New PJs Could Watch You Snooze—& Track Effects of That Last Cup of Coffee

By Veronique Greenwood | May 24, 2011 8:32 am

What’s the News: Smart clothes might soon be coming into bed with you. A company is developing shirts endowed with a chip that senses the changes in breathing that accompany shifts in sleep phase, to help people track how variables like exercise, coffee intake, and stress affect their sleep.

How the Heck:

  • Subjects in a sleep lab are usually hooked up to an array of instruments to track brain activity, muscle activity, breathing, and other measures. But a scientist involved in the shirt’s development says that for determining sleep phases, simple breathing patterns alone can suffice (via Technology Review):

    During REM sleep [when we dream], the respiratory pattern is irregular, with differences in the size of breaths and the spacing between them. Breathing during deep sleep follows an ordered pattern, “like a sine wave,” says Bianchi. The lighter stages of non-REM sleep fall somewhere in between.

  • People could use the shirt, which Nyx Devices is calling Somnus, to track their own sleep cycles and suss out how their waking lives affect their sleeping ones. Bianchi hopes to use the shirt to help insomniac patients, who frequently underestimate how much sleep they’ve gotten, get better baseline measures of their sleep.

What’s the Context:

  • The shirt was developed by undergraduates at MIT, who launched the company to commercialize it.
  • Personal sleep tracking isn’t an entirely new idea, and the last few years have seen several devices aimed at this market niche. Sleep Cycle, for instance, is an iPhone app that uses the phone’s accelerometer to follow your movements as you sleep, which reflect sleep phase, and then wakes you up when you reach the lightest phase, near your body’s natural wake-up time.

The Future Holds: Nyx hopes to release the Somnus shirt, which should cost less than $100, by the summer of 2012. How much more will you get for your buck remains to be seen—the iPhone app, after all, is 99 cents. The company’s site says that the shirt will provide access to a suite of online tracking tools, though, which could make for some fun statistical analyses of your snoozes. Just don’t stay up all night poring over the stats.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Technology
  • Chris the Canadian

    Ya. This is not going to be a popular seller or be on anyones fashion must – have list. Another waste of technology and brain power on an idea that has no real practical use. If someone has problems sleeping and want to find out why, then can they get a prescription and have their insurance pay for the shirts because they will be used to help a medical condition? Inventiveness and creativity is cool, but to me, this was and is a giant waste of time effort and energy.

  • Wesley Coll

    You couldn’t be further from the truth, Chris. As a lifetime sufferer of sleep apnea, a condition that can lead to fatal strokes during sleep, I applaud the direction this research is taking. You have no idea what it means to spend a night at a sleeping lab, hooked up to thousands of cables and wires measuring what this special shirt seems to be able to easily do, without the harassment. Add to that the number of times I had to do that, in order to fine tune the equipment I’ve used since and will be using for life (it’s called a CPAP machine, check it out), plus the benefit claim process, which the health care insurance industry makes a point in turning it into a huge time-consumin task, and you may imagine how people like me appreciate how our tax dollars are being used. (Waste is to use them to build another sports stadium and give it away for virtually free to another billionaire franchise). Apparently problems sleeping affect a huge part of the world’s labor force because coverage is no longer denied by the insurers. The costs of having overtired, dangerously unaware workers, and the trickled down consequences of their frequent incapacitation to perform their duties are much higher than to fund their treatment. It does look embarrassing when someone takes the time to express his or her opinion without first researching the subject.

  • G Luinstra

    Wesley, I agree entirely with your comment.

  • John (The Other Canadian)

    I agree with Wesley as well. And this technology might be of interest to those researching problems that are often studied during monitored sleep, such as epilepsy.

  • Brian

    I think Wesley is right on. Productivity could see great increases by being able to receive helpful sleep information from the comfort of your own bed.


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