It was news when a sleep-tracking kit called Sense raised over $100,000 on Kickstarter within thirty days of being listed on the crowdfunding platform, but now that the product has been out there for a bit longer, it has reached the level of phenomena. Sense has raised over $1.3 million dollars in investments and preorders for its 22-year old inventor, and shows no signs of stopping. In fact, some say that it will reach over $4 million dollars in funding before it reaches the end of its run.
The Sense is a sleep monitoring device that has the ability to provide its user with a score of their previous night’s sleep and to wake them up at the optimal point in their sleep cycle. It also distinguishes itself from other sleep monitoring devices that are currently on the market by the fact that it includes a particularly attractive orb that does its monitoring. The actual sensor is attached to the sleeper’s pillow, and the device is completed with a mobile phone app. Though it isn’t due to be available until November of this year, those who are pre-ordering through Kickstarter are able to purchase it at a discounted price of just $129.
Sense’s creator is 22-year old James Proud, who says that coming up with the idea of a sleep aid was a natural. “We spend a third of our day doing it. It’s the most critical part of the day, as how we perform when we’re awake depends on how well we slept.” There’s no doubt that sleep is a profitable area to focus on these days. Sense is just one of a growing number of products that have recently been released with the specific idea of using smart technology to track our health, and particularly the amount of time and quality of our sleep. Other apps that have been released over the last few years include Sleep Cycle, Sleepbot and Sleepmaster. These can be used on different cell phone platforms to track sleep quality and quantity through motion sensing technology that is already built into the phones. Other sleep devices that have proven successful are those that come with hardware (as the Sense does), or even with an entire bed system that has sensors built in.
Even Apple is getting into the act, as it recently released information about a Healthkit app that it will be making available soon. Though little is known about the product, it will reportedly gather data through a third-party device, and word has spread that the company has hired a Dutch sleep specialist to consult on the product. Some are wondering whether the technology will be included in the much anticipated Apple watch. Apple rival Samsung has already gone the smartwatch route with its Gear 2, which includes sleep-tracking capabilities. China has also introduced a sleep-monitoring wearable - the MiBand, which sells for just $13 and is manufactured by Xiaomi.
Despite the popularity of these devices, their usefulness has been questioned by a number of sleep researchers, who maintain that only a true sleep study is able to provide data that is of any relevance for those who may be suffering from sleep disorders. According to Professor Jerry Siegel from the University of California – Los Angeles Center for Sleep Researcher, having hard data on whether or not you slept the night before is not all that useful. “If you want to learn whether you sleep on certain nights and not on others, then it should be looked at as a form of harmless entertainment. But the most common sleep problem is insomnia, and there’s nothing that you’re going to get from one of these devices that is going to be useful in treating insomnia. The other problem that is important to identify is sleep apnea, a condition where the walls of the throat relax and interrupt breathing. We know that this will shorter your lifespan and we have several treatments, but none of these devices will help you detect it.”
Other sleep scientists have pointed out that though the fitness trackers and sleep trackers may have limited accuracy and scientific use, they may serve as motivators for patients, and particularly for those who need to lose weight as part of the treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. Dr. Steven Grant of Des Moines, Iowa’s Iowa Sleep Center says that knowing how many steps they are taking during the day has served to motivate his overweight patients to be more tuned in to their fitness and work harder to achieve goals that will eventually contribute to their increased fitness and the diminishment of their sleep disorder symptoms. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) is equally enthusiastic about the use of these electronic aids, and recently announced a partnership with the Consumer Electronics Association that will advance the usefulness of the devices by establishing standards for their use and function.
According to David Cloud, chief executive of the NSF, “We know that getting enough sleep and getting quality sleep have amazing health benefits, including improved mood, concentration, memory and productivity, and the ability to maintain a healthy weight. Given the technology to properly monitor their own sleep quality, consumers can better understand the link between their sleep and their health, and set goals for improvement.”
Likewise, consumers who may not have been aware of the fact that they are not getting enough sleep, or whose loved ones have expressed concern over their level of daytime fatigue or their nighttime snoring, may be able to make use of concrete information about sleep interruptions that will drive them to much-needed medical care and official sleep studies done in sleep laboratories. There is no doubt that if the use of this technology can result in more people with sleep disorders being tested and treated, it will be for the good of all.