It's hard to imagine now, but 100 years ago people used to sleep at night. Nighttime was generally dark, quiet and boring. Must have been nice.
Then inventors, engineers and other troublemakers ruined everything by improving light bulbs and the provision of electricity. Radios didn't help, either.
Fast-forward to today. PCs and consumer electronics provide us with a gazillion things to do all night. Video games, TV, social networking, chatting with friends, catching up on work. These things are addictive, and they call to us. Getting a good night's sleep has become a challenge.
Poor sleep, or what they call "junk sleep" (sleep compromised by constant waking), particularly affects younger people -- teens and twentysomethings -- who are developing the habit of rarely sleeping well.
Sleep problems hit travelers, too. Jetlag, unfamiliar hotel rooms and other unavoidable realities of travel can make it very hard to sleep.
The recession is making sleep more challenging as well. People are lying awake nights thinking about their 401(k)s, layoffs and other stressful financial realities.
Unfortunately, a lack of sleep or even a lack of uninterrupted quality sleep, can cause serious problems. Bad sleep harms overall physical and mental performance, as well as memory. What's interesting about this is that sufferers are usually blind to the symptoms, and they think they're doing fine. Bad sleep also triggers an insulin reaction similar to eating a lot of sugar, contributing to weight gain, diabetes and obesity.
Gadgets are contributing to this problem. But gadgets can help solve it, too. Electronic sleep helpers have been around for quite a while. But a new generation of products is better than anything that's come before. In honor of the month of May, which is Better Sleep Month (who comes up with these things?), here are some of the newest and most interesting electronic sleep helpers.
Of course, the best advice for getting sleep is to optimize your diet, get some exercise and take steps to relieve stress. But when that's not enough, these gadgets might be able to help you enjoy all the sleep benefits that people enjoyed 100 years ago.
Mike Elgan writes about technology and global tech culture. He blogs about the technology needs, desires and successes of mobile warriors in his Computerworld blog, The World Is My Office. You can contact Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter or read his blog, The Raw Feed.
This story, "How Your Digital Gear Can Help You Sleep" was originally published by Computerworld.