LAS VEGAS – It should be no surprise that the “smart” revolution is hitting the world of sleep. As reported by BBC News, last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas rolled out more than a dozen sleep-related gadgets, including the Aura “smart sleep” system from a company called Withings.
Reporter Leo Kelion reveals that one part of the Aura device slides under the mattress to study the dozing owners, while another screens the bedroom environment.
The Aura system consists of three parts:
1) a soft padded sensor that is slipped under the mattress which the firm says is able to record body movements, breathing cycles and heart rates;
2) a device that should be placed next to the bed that includes sensors to study noise levels, room temperature and light levels. In addition it contains a clock, a speaker that plays alarm sounds and a circular LED (light-emitting diode) lamp; and
3) A smartphone app that controls the system and provides feedback about the sleepers’ night.
“The light changes colour from blue to yellow and red across the course of the night on the basis of research that different light wavelengths can affect the secretion of hormones,” writes Kelion. “Studies have suggested that blue light stimulates melanopsin – a pigment found in cells in the eye’s retina, which send nerve impulses to parts of the brain thought to make a person feel alert.”
Modern Gadgets Infringing on Sleep?
What about keeping the smart phone, tablet, or laptop away from the mattress? As it turns out, scientists at no less than Harvard Medical School have found that specific wavelengths of light can suppress the slumber-inducing hormone melatonin in the brain.
“We have biologically shifted ourselves so we can’t fall asleep earlier,” said Charles A. Czeisler, a professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School in an article in The Denver Post. “The amazing thing is that we are still trying to get up with the chickens.”
According to the Post, the result is less sleep, and less time for the body to recover. In the U.S. alone, revenue from clinics treating sleep disorders expanded 12 percent annually from 2008 to 2011, reaching $6 billion, according to IBISWorld. Drowsy drivers cause 1,550 fatalities annually, the National Department of Transportation estimates, and insomnia-related accidents in the workplace cost $31.1 billion annually, a study last year found.
“Sleep is in a battle for our time with work life, social life and family life,” said David Hillman, a sleep specialist at the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth, Western Australia, and the chairman of the Sleep Health Foundation. “For a lot of us, it comes off a poor fourth in that battle.”
While the noisy ping of a nocturnal e-mail or text message can interrupt sleep, staring at the gadgets’ screen late at night may be more detrimental, according to researcher Czeisler, who is also head of sleep medicine at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. It comes down to the body’s circadian rhythm, which has been affected ever since the invention of the electric light.