According to the Sleep Foundation, some 40 million Americans experience insomnia, and on average we get fewer than seven hours of sleep a night. For several years now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called lack of sleep a "public health epidemic."

Since the problem is so widespread, there is no shortage of advice on how to sleep better. The National Sleep Foundation, a nonprofit based in Arlington, Virginia, has a website full of tips and tools aimed at both adults and children.

The tips, however, are both rather obvious and call for the insomniac to do things we, as a culture, don't do very well: Adjust your diet. Exercise daily. Check whether your pillows and mattresses are supportive. And stick to a fixed sleep schedule and a relaxing nighttime routine.

So, as a tech reporter, I decided to check out some high-tech solutions. Unfortunately, I've found the results mostly disappointing. Here's a rundown:

Sleep via audio suggestion. The first app I tried was called pzizz, available initially as a computer program that played selected soundtracks with either ambient music or a pleasant voice guiding you to relaxation. Later, pzizz became available for Apple and Android mobile phones, at pzizz.com. My biggest problem with it was the need to wear headphones or earbuds while using it, so as not to disturb my wife. The gear caused me more sleep problems than the insomnia.


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Sleep by headband. In 2012, I found a new device called Zeo Sleep Manager, which combined a headband sensor with a phone app. The idea was that the plastic headband would record brainwave activity and send the information to my smartphone. Using the data, Zeo gives you a ZQ Score, together with tips to correct your sleep behavior. But I found the headband sensor uncomfortable to wear all night, and the tips told me what I already knew -- that I needed more sleep. Last year the Zeo Sleep Manager went out of production.

Sleep by wristband. Early this year, I bought a Fitbit Force wristband, which tracks not only fitness data, but sleep data. Though this product was recalled after some users experienced skin rashes, I had no rash and so wore the wristband constantly, activating its sleep monitor at night and when napping. A lot of data was sent wirelessly to my phone, including pretty graphics that indicated when I got up at night, what hours I was restless and how much sleep I'd had over time. But if I forgot to turn it off upon waking, it just kept on recording sleep. I could manually adjust information in my phone app that displays the data, but after a while I stopped bothering. Though the slim wristband was far less problematic than the headband sensor, my tendency to forget that the device was attempting to record nighttime data through the day, because I'd neglected to shut it off, too often made its information useless.