Your smartphone could soon detect sleep disorders

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While scouting for cool and disruptive technologies on the Web, I stumbled upon MIT’s technology review related to health and medical industries, and it looks like we’ll be seeing more of these discoveries in the future—a convergence of health, fitness, and consumer electronics.

According to the technology review published last month, researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology and Florida State University have been working on a project that can accurately listen to sleep disorder without wearables. An associate professor at Stevens is hoping it could also help diagnose health problems such as sleep apnea. In short, this technology can easily track sleep disorders, sparing patients from visiting the sleep lab for tests.

sleep disorders

Photo via Wallpager

How? Here’s what happened in the six-month study.

Ear buds that included an in-line microphone were plugged into an iPhone that recorded sounds as six people slept. The researchers say that even with the earphones placed on a table next to the bed, they were able to use the microphone to monitor participants’ breathing to within half a breath per minute of what could be recorded with a chest-worn respiration monitor and a microphone clipped to participants’ collars.

The researchers plan to release a smartphone app related to this project this year, according to Yingying Chen, an associate professor at SIT. While sleep tracking apps aren’t new to us (I’ve got SleepBot and Sleep Cycle), I wonder how this project would be different among the rest if it’s translated into a mobile application. And if we’re talking about diagnosing sleep apnea, would there really be an “app for that” in 2015?

To further explore this project, here’s how the researchers tested its monitoring process.

In their study, researchers tested the sensitivity of the microphone on the ear buds for recording breathing rate, and also modified the ear buds to act as additional microphones that recorded in mono and stereo. The researchers filtered out ambient noise to focus on breathing and other actions that occurred during sleep, like snoring and coughing.

If this will push through, then this technology will make it easier and cheaper to monitor the sleeping patterns without wearables. The use of consumer-gear wearables such as wristbands and other medical devices with built-in sensors placed beneath the mattresses are somewhat uncomfortable, and their accuracy varies.

Meanwhile, if you have sleeping problems (like me), ResMed’s S+ Android and iOS apps and its S+ sleep sensor device give us a data dive of deep sleep. On that note, it’s not a surprise for us tech enthusiasts on what we’ll see this 2015; with giants like Apple, Android, and even Chinese companies like Xiaomi and Baidu, gearing up for wearables and smart devices, our digital lifestyles will never be the same again.

Your thoughts?

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