Wearing a sleep tracker at night can be an amazing experience, because you can analyze exactly when you were in REM or deep sleep. But there’s a problem with most of those devices. While most tell you how well you slept, few can truly intervene to help you sleep better.
The Aura, by Withings, is an alarm clock that’s fitted with a mattress sensor and a multi-colored LED to hack your circadian rhythm. In the morning, its light glows blue like daytime light, signaling you to wake up when it’s optimal, based upon your stirrings. And at night, the LED will glow orange and red like a sunset and turn itself off when you fall asleep. Withings hopes that this mix of cool and warm light can fill in where dark, winter seasons fall short, and naturally coax your body into restful homeostasis. There's plenty of science* to support the link between light and sleep. (You might start at this study, then dig into more lighting research here and here.)
Meanwhile, the Aura will send your nightly sleep report to the cloud via Wi-Fi, and you can check in on your own rest via an accompanying iPhone app, deciding for yourself if this $299 alarm clock was worth the splurge or not. In this sense, it’s a lot like Withings’s famous networked scale, just for sleeping rather than losing weight.
But the Aura is more ambitious than the scale in two ways. First, its industrial design is stellar. The entire body is touch-sensitive, allowing easy snoozing when groggy. Its core LED--generally a eye-burning directional spotlight of color--is cleverly projected into an open air orb, diffusing the light while evoking the shape of the sun. And to deactivate the alarm? You just get out of bed.
More importantly, though, the Aura is a wellness product that not only tells us how we’re doing, but actively intervenes to make us healthier (or at least, better rested). It’s a product less about data collection and graphs than acting on that data with an automated feedback loop of “wake now, sleep now" that we can't ignore--well, unless we hit that snooze.
*From what we can tell, research seems to point to blue light suppressing melatonin production (and sleep), rather than orange light inducing it. So it seems likely that the warm light at night doesn't put you to sleep so much as it won't keep you up.