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It may seem simple, but it bears repeating: sleep, gratitude and helping other people.
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It’s been a strange year for sleep. For me, levels have fluctuated between too little and too much, but have – more often than not – tended toward the former. 2020 gave most of us no shortage of excuses for sleep deprivation, from personal stresses to larger societal concerns.
And, thankfully, the past few years have seen no shortage of technological solutions to the problem of sleeplessness. Of course, the underpinning issues can be hard to isolate and even harder to treat. There’s no silver bullet. That’s the lesson I keep relearning at this job – no single piece of technology is going to cure all of my ills. (I’m sure it’s nothing that years of extensive and expensive therapy can’t fix.)
Sleep headphones are, in and of themselves, not an entirely new phenomenon. Bose got into the space in earnest back in mid-2018, offering one of the more polished (and pricey) approaches to the category. The company went in an entirely different direction than, say, Kokoon, which offers an over-ear solution.
The Sleepbuds are – as the name suggests – fully wireless earbuds. This second generation allows Bose to address some of the bigger issues with the original – include some major battery complaints. That was a pretty big strike against a $250 pair of headphones with, quite literally, one job.
The battery and connections complaints, I can state, off the bat, seem to have been addressed. The units I’ve been wearing to sleep off and on for a few weeks now haven’t had any major connection issues to speak of (assuming you keep your phone near your bed and all that entails), and the battery generally gets me through a full night bit a bit under 20% remaining. After you wake up, you toss them in the case and let them charge for the next several hours.
All told, the build is solid, as you’d expect/hope from the company name and accompanying price point. I really dig the design of these things, overall, from the illuminating metal charging case with its sliding lid to the earbuds themselves. As someone who finds the slightest irritants a major hurdle to falling asleep, I was pleasantly surprised by how unobtrusive the buds are. They slip on comfortably and stay flush with the ear, so nothing gets snagged. The soft and rubbery wings also do a great job keeping them in place.
The buds biggest limitation is actually by design. Like the originals, the Sleepbuds II only work with the included app. This is used to pair them, locate them and offers Bose’s library of music. The company generally does a good job curating its own sleep sounds, ranging from nature sounds like rain and wind to self-selected ambient tracks. I got in the habit of listening to the sounds of the ocean while reading Moby Dick each night. A pretty good way to fall asleep, all told.
I appreciate the decision to hamper the functionality to some degree – I suspect I would probably start listening to podcasts and TV shows on the thing, left to my own devices (so to speak). But I would love to see what the buds could do with, say, binaural beats or some other ambient selections. Ultimately, I think giving the consumer choice is ultimately a net positive.
That said, the headphones are well-tuned for their limited (but expanding) library of sounds. There’s no active noise canceling, but the passive cancelation of the buds themselves plus the on-board sound do a good job blocking out things like environmental noise or snoring. They’re probably no match for, say, construction noise, but do a good job with subtler barriers to sleep. They’ll also likely be a good choice for long flights, when we start doing those again.
There are a handful of headphones currently positioned for the sleep market, but Bose’s look to be the most polished package at the moment. The price will understandably be a barrier for many – and the limited sound library could be a dealbreaker for some. But if you have the money – and find getting and staying asleep tough – they’re well worth exploring.
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Welcome to Techcrunch’s 2020 Holiday Gift Guide! Need help with gift ideas? We’re here to help! We’ll be rolling out gift guides from now through the end of December. You can find our other guides right here.
Even in a normal year, the holidays can be an anxiety-inducing hellscape. In 2020, though — honestly, it’s hard to say what manner of climactic finale this historically rough year might have on tap. In honor of the one of the most epically rotten years on record, we’ve cobbled together a list of gifts that could go a ways toward helping folks make it triumphantly across the finish line.
It’s a bit of a mixed bag, I admit. Everyone blows off stress differently — some like to play video games, come cook, some go for a run, others meditate. This is an attempt to round up some gadgets and software that can help increase sleep, reduce blood pressure and generally help survive what’s left of 2020 intact.
This article contains links to affiliate partners where available. When you buy through these links, TechCrunch may earn an affiliate commission.
I was using Muse’s latest headband quite a bit during CES, back when that show still felt like it was going to be the apex of stress for my year. The device offers a clever kind of gamified approach to meditation — something I, as one of the worst meditators of all-time, have come to appreciate. I recognize that words like “gamify” sound counterproductive when it comes something like meditating, but Muse does a surprisingly good job getting you into the right headspace.
The company also recently added sleep tracking to the wearable. I will say that the Muse S is reasonably comfortable as far as tech headbands go (an admittedly low bar), but even so, sleeping with one on still takes some getting used to.
Price: $350 from Amazon
Bose Sleepbuds II
We can recommend a number of all-purpose, noise-cancelling headphones for help relaxing. The Bose Sleepbuds II aren’t that. These little Bluetooth buds are built for one purpose only: sleep. They’re comfortable, they get good battery life and they’ll stay in place while you sleep. They’re built for noisy environments — whether you’re trying to sneak in a midday nap or sleep next to a snorer.
They’re a bit pricy and not very versatile, only designed to play back Bose’s preloaded sleep sounds. But if someone in your life is having trouble falling — or staying — asleep, they’re a solid investment.
Price: $250 from Amazon
There’s no shortage of meditation apps these days, but Calm has been my go-to for a long time. The app has been tremendously successful over the past couple of years, even landing a star-studded show on HBO Max. With more than 50 million downloads, Calm offers some of the most extensive and best guided meditation courses and tracks to help lull listeners to sleep.
Price: $13/month from Calm
I really dug this thing before my rabbit chewed the cord and rendered the thing effectively useless. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that’s not an issue most users are going to run into. Withings Sleep is, effectively, a pad that sits under the mattress to detect your sleep progress during the night. Those results are then collected and displayed in Withings’ Health app. I’ve tested a lot of wearable sleep trackers over the year, but if you’re really invested in sleep tracking, this is a good way to go. Among other things, you don’t have to wear a band to sleep.
Withings Sleep goes deep with its tracking, including cycles heart rate tracking and even snore detection. It’s also one of the first of this class of consumer device to offer sleep apnea detection.
Price: $74 from Amazon
Back when we used to do travel gift guides, I included one of Dreamlight’s masks for long flights. Even though we’re all grounded, though, I’ve actually got a fair amount of use out of the thing, dealing with some health struggles this year. Dreamlight Zen is a step up from that model, featuring built-in sleep and meditation aids that can run up to 10 hours on a charge.
Price: $200 from Dreamlight
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It soothes me. Makes me more present, less anxious. And it just feels good.
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At Google’s 2018 I/O developer conference, the company debuted a new suite of “digital well-being” aimed at helping Android users better manage their screen time. At its 2019 event, it expanded its tools’ capabilities and improved the related parental controls. Although Google I/O isn’t taking place this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company is once again refreshing its well-being toolset. This year, the focus is a timely one as Google will roll out new bedtime tools to help people get better sleep.
Google reports seeing a rise in sleep-related search queries like “insomnia” and “can’t sleep” in April and May, as the coronavirus crisis led to increased stress and anxiety, which can disrupt sleep.
Android’s “Bedtime” mode, previously known as “Wind Down,” uses Do Not Disturb to silence calls, texts, and notifications, while grayscale fades the colors on your phone to black and white, to reduce the draw to your screen. With the updates to this feature, Google is making it easier to customize when and how Bedtime mode is enabled.
Based on your bedtime schedule, you can now opt to have it automatically turn on after your phone is plugged into its charger. You can also add Bedtime mode to your Android phone’s Quick Settings, to instantly turn it on or off with a single tap. And if you need a few more minutes, you can choose to pause Bedtime mode without needing to adjust your schedule.
The update to Digital Wellbeing, which included the ability to automatically enable Bedtime mode when the phone is charging and add it to Quick Settings, actually rolled out earlier in May. But Google is announcing the features today as part of its other Bedtime mode changes.
The Clock app on Android is also being updated with a new Bedtime tab.
Here, you can set daily sleep and wake times. In the app, you’ll be able to see a preview of your calendar for the next day, and then tally the total number of hours of sleep you’d get. This way, you can adjust your bedtime if needed to sync up with tomorrow’s schedule — even if that means diverting from your typical bedtime schedule.
In addition, users will receive a reminder before bedtime and have the option to play calming sounds from Calm, Spotify, YouTube Music, and other sources. If they have Digital Wellbeing installed, they can pair with Bedtime mode to limit the interruptions during sleep.
The app will also display how much time you’re spending and which apps you’ve used after your set bedtime.
Google additionally suggested users looking for better sleep can try the “Sunrise Alarm” option that gradually brightens your screen to help you wake up more gently. This visual alarm system will begin 15 minutes prior to your audio alarm. Users can also set their favorite songs as an alarm to make the alarm less jarring, Google recommends.
The sunrise alarm was first introduced with the Pixel 3 and Pixel Stand in 2018. But with the update, you will no longer need the stand to use the feature — it’s a part of the new Bedtime tab in the Clock app.
Related to today’s launch of new bedtime features, Google noted it recently added new YouTube bedtime reminders. It also supports a daily bedtime schedule in Andoird’s parental controls feature, Family Link.
The updated Bedtime experience is launching first on Pixel devices starting today, and will roll out to the Clock app and on other Android devices later this summer. Pixel devices will be getting a handful of other updates, as well, including Adaptive Battery.
Pixel 2 devices and newer will notify the user when the battery is set to run out, while throttling background usage to save on life. The excellent Recorder app can now be triggered with a “Hey Google” and transcripts can be saved directly to Google Docs.
The Personal Safety app introduced on the 4 is now coming to all devices, while the 3 will get car crash detection. There’s also a new Safety Check feature designed to send out alerts in potentially dangerous situations. Per Google,
For example if you’re about to go on a run or hike alone, safety check will make sure you made it back safely. If you don’t respond to the scheduled check-in, the app will alert your emergency contacts. In the event that you need immediate help or are in a dangerous situation, emergency sharing notifies all of your emergency contacts and shares your real-time location through Google Maps so they can send help or find you.
The Personal Safety app will also let users set notifications for crises, including natural disasters and other public safety concerns.
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Moments before falling asleep live on Twitch, streamer Matthew “Mizkif” Rinaudo thought about how pissed off his mom would be if he told her that he made money sleeping.
“She thinks I do nothing now,” Rinaudo joked to his live viewers. “Wait until she finds out I literally slept and made money.”
Rinaudo enabled a bot that let his viewers submit videos if they made a cash donation and went to bed. On the top right of the screen, the clips played on, while most of the display was taken up by Rinaudo resting on his back or side. Many hours and many cringey videos later, he woke up $5,600 richer. To show he wasn’t blind to how the whole stunt came off, Rinaudo gave a Nintendo Switch away to one of his patrons.