Sleep-tracking gadgets can help people discover and address needs not served by doctors, says Jo Sollet, a faculty member and researcher in Harvard Medical School’s sleep medicine division and an advisor to Lark, a company that makes a sleep-tracking wristband sold in Apple stores. “Our ordinary health-care system isn’t aware of our sleep needs. These devices allow people to collect information that can help them improve sleep and also educate their doctors.”
The fact that Bam Labs’s device can detect sleep apnea—a temporary cessation in breathing—is one good example, says Sollet. “Apnea is extremely hard to detect because the symptoms reported to the doctor are nonspecific, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and fatigue,” she says.
However, Sollet notes, sleeping with a partner or sharing a bed with pets or children could confuse the sensor.
If the technology appears in more medical settings, such as hospitals, Sollet says, the staff will likely appreciate its being safely hidden away under the mattress. Conventional sensors in hospitals that attach to a patient often become dislodged by medical staff, or by a patient’s movement, leading to false readings and false alarms, she explains. Most alarms—over 80 percent—from sensors in a typical intensive care unit are false alarms, says Sollet.
The Bam Labs design could also allow sophisticated monitoring of sleep and vital signs in natural settings that are currently off limits to medical staff—for example, after a person returns home from the hospital, Sollet says. “What’s nice is that it’s unobtrusive, and doesn’t medicalize a person. They can just sleep as normal, but still be monitored closely,” she says.
Smaller design teams can now prototype and deploy faster.