eXtensions - Wednesday 24 May 2017

eXtensions: Wednesday File (6) - To Sleep, to Sleep, Perchance to Dream

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


As well as the right foods and proper exercise, sleep is of major importance to a person's health. Look how those who, for whatever reason, do not have enough sleep, begin to perform worse, at work or in education. The Health app has a Sleep feature but there are several other apps that could be of use for those who need to improve sleep quality.

First some Updates

My heart goes out to those in the UK, and especially Manchester, after the terrorist attack this week. There is no reason to target young people and children.

My sympathies also to the family of Nicky Hayden, former MotoGP World Champion who died this week in Italy after suffering injuries in a bicycling accident.

A few weeks ago, the Bangkok Post decided not to take my eXtensions column any more and made other trimmings at the same time in an effort, I guess, to try and stay afloat. As the share of web hits is something like 5-6% of what newcomers like Khaosod have, the Post is facing a bleak future, but with two minor shifts in direction (5 years ago and this year) is not really reinventing itself.

I commented a couple of weeks back that sooner, rather than later, I expect the print edition to cease and the Post to be only available online, although with the way it has been handling its presence as a web source, I do not expect that to go well. Several other publications saw the writing on the wall early and have moved to web only editions, using different means to monetize their content.

On Monday morning, a long-time reader of my output sent me a press clipping from the China Post (Alan Fong) which ended its own print edition last week. With words expressing sorrow and a determination to grasp whatever the future brings, I have more expectation that this news organ has a chance. I do not have that hope for all.

There was some good news for Apple (and for Nokia) when the two companies decided to settle their licensing dispute that had threatened to become a costly court case (Fortune). There was a knock-on effect with this case as Withings products, which Nokia now owns, were removed from the Apple stores and there was some worry about the devices continuing to be available with iOS Health app connectivity. That seems now also to have been resolved. This may well put some pressure on Qualcomm that is fighting Apple and many others over licensing for FRAND chips.

Early to bed and early to rise,
Makes a young man healthy, wealthy and wise

The Problem with Sleep

Along with old wisdom like "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" the rhyme about the values of sleep (apart from its sexist phrasing) holds true, although when my grandmother told me, I took little notice. It is now recognised that a good level of sleep will indeed improve the health. And from these one expects that wisdom and success will follow naturally.

I look at my students in my morning classes and can see which of them has been playing interneg games until the small hours. If they are having troubles with an English Communication class, however will they deal with Thermodynamics?

I have been using the Health app since it was made available, but this sometimes suffers from a lack of automatic input. I have tried recording the amount of water I drink, or cakes I eat, but sometimes I forget, or (in the case of calories consumed) it is not easy to find the information. A system can be weakened by a lack of data. Fortunately, there is enough that can be included automatically, and this is enhanced by the use of the Apple Watch.

One of the things this has allowed me to do is to monitor my heart rate. I can either do this physically, by pressing an icon in the Dock, using the automatic recording (every 5 minutes), or with a 3rd party app, such as Argus on the iPhone. I recently added Cardiogram as the Apple Watch data this app makes use of has been found to be highly accurate in predicting certain heart problems.

While setting up Cardiogram, I was asked to turn on the Bedtime feature in the iPhone Clock app. That also added a Sleep Analysis section to the Health app. While Cardiogram monitors the heart rate during the night, Bedtime records the amount of sleep I have, although it is easy to lie: if I set it up for 8 hours sleep, that is what it shows. Only of I go to bed at the time I have it set for, and turn off the Bedtime function when I wake up, is the time shown accurate.

Sleep Sleep Sleep

Bedtime in the clock app (left) and Sleep in Health

Apple made some ripples recently when it was reported (and confirmed) that it had bought the developer of the Beddit app. This works with an under-sheet recording device that senses movement during the night. Although this is not available here, it can be delivered by Amazon to Thailand, although its price (and the delivery charges) make it slightly expensive.

When the App Store first arrived here I did try a couple of apps that help with sleep rhythms and these are still available. I mentioned Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock and Dream:ON in the Wednesday File last week. I am looking deeper this week at these and other apps that may help with sleep.

Although Dream:ON works right now, it will not function after the next iOS update as it is a 32-bit app and only 64-bit apps will work then. As it was last updated in 2012, the chances of this happening are slim. This is a shame as the idea is good. The phone is placed on the bed (a corner) and movement is monitored.

At optimum times sounds that match the user's selected "dreamscape" are played. Settings are accessed using a brain-image: Settings, Start Dreaming, Dream Store Dream Diary and Information. When I did try this in 2012, I had no recollection of any sounds during the night although the graphs that were recorded had some value in indicating depth of sleep. While it was possible to make in-app purchases initially, these now seem to have gone. The app is probably not worth downloading now, but does show what can be done.

Unlike Dream:ON, Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock has been updated and its most recent version (5.4) was released near the end of April. The interface has changed since my look in 2012, but this has not affected the value of this app. I stopped using it for while, but now that it works with the Health App (Sleep), I will keep this running.

Sleep Sleep

Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock app

It is simple enough to start, but there are a lot of features available even in the free version of the app. I had to look carefully for the Health app button, but once found, I was ale to tune the app even more in Health and it monitors other factors, like heart rate. This is the same as Cardiogram, which is the app that renewed my interest in the sleep aspects of the Health app and the potential. With Cardiogram I can see my ear rates overnight (and during the day) while I am wearing the Apple Watch.

The data in Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock gives a different, but no less valuable readout of sleep cycles in graph form. I can do some matching with Cardiogram and see where I am having the deepest sleep, so perhaps figure out some fixes. Better sleep, better health.

I did also try Pillow briefly, but I need to take some more time before making a decision on whether to keep it or not. I think some users would indeed benefit from its use. There are many sleep-related apps available that may be worth trying. These can be seen with a search in the iTunes app store, with the keyword, "sleep".

Another app I have downloaded but also have yet to try properly is Sleep Orbit, which also seems to be music-oriented and may not suit me for the moment. If I want gentle music that wafts me to sleep, I like Air, an app developed originally in 2009 based on concepts from Brian Eno. There is also White Noise, which I also downloaded a few years ago. This has just been upgraded and now costs 35 baht, but there is also an app for the Apple Watch and for AppleTV.

Sleep Sleep Sleep

White Noise - Examples of Sounds

While Air which was updated in April to version 2.0 offers gentle electronic sounds, the latest version of White Noise has some 40 ambient sounds: white noise (of course) as well as brown noise, pink noise, blue noise and violet noise, plus several organic sounds. A couple of these do not send me to sleep at all, for example thunder, a ticking clock and rain, although this has an immediate effect on my Thai friends. Instead, I prefer the more gentle sounds of surf, which will send me off in seconds. This app fits in even better with the theme this time as the latest version has a"sleep clock" and an alarm that fades in slowly.

But what I really want is a good night's sleep.

Next time I am planning to have a look at all the rumours (and maybe some facts) on the run down to WWDC.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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