From sleep masks to earbuds that block out noise, tech firms are rolling out more devices to help people get that much-needed shut-eye

For three years, Ms Sam has struggled to stay awake during the day.

The 39-year-old executive did not know why that was happening until she was told she could have obstructive sleep apnoea during a screening before surgery.

An overnight sleep study confirmed that she was suffering from the chronic sleep disorder, in which one stops breathing repeatedly during sleep because of a complete or partial blockage in the airway.

She uses a continuous positive airway pressure machine that delivers pressurised air via a facial mask to keep her airway open while she sleeps.

"Chances are, I may have to use the machine for life. But I do sleep better now and feel well rested throughout the day," said the executive, who wanted to be known only by her surname.

Obstructive sleep apnoea affects one in three Singaporeans, according to a 2016 study by Jurong Health Services. The study reported that 90 per cent of sleep apnoea sufferers were unaware of their condition.

Left untreated, sleep apnoea can lead to heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. Sufferers may also perform badly in school or at work.

Globally, sleep apnoea is estimated to affect nearly one billion people, according to a recent study by sleep researchers.


Sleep disorders aside, many people are not sleeping well for a variety of more mundane reasons, from stress to interruptions from smartphones.

"Data from a wearable sleep-tracking device a few years ago estimated that Singapore users slept only about 6.5 hours on average a day - the shortest duration of users of this device globally," said Dr Ong Thun How, senior consultant at the Department of Respiratory & Critical Care Medicine in Singapore General Hospital.

The recommended amount of sleep for adults is seven to nine hours.

The sleep-health industry is worth US$30 billion (S$41 billion) to US$40 billion, according to a report last year by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

Unsurprisingly, tech firms are seeing opportunities here.

Take Fitbit, for instance. Known for its fitness trackers, the company, facing fierce competition from the Apple Watch, said last year it was building tools to alert users that they may have sleep apnoea.

Consultant Kelly Chiew uses an app on her smartphone to track her sleep patterns. She says she gets about three to five hours of sleep a night because she tends to work late hours and lose track of time.

"If I see myself losing a ton of sleep, I will set aside time during the weekends to catch up," she said. The tracker tells her the sleep deficit that she has to make up over the weekend.

Besides the ubiquitous sleep trackers offered by fitness bands and mobile apps, there are earbuds and headbands (see sidebar) that lull you to sleep with soothing tunes or white noise such as the whir of the fan. There are also sleep masks that block off outside light and dynamic light bulbs that create a warm relaxed ambience suitable for sleep.

Dr Ong says she has not tried any sleep-health apps or gadgets, but she is "sceptical about their utility in general, barring a placebo effect".

"For the science (behind the gadgets) to be credible, it should be backed by studies that are published in peer-reviewed journals," she said.

However, she feels that devices with a specific function, such as a blue-light filter or a white-noise generator, may be useful.

"A white-noise generator might be useful if you are a poor sleeper and easily woken up by random sounds. White noise is a consistent low-level background noise which the brain learns to filter out and this masks the intermittent random noises from the background," she said.

Dr Chua Siew Eng, a psychiatrist at Raffles Counselling Centre, sees no harm in using apps or gadgets to monitor sleep, as long as users do not become overly anxious or check their devices excessively.

"I try to reduce the blue-light intensity on my smartphone from evening to dawn, to promote calm and sleep. Blue-light filters are proven to protect the eyes, promote melatonin secretion and enhance sleep," he said.

Both doctors agree that one should avoid using the smartphone in the bedroom.

"Allow yourself time to wind down after a busy day. Avoid strenuous exercise and limit exposure to bright light two to three hours before bedtime. Maintain a quiet and dark bedroom at a comfortable temperature," Dr Ong said.


These newfangled gadgets claim they can track your sleep, lull you to slumber or improve sleep quality.

While many of them are unavailable locally, they can be shipped from overseas.


Most fitness trackers on the market offer some form of sleep tracking.

However, Fitbit says its Alta HR and Versa fitness trackers now support its new Sleep Stages software feature, which uses heart rate to track if you are in light, deep or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.

SleepScore Max is a contactless sleep tracker that is placed next to the bed. It uses radar technology similar to echolocation to track your breathing and body movement to measure the quality of sleep. It is developed by Resmed, which makes medical equipment for treating sleep disorders.

The company has also released a smartphone app (for iOS and Android) that uses a smartphone's microphone and speakers to do the same thing as the Max device.

The app works only with certain smartphone models, including the Apple iPhone 6, Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S8.


Last month, Bose released its first noise-masking earbuds in Singapore. They promise to help you sleep by blocking noise with its library of soothing tunes.

Unlike Bose, QuietOn - founded by two former Nokia employees - uses active noise-cancelling technology instead of white noise to drown out noise with its QuietOn Sleep earbuds.


Taking it a notch higher are sleep headbands and sleep masks.

Take the Philips SmartSleep, a headband that is said to sense when you are in the most restorative phase of sleep (deep sleep) and send quiet audio tones to extend your sojourn in this restful phase.

Another contender is the Dreem, which has a host of sensors, including EEG sensors to monitor brain waves and a pulse oximeter to measure the oxygen level in the blood. The headband uses bone-conduction technology to transmit sound to the ear to improve sleep quality.

The Dreamlight sleep mask claims to improve sleep and lessen jet lag. It emits pulsing warm light to make you sleepy, assisted by white noise from its built-in speakers.

Another mask to combat jet lag is the Lumos smart sleep mask.