleep. Try these simple and effective tips for a beautiful night’s sleep, and look forward to beautiful dreams from the very first night you implement them:
1. Slow It Down
Many of us take shallow, incomplete breaths as we go throughout the day—and we extend this ineffective practice well into the night. Few of us know how to employ the use of our lungs AND diaphragm, taking it all in and then holding it for a detoxifying release. The simple act of slowing down our breath also slows down our brain wave activity, making it easier to fall asleep. Slower breathing allows the parasympathetic nervous system to take over, allowing your body to enter a rest/digest state of being. Improving the function of the parasympathetic nervous system improves all aspects of health, particularly the digestive system. Those of us with leaky gut can rejoice, as employing breathing techniques is a very simple remedy for reducing digestive complications. Your entire body is repaired and restored as you attain a deep, satisfying sleep.
2. Employ the 4-7-8 Technique
According to the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, the 4-7-8 technique is just as effective as meditation for turning off the mind and allowing you to live in the present moment. Sit upright and cross-legged on your bed with your mouth closed and the tongue on the roof of the mouth. Breathe in deeply for a count of 4, then hold in for 7 counts. Finally, exhale through your mouth slowly for a count of 8. Repeat for at least four breath cycles and see how much better you feel and sleep!
One of the most popular interpretations of this technique is the 4-7-8 breathing method, which is a breathing pattern that is developed and popularised by Dr. Adrew Weil, a Harvard trained medical doctor with a focus on holistic health.
How to do the 4-7-8 breathing exercise?
The 7simple steps to falling asleep fast using the breathing exercise:
1. Take a comfortable position.
2. Place the tip of your tongue against the backside of your upper teeth.
3. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a ‘shhhhh’ sound.
4. Inhale quietly through your nose for 4 seconds, with your mouth closed.
5. Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
6. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a ‘shhhhh’ sound for 8 seconds
7. Repeat this breathing process for around 4 times, making you complete 4 breathing cycles.
In this video Dr. Andrew Weil describes how to do the exercise.
Some people may find it hard to keep their breath in for 7 seconds, and make you feel light-headed. A small note is that you can do this exercise with a smaller amount of counts, within the same ratio.
You could use a 3 – 5 – 6 breathing pattern, or a 2 – 3,5 – 4 for example. This will give you about the same effect.
Small tips when doing this exercise:
Keep the tongue on your upper teeth while breathing out.
Do this exercise around 2 to 3 times a day, to maximize the chances of this technique working.
3. Use Traditional, Meditative Breaths
One of the first and most vital components of meditation and mindfulness is breathing. Training yourself to breathe as you would in meditation does wonders for turning off the mind and helping you to live in the present moment. With your eyes closed, focus on slow, deep breaths, paying attention to where it rises and falls within the body. Practice this technique for 10-15 minutes daily and reap the benefits from the very first session.
4. Channel your Inner Yogi
Kapalbhati breathing, known as “blowing”, is a technique that clears stagnant breath from the body; it is also symbolic for cleansing the mind of toxic and unwanted thoughts and emotions. It also helps you to cleanse the body by stimulating the lungs and digestive system as you apply forceful pressure when blowing the breath. Take in a breath through your nose and deliver it in short, powerful bursts out through your mouth; envision yourself letting go of anything that may be holding you back from achieving your perfect, restful sleep.
5. Practice alternate nostril breathing
Mouth breathing subconsciously tells the body that you are anxious and stressed; conversely, nostril breathing is an indicator that the body is balanced and moving toward a state of homeostasis. Sit on your bed cross legged, holding the right nostril closed with one finger while you breathe in through the left. Switch sides and hold the left nostril down while you exhale through your right nostril. Repeat several times, switching the order in which you inhale and exhale through each side of your nose.
6. Double down on your exhale
Most yogis know that it’s all about the exhale. Making your exhale last twice as long as your inhale does wonders for calming both mind and body. The process of counting the length of your inhales vs. exhales is a very effective substitute for the traditional counting of sheep. Sit or lie comfortably in your bed and, with eyes closed, breathe in for a count of 3-4; exhale through your mouth for twice as long as your inhale. Repeat several cycles to experience a zen-like, calm effect on both mind and body.
It is possible to achieve a beautiful state of relaxed, deep sleep. Practicing these tried and true tips to improve your breathing will calm your mind, relax the body, and bring you to dreamland faster than you’ve ever imagined. Sweet dreams!
Want to improve your sleep?
Our team has been working for the past 3 years to make our dream come true: creating a healthier and happier world, doing our best to deliver smart soft robotics that will make a major difference in people’s daily lives. The Somnox Sleep Robot helps you to fall asleep faster and make you wake up more energized.
The world’s population is getting older, while anxiety and sleep deprivation are increasing issues in the society (Stranges et Al. 2012 | WHO, 2017). In the near future, the number of caregivers will be deficient to take care of the new generation of senior adults (World Alzheimer Report, 2013). At the same time, more and more institutions try to reduce their number of medication, open to try alternative solutions. After initial research in this area and showed interest from healthcare institutions, Somnox is now working on a further development of the sleep robot for better sleep and relaxation also in the healthcare.
This is where we come in; Sara and Camilla from Sweden. We are two Master Thesis workers, studying Industrial Design Engineering at Chalmers University of Technology. Our aim is to redesign the sleep robot in a way that it easily can be implemented in the healthcare.
We started off our work with a pre-study of patient groups that we saw could benefit from the sleep robot. People with an anxiety disorder, neuropsychiatric disorder and physical disability were a few of the patient groups that we found potential. To better understand the user, we chose to focus on one specific target group, where we decided to look further into people with dementia. This is a critical patient group that sets high requirements for the design, which is positive since it can cover other patient groups’ demands as well. In addition, several elderly cares in the Netherlands had already shown significant interest of the sleep robot.
The target group: Elderly with dementia
Dementia includes different types of diseases, where Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form. There are around 50 million people living with this condition worldwide and every three seconds, someone develops Dementia (Alzheimer’s Disease International, 2015). The illustration below describes the most common symptoms that we have to consider when redesigning the sleep robot for this target group.
Testing the sleep robot: A variety of interpretations
In order to spot improvements and opportunities for the development, we tested the current sleep robot with people with dementia in healthcare facilities in Sweden and in the Netherlands, during both day and night. Our aim of the tests was to observe their reactions and to understand how the sleep robot can be incorporated in the routines in the healthcare facility. We did not validate the effects of the sleep robot on their sleep, as it requires a longer implementation process and more test nights.
The sleep robot was used in several positions and many elderly found it to be very interesting to interact with.
The reactions from the test persons were amazing for our study! We observed a great variety of interpretations and ways of using the product. The abstract shape got many names from the elderly, such as a child, pig and a pillow. The interesting insight from the observations was that many test persons stopped their habitual twitching from motoric anxiety and interacted calmly with the sleep robot, which shows a great potential.
The redesign: A simple, safe and hygienic priority
We are currently working on implementing our findings from the research in a redesign of the product. We started off this phase by ideating on over 70 different solutions that were further iterated. Now we have a number of solutions that we want to narrow down to one concept through prototyping and evaluation.
The design phase includes sketching, rapid prototyping and feedback sessions with the research team at Somnox and nurses from elderly cares.
During the redesign, we are also focusing on how to use the sleep robot for relaxation during the day. Many individuals with dementia experience motoric anxiety during daytime and seek stimulation in objects to calm down. Therefore, we have to make the sleep robot safe to not enable them to unintentionally open up the sleep robot. Simultaneously, we see a potential in using the sleep robot for releasing their motoric anxiety by intentionally adding a calming material or tactile detail that they can fidget with. Using the sleep robot during daytime requires another shape that can be balanced better in the user’s knee.
Lastly, we need to consider the caregivers in the design solution and make sure that the interaction is easy for them. Here we are especially looking at the maneuvering, charging, hygiene and storage of the product. Additionally, we want to make the maneuvering accessible for relatives and next of kin when used outside the healthcare facility.
Our next step is to fine-tune the concept that we find most promising. We hope that the future of this sleep robot will reduce anxiety and improve sleep of elderly with dementia as well as other patients. In a long-term perspective, we also hope that we can reduce the workload for caregivers.