Technology is changing how we track our sleep

A look at how technologies like sleep apps, wearable trackers, smart beds, and external monitors are changing how we track sleep.

Technology is changing how we track our sleep

In honor of mental health awareness month, we’re diving into one of the pressing issues that individuals struggle with in today’s world—sleep. In particular, we're looking at how technology is transforming how we measure our sleep.

Sleep plays a key role in mental health and overall bodily health and most people aren’t getting enough of it. According to a joint study conducted by Casper and Gallup, only one-third of Americans report their sleep as “excellent” or “very good”. Those who rate their general mental health as “excellent” or “very good” are also 6x more likely to get high-quality sleep (Casper-Gallup, 2022).

Thankfully, technology is helping to change the sleep game. Sleep apps, wearable trackers, smart beds, and external monitors are transforming how humans recharge. For those who don't get enough sleep or experience poor quality sleep, trackers can help offer insight into your habits and lead you to optimize your sleep experience. Using the market news, research papers, and technologies sections of the Cypris platform, we were able to source a handful of fascinating consumer sleep trackers available and explore how they work.

Market overview

There are currently 98,136 sleep technologies being applied within 131 different categories. The fastest-growing category is 'IT computing and data processing' with a 1283.55 % increase in new patents filed over the last 5 years. 'Medical' is also seeing a lot of filings by new entrants.

When it comes to recent news on the sleep industry, a large chunk of articles have focused on new products (38%) and earnings reports (28%), followed by lawsuits, acquisitions, and new hires.

For this article, we're focused specifically on sleep trackers since they're such a hot topic these days. Let's take a look at how these technologies work.

How sleep trackers work

Depending on the type of device, sleep technologies track different bodily responses. However, there are some general metrics most cover: heart rate, oxygen consumption, body movement, sleep duration, sleep quality, sleep phases, time awake and time spent sleeping, snoring, body temperature, room temperature and humidity, light and noise levels, environmental factors, and various lifestyle factors (like number of steps, exercise, etc.).

Many sleep tracker apps rely on an accelerometer, a device built into most smartphones that senses movement. These devices measure how much movement you make during your sleep and this data is then used in an algorithm to estimate sleep time and quality.

Trackers that are placed below your mattress use sensors to gauge movement to determine when you’re asleep, while wearable devices use direct skin contact to discern your heart rate and motion, getting a sense of your sleep and wake patterns accordingly.

Additionally, there are sonar trackers which rely on an app to send silent signals into your sleep environment. When these sound waves reflect into your microphone, some apps or devices can interpret their shape and movement—measuring your breathing rate, tracking your body movement, and turning those insights into a record of your nightly sleep patterns.

Tracker apps and other technologies available:

Available trackers range from apps that charge per month to pricier wearables or devices that often tie into an app as well. Here's how a few of the most popular ones work:

  • Sleep Cycle: (app) SleepCycle relies on sound-sensing technology to assess your sleep, using the microphone to detect the sounds you make when you move. The app identifies a variety of different sounds, including coughing, talking, and snoring, and shows an overlay of audio recordings on the sleep cycle graph for better interpretation. The app wakes you up within a 30-minute time frame of your choosing, based on when your sleep is the lightest.
  • SleepScore: (app) SleepScore uses sonar sensor technology, called echolocation, to track your breathing and body movement as you travel through each sleep stage. After each night's sleep, the app gives you a score based on its analysis of your sleep duration, the amount of time it took for you to fall asleep, light sleep, deep sleep, REM sleep, and wake time, with the units expressed in simple hours and minutes. It also reports how many times you woke up during the night and when you were experiencing each phase of sleep.
  • Pillow: (app) Pillow is an app that tracks your sleep health from your Apple Watch, iPhone, or iPad. To calculate sleep quality, Pillow monitors movements and sounds. Pillow takes into account body motions during sleep using the device's accelerometer and gyroscope, and monitors noise level using your device's microphone. The audio recording feature records when you snore, cough, or talk in your sleep, and you can also use Pillow as a smart alarm clock to wake up at the lightest possible sleep stage.
  • Oura Ring 3: (ring) The Oura Ring 3 collects data on time spent in light, deep, and REM sleep, resting heart rate, heart rate variability, number of breaths per minute (respiratory rate), body temperature, and nighttime movement. It calculates your sleep score based on factors such as total sleep, REM sleep, and deep sleep, and provides you with a readiness score (how much your body can take on for the day), and an activity score. The rings works using 15 advanced sensors. The green and red LEDs and infrared (IR) LEDs are used to measure daytime and workout heart rate, while extra negative temperature coefficient (NTC) sensors and an advanced calibrated sensor measure differences in skin temperature. The ring’s seven temperature sensors also help predict your period each month and visualize your menstrual cycle, and can even help you discover you are getting sick before symptoms appear. There is also an extra IR sensor that allows the ring to detect when the ring is not optimally aligned and compensate for more accurate results.
  • Whoop Strap 4.0: (wristband) Primarily used by fitness fanatics due to its robust recovery data, this device contains five LEDs, four photodiodes, and a body temperature sensor. This wrist or bicep band measures blood oxygen levels, skin temperature readings, heart rate metrics, sleep cycles, performance, quality, and training activities to provide insight into your overall health behaviors and goals.
  • Kookoon Nightbuds: (earbuds) These earbuds contain an in-ear optical heart rate sensor to track your sleep, which is located on the right earpiece. The Nightbuds are equipped with sensors that track sleep data such as time spent asleep and awake, position changes, and overall sleep efficiency.
  • Withings Sleep Analyzer: (mattress pad) The Withings Sleep Analyzer is a thin mat you slip under your mattress that records changes in pressure and noise during the night. It provides you with an overall sleep score, which is then broken down into duration, time to sleep, depth, time to get up, interruptions, and regularity (measured over a period of several nights). With a Pneumatic sensor it measures respiratory rate, heartbeats (via ballistocardiography), and body movements across the mattress. With the sound sensor it identifies audio signals specific to snoring and cessation of breathing episodes.
  • SleepScore Max: (external device) This device sits on your nightstand and uses a bio-motion sensor technology to track your breathing and body movement during sleep. It measures sleep duration, all the different sleep stages, and the time it takes you to fall asleep, and delivers an overall sleep score that’s provided through the accompanying app.
  • Muse Headband: (headband) Known for its meditation capabilities, the Muse Headband is a wearable brain sensing headband that measures brain activity via 4 electroencephalography sensors. Sensors are strategically placed to connect to your forehead, and to the skin behind and above your ears on the inside of the headband. The device provides EEG-powered meditation and sleep support through sleep-focused voice guides and soundscapes that get you in a sleeping mood, and measures and analyzes your level of brain activity, heart rate, and breath much like other wearable trackers.

Sleep technology and trackers have transformed how we measure sleep, and continue to evolve and generate adoption. If you're like the majority of the population and suffer from poor quality and quantity of sleep, chances are you could benefit from incorporating a tracking technology into your routine to provide clarity on your sleep patterns and improve overall health.

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