Devices for Monitoring Sleep Behavior at Home

The do-it-yourselfer can try a number of home gadgets for monitoring their own sleep.

The health monitor maker Tanita recently announced it would sell an electronic mat that monitors sleep activity. The mat would lie on the floor under the bed and sense the body's movement. The record is kept on a chip.

In Canada entrepreneurs are developing a blanket that monitors people while they sleep.  A less formal (and probably less accurate) type of a diagnostic procedure like polysomnography, the high-tech blanket promises to provide some feedback on sleep behavior and to be fun for the user.  It is being built on the IM Blanky that is fitted with digital sensors in decorative patterns and can be set to create a type of performance art.

The Quantified Self movement advocates individuals’ measuring their body and lives.  The Quantified Self website lists a number of devices the can be used to measure aspects of sleep 

The sleep product company Technogel makes pillows and mattresses filled with gel. They are expensive, but the company claims they help keep the sleeper cool and enhance sleep quality. The Chillow is a gel pillow that you put in the refrigerator before you sleep on it, to keep you cool.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a method to treat people with depression that doesn't respond to drugs. Less dramatic than electroshock therapy, TMS involves putting an electromagnetic coil against the forehead. The magnetic field generated induces currents inside the head. Some people are looking to this technology to induce sleep or help people sleep longer. Development work in this area is being done, although it is considered outside the mainstream of medicine.

The procedure was approved by the FDA for depression treatment in 2008. It has not been approved for sleep problems.

Advanced Brain Monitoring (ABM), one of Defense Department’s research partners, developed the ABM has developed a mask called the Somneo Sleep Trainer that exploits one- or two-hour windows for strategic naps in mobile sleeping environments.

Screening out ambient noise and visual distractions, the mask carries a heating element around the eyes, based on the finding that facial warming helps send people to sleep. It also carries a blue light that gradually brightens as your set alarm time approaches, suppressing the sleep hormone melatonin for a less groggy awakening

Nighttime sleep goes in roughly 90-minute cycles, from slow-wave sleep back up to REM, but a 20-minute nap is all about dipping into Stage 2 as quickly as possible. The idea of the Somneo is to fast-track through Stage 1 sleep, a gateway stage with few inherent benefits, and enter Stage 2, which at least restores fatigued muscles and replenishes alertness.

At least that is the theory. We have seen no evidence that skipping or shortening Stage 1 has no detrimental effects, or that the Somneo actually reduces Stage 1 time or sleep latency. But if the Pentagon is continuing to fund the company and//or buy its product, they probably have some indication of efficacy.

The Somneo does not appear to be available for purchase by members of the public at this time.

Why Home Monitoring?

Plenty of people have scales in their bathrooms and monitor their weight. Diabetics routinely measure their blood sugar levels, and millions of people use blood pressure measurement machines. These devices for home use do not replace the doctor's office and nobody suggests they are undermining healthcare by letting people know what is going on in their body. Sleep monitoring devices could be the same.

What will people do with this knowledge? Well, what do people do with knowledge of their weight, blood pressure, and glucose levels? They may use the results to motivate themselves to do better. To change their habits. To recommit themselves to healthy living. The let themselves know if they are doing a good job and if their diet, medication, etc. is working.

Knowing what your sleep architecture could be similar. Like the blood pressure and glucose levels, individuals cannot directly change their sleep patterns. But that doesn't mean they cannot benefit from the knowledge.

If you know how your body temperature changes during the night, how much time you spent in REM sleep, how many times your wake up during the night – maybe you could do something with that and maybe you couldn't. But Knowledge is Power as they say.

It's plausible that users will experiment with their lifestyle, possible adjusting timing and duration of exercise, timing and composition of evening meals, noise levels in the bedroom, etc.

Lifehacker had a long article about the emerging sleep monitoring devices and ideas for experimenting. Also, be aware that there are white noise generators available for computers and smart phones.


The Zeo was a pioneer in the home health care market for sleep measurement, Their device involved a headband with a single sensor. A nearby station collected signals from the sensor and makes a picture of the night's sleep architecture available the next morning.

EEG, which is used in polysomnography, involves electrodes attached via a sticky gel to certain areas on the head. The Zeo has a proprietary sensor with fabric electrodes that sits on the forehead. The company said this was almost as good as an EEG. Zeo has gone out of business.

Accuracy of home devices

Are these home devices and apps any good? It depends what you mean by good. They are not particularly accurate as a general rule.

They are, however, inexpensive and convenient. And fun – they can give the quantitative-minded sleep enthusiast something to look at and attempt to tweak.

Are patients going to start bringing in results from these devices to the doctors’ offices? And if so, will the doctor look at the information? We encourage the use of sleep diaries by consumers, so how are the results of home devices different? They aren’t. Sleep diaries entries are qualitative and rely on memory, while devices are less subject to user interference.

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