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Researchers develop device to track patients’ sleep without electrodes or sensors

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A new device about the size of a laptop can collect data on your sleep patterns while you toss in bed across the room, according to the researchers who developed it at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Massachusetts General Hospital.

The device works like a Wi-Fi box, MIT said in a statement. It sits in the home of a patient and emits radio waves. The radio waves reflect off the patient’s body, and the device analyzes the reflected waves to determine the sleeping person’s vital signs and movements — and what stage of sleep they are in: light, deep, or rapid eye movement (REM).

The development of the device is a boon to doctors studying sleep because it eliminates the need for placing sensors and electrodes on patients, which often disrupt patients’ sleep further, the MIT/MGH researchers said.

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“Imagine if your Wi-Fi router knows when you are dreaming, and can monitor whether you are having enough deep sleep, which is necessary for memory consolidation,” said Dina Katabi, the MIT professor who led the study.

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The researchers plan to use the device to study how Parkinson’s disease affects sleep, according to the statement. The devices can also be helpful in studying Alzheimer’s disease, insomnia, sleep apnea, and epilepsy.

Before using the device to monitor sleep patterns, the team had already developed similar devices and used them to monitor walking speeds using wireless signals, according to the statement.

The device translates vital signs and movements into sleep stages by using a newly developed computer algorithm to analyze the radio signals reflected from the sleeper.

“The opportunity is very big because we don’t understand sleep well, and a high fraction of the population has sleep problems,” said Mingmin Zhao, an MIT graduate student and the paper’s first author.

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“We have this technology that, if we can make it work, can move us from a world where we do sleep studies once every few months in the sleep lab to continuous sleep studies in the home.”

Alyssa Meyers can be reached at alyssa.meyers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ameyers_.