Mobile Phones for Sleep Disorders

HappyWakeUp is able to perform a variety of recordings throughout the night, all without interfering with one's sleep.

Finnish researchers may have found the ultimate method for screening for, diagnosing, and treating a variety of sleep disorders. This method enables patients to avoid keeping a sleep diary and forgo the expense and time commitment of sleep clinic testing, which have led many patients to simply deal with their undiagnosed disorders and not seek medical help. The commercially available technology, dubbed HappyWakeUp, gently awakens users with an “arousal clock”—as opposed to an alarm clock. The arousal clock uses a simple microphone that is available in most mobile phones to record and analyze sleep movements. “Very soon we noticed that a common microphone is very sensitive to any sounds and voices produced by movements in the bed during night-time,” said Dr Tapani Salmi of Tampere University of Technology, Tampere, Finland.

Users set the device as they would a normal alarm clock and place it nearby (typically under their pillow). HappyWakeUp determines, 20 minutes before it is set to go off, when the person is making “almost awake” sounds, and sends out a soft alarm signal; during these moments, the body and brain are already awake. No alarm signal is sent out before the set alarm time for users who are sleeping calmly, as deep sleepers in the study didn’t like any alarm, regardless of how gentle. The researchers found that HappyWakeUp benefited users after just one week.

The device is also able to perform a variety of recordings throughout the night, all without interfering with subjects’ sleep (as it’s not physically attached to them), making it ideal for analyzing sleep patterns and diagnosing sleep disorders, especially in areas without a sleep clinic nearby. Salmi and colleagues are hopeful that the technology can be used for monitoring such aspects of sleep as snoring, sleep apnea, and restless legs syndrome.

Can a cell phone really diagnose sleep disorders? Is it scary that patients may use such a device as opposed to receiving professional help from a physician? Or is use of the device better than going without any help for one’s sleep disorder?