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How Do Sleep Apps Account for Day Sleepers?

Beth Krietsch

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Beth Krietsch, Contributing Writer

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day sleeper apps

The sleep-tech market is growing: Research and Markets estimates that global sleep-tech-device revenue will increase from $12.9 billion in 2020 to $49.9 billion by 2030. We are increasingly turning to wearables, sleep tracker apps, and other sleep accessories to help us get a good night’s sleep.

But what about getting a good day’s sleep?

“Day sleepers face different challenges than night sleepers and therefore require different coaching,” says Emily Capodilupo, senior vice president of data science and research at WHOOP.

Capodilupo’s company is one of a number of app and device-makers leveraging technology to teach us how to get enough sleep. Nontraditional sleepers, such as shift workers, pose a potential challenge to the way these companies collect data and offer sleep recommendations. Here is a look at how some sleep apps are accounting for day sleepers’ routines and what lies ahead.

What Are Day Sleepers, and What Sleep Challenges Do They Face?

Day sleepers sleep during daylight hours and often work at night. Many day sleepers may be shift workers whose work schedules fall outside of the standard work hours of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Shift workers comprise more than 15% of U.S. employees, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some can adjust to a shift-work schedule, but others struggle. Shift work can disrupt our circadian rhythm, potentially leading to shift work disorder and other health challenges.

According to a study in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine, there is an association between shift work and lower mental ability in areas such as memory and processing information.

Shift work disorder can contribute to heart disease, alcohol and drug dependency, poor diet, and other serious medical issues.

It’s not all gloom and doom, however. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and others note that shift workers and those working the night shift also can see greater pay, more flexible schedules, and shorter commute times, as well as the potential for spending more time with family.
 

 

How Do Sleep Apps Work?

Enter sleep apps, which often gather data to help users of all types track and improve their sleep. Data points can include ​​time spent in bed, total sleep time, sleep efficiency, how long it takes to fall asleep, and if the user wakes up after falling asleep, according to a 2021 study.

How effective are sleep apps, generally? Research is still somewhat limited. A 2018 study identified 2,431 sleep-related apps, but only 73 had features that tracked sleep data. Many simply provided features such as alarms or calming sounds for sleep. Of the 73, 58% of the apps earned the “acceptable” rating on the ​​Mobile Application Rating Scale, a widely used tool to assess the quality of mobile health apps.

Rather than focusing on day sleepers’ needs specifically, some apps account for various elements of sleep. Typically, these apps look at circadian rhythms and sleep timing, then allow users to apply that information to their sleep health. These may be of particular interest when considering day sleepers’ needs.

Addressing Circadian Rhythm

Day sleepers’ schedules may not align to typical circadian rhythms. These are our internal body clocks that guide our sleep-wake cycles. They help us become tired so we can sleep. This poses a challenge for apps that build recommendations into typical circadian rhythms.

“Sleep apps and trackers — no matter how advanced they are — won’t help with the circadian misalignment or disruption shift workers experience,” says Mickey Beyer-Clausen, chief executive officer of Timeshifter. “The only way to help shift workers optimize their sleep, alertness, health, and quality of life is to apply personalized circadian management as the foundation.”

Timeshifter created an app called Shift Work to offer that advice and guidance for shift workers, with the premise that they often struggle with a disrupted circadian rhythm.

“Sleep apps and trackers — no matter how advanced they are — won’t help with the circadian misalignment or disruption shift workers experience.”
Mickey Beyer-Clausen,
chief executive officer, Timeshifter

Beyer-Clausen says that Shift Work tackles this by looking at each user’s work schedule; sleep pattern; chronotype, or natural tendency to sleep at certain times; and other factors. The app uses these factors to offer advice on sleep, naps, light exposure, and when to use melatonin or caffeine. Eventually, the app will provide advice about food timing, context, and optimal time windows to begin or avoid exercise, he says.

WHOOP also investigates circadian factors if a nontraditional sleeper has trouble sleeping, Capodilupo says. Part of its user coaching is based on “sleep consistency.”

“Traditional measures of sleep consistency like average bedtime aren’t as useful with highly variable sleep times,” she says.

In response, WHOOP developed a measure of sleep consistency that supports people with unusual sleep schedules, including daytime sleepers and polyphasic sleepers, who divide their sleep into more than two segments each day. Smart-mattress company Eight Sleep also plans to add a “nap mode” feature to account for this, as well as ensuring naps don’t interfere with overall sleep metrics, says Alexandra Zatarain, its co-founder and vice president of brand and marketing.

Tracking Around the Clock

The concept of a “day” is another challenge. Day sleepers may be awake at midnight, when the calendar day changes. This makes sleep timing an important aspect of sleep trackers.

“It’s just as straightforward to track sleep at night as it is during the day.” – Emily Capodilupo, senior vice president of data science and research, WHOOP

Rather than focusing on 24-hour days and days that transfer over at midnight, Capodilupo says that WHOOP changes over the “day” for app users at the start of their primary sleep episode. She says that changing the day this way helps keep data organized in the way they experienced it, rather than artificially by the clock. In this way, WHOOP says its technology already accounts for daytime sleep, as the app’s algorithm doesn’t depend on the time of day that a user sleeps.

“It’s just as straightforward to track sleep at night as it is during the day,” Capodilupo says.

Zatarain, says its technology allows users to set their sleep schedule within the app.

“[The] settings [are] customized to them, regardless if they are day or night sleepers,” Zatarain says.

Eight Sleep’s technology also tracks sleep data such as heart rate, respiratory rate, sleep phases, heart-rate variability, and tossing and turning. Pillow, Oura, and Sleep Cycle are among the apps and sleep trackers that also help users understand how long they’re sleeping, what time they go to sleep, the quality of their sleep, and how these data points change over time.

As technology evolves for makers of all types of sleep trackers, the capabilities may only increase, as well.

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About Our Editorial Team

author
Beth Krietsch

Contributing Writer

Beth is a freelance health writer. She has a master's degree in public health, and her writing appears in SELF, HuffPost, Time, Prevention, and more.

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