Countless people have trouble sleeping. If their disorder becomes chronic, sufferers often take part in medical
sleep studies in an attempt to uncover the reasons behind their sleeping problems.
Currently, very expensive intelligent watches are used in sleep research. Doctors read out the
data recorded by the watches just once a week in the research lab, which slows down analysis.
“A smartwatch can do many of the things a smartphone can do: it tells the time and allows wearers to check their
text messages and e-mails and find out what’s going on in social networks. But smartwatches can also do a whole lot more.
These tiny computers fitted with acceleration sensors hold out many exciting possibilities in the field of sleep
research,” says Gerald Bieber, a scientist at Fraunhofer IGD.
The software installed in the smartwatch would trigger an alarm in such situations and notify family members or
the patient’s doctor. The smartwatch researchers are currently in talks with hospitals and soon hope to obtain
test data from coma patients, in other words real sample data for comparison purposes.
The sleep recognition algorithm developed by researchers helps to detect anomalies in sleep as soon as they occur.
Information such as bedtimes and duration and quality of sleep is derived from the watch’s sensor data and then analyzed.
“Our 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.”
Patients can send the recorded data straight from their home to the lab via the smartwatch’s radio module.
“For the doctor in charge of the patient’s care, a digital sleep diary like this is an important tool for diagnosing
sleep disorders and for choosing the right therapy,” explains Bieber.
“Sleep quality is an important indicator of burnout.”
According to studies, it is chronic sleep deficit and not stress that is the real cause of burnout.
There are many reasons for people having difficulty falling asleep, having interrupted sleep or having
non-relaxing sleep: anything from the side effects of medication to too little movement during the day, or
even just the wrong mattress.
In future, Bieber and his colleagues also want to detect unconsciousness in sleep. This is an issue that can
affect diabetics and epileptics.
People suffering from sleep disorders will not be the only ones to benefit from the smartwatch app –
it also offers homeowners and renters an opportunity to save on their electricity bills.
“Eleven percent of energy consumption comes from devices in stand-by mode. Because our sensitive algorithm is
capable of detecting whether, for example, the watch wearer has fallen asleep in front of the TV, the smartwatch
could then switch off the TV automatically via a radio signal.
Modern televisions already contain the necessary equipment, but older models can also be retrofitted with
special network outlets,” says Bieber. In future, it will also be possible to switch off such diverse household
objects as alarm systems, wireless internet routers, and lights using this technology.