Business

STAT

From vibrating pillowcases to smart pajama belts, sleep tech floods market

Molly Ferguson for STAT

LAS VEGAS

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, fake beds abound.

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Companies from across the globe are clamoring to give attendees a chance to kick off their shoes and test out the latest in sleep technology. It’s hard to get too cozy with thousands of tech fanatics milling around the exhibit floor — but manufacturers are doing their darndest.

They’re showcasing snooze-inducing headphones and smart pillowcases, beds with built-in foot warmers, and belts that track every toss and turn. There are smart alarm clocks designed to make it as pleasant as possible to drag yourself out of bed on a Monday morning. There’s even an app that can record your snoring — and everything you say in your sleep.

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All of this is supposed to make you sleep better.

But it’s not clear what you’re supposed to do with all the data that these products generate.

“There’s an inherent problem because the consumer world has come up with all these ways to monitor your body signals, but the clinical world didn’t come up with a way to answer all the questions it brings about,” said Michael Breus, a psychologist who specializes in sleep disorders.

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Here’s a look at the gadgets hitting the sleep-tech market — and the evidence behind them:

Buckle in before bed?

Sleep trackers are growing more high-tech. Take 2breathe, a smart device that you’re supposed to strap around your waist before bed. The $180 device can sense your breathing and play tones to help you fall asleep, and it shuts off automatically when it senses you’re snoozing. It’s tied to an app that fills you in bright and early every morning on how you slept.

Or, at least, it shoves a bunch of data points at you.

“You got 18 percent REM sleep and 24 percent light sleep. So what?” said Breus, who also appears regularly as a sleep expert on “The Dr. Oz Show.”

Clinicians in sleep medicine are asking the same question.

“Such devices may have a role in giving us some idea about how the night’s sleep was, but I am not sure if consumers can directly interpret the results,” said Dr. Gholam Motamedi, a neurologist at Georgetown University Medical Center who has studied sleep medicine.

There is limited evidence that wearable trackers can encourage users to get more sleep each night. One recent study of 565 drug company employees who used activity trackers for a year found that while users didn’t get more physical activity, they were sleeping an average of 30 minutes longer each night by the end of the year.

“People didn’t realize how little they were sleeping, and it wasn’t until it was in front of them and aggregated that they realized,” said Laura Pugliese, deputy director of innovation research at the New York-based Healthcare Innovation & Technology Lab and one of the study’s authors.

Even so, Pugliese agreed that there’s slim science behind much of the consumer sleep technology on the market. “There’s not as much evidence of how they can really benefit people or if they can really benefit people,” she said.

The makers of Beddit — a $149 bed sensor that tracks heart rate, breathing, and snoring — aim to boost the utility of their data by connecting it to electronic health records. The goal: give doctors a way to keep tabs on their patients’ sleep over time.

The Beddit app gives consumers advice about tweaking their sleep routines to get a better night’s rest. It’ll also flag if a user has signs of sleep apnea and suggest he or she check in with a clinician.

Smart mattresses and

snore-proof pillows

Users who don’t want to sport a clunky bracelet or strap a seat belt around their waist have another option to keep tabs on their snoozing: smart beds.

The Sleep Number 360 smart bed, for instance, is designed to sense shifts in the body and continually adjust the mattress pad’s temperature and positioning throughout the night. Like the company’s other mattresses, it can adjust each side independently to accommodate two sleepers. The company even claims it can detect your partner’s snoring and gently raise his or her side of the bed to quiet them.

The goal, as Sleep Number puts it: help consumers “get their much needed vitamin Z.”

Breus, the “Dr. Oz Show” psychologist, said products like smart beds that are in constant, direct contact with a user tend to be more accurate than apps like Sleep Cycle, which uses a phone’s accelerometer to measure changes in movement on the bed.

“Honestly, I can’t count the number of people who hear what I do and grab their phone and whip out their Sleep Cycle and say, ‘Tell me what this means,’” Breus said. “And I say, ‘No, I can’t, because it’s not very accurate.’”

The mattress world is also making a push to help users regulate their body temperature during sleep. To take one example, the Kryo Sleep Performance System is a water-based cooling mattress pad that’s controlled by an app.

Experts say temperature does play an important role in sleep — it’s a key factor in regulating our circadian rhythm, the biological clock that helps maintain our sleeping and waking cycle. “There is an established association between core body temperature and sleep,” said Motamedi, the neurologist.

But there’s no published data to support another claim from Kryo: that the $299 cooling mattress pad can improve deep sleep by as much as 20 percent.

And if smart mattresses aren’t enough? Get ready for smart pillows.

Sleepace offers a product called the Sleep Dot, a teeny-tiny tracker that sticks to the corner of a pillowcase. It aims to track body movement, sleep cycles, and wake-ups during the night. An early competitor: Zeeq, a smart pillow that plays music, tracks your movement and breathing, and can even rattle an alarm if you start to snore.

How do you measure up?

Experts agree that to make sleep products more effective, consumer tech companies have to give users a way to make their personal data matter.

“The trend that is hopefully going to grow is people trying to [put] this biomedical data into a platform that has some sort of lasting and ongoing effect,” said Stan Kachnowski, a digital health researcher who also works at the Healthcare Innovation & Technology Lab.

That might mean giving personalized advice on the best time to lie down or wake up. Or it might mean letting users match their habits up against their peers. “Maybe your data is compared to somebody that’s your same gender and age,” Breus suggested.

Personalized feedback is essential, he said, to make sleep tracking worthwhile.

“I think that’s where we really need to go,” he said, “and we’re not there yet.”

Megan Thielking can be reached at megan.thielking@statnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @meggophone. Follow Stat on Twitter: @statnews.
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