Smart city

Digital technology fostering productivity... through sleep

Archive June 2016

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and its fellow US body the Sleep Research Society have published a joint set of recommendations on the amount of sleep adults need to stay healthy. They warn that sleeping less than seven hours a night can lead to adverse health ouctomes, including weight gain and obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and stroke, depression, impaired immune function, and impaired performance overall. Sleep deprivation is therefore a serious health problem, which actually spans a huge field, given that over a hundred sleep disorders have been identified. So people need education and assistance in this fundamental area. Sleep is essential for a healthy life, and also for better performance at work as it fosters a higher level of concentration and greater creativity. In fact US insurance company Aetna has a policy of rewarding staff who can show that they do get enough sleep.


The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list a set of tips for ensuring better sleep: going to bed and getting up at the same time; sleeping in a quiet, dark, relaxing bedroom that is kept at a comfortable temperature; avoiding large meals, caffeine and alcohol before bedtime; taking physical exercise during the day; and removing electronic devices such as televisions, computers and smartphones from the bedroom. However, other types of electronic devices, including connected headbands, bracelets, pillows and mattresses, are now finding their way into the bedroom, for the purpose of assisting our sleep. An increasing number of startups – some of which L'Atelier came across at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2018) in Las Vegas on 9-12 January – are now working on collecting sleep data with the ultimate aim of improving people's sleep. This is not just about compiling raw data, but being able to act on a person's sleep with increasingly advanced – and less and less intrusive – technologies. Sleep, which we might have thought to be the last refuge where you can just leave your body at rest, has now become a focus for technological development.

Collecting data in order to understand your disorders and define your needs




You can study the quality of your sleep using a 'sleep diary'. Two weeks of self-assessment will suffice to understand your sleep habits and detect any dysfunction, but there are now a greater number of new technologies available for a more detailed diagnosis. Sleep trackers have been around for a number of years now, and it is generally accepted that the data is reliable from a medical point of view. US startup Cardiogram has recently published a report on a study carried out jointly with the University of California, San Francisco which shows that a wearable device such as the Apple Watch is able to detect sleep apnea – a condition whereby breathing is obstructed during sleep – quite accurately. This disorder affects 22 million Americans, with 80% of the cases of moderate and severe obstructive sleep apnea undiagnosed. The first step is of course analysis. The problem must be diagnosed before it can be treated.

Creating a sleep-friendly environment 

"You've made your bed and must lie on it", says the proverb. Sure enough, some tech startups are now beginning to develop smart bedding. So will connected mattresses and pillows soon be an everyday – or everynight perhaps – feature of our lives?

Atlanta, Georgia-based ReST – an abbreviation for "Responsive Surface Technology" – has come up with what the company claims to be the world's first 'smart bed', designed both for athletes and ordinary people. The idea is to be able to adjust the mattress support according to your needs. For a long time, mattress specialists have been saying that the support provided by a mattress plays a vital role in the quality of our sleep. ReST customers can choose from among a range of pre-set modes or adjust the five zones of the mattress – head, shoulders, lumbar region, hips and legs – themselves. This gives users tailor-made comfort, literally from head to toe. Launched on the market two years ago, the ReST bed has proved quite popular. From next year it is due to be launched in a number of hotels.

Regard d'expert

Lloyd Sommers

General Manager at ReST

We would say a product is smart if it acts on the person concerned or on his/her environment, and has a positive impact on his/her existence. 

Lloyd Sommers, ReST General Manager, makes the distinction between three types of customers: "Athletes, who are looking to sleep as well as possible, sleep being the best time to recuperate from the type of training they've been doing during the day. They promote our product. Secondly there are well-off customers who are used to personalising their consumption – of furniture, clothing, food. Lastly there are technology fans, people who like to test out the very latest products." Lloyd Sommers stresses however that ReST is selling a solution that helps customers sleep better, rather than just the actual technology. He explains: "We would say a product is smart if it acts on the person concerned or on his/her environment, and has a positive impact on his/her existence. So our bedding qualifies because it adapts to your needs in real time and helps you sleep better, using a sensor placed in the mattress. You don't feel it, but it does feel: it analyses the pressure of your body and redistributes it equally over the surface. ReST is a technology platform, not just a company that sells mattresses. We're well aware that what we're offering is only the first stage in everything that can impact on your sleep – light, noise, temperature, air quality, peace of mind, to mention but a few. Everyone is free to tailor the rules as s/he wishes, depending on their needs and, also very important, their past – pregnancy, weight gain or loss, an airplane journey, and so on.”

ReST - Credits: ReST
Moona - Credits: Moona

There are also other ways of approaching the idea of connected bedding. The experience provided by Moona for instance is based on the principle that adjusting conditions according to the body's needs is the key to getting the perfect night's sleep. This connected pillow has garnered close to $150,000 in investment on Kickstarter. Hundreds of contributors will receive one this summer, and will have a pretty good chance of sleeping soundly as the temperature will be kept at an ideal level throughout the night – adjusted according to each point in the sleep cycle: low when you go to sleep, then higher at the end of the night so that you wake up at a comfortable temperature and can get moving faster. The programme can be reset and is controlled via an app. Moona has been developed in partnership with the University Hospital Centre in Nantes, western France and is made in France.

Quite apart from such hi-tech solutions, there are also stand-alone systems which you can install in your bedroom and adjust to your needs. Noise and light are very important factors when it comes to sleeping soundly. Machines which produce 'white noise' and devices that reduce blue light are among the range of equipment which can improve sleeping conditions. It is scientifically proven that a constant stream of 'white noise' acts as an aural 'blanket' that helps people to sleep in noisy surroundings. Nightingale goes even further. Created by Cambridge Sound Management, a leading US company in the field of sound masking, Nightingale also got up and flying thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter launched in late 2016. The product has been on the market since last February and the firm was among those represented at CES 2018.

Regard d'expert

David Sholkovitz

Vice President of Marketing at Cambridge Sound Management

The sounds we've created adapt to the acoustics in the user's bedroom and to his/her specific needs, such as masking tinnitus or the sound of snoring.

David Sholkovitz, Vice President of Marketing at Cambridge Sound Management, points out that "the technology our engineers have developed goes much further than white noise technology. The sounds we've created adapt according to the acoustics of the user's bedroom and to his/her specific needs, such as masking tinnitus or the sound of snoring. So the system will be set differently according to whether the bedroom has a wooden floor or is carpeted." Nightingale plugs in like a nightlight and produces what the firm calls 'sound blankets', which are designed both to calm the user and to create an optimal environment for sleep.

Explains Sholkovitz: "Our systems, equipped with loudspeakers, are installed on the walls of the room, which we use to reflect sound waves. The sound masking is then much more efficient than if the noise-covering sound comes from only one source – which is often more of a distraction than the noise it's supposed to mask. Not being able to identify a single source helps you to relax." The whole system can be controlled via an app on a smartphone, PC or tablet, or through the Alexa and Google Home digital personal assistants. "Given our customer base, it makes sense to be able to control the connected device via a smart speaker. We've also incorporated complementary functionality into a range of providers' products such as RingNest and Philips Hue. Nightingale helps users to sleep by masking sounds so that they no longer hear any noise in their ambit, not even their doorbell. However, if a person uses the Ring security system, Nightingale shuts off automatically."

Nightingale customers can choose to incorporated it fully into a smart home system, if they wish. The system is installed with an LED light source, so you can adjust the light intensity and the colour. Meanwhile Amsterdam-based firm Philips has also been working to draw full benefit from LED technology. The company has developed a lighting system specifically designed for hospital environments, one aspect being to provide simulated natural light which helps patients to sleep.

Headbands and masks: combating insomnia

Philips also used the CES 2018 event to showcase SmartSleep, a headband that uses integrated sensors to analyse a person's brain activity with a view to improving his/her sleep by producing white noise that encourages slower brain waves. The SleepMapper mobile app that comes with SmartSleep tracks your sleep habits. The Dreamlight sleep mask, also on show at CES, has just gone on the market. It has already impressed a lot of people as it produces both calming sounds and variations of light.

DReem, connected headband by rytHM

Dreem - Credits: Dreem

Rythm – founded by two Frenchmen and very well-known in France – was also represented at CES. The startup, which is working with neurotechnology, has just launched Dreem, a headband equipped with a range of sensors, including the kind used to perform electroencephalography, plus a cardio-frequency meter, which works on the principle of polysomnography. The headband measures brain activity, and cardiac and respiratory rates, and produces pink noise which it transmits by bone conduction. This wearable device thus not only analyses your sleep patterns but seeks to improve your sleep quality during the slow-wave phase, stimulated the brain and encouraging recuperation. The servers supporting the system are synchronised only in the morning and the device can operate without Wi-Fi or Bluetooth during the night.

In the same vein, Sana Health has developed a connected sleep mask that uses sounds and light to encourage relaxation and enable people to get to sleep faster – "on average in ten minutes from the fourth time you use it", claims Sana Health founder Richard Hanbury. "I studied Arabic, and when I was travelling in the Middle East, I had an accident in a jeep. My spine was affected and I had to go out and find a solution to save my own life." In doing so, he developed an overall solution for people suffering from insomnia "following concussion or a trauma, for example", explains Hanbury. The company hopes to obtain authorisation to market its hi-tech sleep mask in September this year. 

What should we do with the data? The sleep technologies that will be most widely adopted will be those that on the one hand can answer this question and, on the other, those that can be proven scientifically. 

Richard Hanbury
Sana Founder

"We collect data on the user's heart rate, which we then use to calibrate the sensor embedded in the device. Collecting data is useful, but it always leaves the user with an unanswered question: what shall I do with the data now?", Hanbury points out, predicting: "The sleep technologies that will be most widely adopted will be those that on the one hand can answer this question and, on the other, those that can be proven scientifically."

By Marie-Eléonore Noiré