A Smartwatch App to Monitor Your Sleep

Researchers in Germany have been working on a smartwatch app that can monitor the user sleep habits, analyzing sleep movements and helping doctors diagnosing and treating people with sleeping problems.

Sleep laboratories have expensive equipment and skilled team which monitors patients in order to help them with their sleeping problems. This procedure is expensive, complicated and requires that the patient will sleep in the laboratory – something which can be hard on patients which are having a hard time to sleep at home let alone in an alien environment. But what if they can do all those tests at home – automatically?

A dedicated smartwatch for monitoring sleep patterns already exist but it’s very expensive and the data coming from it needs to be offloaded in the lab once a week. However now, researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research IGD in Germany developed an app for commercially available smartwatches, that scientists and doctors can be used in sleep research.

Modern smartwatches have built in motion and acceleration sensors which are accurate enough to register even tiny movements and using the right software (such as the one developed at Fraunhofer) it is possible to monitor the duration and quality of sleep of the user.

Gerald Bieber from the Fraunhofer IGD explained how the technology works: “the algorithm detects movements and compares them against normal sleeping and waking patterns. The sensors register both micro-movements triggered by breathing or pulse and macro-movements such as twitches of the leg”. Unlike previous systems, users can send this data wirelessly directly to the lab.

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Another huge advantage of this system is that users can be monitored over a long period of time. When a user goes to a sleep clinic it is typically a onetime event and not always enough data is collected. With a smartwach and the new app it is possible to track long term sleep patterns.

The Fraunhofer team is already looking at more advanced uses for the technology including a state known as unconsciousness during sleep which can happen to people suffering from diabetics and epileptics. Type 1 diabetes patients for example can in some cases enter a state of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) during sleep which can result in the patient entering a life-threatening state of diabetic coma. Being able to detect this state and even alert the his family could actually save lives.

There are also very different set of benefits that the new technology can bring. Since the app knows when the user falls asleep it can perform different pre recorded set of tasks such as turn off the TV (in case you fall asleep when it’s on), turn off all the lights in the house and do other tasks that are controlled by a home automation system (which can control anything from air conditions to garden sprinklers and alarms).

The app technology is currently still in a pilot study and Fraunhofer is looking to commercialize it in the not too distant future.

You can find more information about the app on the Fraunhofer website.