Skip to Content

A Know-it-all Sleep Tracker

The Lullaby will tell you why you weren’t sleeping last night.
January 24, 2013

Sleep tracking is in vogue. You can buy gadgets shaped like headsets, bracelets, and thumb drives (like the ZeoBasis, or Fitbit) even under-mattress sensor pads that will track a whole constellation of sleep indicators—body temperature, movement, electrical activity in your brain—as you slumber.  

The Lullaby System

The Lullaby, a prototype tracker built at the University of Washington goes one step further. It doesn’t just show when you weren’t resting well, it helps you understand why your Zs were thrown off. It tracks your sleeping environment, picking up things like room temperature, ambient light intensity, background noise—and matches those up with biological sleep signs mapped by the wrist-worn Fitbit. An IR camera takes a photograph of the sleeping subjects every 15 seconds, adding a staggered video log to sleep data being collected. Over a morning cup of coffee, on a tablet app, a user can flick through data gathered the previous night.

Four randomly recruited people tested the Lullaby for about two weeks, setting it up on bedside tables in their rooms. The designers of the device thought hard about privacy concerns when they designed the setup. The testers could review and delete sections of footage that they didn’t want seen, or private conversations they didn’t want heard. They could also turn the device off if they didn’t want to be recorded at any time.

The testers each collected a little more than a dozen sleep samples. One user discovered the frequency of his snoring habit and another saw how often she turned over in her sleep. In a third instance, one user was able to pin down the moments during his sleep cycle when he started sleepwalking. 

While some testers deleted sections of the recording that involved pre-sleep conversations or other intimate moments, none of them erased any data collected while they were unconscious and asleep. It’s true, this group is probably more eager than most to log unconscious moments of their life—that’s why they signed up for the study. Still, I was a tiny bit surprised by how comfortable the Lullaby testers were with programming gadgets to watch them sleep (even though the data was only available to the researchers who recruited them).

I hadn’t considered the intrusiveness of the Fitbit or Zeo before (after all, those devices just gather biological data), but the Lullaby’s comprehensive tracking ability makes me wonder how comfortable we’ll be about sharing, publicly or otherwise, patterns in our unconscious behavior as this kind of technology gets ever-more advanced.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

A Roomba recorded a woman on the toilet. How did screenshots end up on Facebook?

Robot vacuum companies say your images are safe, but a sprawling global supply chain for data from our devices creates risk.

A startup says it’s begun releasing particles into the atmosphere, in an effort to tweak the climate

Make Sunsets is already attempting to earn revenue for geoengineering, a move likely to provoke widespread criticism.

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

Every year, we pick the 10 technologies that matter the most right now. We look for advances that will have a big impact on our lives and break down why they matter.

These exclusive satellite images show that Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway

Weirdly, any recent work on The Line doesn’t show up on Google Maps. But we got the images anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.