Smartwatches can analyse quality of sleep
4 September 2013
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics
Research IGD have developed software for commercially available
smartwatches that can collect data on sleep patterns and detect
Currently, sleep research studies employ specially developed,
very expensive intelligent watches. Doctors read out the data
recorded by the watches just once a week in the research lab, which
slows down analysis.
Smartwatches are the latest development in smartphone technology.
They can do many of the things a smartphone can do: tell the time,
receive text messages and emails and find out what’s going on in
social networks. They also have acceleration sensors, so can be used
in studying movement patterns and some models have health-related
functions such as heart rate, workout and diet monitoring.
A sleep recognition algorithm in the new software 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. Patients can send the
recorded data straight from their home to the lab via the
smartwatch’s radio module.
Gerald Bieber, a scientist at Fraunhofer IGD, said, “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.”
Burnout from chronic sleep deficit
“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. Type 1 diabetes patients quite frequently fall into
a state of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) during the night, which
can result in the patient entering a life-threatening diabetic coma.
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.
At present, the smartwatch with the Fraunhofer software is being
used in a pilot study. In collaboration with Vital & Physio health
resort and mattress manufacturer Malie, the scientists are studying
the sleep behaviour of test subjects on back-friendly mattresses.
The key issue they are investigating is whether the 'right' mattress
can help people with sleep disorders and enable them to sleep
soundly through the night. The information the study will yield on
activity patterns and sleeping behaviour could be useful in fields
such as combating stress and burnout. Fraunhofer IGD is responsible
for technology development and modification within the study.
Saving electricity while you sleep
What is more, 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
“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.